View of the rudder showing the broken end

Scattered shipwreck: The rudder of the Brunswick

View of the rudder showing the broken end
View of the rudder showing the broken end

The Brunswick is an old wooden wreck from 1805 that lies in shallow water just outside Simon’s Town. I’ve taken some video footage on the wreck that also gives you an idea of what it looks like today. When Tony attended a talk on the Brunswick by an Honours student called Jake Harding, who has just completed a project on it, he learned that the rudder from the ship is currently on display in the courtyard of the Slave Lodge in Cape Town.

End-on view from the intact end of the rudder
End-on view from the intact end of the rudder

 

I went to check it out, and it’s awesome! It gives a sense of how large the Brunswick was that I didn’t get from diving her, as the debris is quite low to the sand and much of it is buried.

The rudder of the Brunswick
The rudder of the Brunswick

The rudder was salvaged in 1967 by an American salvor, who discovered the copper clad rudder on the wreck site (at that stage unidentified). He required the assistance of the SA Navy to bring the rudder ashore, as it was so large. The rudder then lay on the dock in Simon’s Town for several days, during which time most of its copper cladding was stripped off. Some copper still remains on the rudder today, but it is in very poor condition and has the texture of cardboard – you could probably peel it off with your fingernails, if you were a bad person.

Pintle and copper cladding
Pintle and copper cladding

The rudder would have been attached to the back of the ship – the stern – onto a part of the vessel called a sternpost (which is what it sounds like). There are hooks (called gudgeons) on the sternpost and pegs (called pintles) on the rudder that enable the rudder to be attached to the ship, and to move from side to side. There are three pintles visible on the rudder at the Slave Lodge, with one of them partly broken off. The rudder measures just over 4 metres by just under 2 metres, and is nearly 30 centimetres thick.

Holes bored by shipworm
Holes bored by shipworm

One end of the rudder is jagged, and it is believed that originally the rudder was more than five metres long and had another 2-4 pintles. The work of shipworm, Teredo navalis, is evident at the jagged end, where the wood is full of thousands of tiny tunnels created by these creatures. These worms would have lunched on the rudder while it was still attached in the ocean. The cladding of ships’ hulls and rudders with copper was one way to prevent shipworm from damaging the wood while the vessel was still in use, thus prolonging their useful lifespans.

Copper cladding that remains on the rudder
Copper cladding that remains on the rudder

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

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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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