OUR COASTAL TREASURE
Other Shipwrecks On Our Coastline
If we look a little further afield, many more ships have been wrecked in our area.
As recently as 12 June 1979 the Greek freighter Evdokia was lost. She ran aground at Robbehoek at the foot of a 200 meter high cliff. Most of the crew of sixteen was airlifted to safety by a helicopter from Plettenberg Bay but the Captain and six officers stayed on board and tried to run back towards Port Elizabeth. The ship ran aground during the night in enormous seas and only one man was rescued the following morning by helicopter. Only part of her valuable cargo, which included tin ingots and 1 974 tons of copper, was salvaged.
Further east at beautiful Huisklip lie the remains of the Lyngenfjord, en route from France to Madagascar. She was wrecked on 14 January 1938. The Rademeyer family of Driesfontein was camping at their seaside shack at Huisklip when they were awakened early by their children shouting to their elders that they must come as a ship had stranded. They could see the mast and funnel sticking up above a rocky promontory. In fact the ship was so close to land that the first man aboard jumped from the rocks to the ship’s deck. The first person ashore from the ship, walking over a plank bridge from the forecastle to the rocks is reputed to have been a smartly dressed French lady clasping her pet cat to her bosom!
The wreck was bought by the enterprising Norwegian Captain Pettersen, a salvor and ex-MP who owned whalers and a whaling factory and salvaged many ships, most of which never went back to sea. The Lyngenfjord gamble paid off, the ship holding together long enough for him to salvage a large part of her mixed cargo and make a handsome profit.
An interesting story about this wreck is that the ship carried liquor as part of her cargo. Some of this was salvaged quickly and secretly by locals before customs officers arrived on the scene. Speed was essential, so much of the loot was reportedly buried in the bush near the wreck with the intention of retrieving it as soon as the coast was clear. Unfortunately the customs officers remained on duty for some two years and at the end of that time the bush had grown back and all traces and markers had vanished The story goes that despite all efforts very little of the spoil was ever recovered. It might be fun to scan the area with a “Wine Detector”
A few miles further east, still on the Rademeyer farm, the President Reitz came ashore on the 27 November 1947. All crew were saved. Much of the wreck was salvaged.
On the 17th February 1938, three miles east the Panaghia was wrecked close in shore. This happened in thick fog whilst she was sailing from Argentina to Australia in ballast. Captain Pettersen salvaged the wreck. Her boilers can still be seen at low water.
In a bay about a half mile east of the Panaghia wreck lie the remains of the Bender, a local Port Elizabeth based trawler, wrecked in 1955. She carried a crew of seventeen of whom only two were saved.
East of the Bender site the French ship L’Aigle was wrecked on 16 June 1850. The Captain, Du Bergue, seven crew members and the only passenger drowned. The ship carried a cargo of tin, coffee, rattans and peppers which choked her pumps when they were needed most. It was only in 1981 that divers from Cape Town recovered much of her valuable cargo of 70 tons of tin ingots. A contemporary report tells how the L’Aigle was carrying her cargo from Sumatra to Marseilles when she encountered the gale. For two days she ran before the storm in company with a large unknown merchantman. On the night of the 16th June, Mr. J.P. Boyes of the Humansdorp area, who had gone to the shore to assist the survivors of L’Aigle was horrified to discover another wreck three miles to the west.
It was the “unknown” ship that had kept company with L’Aigle during the previous two days. There were no survivors but Mr Boyes estimated from her size that she must have carried a crew of at least sixty although only 32 bodies actually washed ashore. The unknown ship was later identified as the Queen of the West on a voyage from Bombay to London. Another ship lost in the same gale was the Grindlays which sank south of St.Francis Bay. All aboard were rescued.
Walking eastwards another few kilometres brings us to site of the wreck of the Chen Hai No 1, a Taiwanese fishing vessel wrecked with its cargo of about 100 tons of tuna in 1983. The cargo was not salvaged but the bunker oil was pumped ashore and disposed of. The wreck lies about five km west of Klippen Point, the jagged point of rocks to the west of Oyster Bay. Most of the crew was airlifted to safety by SAAF helicopter; the captain and one other crew member were able to wade ashore at low tide.
Also at Klippen Point lies the wreck of the Suffolk which in September 1900 carried 900 remounts destined for the British cavalry during the Anglo Boer War. The ship had foundered on a reef and had “stuck fast” but was successfully towed off in the hopes of reaching the shelter of Oyster Bay but sank before reaching there. The horses were released with the hope that they would swim ashore but sadly they followed their grooms who had taken to the lifeboats and rowed out to sea. Only two horses reached land alive, one of which survived and was sold in Humansdorp.
Some ships wrecks we know of happened a little further afield on the Tsisikamma coastline. For example the Dutch East Indiaman the Nederlandsche Vlag was lost on 22 July 1870 when 12 crew drowned. She carried a mixed cargo, mostly perishables, valued at 200,000 pounds sterling.
Many other ships were lost in this area including the Berwick on 30 June 1827, Auguste on 22 January 1858, the Runnymede on 6 February 1866, the Milford on 12 October 1875, the British Duke on 13 November 1880.
One of the earliest and more interesting disasters was the wreck of the Hope, the first regular steamer plying between Cape Town and Algoa Bay. She was a timber built schooner-rigged paddle wheeler built for the Cape of Good Hope Steam Navigation Company. She began her service towards the end of 1838. She was wrecked at Tsitsikamma Point at 2.30 in the afternoon on 11 March 1840. The accident happened in thick fog, Captain Badderley believing the ship to be 25 miles out to sea. By 7.30 in the evening all the women and children and other passengers and some crew had been floated ashore on a raft. By this time the sea had become too rough to continue the rescue and it was arranged that those remaining on board would ring the ship’s bell on the hour through the night to tell those ashore that they were safe. After midnight the bell was silent; those on board had all fallen asleep! Imagine the consternation of those ashore who imagined that their friends had perished. Fortunately all was well and those who had remained aboard were safely brought ashore the next morning. The party then set out to seek help and found a cattle trail that led them to the farm Driefontein, the home of Field Cornet Rademeyer who assisted them. As a token of appreciation Captain Badderley presented the captain’s day bed, a brass cot, and the ship’s bell to the Rademeyers. The family still has them.
Another disaster was the loss of the Bosphorus, a transporter, which struck a reef during a storm close to Klippen Point and broke up within three hours of striking on 21 October 1867. Of the 88 men on board only 40 managed to get ashore. She was on hire to the British Royal Navy and had been dispatched to transport troops from Bombay to Abyssinia to help in their campaign against Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia.
One of the worst disasters off our coast was the collision of the two American sister ships known as ULCCs (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) the Ven Pet and Ven Oil. They collided off the Tsitsikamma coast on the 16th of December 1977. The huge pillar of smoke that suddenly erupted out of the sea that day was frightening and brought home the risk shipping can bring to our coastline and to sea life. Fortunately serious local damage was avoided.