A visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum

Exterior of the shipwreck museum
Exterior of the shipwreck museum

In the centre of Bredasdorp, the sleepy town in the Overberg that you will likely pass through on your way to De Hoop, Cape Agulhas, Arniston or any of the surrounding areas, is a museum devoted to shipwrecks. Tony and I paid it a visit while we were staying at De Hoop in September last year, and enjoyed it immensely. The museum is situated in an old church, and spills over into two other adjacent historical buildings.

Artefacts from SS Maori
Artefacts from SS Maori

The shipwreck museum contains artefacts from a wide variety of wrecks – many of them from the coastline between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas, but others from further afield (including our neck of the woods)! There is a display about SS Maori, including some of the pottery that was in the mixed cargo on the vessel.

Interior of the shipwreck museum
Interior of the shipwreck museum

In addition to cargo items (including a vast array of bottles spanning a few hundred years of history), there are figureheads, binnacles, ship’s bells, cannons and anchors – the latter located outside in a beautiful garden behind the museum. The ship’s wheel of SS Kadie, wrecked at the mouth of the Breede River, is also on display. The Arniston, Queen of the Thames, and Birkenhead wrecks also feature prominently. Familiarising yourself in advance with some details about the most prominent wrecks of the Overberg region will enrich your visit.

A separate garage-like structure (technically known as the Old Coach House), accessible over a tiny river bridge in the garden, contains a historical fire engine, carriages and other vehicles and implements of everyday life from a century ago. There is even a rocket-propelled breeches buoy apparatus, used from shore to rescue shipwreck survivors.

Tony for scale!
Tony for scale!

Another building included in the museum facilities is a fully furnished historical Overberg home called the Old Parsonage – when we walked through, there was even a (real live) cat having a cool nap on a hand-sewn quilt in one of the bedrooms.

Reminder about regulations pertaining to shipwrecks
Reminder about regulations pertaining to shipwrecks

Since we’re thinking about shipwrecks, a reminder about South African legislation pertaining to historical wrecks is timely!

If you’re in the area the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum is definitely worth a visit. Opening hours and contact details can be found here. The entry fee is minimal.

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks

If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town and have a love of shipwrecks on shore, you’re in luck. Visiting some of the wrecks that are visible above the water around the Cape Peninsula can be combined with your exploration of the city, and will ensure that you don’t miss any of its outdoor highlights. Some of these visible shipwrecks can be reached by road, and one or two of them will require a short boat ride.

A map showing all these wrecks can be found here. A mini travel guide to Cape Town’s shipwrecks on shore, in the form of an ebook entitled Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks and written by yours truly, is available here.

Table Bay to Oudekraal

What remains of RMS Athens
What remains of RMS Athens

SS Winton and SS Hermes
Commodore II
RMS Athens
MV Antipolis

Maori Bay to Kommetjie

The BOS 400 and Seahorse
The BOS 400 and Seahorse

MFV Harvest Capella
MV BOS 400 (also check out this post and this one) – also a dive site
SS Kakapo

Cape Point Nature Reserve

Ribs of the Nolloth
Ribs of the Nolloth

SS Thomas T Tucker
SS Nolloth
FV Phyllisia

False Bay

The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position
The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position

SS Clan Stuart – also a dive site

Bonus wreck stuff

Cape Town is well supplied with museums, many of which have maritime history items on display:

In addition to the general shipwreck artefacts on display at the museums listed above, you can check out the following specific wreck remains, some of which are not labelled or take a little bit of finding:

Mouille Point lighthouse (decommissioned)

The base of the Mouille Point lighthouse at Granger Bay
The base of the Mouille Point lighthouse at Granger Bay

We aren’t done with lighthouses yet. One of the ones I haven’t told you about is the old Mouille Point lighthouse, which is located in Granger Bay. This is what I used to interchangeably call the lighthouse at Green Point, but in fact they have always been two entirely different entities. The Green Point lighthouse was built in 1824, and was the first lighthouse in South Africa. The lighthouse at Mouille Point, a few kilometres down the road, was built in 1842 and decomissioned in 1908 when a light was established on the breakwater (or mole, hence the name) at Mouille Point making the light redundant.

This lighthouse was a beautifully cylindrical tapering tower, with horizontal stripes up its length. The base of the old Mouille Point lighthouse still stands, on the grounds of the Cape Technikon Hotel School. It is behind a parking boom, but if you speak politely to the security officials they will let you walk onto the premises to take some photographs. When I visited there was a wedding going on, and it took some manoeuvring to take these pictures without guests appearing in them!

Scattered shipwreck: The anchors of SS Maori

The anchors of SS Maori on Hout Bay Main Road
The anchors of SS Maori on Hout Bay Main Road

Nautical artifacts – both physical objects and place names – can be observed all over Cape Town. One, which I’ve driven past many, many times without even noticing, can be seen on Hout Bay Main Road just between the Shell Garage and Hout Bay Manor. (If you want the precise location, check out this instagram post, which I geotagged.) The anchors of SS Maori, a steamship that ran aground in 1909 in a bay now named after her, are on display under the auspices of Hout Bay Museum. The wreck of the Maori is a very popular dive site, and is eminently suitable for Open Water and beginner divers owing to the depth at which she lies, and the comforting feeling one has of being close to shore whilst sheltered in Maori Bay.

The bell of SS Maori can be seen inside the Hout Bay Museum. The wreck is over 60 years old, and as Peter Southwood points out on the dive site’s wikivoyage page,

This is a historical wreck and is now protected by legislation. Removing wreckage or artifacts is a criminal offence.

Diving in Sodwana

We enjoyed a beautiful few days diving in Sodwana in April. My photos were really poor, but I did take some videos that are marginally better simply because the water was so clean and the surroundings were so lovely. So here is a taste of what it’s like to dive at this wonderful diving destination. All of my dives were done on Two Mile Reef, the most heavily dived part of the Sodwana Reef system.

Here are some of our group of divers at Chain, a site at the southern end of Two Mile reef.

Chain is named after a ship’s anchor chain that (apparently still) lies across it. I have never seen this chain, and word is it’s practically invisible under all the encrustation of marine life by now.

I had never dived Zambi Alley before this most recent trip to Sodwana. It’s also a site on Two Mile, in the southern part of the reef adjacent to Chain. It’s named for the fact that fishermen used to see Zambezi (bull) sharks swimming up and down the sandy alley here. There aren’t any of those left here any more, but it’s still a beautiful dive site.

Stringer is one of my favourite dive sites on Two Mile reef. It is a nursery area for juvenile fish, and some lovely elusive specimens can be spotted there with a bit of patience.

Another site that was new to me this trip is Garden Route, which we dived more than once because it’s roughly in the middle of Two Mile reef and thus protected from the swell and surge to a certain degree, as well as from sand kicked up by the water movement. The coral here is magnificent.

Visiting E-Whale in Table Bay

Here we are passing E-Whale at anchor in Table Bay, on Seahorse. E-Whale is a massive bulk carrier. The distance from our boat to the top of the deck is about 30 metres.

Over the sound of the wind, you can hear me and Tony speaking knowledgeably (snort!) about Plimsoll lines.

For more on E-Whale, check out yesterday’s post. She has just been sold and will probably depart Cape Town in the not too distant future.

The elusive E-Whale

E-Whale on the horizon
E-Whale on the horizon

E-Whale is an ore and oil carrier, built in 2010 and registered in Monrovia, that has been at anchor in Table Bay, Cape Town, for over two years (since April 2012). The ship has been arrested because of debts of her owners, and her papers have been seized. She has a length of 340 metres and a beam of 60 metres, with a crew of 17 (not all of whom may be on board at this stage).

Table Mountain and E-Whale
Table Mountain and E-Whale

The vessel has a freeboard (the height from the sea surface to the deck) of over 30 metres, making it very exciting to pass close to her in a small boat (as we did, on our way back to OPBC after the Freedom Swim). We felt very small. To gain access to the deck when the ship is not in port, a crane is used to lift passengers on board while they are seated in a net. She is completely empty at the moment and riding very high out of the water, so her rudder is visible at the stern, partially protruding from the water.

E-Whale in Table Bay
E-Whale in Table Bay

Only one of the two anchors at her bow was deployed, but the following day’s weather forecast entailed a north westerly gale, which I am sure would have necessitated additional precautions.

Bow and anchors of E-Whale
Bow and anchors of E-Whale

She has a distinctive whale marking on her funnel, its cuteness somewhat at odds with the industrial aura projected by the rest of the vessel!

Whale marking on the funnel of E-Whale
Whale marking on the funnel of E-Whale

E-Whale has sister ships A-B-C-D-F-, G- and H-Whale, all of which are oil tankers. The company which owns them, Taiwan Maritime Transportation (TMT), has filed for bankruptcyA-Whale attempted to help skim oil pollution off the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, but doesn’t seem to have been up to the job.

Just this week E-Whale (which Tony pronounces “E-Whaley”) was sold for $61 million. We will miss seeing her on the AIS map!

Passing MV Anangel Happiness

Anangel Happiness in Table Bay
Anangel Happiness in Table Bay

Anangel Happiness is a Greek bulk carrier that was anchored in Table Bay on the day of the Freedom Swim. We buzzed her on our way back to the slipway at Granger Bay. She is 292 metres long and 46 metres wide, and was built in China in 2008.

Superstructure of Anangel Happiness
Superstructure of Anangel Happiness

For some reason she has a shamrock on her funnel!

Dive sites (Red Sea): SS Thistlegorm

SS Thistlegorm was a British merchant navy ship. She was torpedoed and sank by a German bomber while at anchor in the Red Sea in October 1941, quite close to Ras Mohammed National Park. She was carrying an extremely varied cargo including boots, rifles, motorcycles, trucks and two steam locomotives, and much of it can be seen by divers who are qualified to penetrate the wreck.

Arriving on SS Thistlegorm
Arriving on SS Thistlegorm

The Thistlegorm has much mystique attached to her – much like SS Lusitania lying on Bellows Rock off Cape Point, I suppose – and it seems that no liveaboard trip to the northern Red Sea is complete without at least one dive on the wreck. Philistine that I am, I did not feel as compelled to dive the Thistlegorm as much as many of the other (British) divers on board our boat did. Perhaps it is the British connection that I am missing. As a war grave and a significant part of the British war effort, the Thistlegorm is well beloved there. She also stopped in Cape Town during her short time at sea!

Crocodilefish on deck
Crocodilefish on deck

The wreck is known for very strong currents that can arise without warning, change direction in minutes, and can make complete exploration of the outside of the wreck something of a challenge. We did two dives on the Thistlegorm, one after the other. On our first dive the current was strong but manageable, running from the bow (our entry point) to the stern – we just had to watch our gas carefully to ensure that we had enough to swim back to the bow against the current. By the time we did our second dive the current was absolutely insane, and as a result we spent most of that dive exploring the bow and the area close to it.

Winch on board the Thistlegorm
Winch on board the Thistlegorm

The bow area is very striking, with huge winches and chains that house many interesting creatures in their bends and folds. The strong current was making the fish very happy, and the wreck was swarming with glassfish and other piscine life, all feeding in the current. The dive briefing for a wreck like this is extremely thorough, and as a result we were able to identify each of  the features as we swam over them. Close to the bow are two huge water tanks, both crushed by the water pressure. Lying next to the wreck on the sand is one of the locomotives that was on board as deck cargo. The blast area where the torpedo hit (the ammunition hold, number four) is very obvious, as is the fact that there was additional explosive power provided by the ammunition in that hold.

Tony over the wreck
Tony over the wreck

I’m not particularly keen on going inside shipwrecks, particularly with a group of twenty people I don’t know from Adam, so I didn’t take up the opportunity to explore the cargo holds of the Thistlegorm. I know that for many on board our boat, however, this was the highlight of their trip. An advantage of going inside the wreck was that they escaped the force of the current, but it did necessitate careful planning to emerge far enough forward on the wreck to be able to exit at the right place.

On the day we dived the Thistlegorm I counted twelve liveaboards tied up to her. Efforts to preserve the wreck from the damage that can be done by a carelessly placed anchor or a mooring line tied to a sensitive location have met with mixed success. There was a brief ban on liveaboards tying up to the wreck a few years ago, but that isn’t in place any more. In any case, it requires care and smarts to note and remember which anchor line is yours for the ascent. All divers look pretty much the same – I reckon you’d be on the dive deck of the wrong boat before anyone realised you didn’t belong!

Dive date: 21 October 2013

Air temperature: 27 degrees

Water temperature:  26 degrees

Maximum depth: 21.2 metres

Visibility: 40 metres

Dive duration: 38 minutes

Kate next to a toppled mast
Kate next to a toppled mast

Red Sea trip photos: some scenery

To finish off the deluge of photographs taken while on board the boat while we were on our liveaboard trip to the Red Sea, here are some pictures of the scenery