Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Commodore II finds a home

Commodore II by the Milnerton lagoon
Commodore II by the Milnerton lagoon

I am happy to report that the Commodore II has finally been paid the attention she deserves, and moved to a permanent position on the shore of Milnerton lagoon. SAHRA began a process in late 2016 (when the wreck still lay on the beach close to the lagoon mouth) that has finally concluded with the wreck being moved on Friday 23 November. There are some pictures of that endeavour here and here.

View towards Lagoon Beach hotel
View towards Lagoon Beach hotel

We first wrote about the Commodore II in 2015, and I was amazed that a wreck with such a fascinating and high-profile history could have practically disappeared into obscurity. There appeared to be no desire from the keepers of our maritime heritage to protect her, and when she washed up the Milnerton lagoon during a storm in late 2017, it seemed that she would be carted away piecemeal for firewood before anyone realised what was being lost.

View of the Commodore II
View of the Commodore II

Late last year, an enterprising local resident secured the wreck to the banks of the lagoon off Esplanade road, at his personal expense, to prevent it from washing around inside the lagoon and injuring paddlers or damaging the historic bridge further up. We wrote about his efforts here.

The Commodore II's sturdy construction
The Commodore II’s sturdy construction

The new, and hopefully final location of the wreck is just next to the small parking area outside the Lagoon Beach hotel and Wang Thai restaurant. It’s entirely accessible at all hours of the day and night, and there are promises of interpretive signage to share the wreck’s history with passers by.

Tube worms cover the lower portion of the wreck
Tube worms cover the lower portion of the wreck

I went to visit the wreck a week after she was moved. Dried pond weed still covers some of the planking, and thousands of tiny tube worms cover the lower part of the structure that was submerged (I can’t tell what kind – most likely Ficopomatus enigmatus, the estuarine tube worm that thrives in brackish water).

It’s great that the Commodore II is now firmly on the radar as one of Cape Town’s historic shipwrecks, worthy of preservation. I’ll be updating my ebook to reflect her new location before year-end. Meanwhile, read about her chequered history here.

Newsletter: On the rocks

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Shore dives at Long Beach at 9.30 am / Diversnight at the jetty in Simons Town at 7.30 pm

Sunday: Boat dives from the jetty in Simons Town at 9.30 am

False Bay is rather pleasant at the moment and Saturday looks to be an ideal day for student dives at Long Beach. We will start at 9.30 am. Sunday has some south easterly wind but I doubt it will be enough to spoil the conditions, so we will launch at 9.30 am from the jetty in Simons Town.  Let me know if you want to dive.

CV24, one of the yachts participating in the Clipper Race, aground at Olifantsbos
CV24 (team Greenings), one of the yachts participating in the Clipper Race, aground at Olifantsbos

Diversnight

Diversnight is this Saturday evening. It’s a night dive, free of charge (unless you need gear), and we are diving at the jetty in Simons Town. We’ll meet at 7.30 pm and get into the water at about 8.00 pm, as the aim is for divers around the world to be underwater at 20:17 (get it?). This year, so far, there are 135 dive sites registered, in 22 countries. Clare might even bake something for when we get out of the water. Join us!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Update on the Commodore II

Until recently, the last time I specifically went looking for the wreck of the Commodore II was in December last year, when I went to Milnerton lagoon beach to show visiting family the beautiful view of Table Mountain. At that time tides and waves had moved the wreck further away from the lagoon mouth, and she was lying on the sand at a spot that would be partially submerged at high tide.

There has been some community discussion about the future of the wreck since late last year, but nothing changed until winter arrived.

Commodore II in December 2016
Commodore II in December 2016

Next time I went to look for the wreck, just after the Cape storm of 7 June this year, I couldn’t find it. A waiter at the Wang Thai restaurant on the beach told me he’d seen it all the way up at the old Wood Bridge at Woodbridge Island, and that people were removing pieces of the wreck and carrying them away. The storm surge had actually lodged the wreck partially under the old Wood Bridge (a sensitive National Monument constructed in 1901), and there was the potential for it to cause damage. There’s a picture of the wreck in this position on page 28 of this document (pdf).

Commodore II, secure for now
Commodore II, secure for now

A few weeks ago Gerhard Beukes, a Milnerton resident, messaged me to say that he had secured the wreck about half way down the lagoon. It had been winched free of the Wood Bridge by Koos Retief, Area Biodiversity Manager at Table Bay Nature Reserve, and had floated back down the lagoon to settle on a sandbank near Gerhard’s home.

Gerhard estimates that the wreck weighs about 25 tons, and with considerable personal effort and some financial outlay he has attached it to the lagoon bank, resting on the sandy bottom in shallow water, with chains and heavy lifting straps. The chain is secured to bolts attached to metal pipes sunk deep into the bank.

The Commodore II in Milnerton
The Commodore II in Milnerton

The arrangement will prevent the wreck from washing around inside the lagoon and potentially injuring kayakers and other water users. It will also prevent it from washing out into Table Bay and becoming a semi-submerged shipping hazard, potentially lethal to vessels (something like the Seli 1 is when her buoy goes missing).

View towards Woodbridge Island
View towards Woodbridge Island

It’s also quite visible: if you walk or drive down Esplanade Street in Milnerton with Lagoon Beach behind you, you’ll come across the remains of the Commodore II next to the bank of the lagoon on your left. The wreck is over 60 years old, which means that under South African law it is protected and removing pieces of it is an offence. I hope that having many local residents’ eyes on the wreck will ensure it some measure of safety, even in the absence of any enforcement of the relevant laws.

How can you help?

To make sure the wreck does not come loose next time a large volume of water washes down the river and into the lagoon after heavy rains, it needs some further reinforcing in its current location. This could be done with a further 5 metre length of heavy duty chain, or (preferably) two loading slings, 25mm steel cable with rings or eyes on both ends. The harness needs to be capable of holding 25 tons of wood in place even under strain, and are necessary to completely stabilise the wreck.

If you have such items lying around unused at home, or are sufficiently moved and interested by the wonderful history of the Commodore II to make a donation, please comment on this post or use the contact form here, and I’ll connect you with Gerhard, the current guardian of the Commodore II.

Are you interested in shipwrecks that you can visit without going underwater? Read more about Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks here.

The Phyllisia circuit at Cape Point

Some time ago I promised to describe the route we took in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to locate the wreck of the Phyllisia, a small fishing trawler wrecked in 1968 and one of the visible shipwrecks around the Cape Peninsula. Here’s that post!

The view from the start of the trail at Gifkommetjie
The view from the start of the trail at Gifkommetjie

Tami, Maria and I set out on a slightly drizzly, grey morning from the Gifkommetjie parking area inside the reserve. The first part of the walk was a steep descent down to the beach at Gifkommetjie, where we admired some fishing debris. From there, the trail meanders north, parallel to the coast. Most of the path is sandy, but other parts are rocky and hard-packed.

There are natural tunnels formed by the overgrowing milkwood trees, requiring a bit of ducking and crouching to go through. The feeling of being in a forest and yet right by the ocean is lovely. After about 2.5 kilometres – the path gradually bends inland – one reaches a T-junction, with an unambiguous sign saying SHIPWRECK, pointing left. If you want to see the Phyllisia, or just get closer to the coast, take that path!

Turn-off for the Phyllisia
Turn-off for the Phyllisia

It’s another few hundred metres across unclear paths over the dunes to Hoek van Bobbejaan, a promontory with a beach to the north of it (pictured below) that really shows the wildness of this stretch of coast, and how exposed it is to the open ocean. The Phyllisia is right on the outermost point of Hoek van Bobbejaan, and is the same colour as the rocks it’s lying on, so you might need to look carefully!

The beach at Hoek van Bobbejaan
The beach at Hoek van Bobbejaan

Just above the wreck is one of the (I think) large okoume logs that fell off a ship in Table Bay in 2008 – more on that in this post about the Shipwreck Trail. It’s a great spot to take stock of your surroundings, and a vantage point for photos, as Maria demonstrates below!

Tami and Maria on the log at Hoek van Bobbejaan
Tami and Maria on the log at Hoek van Bobbejaan

To return, follow the path back towards the T junction and keep going straight. The path forks again – the left fork will take you towards Brightwater, and is part of the overnight Cape Point trail. Take the right fork – you should start climbing the rocky ridge that you’ve been walking alongside, towards the level of the parking area.

The return route is along the top of the ridge, along paths that we sometimes struggled to find because the vegetation had been burned away. Upright sticks with red and yellow paint on the end provided some guidance at intervals. The views down over the path you’ve just walked, and back towards Hoek van Bobbejaan, are spectacular.

You can of course, also return the way you came, and do a short, sharp climb at the end back to the parking area, or do the entire walk back and forth along the ridge, skipping the milkwood tunnels, and descend to the shipwreck half way through the route.

We saw bontebok, ostrich, baboons, an angulate tortoise, and wonderful spring flowers in the dunes and on the mountain. The walk took us about three hours at a slow pace, with a regular photo stops. As always, if you go hiking, go in a group (four really is ideal), wear appropriate shoes and a hat, apply sunscreen take waterproof or windproof clothing even if the weather looks nice, bring water to drink, stay on the path, and tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back.

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

Scattered shipwreck: The nameplate of MV Antipolis

Plaque and Antipolis nameplate at the Twelve Apostles
Plaque and Antipolis nameplate at the Twelve Apostles

MV Antipolis ran aground off Oudekraal, along the Cape Peninsula’s western coast, in July 1977. The wreck is visible at low tide, and can be seen from the deck at the nearby Twelve Apostles Hotel – you can admire it while drinking cocktails (or Fanta Grape, if you’re as wild as Tony and me) at the Leopard Bar.

Plaque commemorating wreck of the Antipolis
Plaque commemorating wreck of the Antipolis

I was quite surprised to discover the (a?) nameplate of the Antipolis, along with a small plaque commemorating the wreck, on the large terrace adjacent to the Leopard Bar, which I accessed during the course of a very lovely wedding at the hotel. I am sure that if you asked nicely, or moved smoothly like a lizard, you could do the same, even without a wedding invitation in hand. You might be able to crane your neck from the deck of the Leopard Bar, too.

Antipolis nameplate
Antipolis nameplate

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

Visible shipwrecks: SS Kadie

The Kadie on the beach, further parts of the wreck in the rockpools

The mouth of the Breede River is a fascinating and beautiful location. There’s a treacherous sandbar (more on that just now). There are wide, natural vistas. There are sleepy holiday villages on each side of the river mouth. There’s an additional little frisson of excitement related to the fact that bull sharks use the Breede River, and must be passing by all the time (right?!).

When Tony and I were in the area for a spring break, we explored the area. I wanted to see whether I could find the remains of SS Kadie, a steaam-assisted sailing ship that is an integral part of the history of the area. The Kadie was built in Scotland in 1859, for the specific purpose of navigating the Breede River and up and down the coast, as a trading vessel. She did venture out to sea on longer voyages, on one occasion carrying a cargo of ostriches to Mauritius. (You can read a lot more about her history, and that of the Barry family who operated her, here.)

On 17 December 1865 the Kadie ran aground and sank while attempting to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the Breede River. She is easy to find, but you should visit at low tide. Take the turnoff to the river mouth from the dirt road to Infanta. It’s a small sign and easy to miss! Descend the wooden staircase onto the beach, and walk right. You will soon see pieces of the Kadie on the beach, in the shallow rockpools, and out in the surf zone. Best to go at low tide, or at least not at the peak of high tide.

Looking down the beach to the Kadie
Looking down the beach to the Kadie

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

Visible shipwrecks: Meisho Maru No. 38

Meisho Maru 38 in the distance
Meisho Maru 38 in the distance

The Japanese crew of the MFV Meisho Maru No. 38 could not have picked a more beautiful piece of South African coastline to run aground on. Granted, it was 3am on 16 November 1982 when they got into difficulties, and sightseeing was probably not high on their priority list, but the fact remains that the wreck is in a remarkably scenic spot. It is also within spitting distance (OK, two kilometres) of the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas.

It is also very easy to access. By foot, it is a flat walk along the coast for 1.5 kilometres from the signage at the southernmost tip of Africa. There is a well-kept dirt road out of L’Agulhas, which terminates at Suiderstrand, that runs parallel to the coast. If you drive along the road rather than walk next to it, you will see the wreck in short order.

The bow of the Meisho Maru 38
The bow of the Meisho Maru 38

Here’s a picture of what the wreck looked like not long after grounding in 1982. (Compare it to these pictures of the Eihatsu Maru, aground at Clifton…) She was about 45 metres long, and was carrying a catch of tuna. Her entire crew (17 men) managed to get ashore All that remains now is the bow of the ship, facing out to sea after being turned around by the waves. When we arrived, some Egyptian geese were sitting pensively on the railings. The rest of the wreck has broken up and is hidden in the surf zone.

Decimal-form co-ordinates for the wreck are -34.829763, 19.983845, but if you drive from L’Agulhas towards Suiderstrand along the dirt road, you can’t miss it.

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

Newsletter: Where have all the weekends gone?

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Night dive at Long Beach, 7.15 pm

Sunday: Boat dives from Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am to SAS Pietermaritzburg / 11.00 to Maidstone Rock

Weekend diving has become a scarce commodity of late and the best diving days have fallen in the week. This weekend looks a lot better than last weekend: there is very little swell and no howling winds to deal with. False Bay needs some westerly wind to clean it up, so I am going to choose Sunday as the better option for this weekend’s diving. It’s windier than Saturday but less likely to rain, plus False Bay will have had a bit more time to improve. The Atlantic was crystal clear yesterday but I have my doubts it is going to stay that way for the weekend with the hot day we have just had.

Diversnight

We are night diving on Saturday evening as part of the international Diversnight event, and will meet at Long Beach at around 7.15 pm. The idea is to be in the water at 15 minutes past 8.00 pm (2015). Text me if you are joining, make sure you bring your permit to dive in an MPA, and if you need to rent kit or a cylinder, I need to know by tomorrow (Friday) evening please.

Burrowing anemone on a night dive at Long Beach
Burrowing anemone on a night dive at Long Beach

Permits

Be sure your permit to dive in an MPA is up to date. It’s particularly important that you bring it on Saturday evening if you plan to dive, so don’t wait until lunchtime on Saturday to look for it!

Bits & bobs

Diarise the Shark Spotters fundraiser on Sunday 22 November – should be fun.

Clare wrote a small travel guide with information on the visible shipwrecks around Cape Town. Check it out here.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks

If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town and have a love of shipwrecks on shore, you’re in luck. Visiting some of the wrecks that are visible above the water around the Cape Peninsula can be combined with your exploration of the city, and will ensure that you don’t miss any of its outdoor highlights. Some of these visible shipwrecks can be reached by road, and one or two of them will require a short boat ride.

A map showing all these wrecks can be found here. A mini travel guide to Cape Town’s shipwrecks on shore, in the form of an ebook entitled Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks and written by yours truly, is available here.

Table Bay to Oudekraal

What remains of RMS Athens
What remains of RMS Athens

SS Winton and SS Hermes
Commodore II
RMS Athens
MV Antipolis

Maori Bay to Kommetjie

The BOS 400 and Seahorse
The BOS 400 and Seahorse

MFV Harvest Capella
MV BOS 400 (also check out this post and this one) – also a dive site
SS Kakapo

Cape Point Nature Reserve

Ribs of the Nolloth
Ribs of the Nolloth

SS Thomas T Tucker
SS Nolloth
FV Phyllisia

False Bay

The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position
The Clan Stuart engine block seen from a stern facing position

SS Clan Stuart – also a dive site

Bonus wreck stuff

Cape Town is well supplied with museums, many of which have maritime history items on display:

In addition to the general shipwreck artefacts on display at the museums listed above, you can check out the following specific wreck remains, some of which are not labelled or take a little bit of finding:

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: FV Phyllisia

The wreckage of the Phyllisia, and a huge log on the beach
The wreckage of the Phyllisia, and a huge log on the beach

There are three visible shipwrecks inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park. Two of them, the Thomas T Tucker and the Nolloth, are accessible along the Shipwreck Trail in the nature reserve. The third, the Phyllisia, is visible at the turning point of a walk called the Phyllisia Circuit, that starts and ends at Gifkommetjie in the south western part of the reserve. (The formerly visible wrecks, the Tania at Buffels Bay and the Shir Yib at Diaz Beach, are no longer visible, having been reclaimed by the sea.)

Tami and Maria on the rocks in front of the Phyllisia
Tami and Maria on the rocks in front of the Phyllisia

The Phyllisia was a Cape Town fishing trawler of 452 tons. She struck submerged rocks a short distance offshore, close to midnight in early May 1968. Holed in four places, she was partly submerged but remained intact for some time. Eleven of her crew came ashore in life rafts, and the remaining 14 were airlifted off by helicopter.

Initial plans to salvage the wreck were scuppered by continued heavy weather, and after the removal of the moveable equipment from the ship, she and her cargo of 30 tons of fish were left to the elements. All that remains of the wreck on the shore is part of her stern.

A cloudy day at the Phyllisia
A cloudy day at the Phyllisia

The walk to the Phyllisia from the Gifkommetjie parking area is about 2.5 kilometres, and I will describe the route in more detail in a separate post about the Phyllisia Circuit. She is best visited at low tide, so that what remains of her stern is fully exposed on the rocky shore. Look out for the various smaller bits of metal in the area, and also for the massive log that probably has the same origin as the one at Olifantsbos.

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