Tuesday, 18 August, 2020 - 08:52

This evening, 49 years ago (18 September 1971), tragedy struck on the Wild Coast. Eyewitnesses noticed a well-lit ship heading straight for the rocks.....the Jacaranda was running aground.... . This iconic Wild Coast shipwreck would go on to become one of the most photographed shipwrecks of all time. Not much remains today, so why not send us some photos of your time spent at this wreck, while enjoying the spectacular Wild Coast. What happened that fateful night.....?

An eyewitness account and photo's by Tony Ewels :

As on most weekends, we were at our cottage at Kobonqaba, over the weekend of 18 and 19 September 1971, and coinciding with a new moon low tide, we were spearing, together with a few of the other cottage owners family’s, at one of our favourite spots,” jagged rock”, also known as “the pantry”. Those were the days of the “mail boats”, passenger ships that were owned or leased by Safmarine and did the coastal route from Durban on the East Coast of South Africa, calling in at East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and then onto Southhampton, with stops along the West African coastline and the Canary Islands. This provided a means of transport between the coastal cities of South Africa as well as Europe.

The ships were always well lit up and it was a highlight of our evenings, when we were lucky enough to be at the coast on a Sunday or Tuesday evening, to watch out for the passing liners.

On the Saturday evening, 18 September, we noticed an extremely well lit up ship rounding the point at Cape Morgan and appearing to be making a bee-line for us. As time passed, we became increasingly aware that the ship was in fact headed straight for the section of coastline that we were on. A discussion was held by the adults present, and the feeling was that it was possibly a passenger ship heading for disaster on the Wild Coast.

Some of our group jumped into a bakkie and raced up to the closest telephone, at Steve Young’s trading station, ± 5 miles away to phone the police in Kentani, who then alerted rescue services from East London, Butterworth and Umtata, while some of us remained on the scene.

The ship continued to approach the coast and about 700-800 metres out suddenly lost power and turned broadside on to the swells, which pushed the vessel closer to shore. About 300m out it entered a channel with a strong current which turned the ship perpendicular to the waves and washed it up bow first against a big rock that always had fairly deep water alongside. By this time, we were on the rock with our carbide lamps and torches and we noticed movement on the deck of the ship.

We then heard splashing and calling for help coming from a section of coast about 60m from the ship and we were able to assist a sailor who apparently had jumped overboard some distance out to sea and managed to swim ashore without too much damage. He turned out to be the ship’s cook.

Back on the rock, we were able to secure rope ladders, that were thrown from the deck, to the rock, after which a number of the crew disembarked, but quite a few were determined to stay and spend the night on board. The crew that climbed off the ship were extremely dirty, with afro hairstyles and appeared to be of Greek nationality. All of them appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. I was sent back to our cottage with instructions to fire up the donkey boiler for hot water for the crew. The police arrived and after lengthy discussions with the crew in broken English, those that had left the ship were offered the chance of a wash to clean up, looked at each other and told my Mother “me no wash, me no wash”. My Mother replied “you no wash you no come in my house”.

At first light, I was up the rope ladders and onto the deck to have a look. I couldn’t believe the state that the ship was in. There was filth and rubbish everywhere and the smell was disgusting. Around Midday one of the big Safmarine tugs arrived, and on the high tide, cables were secured and attempts were made to pull the ship free, but in vain as the cables kept snapping. We later discovered that a rock had come through the bottom of the ship and effectively prevented it from going anywhere.

As the captain had abandoned the ship, salvage rights were claimed by a businessman from CapeTown, who was on holiday in the area at the time, and he sold the entire ship to a businessman from Umtata, who salvaged what little cargo was on board, stripped and removed what he could from the engine room, and then attempted to cut the ship up for scrap metal, but after removing a very small section of the bows, he realised that it was costing him money once it was transported to the nearest scrapyard. He then abandoned the wreck, which remained in place, fairly intact for almost 40 years. Because of its accessibility and position on the Wild Coast, it became known as the most photographed ship wreck of all time.

Over the next year or so after the ship wrecked, I was able to collect a number of mementoes of the ship, which were displayed in our cottage.

I was at boarding school when our cottage was sold, along with the mementoes. I was extremely unhappy about this, but was informed that they added to the value.

The Jacaranda was one of a number of small freighters that were known as “sugar boats”, as they were used to deliver sugar from the mills in Natal, to the coastal cities as far as Walvis Baai in what was then South West Africa. On their return, they would carry whatever cargo they could lay their hands on. She was on her way back to Durban with very little cargo on board when she came aground.

What caused the wreck? Navigational failure was one of the reasons that was put forward, along with a number of other theories. There was a lady on board, who was rumoured to have been “picked up”, by the skipper in East London, which then supposedly led to a mutiny among the crew, with the skipper and his consort being locked up in a cabin, while the crew had an almighty party. The evidence that I saw the next day, certainly supported this theory. There was even a theory that the ship was used to put insurgents ashore, although we never saw anything like that.

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Oceanos shipwreck
Sunday, 4 August, 2019 - 09:40
100 years since SS Waratah disappeared off the Wild Coast
Tuesday, 4 August, 2009 - 12:34

The Waratah 1908 - 29 July 1909

The Waratah 1908 - 29 July 1909Source: Daily Dispatch

The SS Waratah, sometimes referred to as "Australia's Titanic", was a 500 foot steamer. In July 1909, the ship, en route from Durban to Cape Town, disappeared with 211 passengers and crew aboard. The disappearance of the ship remains one of the most baffling nautical mysteries of all time. To this day no trace of the ship has ever been found.

According to Dispatch archives, the 10 000 ton ship passed along the Transkei coast on July 28, 1909 after stopping off in Durban the previous day.

It was heading to London and would have stopped over in Cape Town before setting sail on the high seas. A Dispatch report from July 1971 said: “Two people had disembarked in Durban – one to find a job and the other after he dreamt that the ship would sink – and after being spotted by two other ships along the Transkei coast, the Waratah disappeared in what was to become ‘one of the most baffling nautical mysteries of all time’.”

;As it sailed past the Transkei coast, between the mouths of the Bashee and Xora rivers, the ship is said to have encountered bad weather and battled to sail against high winds, a combination of tide and turbulent ocean swell.

Carrying provisions on board to last a year, the Waratah is said to have fallen victim to a freak wave, capsized and been sucked to the ocean floor with all aboard. In the 100 years since it disappeared various theories have tried to explain its demise.

Numerous attempts to salvage it and a few sightings have been reported, with none proving to be true. A world genealogy website reports initial theories suggested it remained adrift for a while and was carried away from the southern African shoreline and drifted into the Antarctic Circle where passengers and crew died of cold and starvation, the ship itself eventually being crushed to pieces in the southern ice.

“Another possibility was that the ship blew up because of an explosion due to heating of her bunker coal, bringing a quick and painful death to all on board,” the website reports.

Agreeing with the theory that the ship went down in a storm, Smit said debris wasn’t found because everything was secured tightly when the storm hit.

He said the ship was either deliberately steered away from the coast to avoid it bashing onto rocks, or it was driven away from the shore by the current, and swept past the southern African tip away from the coastline. “Since they found the Titanic, why can’t they find the Waratah,” Smit asked. - By NTANDO MAKHUBU

More info: Wikipedia

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Ships wrecked
Thursday, 12 April, 2007 - 21:56

The Wild Coast partly derived its name from its wilderness character, but mostly from the pounding breakers and cauldron of its boiling seas when stormy conditions reign. This particular part of the Eastern Cape coast has been the graveyard of many a ship through the ages, and ship’s skeleton, artefacts and structures bear mute testimony to the loss of lives and vessels.

Most of these wrecks vanished beneath the waves and have been forgotten, yielding up nothing but an occasional small treasure for the beachcomber. Some are still visible as rotting hulks lying in shallow water, like the Jacaranda at Qolora Mouth or the Idomene at Qora Mouth. Some have left a legacy – the name of Coffee Bay supposedly comes from a ship that was wrecked in the bay with a cargo of coffee beans. It is said that the beans grew into short-lived coffee bushes that gave the bay its name.

Stranded Ross Craft - photo by J. Costello Some have left their names – it is believed that the name Port St Johns comes from the wreck of the sixteenth- century Portuguese ship Sao Joao. Mazeppa Bay’s name comes from one of the apparently few ships that made it – the British ship Mazeppa often used the bay for anchorage and survived to tell the tale. But the most famous wreck of all is that of the English ship, Grosvenor.

Her tragic end came on August 4th 1782, while on a return voyage from India. She ran aground then sank in a very deep gully off a rocky little bay called Lwambazi. Although only 14 of the 150 people on board drowned, just six sailors reached safety at a frontier farm near Port Elizabeth. News of the disaster prompted the colonial government to send an expedition to rescue the survivors. They only found 12. For many years, however, rumours persisted of the 'un-found' survivors living with local tribesmen, and an expedition in 1790 discovered a colony of about 400 people of non-African descent living on a tributary of the Mngazi River. These were the sad remnants of the various shipwrecks along the coast.

Photo by J. CostelloThe expedition found no trace of the Grosvenor. In the meantime, however, another legend had arisen: that the ship had been carrying a fortune in bullion and silver. One of the rumours insisted that the fabulous Peacock Throne of Persia (a royal chair made of solid gold with peacocks outlined in precious stones, and which had been looted round about this time) had been smuggled on board.

What followed was an absurd and costly series of recovery schemes, many of which cost more than any reputed treasure on board the ship. Steam-drive cranes, suction dredgers, undersea tunnels, boulder breakwaters, high-pressure water- jets, explosives, mining efforts – even a group of spiritualists led by a ghost – made no impression whatsoever. Only two cannons and several gold and silver coins have ever recovered from the wreck of the Grosvenor. It lies there still, in its dangerous little gully, its secrets hidden by treacherous currents and drifting sand. What treasure is on board, and how to get to it, no man knows.

---------- Of historical importance at Mkambati (and tourist interest) are two famous shipwrecks, namely the Sao Bento(1554)- near the mouth of the Msikaba River - and the Grosvenor (1782) lying in Lambasi Bay.

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