Shine Your Light On Me

The Green Point Lighthouse at Mouille Point with Devil's Peak as a backdrop. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are Waterfront Charters playground. Our seven vessels ply the ocean around this area of the Cape Peninsula on a daily basis, and we have shown countless guests the sights that make this section of Southern Africa one of the most picturesque on the planet. The natural beauty alone is enough to take away the breath of the most hardened tourist: seeing Table Mountain’s majesty from the Bay is an awe-inspiring event. Probably one of the most photographed views, the sight of Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head flanking the Tabletop is iconic, to say the very least.

And, of course, it doesn’t end there. As you cruise southwards along the coastline away from the harbour there is a marvellous combination of history, modernity and magical views to keep everyone enthralled. From old gun batteries that never fired a gun in anger to small craft harbours and inlets, every twist and turn of the shoreline reveals something worth knowing. As you glide past Mouille Point towards Greenpoint, you’ll see a strange metal structure protruding from the sea, about a hundred metres offshore. This is an engine block and piston housing; all that remains of the RMS Athens, a Union Company 739 ton steam barque that ran ashore on the 17th May 1865. Safely aboard a Waterfront Charters luxury yacht in the 21st century, you can reflect on the fact that over 160 vessels have gone ashore between the Milnerton and Green Point lighthouses. Many of the wrecks now lie under the reclaimed land that is the Cape Town foreshore, but a study of the history of Table Bay highlights the fact that it was anything but a safe haven prior to the construction of the harbour. The northwest gale force winds drove many an unsuspecting skipper and his ship ashore in the early days: five times as many ships in the heyday of sail between 1800 and 1899 as all the other years combined. On the night that the Athens ran aground, no less than seven ships were driven onto the rocks and beaches of Table Bay.

Which leads us to the Green Point lighthouse. A square white edifice on the shore at Mouille Point, it’s red diagonal stripes mark it out as a building of note. Located close to the small Granger Bay inlet, this lighthouse has served the nautical community well since first beaming out on the 12th April 1824. It was the first structural lighthouse built in South Africa and remains the oldest operational lighthouse in the country. Its original Argand lamps were fuelled by sperm whale oil and had a visibility range of 11 km. In 1865 the building was raised to its present height, and fortunately for sperm whales as well as sailors, times have changed. These days dioptric electrically-powered flashing pulses are beamed out every ten seconds, reaching out over 22 km, effectively the horizon range. In 1966 that light didn’t help the SS South African Seafarer, which ran ashore right under its beam in yet another northwest gale. But the beam did help rescuers: it was shone unblinking onto the stricken boat, and helicopters safely removed all the passengers and crew.

And o'er them the lighthouse looked lovely as hope,—
That star of life's tremulous ocean.

Paul Moon James: The Beacon c1830

When the northwest gale wasn’t blowing another problem would occasionally put ships at risk: the coastal fog obliterated the dangerous coastline. In 1926 a foghorn was added to the repertoire of the lighthouse, which has given it the nickname ‘Moaning Minnie’. The only thing louder than the foghorn is the continual moaning of Sea Point residents about the foghorn’s noise. In fact, they began moaning in 1923, three years before the foghorn first bleated. The foghorn will stay: apart from warning large vessels, it works perfectly for smaller craft, a fact I can attest to having left Granger Bay in bright sunlight aboard a kayak early one winter’s morning, a sudden fog descended and my paddling partner and I had a visibility of about five metres. With crunching breakers out of view to our port side, the injection of Moaning Minnie’s mournful howl was a lifesaver. We aimed at the noise and made it back to shore in perfect safety.

Waterfront Charters don’t have to rely on foghorns. Our boats have state of the art navigational equipment, and our skippers are all highly trained seadogs. We know the Atlantic, respect its power and beauty, and ensure that all our passengers ever have to concern themselves about is sunscreen and not dropping their phones overboard. (Which happens far more often than you’d believe possible.)

Join us on a coastal cruise; the sights and sounds of both nature and human-built attractions make for a fascinating adventure.

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