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
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
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
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.