Receding tide on the Thomas T Tucker

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Thomas T Tucker

The first boiler of the Thomas T Tucker you'll come across
The first boiler of the Thomas T Tucker you’ll come across

If you’re a fan of visible shipwrecks, may I recommend the Shipwreck Trail in the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park? I’ll write a separate post just about the trail, but this post and the one that follows (about the Nolloth) concern two shipwrecks, high and dry on the shore, that can be see on the route.

Three large pieces of the Thomas T Tucker on the rocks
Three large pieces of the Thomas T Tucker on the rocks

The SS Thomas T Tucker was an American-built Liberty ship. These cargo vessels were of a standardised design and were built in great numbers, and at great speed, during World War II. They were used to transport war materiel to the Allied troops, and this is what the Thomas T Tucker was busy doing when she found herself off Olifantsbos in November 1942. She was on her maiden voyage from New Orleans to Suez, hugging the coast in a thick fog for fear of German U-boats.

The Thomas T Tucker's second boiler, high on the beach
The Thomas T Tucker’s second boiler, high on the beach

When she ran aground on 27 November (our wedding anniversary!), her captain reported that the ship was aground on Robben Island, which is over 40 kilometres to the north. The ship’s compass was found to be out by 37 degrees, which may have contributed to the accident.

Today the Thomas T Tucker is beautifully spread out on a beach about two kilometres from the parking area at Olifantsbos, inside the Cape Point Nature Reserve. She was 135 metres long, so there was a lot of ship to distribute. There are some great pictures in Shipwrecks of the Western Cape by Brian Wexham, from (I think) the 1980s. They give a good idea of how the wreck has deteriorated.

You will first come upon one of her boilers, high up on the beach, close to a small headland. If you look back the way you’ve come (first photo, above) you can see Misty Cliffs, Scarborough and – perhaps – Slangkop Lighthouse. Beyond that she is in several large pieces on the rocks, and higher up the beach. A third (bonus!) section of wreckage lies a couple of hundred metres further along the Shipwreck Trail (also called the Thomas T Tucker trail), so isolated from the rest of the wreck that I at first thought that it came from a different ship.

The "bonus wreckage" of the Thomas T Tucker further along the beach
The “bonus wreckage” of the Thomas T Tucker further along the beach

We visited the wreck of the Thomas T Tucker an hour or two after high tide. At low tide, all the pieces of the wreck are accessible; we could not reach the most distant piece without getting our feet wet! There is some wreckage that isn’t visible, lying in the shallow water, which you can visit on a scuba dive if you get the appropriate permission to have dive gear on a boat within the exclusion zone around Cape Point. We were lucky to have fairly dramatic skies for photography. The way in which the wreck is scattered is a testament to the exposed nature of this coast, and the power of the Atlantic Ocean.

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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