‘I must go down to the sea again;Originally ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield, 1916; amended by Spike Milligan, 1960
The lonely sea and the sky.
I left my shoes and socks there;
I wonder if they’re dry?’
The Cape Town shoreline is much more than merely the intersection point between land and ocean. It is a treasure trove of historical interest, geographical oddities, conservation issues and human involvement; all of which make for a fascinating study. Of course, it does have one other quality that makes it irresistible to locals and visitors alike: it is incredibly beautiful. Waterfront Charters have been championing this aspect since the early 1990’s; our Coastal Cruise options have become firm favourites for guests of all persuasions, and remain one our most popular cruises.
The shoreline of Cape Town Harbour has changed dramatically over the years. When the Castle was first built in the 17th century, the Atlantic Ocean lapped the shore just off one of the bastions. A river trickled down from Table Mountain past the Castle – seasonal, of course: nothing quite like the Thames or Hudson – and provided drinking and washing facilities. Table Bay itself was not exactly a safe shipping haven, and during winter storms many vessels were driven up onto the beach, or foundered out in the Bay. To a certain extant this problem was overcome in the 19th century when the Victoria and Alfred basins were constructed, including a mole that extended out into the ocean, providing some protection from the swells and wind that pushed against anchor chains and allowing boats to load and unload onto the quay rather than lighters.
This was never going to be enough. As Cape Town – and South Africa – grew in size and importance, the sea-lanes around the Cape Peninsula saw an enormous increase in ship traffic, and port facilities were in demand. Cape Town Harbour needed to expand, and the only way this could happen, given the city’s proximity to the mountain behind and ocean in front, was for land to be reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. The early to mid-20th century saw many hectares of land on the Foreshore filled in and covered over, and the sea was forced to retreat. The bones of the early wrecks were covered over and remain now only in history books and sailors memories. The curve of the Bay in front of the city was straightened out; concrete quays were built, forming an impenetrable barrier; the furnishing of a harbour appeared with warehouses, administrative buildings and towering cranes all playing their part to host the wayfarers of the seas, to unload and revictual their vessels.
Shipping continued to evolve. The forest of wooden masts of the 19th century became the freighters and liners of the 20th century, and then the shift to container ships in the 1980’s was a game-changer. The harbour was extended again to cater for these new efficient transporters, and once again the Atlantic was robbed of space. Fortunately, this reclamation only occurred extensively on the starboard side of the V&A Waterfront, as the original docks were now known. A small-boat mooring area took some land off to port, but by and large the coastline that heads off towards a distant Cape Point remains as it was when the Strandlopers first strode along the shore, picking molluscs and other titbits to supplement their diet. It’s this stretch of coastline that gets Waterfront Charters attention as we cruise gently out the harbour mouth, turn to port and start riding the swells parallel to the coast. Much of the history of the area is hidden from modern view, of course. The coastal batteries whose nine inch muzzles pointed to sea are still there, but are surrounded by golf fairways or obscured by the buildings that now punctuate the coastline.
The latest addition to the Cape Town scene, the huge Cape Town Stadium, now dominates the lower horizon, and its curved roofline has become a more acceptable sight to Capetonians who were initially opposed to its looming presence. As we sail further along adjacent to the land, the scenery changes to one of high human occupancy – the hotels and blocks of high-end apartments front the rows of houses that climb the slopes of Signal Hill; Green Point and Sea Point are high density areas of expensive real estate, and when you consider the views – mountains behind, Atlantic Ocean and Robben Island to the fore – it’s no wonder these mansions demand high prices. Standing like a sentinel between the two suburbs is the Green point Lighthouse, a beacon of light at night for vessels, and an ear-aching foghorn wail for the residents of those upper-end houses and establishments during misty conditions.
The history of Cape Town, both land and nautical, is inextricably tied up with this section of coastline, and we urge all those who join us on our Coastal Cruises to do a little research before or after; it will bring so much of what you see to life, reminding us of times past and the growth that has occurred. Booking a Coastal Cruise online is a simple as reading a blog, and you’ll get a discount too! Bring the family – it’s fun and educational, and with social distancing in place aboard all our cruises, safe too.
Cape Town: a beautiful city in a splendid, unbeatable location – see it from a Waterfront Charters luxury vessel.