OUR COASTAL TREASURE
Shipwrecks on our Coast
Shipwrecks and Disasters on the St Francis Bay Coastline
The greater St Francis area, the site of Seal Point lighthouse, is situated on one of the tips of South Africa where ships have to alter course and tend to come close inshore to save time. When you walk on the Wild Side, or visit Seal Point and look out over the bay you often see Chokka and fishing boats nearby and bigger tankers and cargo ships on the horizon.
The 100 metre depth line comes to within about two nautical miles of Seal Point and since ships started to sail around this point it has seen more than its fair share of tragedies.
Along our coast winds and waves can become treacherous partners and some ships in peril simply disappeared and were never heard of again. Other ships were pushed too close to the coast by an inset current and found themselves driven onto the sandy beaches or rocks.
Sometimes the hulls were strong enough to withstand the wave action until crew could reach the shore and safety before the sea broke the ship apart. Some ships could be pulled back into deep water and were salvaged.
In July 1909, the Waratah, en route from Durban to Cape Town, disappeared with 211 passengers and crew aboard.
A certain romance is associated with shipwrecks, and stories abound about treasures recovered and others that still could be claimed. But mostly the stories tell of the hazards the survivors met if they made it to the shore. In the early days, being wrecked often meant no food, lack of fresh water, no shelter and the nearest ports hundreds of kilometres away, only to be reached on foot.
It is estimated that 2500 shipwrecks have occurred along the South African coast since 1500, including ships of Portuguese explorers, Dutch, English and French East India Companies and the British Royal Marine. (https://www.roomsforafrica.com/art/shipwrecks_south_africa_coast)
We know that at least eighty of these vessels ran into trouble on the coastline from the Kromme River, around Cape St Francis and Seal Point and further westwards along the coast up to Tsitsikamma and Storms River.
Because of the dangers associated with our particular part of the coast it was recommended that a lighthouse be built on Seal Point. This lighthouse has now been guiding shipping since 1878.