On 16 February I got a rare chance to see an old shipwreck that had just been uncovered again after many years in the sand and rubble of the reclaimed Cape Town waterfront area. One of the articles that made the news is here. The wreck was uncovered by construction workers who were strengthening the old Number 1 Silo. The silo is being converted into living and commercial residential units.They stopped digging when the machines struck wood. The main archaeological team was led by Liesbet Schietecatte, a consulting maritime archaeologist from Belgium. People from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) were also interested in learning about the wreck and I was invited to take a look with them and to assist where I could.
Unfortunately on the day the construction company did not have enough extra protective clothing available for everyone and so the SAHRA team was unable to go on to the site. I was one of the few lucky ones as there was one pair of Size 9 steel toe boots which fitted me just fine. So, soon I was on the site, with the main archaeological team, without SAHRA and without a specific reason to be there.
Luckily the whole team were standing around most of the time so there was not a lot to do anyway. There was a press team from Die Burger and the reporters were interviewing the project leaders. This gave me some time to wander around and take some pictures. I was properly bored before long and left before any of the real work started.
What we know about the wreck is that it probably sank rather than beached. Many years ago the shoreline in Table Bay was much further forward than it is today and the sea reached all the way to just outside the Castle of Good Hope. In the late 1600s the area close to today’s waterfront, where the wreck was found, was probably still under a few metres of water. The wreck lies facing the old shoreline and the diggers found it from the stern side which was rather badly damaged when they did. There was some old ballast in the bow and one person found an old coin. I could not find out more about it. There was also what was left of a shoe, stuck in the concretion on the bow. The sole is clearly visible on some of the pictures. There were also some very old barnacles. They probably grew on the outside of the wreck as finding them growing on what was a sandy shore seems unlikely. What was puzzling to the archaeologists though was that the outside of the hull appeared to have a protective outer layer of bronze or brass. Barnacles would probably not have grown on this.
I understand that the afternoon after I’d left the entire wreck was removed. The agreement with the contractor did not give the archaeologists more time to study it where it was found. And the following day the digging resumed.
Yes, this was really a long shot but Carel and I were the only guys, apart from the Navy, occupying Long Beach on a Monday morning whilst it seemed everyone else was working !
We were trying out Drysuits, or as Carel said Drysuit–ish gear but managed a pleasant, slow 69 minute dive visiting all the usual Long Beach underwater “tourist destinations”
The Rays kept away from us, again, but we had an interesting visit from amongst others, Flute Fish, Pipe Fish, Mosaic Pleurobranch, Dark Shyshark, the cherry on the cake, although not the largest fish in the sea, a Back Spine cowfish !
A group of 8 us from both OMSAC and Pisces Divers set out on a night dive at Long Beach. Carel had 2 Advanced students with him who did a little navigation and then on we went to some dicovering. There was plenty to see and I have a new found respect for Long Beach – always something new on offer! Although Ander and I did not see the rays this dive, the others in the group did. I wonder if they ever sleep?!?
The dive was a very pleasant 19 degrees and viz of about 8-10m. All in all a worth while effort 🙂
Finally I saw them all. I convinced Rod, Graham and Ander to walk to the Brunswick and then swim back towards Long beach. My reason: we might get bored just swimming down the pipeline and around the wreck and then still have a lot of air left.
No Brunswick but the best Long beach dive ever! So typical and unexpected this ray swam past me and almost next to it a smaller one was giving us his feeding performance in its hole. The pink mosaic pleurobranch, octopi, pipefish, flute fish, orange clubbed nudibranch and gurnard was also interesting. The cherry on the cake was the double sash butterfly fish. We all achieved something: Ander did his 90th dive, closing in on 100 soon. Rod navigated perfectly and Graham was very impressed with his air consumption on my longest dive ever of 70 min.
Contributing factors was 19 degree water and not deeper than 5 meters with average viz.
Early Saturday morning we left the house in Langebaan in convoy on our way to Jacobs Bay, the launch site. When we got there Alistair from Underwater Explorers was waiting for us and we did a quick briefing on the plan for the 2 dives, kitted up, got the boat in the water and, on the dot 8am, we slowly found our way out of the shallow Jacobs bay.
Fog was all around us but no wind and a gentle swell all the way to Soldiers Reef where there is supposed to be some wreckage. Well, we did not find it in the dark 2-4 meter viz en 9.5 degree water. It was a bit surgy at 20 meters but myself and Evert, who buddied up, had a good dive. I saw 1 fish, a small Klipfish, and 4 nudibranchs and got nice shot of a hermit crab.
Once back on the boat, some of the other divers were up already, with Anand and Zelda who was picked up just before us. On our way to the 2nd dive site we saw loads of seals popping out of the water and the mist started to clear.
Hadden Hall or some wreck like that was our 2nd dive. As we went overboard some divers were praying or doing something on their knees and I was wondering what the dive will be like 😉
This dive the viz was much better, water 1 degree warmer but as it was so shallow very, very surgy. We did see the wreckage and lots of growth on it. Crayfish, like with the other dive, in abundance but after 25 minutes Evert disappeared and the dive was ended. On the safety stop I saw a jelly with small shrimp on top of it and tried to take a pic of it in the surge got one but not very clear.
So our west coast dives were not the best but still memorable. The other launches later in the day and the next day were even worse. With some divers doing the Sunday launch 6 of us decided to go paddle on the lagoon around the island which was really great. Loads of birds and even white rabbits were seen on the island. But the social and potjie and breakfast were well worth it.
Thank you to Rochelle who did all the organising and all the divers who helped and joined in the fun.