Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope

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Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope

So many stories lie at the pit of this merciless ocean and only a few of them have submerged to keep the ships alive. The ‘Graveyard of ships’ is the apt name of the Cape of Good Hope for this coastal line is marred with nearly 3000 sunken ships. So many stories lie at the pit of this merciless ocean and only a few of them have submerged to keep the ships alive. In this blog, we take you through the most famous along with where you can go find them and their stories next time you book your stay with us in Cape Town.

Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope
Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope

The Arniston

The beautiful cargo ship was bringing back wounded British soldiers from the Kandyan wars in Ceylon (Modern day Sri Lanka) when it hit a violent storm off the Cape Coast. The cargo ship was not fast, but it was packed to the hilt with world class cannons, enough to be considered for war. It was the perfect vessel to bring soldiers home, but the ship lacked the correct navigational equipment. Its technological blindness was not a problem when it sailed amidst vessels traveling in the same direction.

However, on the morning of the 30th of May 1815, the Arniston lost sight of her peers in the midst of a raging storm. Mistaking the Cape Agulhas for Cape Point, they travelled west and found themselves heading towards a reef without any use of the anchor due to the storm. Captain George Simpson had no choice but to run the ship aground. Only 6 of the 378 survived. The sad story of wounded soldiers who never made it home became so popular, that the town closest to the wreck was named Arniston and a museum survived in its honour. A lighthouse stands near the reef reminding ships not to take the same path as the fateful Arniston. When you book your stay, go and dive the wreckage.

SS Waratah – Australia’s Titanic never seen again

In an effort to make the ultimate luxury liner, the Scots created a ship that would make the Australians proud. The Waratah was the most luxurious and sophisticated ship, bringing the finest people to Australia and returning the finest goods back to England. Apart from its dual purpose of being a cruise liner and a cargo ship, it was considered to be no match for the ocean. It was thus named the Waratah after a flower found in New South Whales, a flower which conquers many hardships yet never loses its beauty.

On the 26th of July 1909, the SS Waratah left Durban for Cape Town and passed many other vessels who reported no problems could be seen on the ship. The last vessel that saw it reported that it was battling the heavy seas and suggested that smoke may have been arising from the boat. But the weather conditions were so harsh that there was no telling if the smoke was coming from the land or the boat itself.

On it expected arrival of the 29th of July 1909, the SS Waratah never showed up. Rescue missions went on for two years with the ship never being found. Still to this day people have tried to find the wreckage, but with no success. Theories of giant whirlpools and paranormal activities have attempted to explain what happened. The most likely theory is that a giant freak wave, common in the area, flipped the ship over, trapping any buoyant debris and breaking up the boat into too many pieces for wreckage to be visible. In the museums of the Great Wild Cost, you can visit the local museums and hear about these stories, or venture to the top of Table Mountain to see the area where many think the SS Waratah mysteriously went down.

The Flying Dutchman – The myth of the haunted pirates

Made famous in films, opera, books and television, the Flying Dutchman is known to all. The name, ‘The Flying Dutchman’, does not come from the ship itself, but from a fable of a supposed ship set to be cursed to sail the Cape waters forever. Although the story is legend, many claim that it is from a ship that sunk in the Cape Waters and many even claim that the ghost of this ship is still seen today.

The myth suggests that Captain van der Decken was returning home from the Far East in 1641 where a sudden thought of beginning a colony at the Cape overcame him. Deep in thought, he did not recognise the storm brewing ahead of the boat and only reacted at the cries of the lookout. The storm pushed the boat into nearby rocks, yet van der Decken was determined not to give up and shouted that he will sail around the Cape, even until Doomsday. His cry thus became his curse.

Since this time, many sailors have suggested they’ve seen the ship, naming it the ‘Flying Dutchman’ as it doesn’t quite touch the water. Many claim that they have had a glimpse of it on a foggy day when standing at Cape Point. In fact, Cape Point even has a train ride named after it where valuable information can be found. If you are lucky enough, you may just see it when you take the Cape Point Tour.

Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope
Shipwrecks of the Cape of Good Hope

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