Yesterday I was out with a Japanese group on a Peninsula Tour, and at the Cape of Good Hope was once again reminded why so many shipwrecks off our coastline. With some of the Japanese ladies being very petite I was concerned they’d get blown over. This is something I once actually saw happen down there! Atthis time of year the south-easter can howl, and it was out in full force.
Shipwrecks at The Cape of Storms
Figures vary but 300 seems to be the accepted number of shipwrecks around our coast. One notorious storm known as The Great Gale saw 18 ships wrecked overnight in Table Bay. After this Cape Town’s stormy reputation was endorsed by Lloyds of London. They refused to insure any ships coming to the Cape after that. Fortunately the breakwater was built soon after so the Cape could become a safer destination.
Stories abound, some true, and some urban legends with a foundation of truth and lots of embroidering. Like the SA Seafarer with a large cargo of whisky which was wrecked off Mouille Point (1966). The story goes that the local residents liquor cabinets were well stocked after that event. I suppose they weren’t likely to own up, so we’ll never know if it was true or not.
Off course Wolraad Woltemade is one of our historical heroes who went to the rescue of the Jonge Thomas wrecked in Table Bay (1775). He made repeated returns to the ship on his horse, with the animal bravely swimming through the waves to rescue those stranded, and saving 14 lives. Sadly on the last time, too many people clung on and pulled the horse underwater, so that all lost their lives.
How not to start your career
On the Peninsula Tour we pass the magnificent Long Beach at Noordhoek where you can see the remains of the SS Kakapo from 1910. Not a shipwreck in the true sense – sailing towards Australia around Cape Point the ship was turned hard in error and went straight onto the beach! So much so that all the crew walked off the ship onto the sand without getting their feet wet. It was the captain’s first opportunity at the helm ……… and no doubt his last.
Ghosts and mysteries
Then there was the SS Waratah, built by the Scots to rival the magnificence of the Titanic. This was both a luxury liner and a cargo ship to carry the finest of Australian society and their goods. In 1909 the ship set sail from Durban harbour and vanished, most likely having been struck by a freak wave. Numerous attempts have been made to locate the remains of the wreck, but all have failed.
Not forgetting the legendary Flying Dutchman– the ghost ship seen off Cape Point by many, including a midshipman who later became King George V. And if a king saw it, who are we to question?
Along with the stories is the human tragedy behnid these shipwrecks. Like the slave ship that went down off Clifton. The slaves were all manacled so had no hope of survival and went down with the ship. Further up the coast we have the wreck of the Birkenhead, where sailors bravely stood on the sinking ship while allowing the women and children to take the lifeboats first, starting a tradition that is still recognised today.
And as I write the wind has died down completely and the weather outside is glorious, one of those perfect Cape summer days. Go figure!