The new Cape Point lighthouse

View of the new Cape Point lighthouse from the sea
View of the new Cape Point lighthouse from the sea

To me it would seem totally logical to build a lighthouse as high above sea level as possible. As we saw with the old Cape Point lighthouse, there is such a thing as too high, particularly when you’re building in an area that is prone to heavy mist and fog. The most notable shipping casualty that occurred after construction of the old Cape Point light was that of the Lusitania, wrecked on Bellows Rock in 1911. A new lighthouse was planned, along with a light at Slangkoppunt in Kommetjie, to replace the old light at Cape Point.

View of the new lighthouse at Cape Point
View of the new lighthouse at Cape Point

The new lighthouse was built on a 15 metre high pinnacle of rock called Diaz Point, which was dynamited to form a flat platform upon which the lighthouse would be built. Building materials were hauled by oxen from Simon’s Town, and transported by tram down a track on the cliffs. Most of the way the gradient of this tram track was 1 in 4; for a short stretch it was 1 in 2. This is incredibly steep. At the end of the tram track, the building materials were lowered by crane onto a ledge. Building sand was excavated from a cave at the bottom of the cliff, and carried up to the platform on which construction took place. Water was brought close to the building site by trolley, and piped down onto the location.

 

Like the old lighthouse, the new lighthouse is nine metres high, but instead of cast iron, it is constructed from masonry and the tower is square. The lantern house on top is white. The new lighthouse’s elevation is 87 metres above sea level, giving it a range of visibility of 32 nautical miles. The fully automatic light flashes three times every 30 seconds, and there is a subsidiary red light in the base of the lighthouse facing towards Anvil and Bellows Rock. This light is only visible from the sea, if you go around Cape Point to the western side of Cape Point.

On 11 March 1919 the new lighthouse was commissioned (put into service). The view from this lighthouse covers a full 353 degrees, with seven degrees obscured by Da Gama Peak behind it. It was manned for a time, but is now automated.

Getting closer to the new lighthouse
Getting closer to the new lighthouse

The public is not allowed to visit the new lighthouse, or even to get particularly close to it. It can be viewed from a viewpoint at the end of the Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail, a highly recommended short walk from the old lighthouse at Cape Point. Along the way you will see the remains of World War II bunkers and a radar station, and you will traverse the most fantastically narrow ridge of rock (in perfect safety). The wind is likely to be extremely strong, whatever time of year you go – dress accordingly. Also note that the walk does not take nearly as long as is suggested by the signage at the start. It is approximately one kilometre each way.

View from the old lighthouse towards the new one
View from the old lighthouse towards the new one

As usual, everything I know about this lighthouse that I didn’t learn by looking at it (i.e. most everything), is thanks to Gerald Hoberman’s wonderful Lighthouses of South Africa book.

The old Cape Point lighthouse

The old lighthouse at Cape Point
The old lighthouse at Cape Point

The old Cape Point lighthouse was commissioned 1 May 1860. A nine metre cast iron structure (same fabrication as the Slangkop lighthouse), it is painted white. The designer of the lighthouse did not visit the site, and decided that the weight of the nine metre high cast iron tower would be sufficient to keep it anchored in place without a foundation. Fortunately the construction supervisor was well appraised of the strong winds that blow year-round at Cape Point, and decided to bolt the tower to the rocks.

Southern face of the old Cape Point light
Southern face of the old Cape Point light

The lighthouse was built 262 metres above sea level – the highest practical elevation at which it could be situated. On a clear evening, the light was visible for up to 36 nautical miles. Much of the time, however, it was hidden under the blanket of fog and low-lying cloud that frequently bedevils Cape Point. The Lusitania was wrecked on Bellows Rock, below Cape Point, on just such a foggy night in 1911.

In 1919 a new lighthouse was commissioned, lower down the cliffs from the old light. This light, combined with the Slangkoppunt lighthouse, would do the job that the old light was supposed to do. The old lighthouse is now a watch room with a communications centre and lighthouse monitoring system.

It is not open to the public, but if you wish to walk around it and admire the spectacular views, it can be found at the top of the hill (or take the funicular if the power isn’t switched off for load shedding) above the main parking area at Cape Point.

Plaque commemorating period of operation of the lighthouse
Plaque commemorating period of operation of the lighthouse

As usual, everything I know about this lighthouse that I didn’t learn by looking at it (i.e. most everything), is thanks to Gerald Hoberman’s wonderful Lighthouses of South Africa book.

Newsletter: Guest photographers

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Launching from the Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock / 11.00 am for Atlantis

Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething
Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething

I think most people are keen for summer to arrive. I know I am. We dived last Friday at Atlantis and Boat Rock and had pretty good conditions – thank you to Arne for the photo above! Last weekend was a washout and the week has been dry thanks to the spring tides, swell and some wind.

The whales heard my complaints from last week, and on Friday a young whale breached in front of us again. This time while Geoff was holding the camera and he got a great photo!

Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby
Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby

False Bay is currently flat but not very clean. We are meant to have two days of westerly or north westerly winds so I think Sunday will be an option. There is also less swell on Sunday. I don’t think it is going to be paradise, but it will certainly improve over what we have right now.

We will launch on Sunday from theSimon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock and 11.00 am for Atlantis. This is the plan, but the dive sites may change as I prefer to dive in better visibility if we go that far south, so will change sites to suit the conditions.

In other news

Diarise Diversnight 2015 for the evening of Saturday 7 November! More details to follow.

Also, as of yesterday we are a PADI Resort Dive Centre – the only major difference so far is that we now appear here

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Dive sites: Vulcan Rock

Esther exploring
Esther exploring

Vulcan Rock is a dive site just outside Hout Bay. We dived it on a day when the south easter had been blowing for a while, so the visibility was quite good. The dive site is essentially a huge stack of granite boulders, with Vulcan Rock as the highest point. The rocks are covered with sea urchins, rock lobster, corals, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and a bit of red seaweed.

Urchins, brittle stars, corals at Vulcan Rock
Urchins, brittle stars, corals at Vulcan Rock

Esther and I stayed within the range of Open Water divers, not going deeper than 18 metres, but it is possible to go as deep as 30 metres at this site if you go for a bit of a swim. This is definitely a site to visit when the surface conditions are good and the swell is low (not that Hout Bay diving is ever great – or particularly safe – in a big swell).

Granite and kelp
Granite and kelp

I had the little Sony camera with me and took some happy snaps. Underneath all the granite is an enormous cave, with several entrances. Peet, who joined us on this dive, made a video of the cave that I will share with you later this week.

Mark bringing the boat
Mark bringing the boat

Dive date: 19 April 2015

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature:  10 degrees

Maximum depth: 15.6  metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 39 minutes

Visible shipwrecks: MFV Harvest Capella

The rocky peninsula at the northern end of Maori Bay, on the opposite side of the bay to the MV BOS 400 crane barge wreck, is called Oude Schip. It can be reached by walking and bouldering from Llandudno, or, as we (predictably) prefer, on a boat ride out of Hout Bay. We are usually in the area with the aim of diving the wrecks of the Maori, the Oakburn or the BOS 400.

High and dry at Oude Schip
High and dry at Oude Schip

On the rocks at Oude Schip are the remains of a Sea Harvest fishing vessel called MFV Harvest Capella. This 44 metre long diesel trawler ran aground in early October 1987, apparently during a south easterly gale. There are some pictures of her aground here and here.

MFV Harvest Capella at Oude Schip
MFV Harvest Capella at Oude Schip

Over the years, part of her bow has been pushed right up onto the rocks by the force of the waves. At the same time it has been breaking up, and perhaps in a few years will be almost indiscernible. The wreckage is quite unstable, and not really suitable for clambering about in any more.

MFV Harvest Capella on the rocks behind our boat
MFV Harvest Capella on the rocks behind our boat

Next time you’re in the area, ask your boat skipper to take you towards the rocks on the Sandy Bay side of Oude Schip to see how the Harvest Capella is looking these days!

Newsletter: Friday diving

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Launching at 8.30 and 11.30 am from False Bay Yacht Club

We are back from an exploration trip to De Hoop. We took in Infanta, Arniston and Struisbaai as well as Cape Agulhas. Our aim was to gather info for future dive trips up the coast and we checked out the launch sites, accommodation, eating spots and so on. We went armed with a chart of the wrecks and reefs and chatted to some of the locals who use the areas daily. It was a fantastic trip and one of the highlights was filming the giant short tailed stingrays that are resident in the harbour at Struisbaai. We’ll share that video on Youtube in a day or two, and some photos on our facebook page. Instagram already has some highlights from the trip

Filming rays at Struisbaai harbour
Filming rays at Struisbaai harbour

Dive conditions

The weekend weather does not look all that rosy so we will launch tomorrow at 8.30 and 11.30. Saturday looks really messy and Sunday looks a little wet. We will launch on Sunday if the weather tones down from the current forecast. Either way, let me know if you’d like to be notified of possible Sunday dives, or if you’d like to be on the boat tomorrow.

Just a reminder to make sure your permit to dive in a Marine Protected Area is up to date. Also, if you book a dive please let me know in good time if you can’t take the spot on the boat so that I can give it to someone else.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Saved by the Sea

Saved by the Sea: A Love Story with Fish – David Helvarg

Saved by the Sea
Saved by the Sea

I think this book belongs to the same broad genre – one for which I have a lot of time – as Tim Ecott’s Neutral Buoyancy. If I had to describe the authors of this genre, I would call them “thinking scuba divers” (as opposed to the unthinking kind). David Helvarg is a former war journalist turned environmental activist. In this beautiful, heart-wrenching book he chronicles his own life as it has touched upon the world’s oceans.

Helvarg is founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign, and, as he explains in this book, he encourages and facilitates environmental activism. Helvarg’s idea of activism does not seem to be topless protests about vague global issues, but rather entails groups of concerned citizens becoming involved in intensely local issues: a Seaweed Rebellion. The feeling of helplessness and doom which sometimes threatens to overwhelm those with a concern for the ocean’s future can be fruitfully channeled into unglamorous but entirely useful small acts of advocacy and change. The kind of activism that Helvarg encourages in Saved by the Sea comprises small, cumulative actions, like writing letters to government representatives on subjects that concern you; participating in coastal clean ups; getting involved in citizen science projects in your area. He lists fifty ways to save the ocean (and has written a book on that subject) – print them out and do your bit. The key is to do something, where you can (and that is usually right on your doorstep).

I would recommend the book purely for the activist spirit that Helvarg espouses (he explains why he formed Blue Frontier in the prior link), but in addition to this his book is wonderfully written and affirming of the variety and beauty of the ocean. He describes scuba dives in some of the world’s most pristine areas, surfing trips in South America, travels to the Antarctic. Interwoven with these encounters with the natural world is Helvarg’s own life, and love, story. He does not shy away from difficult feelings and experiences. This is an autobiography, and one you’ll be richer for having read.

You can get a copy of the book here (South Africans), here or here.

Bookshelf: Beneath the Surface

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, Seaworld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish – John Hargrove

Beneath the Surface
Beneath the Surface

As a counterpoint to orca scientist Dr Ingrid Visser’s memoir that we discussed earlier this week, John Hargrove’s Seaworld exposé describes the conflicted, thrilling life of an orca trainer working at a marine theme park. Hargrove appeared in the documentary Blackfish, but in this book he greatly expands on his experiences at the Seaworld parks in the United States, and at Marineland in the south of France.

Hargrove counts being close to the orca, and having opportunities to interact with them, as one of the great privileges of his life. Understandably, he grew to love the animals, and ultimately he says that it was his love for them that forced him to stop working as a trainer and to become an anti-captivity advocate. This decision clearly came after great internal struggle, and he has been subjected to vitriolic online attacks and character assassinations as a result of his new stance on keeping cetaceans captive. I have no doubt that there are aspects of the story he tells that it may be possible to re-tell with greater accuracy, but when so many elements of his story are corroborated by other sources, I feel it is nitpicking to take issue with what is, ultimately, Hargrove’s life story.

You can read reviews of the book here and here. If you’ve been as hypnotised as I have been by the unfolding train wreck that is the post-Blackfish Seaworld story, however, you will be completely absorbed by this memoir.

If you want to experience orca, whales or dolphins without buying a ticket to a marine park, may I suggest you read this article for suggestions, or book a ticket to South Africa between June and November (whale season), or visit Dolphin Encountours in Ponta do Ouro, or connect with a host of other responsible, licenced operators who will allow you to experience the animals in the wild without harassing or harming them.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.

Bookshelf: Swimming with Orca

Swimming with Orca: My Life with New Zealand’s Killer Whales – Dr Ingrid N Visser

Swimming with Orca
Swimming with Orca

Long before it was fashionable, Dr Ingrid Visser was studying orca. The New Zealand-born scientist (with Dutch ancestry, hence the familiar surname to South Africans) describes her early scientific career and work in this book, emphasising how difficult it was to strike out into what was a new field of study in New Zealand. Her struggles to obtain funding and equipment for her research were overcome with ingenuity and sheer persistence.

Visser does not hesitate to get into the water to observe the orca that she studies, and spends hours and hours out at sea looking for them. Through diligent public relations, she has built up a network of individuals around New Zealand who report orca sightings to her, enabling her to launch her rubber duck and go to find them as quickly as possible.

There is excellent advice in this book regarding dealing with stranded cetaceans. Visser now runs the Orca Research Foundation, and is outspoken regarding the inappropriateness of keeping orcas and other cetaceans in captivity. Her scientific research has been misappropriated and misrepresented by Seaworld on occasion, to her great ire!

I am always on the lookout for books that would have inspired me as a teenager, and this is one of them. It is simply written and suitable for (I am guessing) age 13 and above. I admire Dr Visser’s refusal to back down at the start of her career, when her lack of experience, her age and her gender were against her. There is perhaps less focus on the orca themselves, and more on academic challenges, than one might expect of a book with the title Swimming with Orca – but I hope that in time Dr Visser will author another volume focused solely on her study subjects.

For more on orca research, this time in the Pacific north west, and a stronger focus on the whales themselves, I recommend Listening to Whales.

Get a copy of the book here or here.