Wild Coast Shipwrecks

This stretch of coastline is not called "The Wild Coast" for nothing. For sailors, it has a bad reputation, sudden storms, wild winds, heavy seas with the occasional "freak wave" have claimed many ships and it has earned its title over and over again.

Most shipwrecks are quickly forgotten, but a few live on in the collective memory. They are remembered because of loss of life; others on account of the horror; a few due to the adventures of the survivors; but the most famous always involve either mysterious disappearances, or treasure!

Oceanos (1991)

The Greek-owned Oceanos cruise liner sank in heavy seas on the 4th of August off the coast near Hole in the Wall. The liner had left East London that afternoon with 576 passengers and crew aboard.

Shockingly, the Greek captain and crew abandoned the ship, leaving the remaining passengers to fend for themselves. Had it not been for the entertainment staff that sent out the distress call, there might well have been a huge loss of life. A large-scale rescue operation ensued, involving the South African Defence Force Medical Command, the South African Air Force, the Department of Transport and the Civil Protection Services at East London and Port Elizabeth.

Many of the passengers were airlifted by helicopters from the deck of the ship, while others were rescued from lifeboats by ships that answered the distress calls. The operation was carried out in extremely dangerous circumstances, with rough seas and bad weather conditions, and without any casualties. It was a resounding success and a real tribute to all of those involved, except for the Greek crew that is...

The wreck of the Jacaranda near Qolora

The Jacaranda (1971)

The Jacaranda was a 2000-ton Greek-owned coaster, which ran aground on the night of September the 18th, 1971. She was not laden with any cargo and her engines failed as she negotiated the windy seas. She ran aground on the beach, about an hour's walk north of Qolora Mouth and the captain, his wife and 14 crew members abandoned ship using a rope ladder which they strung from the ships prow to the nearby rocks. Successive storms have taken their toll on the stranded ship and today only the bow remains.

The wreck is 1 - 1 1/2 hour-long walk north along the beach from Qolora.

The sinking of the Grosvenor

The Grosvenor (1782)

The Wild Coast's most famous wreck is that of the Grosvenor. The Grosvenor, a British East Indiaman, was on her final voyage back from India, before being decommissioned. The weather over the previous few days had been overcast, making it difficult to obtain a correct sighting to verify their position. This, coupled with the inaccurate maps of the era, which showed the East Coast of Southern Africa to be further to the west than it actually was, led the captain to believe that he was at least some 500 kilometres from shore. It came as quite a surprise then, when at 4:30am on August the 4th 1782, the Grosvenor stuck the rocks of Lambasi Bay.

136 of the 150 people on board made it to shore, yet incredibly, only six made it back to Port Elizabeth. Governor Van Plettenburg of the Dutch Colony in the Cape, sent an expedition to rescue any remaining survivors, but found only 12. Eight years later, another expedition was launched in search of the Grosvenor and any remaining survivors. They found none.

What makes the wreck of the Grosnevor so famous, was the fabulous treasure of diamonds, rubys, gold and silver bullion it was said to have carried, and the efforts to which men have gone to retrieve it. The salvage operations that followed ranged from the ridiculous to the bizarre. Heavy-duty chains to scour the sea-bed; steam-driven cranes to scoop up the treasure; undersea tunnels; a 400 mtre long breakwater to enclose and then drain the entire bay; explosives and even spiritualists led by a ghost. The bay seems to be determined to hold on to its treasure. To this day, only a few cannon and some gold and silver coins have ever been recovered.

Construction of the Centaurus

The Stavenisse (1686), The Good Hope (1685) and The Bonaventura (1686)

The Dutch ship, Stavenisse, was wrecked in what is thought to have been the Coffee Bay area. A few survivors decided to walk to Cape Town, while the rest decided to stay. These were later met by survivors of the English ships, Good Hope (1685) and Bonaventura (1686). Together they decided to build a new boat, the Centaurus, from the wreckage of the Good Hope, which they then sailed to Cape Town. The Cape Governor, Simon van der Stel, ordered the refitting of the Centaurus and sent her back in the hope of finding more survivors.

At Cove Rock, south of East London, three naked white men paddled out on a makeshift catamaran to meet the Centaurus, they were survivors of the Stavenisse! By the end of the next day a further 16 survivors had been rescued. Amongst the survivors was a 13-year-old French boy who had, through various twists of fate in the previous four years, been separated from his family in France; smuggled to America; sailed to the Far East; wrecked on the South African coast; been adopted by a Xhosa chief; learnt the language and had served as a guide to the Stavenisse survivors on their march to the Cape!

The Santo Espirito (1608)

It is still unclear whether the wreck, which lies off Double Mouth's "Bead Beach", is in fact that of the Santo Espirito or that of some unrecorded wreck of which there were no survivors. The only reference to the Santo Espirito in Portuguese literature is that it ran aground on "the coast of Natal, and the survivors escaped by boat to Mozambique". Maps of the age indicate that the coast of Natal could have been farther south than it's current boundary. Analysis of the Chinese Ming Porcelain found washed up at the site, indicates that it may have been made towards the end of the 16th Century.

As its name suggests, "Bead Beach" is a great place to hunt for Carnelian beads and shards of Ming Porcelain. An intact lid of a Ming Porcelain pot was unearthed there recently, after heavy seas had shifted the beach sand. "Bead Beach" is a 15-20 minute walk south along the coast from the car park at the Double Mouth Nature Reserve near Morgan Bay.

The Santo Alberto (1593)

The Santo Alberto was wrecked at the present day site of Sunrise on Sea. She was overloaded, poorly maintained and not well suited to the adverse weather conditions in which the crew found themselves. To make matters worse, her pumps had become clogged when her cargo of peppercorns mixed with the water flooding into her hold. The decision was therefore made to run the ship aground before she sank in the rough seas. She grounded within '400 paces' of the shore, split in two, and washed up on the rocks. At low tide, 285 survivors out of a total of 347 were able to make it ashore.

Ahead of the survivors lay an arduous trek up the coast to Maputo. Nuno Velho Pereira, who took command of the survivors, knew from hearing other survivor accounts, that the terrain along the coast would be rough and that there would be many great river mouths to cross. He realized that it would be better to travel inland before heading for Maputo. His excellent leadership over his disciplined, well-armed men meant that fewer passengers and crew were lost on the trek to Maputo than the parties of the Sao Joao and Sao Bento, who had taken the coastal route.