Red bait zone and hottentot on the Romelia

Dive sites: MV Romelia

Long before I knew there was such a thing as scuba diving, I knew about shipwrecks. I grew up in Cape Town, and spent a lot of time in various rock pools, on the local beaches, on the Sea Point promenade, and sitting in the back seat of my parents’ Volkswagen Beetle as we whizzed around the peninsula. Cape Town is shipwreck paradise, and the most visible ones to me were the Antipolis, which sticks a tiny bit out of the water at Oudekraal, and the MV Romelia, which used to be an extremely prominent feature on the Llandudno rocks. I liked the Romelia because it was pink.

A photo of the Romelia, aground on the rocks, taken in 1989
A photo of the Romelia, aground on the rocks, taken in 1989

(The picture above is from this website – worth a browse!)

Following Tony and Cecil through a crack
Following Tony and Cecil through a crack

My parents told me the story of the Romelia and the Antipolis often (I liked saying the names, because they sounded romantic and mysterious) – in July 1977 my folks had been married for two years and were living in Cape Town when the tow rope connecting the two vessels to a Japanese tug snapped, and they ran aground independently on the western seaboard of the Cape Peninsula during a winter storm. The Romelia broke in half, and the bow sank, leaving the pretty pink (rusty) stern on the rocks. Later the stern also sank – a great disappointment to me, but no doubt a relief to the owners of the palaces in Llandudno!

Red bait zone and hottentot on the Romelia
Red bait zone and hottentot on the Romelia

I actually had no idea that you could dive on the Romelia, or where it had disappeared to, until the Sunday before Christmas. Our planned boat dive to Die Josie or Tafelberg Reef wasn’t looking like a good idea – reports were that the visibility was pretty poor, and the water was very dark. Grant suggested we go north, around the corner past Maori Bay to the MV Romelia.

Bernita checks out a wall
Bernita checks out a wall

It’s a gorgeous 12 kilometre boat ride from Hout Bay slipway, past the BOS 400 in Maori Bay, past the nudist beach at Sandy Bay (strangely, everyone we could see was fully clothed!), and to Sunset Rocks on the southern end of Llandudno beach. Grant dropped the shot line quite close to the rocks, where an artificial cave is formed by the bow and some large rocks, with the anchors hanging from the ceiling.

Blue anemone on the Romelia
Blue anemone on the Romelia

The visibility was mixed – there were clouds of fry (not sure which species of fish, but they were definitely babies) in the water at points, and the westerly wind of the day before had made things a bit soupy, but as we moved around the site there were patches of very decent visibility. I must confess that we’d been on the wreck for nearly ten minutes when I asked Tony where it was… He pointed at the (in retrospect) suspiciously smooth orange wall we had been hanging in front of since the start of the dive, and I realised that the ship has been so colonised by coraline algae and other sea life that most of it is virtually indistinguishable from the rocks around it.

Gas flame nudibranchs on the Romelia
Gas flame nudibranchs on the Romelia

There are amazing walls – each a different colour. One is mostly orange, another purple, and when you start ascending there are massive sea squirts above about six metres. These are all a rusty reddish brown colour. The rocks and the wreckage – some quite mangled, other sections totally hidden by sea creatures – are heavily encrusted with urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones, nudibranchs, and other invertebrate life. We saw large schools of hottentot in the red bait zone and against some of the walls.

Wall of purple
Wall of purple

There are ample opportunities to swim through cracks in the rocks and between the wreck and the rocks, and this demanded good buoyancy control and some smart finning because there was a fair amount of surge. A particularly alluring gap was just too narrow for me, but every time I went close to try and take a photo through it the surge pushed me up perilously close to the wall, and I had to give up.

Another nudibranch on the Romelia
Another nudibranch on the Romelia

Most of the photos I took are of a macro nature because the visiblity didn’t warrant wide angle shots… You can see in the shots of the divers above that the water was very murky. But there’s also no opportunity really to get a panoramic view of anything because the site is more a series of passages and swim throughs than a giant ship lying on the ocean floor like the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks.

Violet spotted anemone
Violet spotted anemone

More information on the wrecks of the Romelia and the Antipolis can be found here, along with some super photos.

Profusion of life on the Romelia
Profusion of life on the Romelia

Dive date: 19 December 2010

Air temperature: 27 degrees

Water temperature: 7 degrees

Maximum depth: 18.5 metres

Visibility: 5-8 metres

Dive duration: 45 minutes

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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