If you’ve ever driven to Simon’s Town along the False Bay coastal road, you’ll have passed the wreck of the SS Clan Stuart on your left. The engine block sticks out of the water at low tide, and only the highest spring tides come close to covering it. The steamer ran aground during a summer gale in late 1914 after dragging her anchor. She was carrying a cargo of coal, all of which was salvaged I think.
The site is quite exposed, and will never boast 20 metre visibility, but on a good day with a calm sea, low swell and the correct prevailing wind direction you can be very lucky (as we were)! The entry is quite hard work. The one we usually use is to park on the roadside outside the old oil refinery and naval graveyard, and kit up there. Walk across the road, climb the low brick wall and find a route down the dunes to the railway line. Take care as the railway line is now in use. Cross the tracks and use the large cement walkway/staircase to get down to the beach. The last step is high – I found it easier to go left over the big boulders on the way down, but on the way up this is too difficult.
Once on the beach, you can walk to opposite the engine block. The wreck runs nearly parallel with the shore about 40 metres in each direction from the engine block, so you’ll actually hit it almost certainly, wherever you get in. Watch out for the wave on the beach – sometimes it looks small, but with scuba kit on your back you’re heavy and unstable and in a big swell you can get nicely tumbled. Make sure your BCD is inflated before you brave the breakers – you might even want to go so far as to put your regulator in your mouth before you set out. As soon as you are through the waves, put your fins on and swim out into deeper water away from the surf zone. Don’t mess around here – it can spoil (or prematurely terminate) your dive!
The Clan Stuart was made of iron, and although she’s very broken up, much of her remains. The remains of boilers can be seen next to the engine block, and the ribs of the ship are clearly visible as you swim along her length. There are ragged bits of metal decking, and some bollards are clearly visible on the edges of the wreckage.
There is a lot to see here – beautiful invertebrate life – abalone, mussels, sea cucumbers, nudibranchs, worms – schools of fish (we saw blacktail seabream), shysharks, and of course the pleasure of swimming the length of a shipwreck! There are also ridges of sandstone to explore, and kelp covers parts of the wreck. Particularly around the engine block, the growth is very dense.
This is a good site for night dives, and seals are often spotted here which is very entertaining. The entry and exit can be a bit of hard work, but it’s well worth it and the depth (maximim 9 metres at high tide) makes it very suitable for training dives.
Dive date: 22 May 2011
Air temperature: 20 degrees
Water temperature: 14 degrees
Maximum depth: 7.6 metres
Visibility: 10 metres
Dive duration: 48 minutes