Clan Stuart sticking out of a glossy sea
Yesterday, 21 November 2014, marked 100 years since the SS Clan Stuart, a British turret steamer of 3 594 tons, ran aground in a south easterly gale off Glencairn at two o’clock in the morning. She was on her way from St Helena island with a cargo of coal, and dragged her anchor in the gale. Fittingly, the anniversary of her foundering was also marked by a strong south easterly wind!
The entire crew was rescued, but returned to the ship during efforts to refloat her. She was pumped out and pulled off the rocks by a tug from Table Bay, but permission for her to enter the dry dock at Simon’s Town was refused for fear that she sink and block the entrance to the harbour. Her captain was thus compelled to run her aground at Mackerel Bay, where she now lies, in order to prevent her from sinking.
The Clan Stuart today
She is now a well known landmark to drivers on their way along the coastal road between Simon’s Town and Glencairn, as well as being a popular shore dive site. We’ve had some great dives there, and here’s a round up of some of the material we’ve published about the wreck since starting this blog:
How to find the SS Clan Stuart by road (hint: it is not hard)
What does the Clan Stuart look like underwater?
Getting close to the engine block of the Clan Stuart
On the beach at Mackerel Bay
Marine life on the wreck of the Clan Stuart
The wreck is quite heavily encrusted and there’s usually a lot to see. We’ve seen cuttlefish, small schools of two tone fingerfin, and for some reason I always see a wide variety of worms there! There is kelp growing on and around the wreck, but not so much that it’s hard to move around. On the beach we sometimes see African oystercatchers with their striking red legs and bills, and black bodies. Cormorants and gulls often perch on top of the engine block, too, giving them a convenient platform from which to go fishing.
On our first night dive together (Tony’s first in Cape Town, and my first night dive ever) Tony took a video (grainy) of some seals that joned us on the dive – you can find it in our post about Cape fur seals.
We also spotted a onefin electric ray on a dive on the wreck, whose electric personality seemed to interfere interestingly with Tony’s video camera.
On one memorable dive on the Clan Stuart (I think it was on 1 January one year, in the height of summer), we were surrounded by an agitated school of large white steenbras, who seemed to be trying to take cover behind us and on the wreck, repeatedly changing direction and swirling around us. Tony and I concluded independently that something large and toothy was chasing them, and exited the water by practically tunneling our way to the beach, trying to appear relaxed for the sake of the students accompanying us.
A few years later a group of Russian divers accompanied by two locals – diving off the boat this time – actually came face to face with a great white shark on the Clan Stuart – here is Tony’s story, Christo’s story, Craig’s story, and a short video of the shark taken by one of the Russian visitors. Undaunted by their experience they ended the dive on the beach, where I picked them up, drove them back to the jetty to get back on the boat, and they set out for another dive!
Diving the Clan Stuart
The best time to dive the wreck, in light of the above information and the typical movements of sharks in False Bay’s waters, is in winter. The visibility is likely to be better then, though it’s rarely exceptional (I would be ecstatic with 10 metres, and expect closer to six in the winter months). In summer you can expect 2-5 metre visibility. Don’t underestimate the waves on the beach, and keep your regulator in your mouth until you’re through. Save the chit chat for when you’re back on dry land!
Find out more
A team of film makers has been working on a project about the Clan Stuart for some time. Here’s some of their work so far:
You can read more about the Clan Stuart in Hard Aground, Shipwrecks of the Western Cape, and Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa.