Wreck diving in the Cape
The Cape sometimes referred to as the Cape of Storms is a graveyard of shipwrecks. Many ships perished off the coast, from historical wrecks dating back to 1694 to modern day navy frigates. For today's scuba diver these wrecks provide fantastic dive sites that can be accessed from the shore or by boat. The two main wreck diving areas are the Atlantic Seaboard and False Bay.
The Atlantic Seaboard offers great diving with visibility often exceeding 15-20m. Mainly dived in summer (November to March) because of the weather conditions. Typical atlantic dives include kelp, seals and colourful soft corals. Dolphins are frequent visitors of the dive sites and if you're lucky you may encounter the mysterious sunfish. Water temperatures are between 10 and 14 degrees celsius therefore a thick (5mm or 7mm) two piece wet or dry suit is necessary. Detailed below are a few of the most popular wreck dives on the Atlantic Seaboard.
The Maori - Sunk 1909
The Maori was a steam freighter built in 1893, with a registered tonnage of 5317 tons gross, and was owned by Shaw Savill Company. She was wrecked near Cape Town on 5 August 1909 while en route from London to Dunedin in New Zealand with a general cargo which included crockery, wine and champagne, explosives, and railway tracks.
At 11.30pm on 4 August 1909 she left Table Bay after taking on coal at Cape Town. Little over an hour later - 12.40am on 5 August - the Maori went aground on the rocks at Duiker Point, near Llandudno. Six crewmen drowned in the surf after the lifeboat they were attempting to reach the shore in capsized. Most of the rest of the crew were rescued from the wreck by rocket apparatus. The Maori has become one of the most popular dive sites in Cape Town. She was even dived by Jacques Cousteau in the 1960's!
Location: A short boat trip from Hout Bay harbour 75m offshore, directly in front of the large, flat cleft rock.
Average depth: 20m. Maximum depth: 25m.
The Oakburn (1906) and The Boss 400 (1970's)
The Oakburn, a British cargo steamer of 3865 tons, was wrecked in fog on 21 May 1906, on a voyage from New York to Sydney. Two lives were lost. It's cargo included railway lines and equipment, glassware, sewing machines, musical instruments, oil and paper.
The Boss 400 was the biggest floating crane in Africa when the towing lines broke and hit the rocks in a storm. It now sits above the Oakburn and makes for a very interesting dive.
Location: A short boat trip from Hout Bay harbour into Maori Bay. This site is easily found as The Boss is clearly visible.
Average depth: 20m. Maximum depth: 25m.
False Bay offers year round great diving although winter is the best time. During winter, visibility can be up to 30m with an average of about 10m. Water temperatures range from 13°C up to 21°C. Wreck, seal & reef diving is all possible at False Bay. The reef consists in general of big boulders covered with kelp & highly colourful seafurns, sponge and anemones. On the reefs fish like Roman, Hottentot, Dassie & Stumpnose are common. In between the rocks & Gullies you can see Lobster, Octopus, Cuttlefish & many other interesting species of sea life. A few of the most popular wreck dives in False Bay are listed below:
The Wrecks of Smitswinkel Bay
Five wrecks were scuttled by the Navy in the early 1970s, to form an artificial reef which has proved to be a success. These wrecks now teem with a variety of fish and other marine life. These wrecks are the SAS Transvaal, SAS Good Hope, Rockeater, Princess Elizabeth and the Oratava. The depth, combined with the ghostly appearance of the upright frigates and dredger, make this a thrilling dive. Because of the depth it is necessary to take some form of artificial lighting down to the reef to fully appreciate the marvelous colors of the marine life. The dive site is usually calm as the bay is sheltered and the depth dampens the effect of even a quite large swell.
Location: Found in the middle of Smitswinkel Bay these wrecks are best reached by boat, launched from Kalk Bay, Miller's Point or Simon's Town. Situated approximately 4km from Miller's Point, an echo-sounder is essential to locate them.
Average depth: 35m. Maximum depth: 40m.
SAS Pietermaritzburg - Sunk 1994
The SAS Pietermaritzburg has a very interesting history. It was formerly HMS Pelorus and led the D-Day invasion of Normandy in the Second World War. It was bought by the SA Navy in 1947 for use as a training vessel. It was later converted into a minesweeper. The Pietermaritzburg was scuttled on 12 November 1994 to form an artificial reef in quite shallow water. The wreck lies straight up on the sand and is in very good condition. This all makes for a very eerie dive.
Location: Found about 2km north of Miller's Point slipway, a short boat ride from Miller's slipway.
Average depth: 16m. Maximum depth: 20m.
The Lusitania - Sunk 1911
The Lusitania, a Portuguese twin-screw passenger liner of 5557 tons, struck Bellows Rock at midnight on 18 April 1911. It sank two days later when it slipped off the rock, and all but 8 of the 800 people aboard survived. A large amount of steel plating and some bronze fittings remain on the site but may not be removed. The sea life is beautiful and varied with many invertebrates and sometimes, large fish. This is a deep dive and it is essential to navigate away from the rock underwater to avoid the strong surge area near the surface. This is a great dive only recommended for experienced divers in near perfect conditions
Location: Found on the eastern side of Bellows Rock, which breaks approximately 4km off Cape Point only accessible by boat launched from Miller's Point.
Maximum depth: 42m.