Bookshelf: The False Bay story

The False Bay Story – Jose Burman

The False Bay Story
The False Bay Story

The False Bay Story is one of a trilogy of books about the notable bays of the south western Cape,  written by Jose Burman. The other two books (which I have not read) are The Table Bay Story and The Saldanha Bay Story. This volume was published in 1977, and is chiefly concerned with the colonial history of False Bay. It is well illustrated with early maps (which I found particularly interesting), paintings, drawings and photographs. Burman quotes at length from letters and diaries of the Dutch and British settlers at and visitors to the Cape, which makes this book particularly useful as a collection of primary sources.

The book concentrates on the human settlements: Gordon’s Bay, St James, Kalk Bay, Simon’s Town. Burman pays slightly more attention to the shipping and naval activity in the bay than does Arderne Tredgold in Bay Between the Mountainswith particular attention to how this shaped the settlement at Simon’s Town.

It was Burman’s explanation of why False Bay has that name that finally made sense to me. I had a half remembered idea that it was called False Bay because sailors mistook it for Table Bay, but could never imagine how someone could be that stupid. The truth is that Hangklip used to be known as Cabo Falso (False Cape) by Portuguese seafarers who mistook it for Cape Point. Rounding it, they found themselves in a bay, instead of heading up the western side of the Cape Peninsula heading for Table Bay. False Bay got its name from False Cape. Upon investigation, Wikipedia has this precise explanation. Should I have checked there first, and saved all the time I spent reading this book?

As with Bay Between the Mountains, I found a copy of this out of print book on Bid or Buy.

Dive sites: Steenbras Deep

On Sunday 11 March, since the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour was going to prohibit access to basically the entire peninsula, we decided to take an expedition out to the eastern side of False Bay to do a boat dive with Indigo Scuba, run by Kate and Deon Jonker. We’ve been meaning to do this for ages and ages, so we were very glad to finally get ourselves over there! The southeaster (which had blown strongly in the few days prior to the 11th) actually cleans up the eastern side of False Bay while it messes up the western side, or at least has some positive effect on visibility. So while we are diving in the Atlantic during the summer, Indigo launches out of Gordon’s Bay and explores local dive sites such as Pinnacles, Cow and Calf, and the Steenbras River Mouth.

Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat
Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat

We met at Indigo Scuba in the morning, loaded up the boat, and then drove the 5 minutes to Harbour Island in Gordon’s Bay, from where we launched. It’s an extremely civilised launch site and overall experience… The foul-mouthed snoek slinging fishermen crowding Miller’s Point seemed like a bad dream!

West coast rock lobster buddy pair
West coast rock lobster buddy pair

It’s about 11 kilometres from Harbour Island to Steenbras Deep, and one has the feeling of being quite far out to sea – although we could see the mountains surrounding False Bay on both sides of us. The wind was stronger than the weather man had predicted, giving rise to some quite serious wind chop and a bumpy and wet boat ride. When we arrived at the reef we could see that there was more wave action on top of the pinnacles than in the deeper water surrounding them. Deon dropped a shot on one of the two pinnacles that comprise the reef (the top of the pinnacle we dropped onto is at about 18 metres, with the sand at about 30 metres). A murky descent (standard for False Bay in summer!) down the shot line led us to the top of the pinnacle, where visibility was only about 2 metres and it was very green.

Bull klipfish
Bull klipfish

As we ventured slightly deeper we encountered some invigorating (ahem!) thermoclines (one of them was actually visible as a haze in the water) and improved visibility. There was quite a strong current in places, and lots of surge.

There are many similarities between the reefs we dive on the western side of False Bay, but the overall pattern of the sea life was subtly different. The fish seemed far less skittish than their compatriots to the west, and happily swam within a few tens of centimetres from my mask. Nudibranchs abound, and close inspection of the corals covering the rocks is well rewarded. There seemed to be fewer sea cucumbers, and feather stars were not quite as dominant as they are in some of the other parts of False Bay. The corals, sponges and sea fans are beautiful and very numerous.

The sand around the reef is very coarse and full of shells, and the reef itself abounds with cracks, gullies, small pointy pinnacles, and walls that can be traversed at a variety of depths. The gullies appear to be much beloved by west coast rock lobster, and shysharks were quite common too.

This reef is not in a marine protected area (MPA) – none of the eastern False Bay dive sites are. Kate, who regularly dives both sides of the bay, says she can see a distinct difference in the number of fish that they see on “their” side of the bay compared to the western side. So even if I am quite cynical about the competence of the administration and will to police the MPAs, clearly they are having some effect!

Dive date: 11 March 2012

Air temperature: 29 degrees

Water temperature: 12 degrees

Maximum depth: 24.8 metres

Visibility: 2-10 metres

Dive duration: 38 minutes

Directions to Harbour Island

Harbour Island
Harbour Island

Harbour Island is where you’ll typically go to launch to dive the eastern side of False Bay by boat. There is a slipway right next to the Gordon’s Bay Boat Angling Club, with perhaps the best-placed Ocean Basket franchise in Cape Town on the opposite side.

The slipway at Harbour Island
The slipway at Harbour Island

There is a residential development in the area too. There are public loos and a freshwater tap near the slipway that is convenient for hair and face washes before and after dives. Here’s Harbour Island on a map:

View Larger Map

I’m not going to type out directions, but you can see that the marina lies on Gordon’s Bay Drive, which is the main drag through Gordon’s Bay. It’s a few minutes’ drive from Indigo Scuba. The old Gordon’s Bay harbour and the Gordon’s Bay Yacht Club, where there is also a slipway, is further around the coast, in an easterly direction (on the far side of Bikini Beach).

Newsletter: Short and sweet

Hi divers

This will be a short and sweet newsletter. Sorry it’s late! A power failure last night that lasted until well after bedtime meant that our wireless was down, and since we live in a black hole for cellphone reception, the 3G modem wouldn’t co-operate either.

Last weekend

The Argus took place on Sunday and sent all of us to Gordon’s Bay for some diving. We dived with Indigo Scuba and dived a site called Steenbras Deep. It was a little green, no, a lot of green water until around 15-18 metres at which point it cleaned up a fair amount. The thermocline was also very noticeable on my dive computer and the temperature dropped a good 5 degrees. The eastern side of False Bay is also a spectacular piece of coastline to view from the ocean. Thank you everyone that got up early and took the trip out there so we could explore some new territory!

Congregation of frilled nudibranchs
Congregation of frilled nudibranchs

This week I have dived most days and have been very surprised by the number of huge schools of fish in the Bay. The water temperature is also still hovering at around 20-21 degrees celcius. The rays are also very keen to show off (some on youtube here and here) and I have had a few really amazing displays of their swimming, flying, and gliding techniques plus their ability to reduce the visibility to near zero when they take-off or hunt a snack buried in the sand.


We are all set for Mozambique, 7th – 12th May: good diving, clean warm water and lots  of beer and rum sorry, make that coffee and sunshine… You can still sign up, just tell me you’re interested. Those of you who have spoken to me about the trip will receive a separate mail.

This weekend

It is the Simon’s Town Navy festival which means a HUGE amount of traffic, very little parking and many delays as there are not too many ways into and out of Simon’s Town. There will also be really strong southeaster on Saturday with a hefty sized swell (not what False Bay needs to clean up the visibility) so I think our plan will be as follows:

  • Saturday – stay home and do what it is you do when you stay home doing stuff.
  • Sunday – we might be able to get in if we start very early and depending on how conditions look. Let me know if you want to be notified if we do make an attempt.

I do not feel it will be good conditions for any Open Water training dives so for those still on course, sorry but we will need to wait for next weekend!

Next week

Clare and I are off to Botswana to do some admin and see friends, and to Marico Oog for a day or two of freshwater diving. We’re leaving on Monday, back on Friday so we will miss the public holiday on Wednesday. However, next weekend we will be diving, conditions permitting. I’m not sure we’ll be able to get a newsletter out on Thursday as we’ll be in the middle of the North West Province with limited data coverage, but I’ll be in touch by text or email on Friday.

If you’re looking for something to do, you can visit the You Tell Me section of our blog, where there are various polls for you to answer. Click here. Also check out the Cape Town Dive Festival which is happening on 10-11 August 2012 from Miller’s Point, and start thinking about how many boat dives you can safely fit into a weekend!

You all have a super weekend and be safe.


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!