OUR COASTAL TREASURE
Local Fishing Disasters
The earliest evidence of fishing on our coastline can be traced back to the Khoi-San people who foraged along the shoreline. Fish was caught in traps that were accessed at low tide. Some of these traps can still be seen. Click here to read more.
Fishtraps at Thyspunt
The use of fishing boats in the greater St Francis Bay area started around 1830 when a small fishing and whaling industry was established at what would become Jeffreys Bay.
In the days of early settlers in the Eastern Cape, trading vessels regularly called on small ports along the coast as a road network had not yet been developed and travel was slow. So it came to be that a fleet of smaller boats frequented the waters of St Francis Bay.
Fishermen and crew members risked their lives on a daily basis as they were exposed to the dangers of storms, waves and fog and it is recorded that close to sixty of the local fisherman died at sea in those early days.
In the1980’s it became known that the export of Chokka (Loligo reynaudii), a species of squid that was until then regarded as a by-catch, could be a very profitable business. Lots of people wanted to participate in this fast growing industry and many took to the sea, often in ill-equipped boats, at great risks to the crews.
The Chokka fishing fleet originally moored by the north bank of the Kromme River near the road bridge. Boats had to negotiate the breakers at the river mouth going out and coming in.
There were calls for this industry to be more regulated and in 1997 the Chokka fleet was moved to the newly-opened harbor of Port St Francis.
Even though the fishing fleet now has bigger, more professional, boats, with more safety features, a visit to Port St Francis and a look at the boats tied up, will illustrate that on a stormy or foggy day, fishing is still a dangerous occupation
In 1991 the chokka boat Triton hit a rock in the Kromme River mouth. The crew of eight men was able to cling on to some rocks while the boat broke into pieces. Three men drowned when they were washed off by the sea. The other five had to wait for low tide before they could walk to safety.
In October 1992 within 24 hours, ten crew members were lifted from the vessel Viking , twelve sailors needed to be rescued from the Moby Dick and later that day. the Moratee got into trouble and 12 men were rescued. The Viking and Moby Dick broke up but the Moratee was towed to safety.
A busy day for the St Francis Bay NSRI
The NSRI station keeps a scrapbook which illuminates their many brave actions and lists many boats that have got into trouble over the years. There is the Excelsior (1995), Gentle Hooker (1995), Montana (1996), Loligo (1996), Opkijk (1996), the Andy Capp II ( 1999), El Shaddai (1999), Visser I (1999), Southern Reaper (2001), and the Bandido in 2008. Many crew members were rescued off these ships in often dangerous conditions. Tragically, in total 41 crew members of these boats drowned.
Walking from Otters’ Landing south towards Cape St Francis and Shark Point, nine wooden poles stand sentinel at the site where nine men were lost when , in 2001, the Southern Reaper was wrecked.
The Southern Reaper
In 2008 the local Chokka boat Bandido overturned after probably running into a reef. All crew members were saved. In the same year the Kingfisher capsized in heavy seas and sank off Gibson Bay. Fourteen were drowned whilst five crew members were able to swim to safety.
In 2016 another Chokka-boat, the Barcelona PEA 196, got into trouble at almost the same place as the Southern Reaper a few years before. This time the 12 crew members were able to scramble to safety on the rocks.
The Barcelona on the rocks
Shark Point itself is the place where, in 1992, the yacht Genesis (formerly Wesbank) ran onto the submerged rocks called not for nothing“Die Tande”. Three men lost their lives. Two men were able to scramble to safety.
The Maredon wrecked near Sunset Rock. (Photo: Media 24)
In July 2017 the Chokka boat Maredon capsized and ran on the rocks just past Sunset Rock on the Wild Side. Nine men lost their lives in this incident and a cross was placed near the scene of the accident to commemorate this sad event. The cross can be seen on the rocks about 1 km west of Sunset Rock.
The Cross that marks the site of the Maredon wreck
Since 1963 Leighton Hulett, founder of St Francis Bay, assisted boats in trouble with his own boat called Spray. In 1971 he, Duncan Lethbridge and “Red” McKechnie established Station 21 of the National Sea Rescue Institute in St Francis Bay. In 1991 Leighton built a brick boat house for the station at Granny’s Pool.
The first official NSRI station
In 1996 the NSRI headquarters moved once again, this time to a dedicated building and launch site in the newly opened Port St Francis. Hundreds of people, amongst them crew members of the above mentioned ships, have been rescued and assisted by the brave men and women of the NSRI Station 21.
The NSRI Station in Port St Francis
The old boat house near Granny’s Pool is now the operational centre of the Enviro-Trust and houses the Enviro-Trust’s Ocean Museum and Bruces Ocean Museum Cafe. Click here