Wreckage of the Cape Matapan

Dive sites: SS Cape Matapan

Desirous of doing a deep dive for three students busy with their Advanced course, Tony, the students, Tami, Goot and I set off on Saturday 22 January, bright and early from Oceana Powerboat Club near the Waterfront. The southeaster was strong, and the boat ride was a hoot – sitting on the plushy bench at the back of the boat, I was soundly drenched by the freezing waves as we hurtled down the coast. I had forgotten to eat any ginger snaps for seasickness, but the wind on my face and the splashing waves made the boat ride a pleasure, and even when we stopped, rocking, I think the wind helped a lot with nausea.

Tony (back to camera) doing deep skills with students
Tony (back to camera) doing deep skills with students

Our planned destination was North Paw, to explore a part of the site that hasn’t been mapped yet. Unfortunately when we got there the surface conditions were atrocious and it was decided to move further towards the shore to see if the sea was calmer there. An investigation of the rocks at the north end of Camps Bay beach revealed flatter seas, but visibility of not more than two metres. Personally, I will accept cold water, or poor visibility, but not both.

Mark doing his deep skills
Mark doing his deep skills

We were heading back to OPBC for breakfast, but as we passed the section of coast opposite Cape Town Stadium it was decided to dive the SS Cape Matapan, located thereabouts. The surface conditions were still pretty rubbish, but when Mauro got in to check the props of the boat after a small barney with a rock, he came back reporting that the props were fine and the visibility was stunning.

Warty pleurobranch with exposed gill
Warty pleurobranch with exposed gill

The Cape Matapan was a steam-powered fishing trawler that sank after a collision with another ship in dense fog in 1960. The location of the wreck was not known (apart from the information that it is about 30 minutes from Table Bay harbour under slow speed) until last year, when some False Bay Underwater Club veterans searched for it and located it off the Atlantic seaboard.

Flat ocean bottom around the wreck
Flat ocean bottom around the wreck

The wreck is very broken up on a flat bottom. I loved being within view of the Sea Point promenade, and then sinking beneath the waves to see what’s there. Goot compared it to the moon, and he was right – the visibility was good (15 metres or so) and we could see for ages around us. Nothing except the ship’s boiler stands up from the ocean floor.

Wreckage of the Cape Matapan
Wreckage of the Cape Matapan

There was a very strong current down there, the sort that you don’t want to even try to fight against, so we drifted with it. We didn’t get to the boiler (events intervened while most of us still had lots of air – boo!) but we saw bits of metal plating and twisted wreckage here and there as we motored along. Tami and I were delighted with an entire field of golden sea cucumbers sticking up from the sand (of which there isn’t much). We didn’t see any fish, but the ocean floor was echinoderm paradise. It was a beautiful dive.

Golden sea cucumbers near the Cape Matapan
Golden sea cucumbers near the Cape Matapan

The dive site is on the edge of the shipping lane serving the harbour in Cape Town, so we all had SMBs (didn’t get time to deploy those!) and Grant was on high alert when we surfaced. Seeing giant container ships in the distance reminded me that if we were to get in the path of one of them, with a draught of 10 metres or more, we’d be toast. We didn’t want to get separated as a group, either, because of the current.

Brittle stars and sea cucumbers next to a block of cheese (coraline algae on a rock!)
Brittle stars and sea cucumbers next to a block of cheese (coraline algae on a rock!)

Tony was doing his first Cape Town drysuit dive, trying it out. His initial report is good, and you’ll hear more from him on the subject. Here’s a dodgy photo of him in his snug getup. I was particularly jealous of the body-shaped sleeping bag/drysuit pyjamas (neither of those being the correct technical term) that one wears underneath. His had fetching purple stripes down the sides.

Drysuited Tony
Drysuited Tony

Dive date: 22 January 2011

Air temperature: 25 degrees

Water temperature: 7 degrees

Maximum depth: 24.4 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 20 minutes

Urchins and sea cucumber
Urchins and sea cucumber

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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.

One thought on “Dive sites: SS Cape Matapan”

  1. The wreck was demolished by Navy Divers in 1960 I was part of the team nice to see the results done by the Depth Charges that was used to flatten the wreck.

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