The edge of the deck, showing its thickness

Dive sites: HNMS Bato

Christo (behind water droplet) enters the water at the end of Long Beach
Christo (behind water droplet) enters the water at the end of Long Beach

I have wanted to dive HNMS Bato for some time, but the 450 metre walk down Long Beach to reach the entry point for the wreck deterred me. The 450 metre walk back to the parking area enthused me even less. A full set of diving gear weighs at least 25 kilograms, assuming a 6-7 kilogram weight belt, and one isn’t particularly mobile in a wetsuit. Christo has dived this wreck a few times on his own, and one breezy Saturday, feeling strong, I joined him.

Burnt edges of the deck
Burnt edges of the deck

Unlike the area of Long Beach along the pipeline, this is a very infrequently dived site. The Bato was a Dutch (the “N” in “HNMS” stands for “Netherlands”) warship that caught alight and sank on 8 January 1806, after being used as a floating battery. She lies in relatively shallow water – less than 5 metres deep at high tide – so we took extra weight with us to ensure that we could stay on the wreck.

The wreck is thus over 200 years old, and was partially burned before she ran aground and sank, so you should manage your expectations accordingly. That said, large areas of decking are visible, as well as rivets, studs, and some holes in the wood where some of these have rusted away. Much of the wreck must lie under the sand, and the entire remaining structure, which is not more than a metre off the sand at its highest point, is covered with a dense layer of kelp and sea lettuce. Diving her is thus an exercise in patience: one hangs (sometimes made difficult by surge) in a spot, and waits for the kelp to move away to reveal what’s underneath.

Copper sheets with holes for rivets
Copper sheets with holes for rivets

There are many large pieces of crumpled copper sheeting sticking out of the sand. I was also intrigued by what looks like ballast stones on the wreck site. There are “runways” of pebbles (each about the size of two fists) lying lengthways in amongst the wreckage. I wonder whether these are part of the ballast that was in the bottom of the ship, or whether it’s just suspiciously regular patterns of river stones that have washed into the sea off the beach.

One of HNMS Bato's cannons
One of HNMS Bato’s cannons

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to remove anything from this wreck – it is over 60 years old and thus protected. In any case, if you have piratical tendencies, it has been thoroughly worked over, so nothing that remains is portable. The cannons from the wreck (luridly painted) stand outside the Simon’s Town post office or on the jetty outside Bertha’s (which is just below the post office).

I don't know what this indentation is but it looks interesting!
I don’t know what this indentation is but it looks interesting!

The marine life on the wreck is intriguing. We have seen large numbers of large pyjama catsharks there, sleeping under the deck in a space that is about 40-50 centimetres high off the sand. A torch is required to fully appreciated the creatures that live in this space. There are also beautiful cushion stars, orange clubbed nudibranchs, two tone fingerfin, and some schooling hottentot that like to hang about above the kelp. Both times I have dived here I was distracted by the wreckage itself, trying to identify what the different pieces of the ship that remain were used for. I expect that on future dives I’ll appreciate the animals inhabiting the structure even more.

Some longer pieces of wood remain
Some longer pieces of wood remain

Dive date: 10 November 2012

Air temperature: 22 degrees

Water temperature: 17 degrees

Maximum depth: 4.5 metres

Visibility: 5 metres

Dive duration: 55 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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