Time’s Many Layers Unveiled

“The Mountain is not merely something eternally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us …”

Jan Smuts: when he unveiled the Mountain Club War Memorial at Maclear’s Beacon on the summit of Table Mountain, Cape Town. (1923)

At Waterfront Charters we offer a wide variety of cruises aboard our seven boats. Our boats themselves all have their own characteristics, each one lending itself to different cruise applications. From gentle Harbour Tours to exhilarating Sailing in the Bay adventures before a refreshing breeze; Champagne Sunset Cruises to toast the setting sun and early morning breakfast Cruise and Dine adventures to welcome the sunrise. All available for charter or scheduled cruises – the permutations are endless.

Here’s an unusual addition: did you know that every trip aboard a Waterfront Charters boat is also a Time Travel adventure? This comes as a free add-on, no matter which cruise you choose to enjoy. And when we say time travel, we don’t just mean to the previous century as you take in the sights of the V&A Waterfront – although these are marvellous in themselves and well worth exploring. We are talking about time travel to ancient times; millions, even billions, of years ago. All you have to do as you sail serenely aboard a luxury Waterfront Charters boat is look up at the mountains that frame Table Bay and the Atlantic coastline. Here you are seeing what geologists call ‘deep time’, and it is a concept that most of us will find difficult to grasp. In this technological day and age when change is happening on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget that the environment we live in has been around for nearly five thousand million years.

Look up at the mountains that frame Table Bay and the Atlantic coastline.

Our allotted lifespans are not even a blink of an eye compared to that sort of time period; even the advent and evolution of human life is something that happened, on that scale, not even a moment ago. Here’s the well-known – but repeatable – formula to put things in perspective: if we compress the geological history of earth into a calendar year, we can mark the major events. With the 1st of January being the formation of our solar system, we see some rocks coalescing from the primordial soup in mid-February. The first signs of life appear in late March, but this is a little misleading, as these are unicellular organisms that don’t exactly get on with the process of evolution in any sort of hurry – it’s only on the 22nd November that multicellular life arrives on the scene. It moves along (relatively) quickly, but – disaster! On Christmas Day earth is struck by a large meteor and all the dinosaurs and many other species become extinct in the following pandemonium. The following week sees a little order restored, and by late morning on the 31st December, our oldest ancestors break away from the ape family and start to eye the future. Homo Sapiens – that means the start of your and my family trees – well, they arrived on the scene just before midnight. And to our current anthropologists, that last minute is almost impenetrable ancient history.

Most of that history, though, can be seen on our mountain faces: their lines and scars, features and layers each tell a story, and it’s all there to be seen as we sail beneath the cliff faces and rounded slopes. The oldest rocks were deposited as marine mud 500 million years ago and this is known as the Malmesbury Group. Compressed by time into the reddish coloured foundation rocks that underpin the other strata, they hold the early history of the weather and volcanic experiences of our forming earth, but – no fossils. No living creatures disturbed the layers of sediment, unlike modern day sedimental formations. Then came the next layer; the intrusion of Cape Granite magma into the Malmsbury Formation. The granite hill of Lion’s Head is a visible result, as are the many granite boulders that lie along the shoreline. This intrusion of magma was the start of the great mountains that give the Cape its character, as it folded and pushed the Malmesbury Formation aside, swelling up from 10 kms beneath the ocean.

Then life settled down again, and layer upon layer of sedimentary sand and mud settled on top of the granite, compressing and forming into what we now call the Table Mountain Sandstone layer. As you look at the face of Table Mountain, these layers speak of the times past, but of course there has been much weathering of the softer sandstone too, leaving gaps between mountain peaks where granite has held out against the wind and water of millennia. Our iconic triple peaked backdrop is stark testimony to this more recent sculpting. Charles Darwin visited the Cape in 1836; the area of his geological research is now known as the Sea Point Contact area, where dark-baked Malmesbury rocks intersect with granite: well worth a visit, this point lies at Bantry Bay, at the end of the Sea Point promenade, and is signposted.

We could go on and on – it’s a history that teems with facts and wonder, but…why not join us for a Clifton Cruise and see for yourself? If you are of inquisitive bent, you too will want to delve into the fascinating history of this incredibly beautiful part of the world. And if you aren’t, well, the beauty will just speak for itself.

Next week we will tell you about the upcoming Clifton Yacht Parties; the best possible way to combine Time Travel with luxurious indulgence! Waterfront Charters: your unending source of fun, information and odd facts!