The storm washes away the memories of a ship

It was a dark and stormy night. The ocean was heaving with huge swells and the wind was blowing from the northwest. Two abandoned ships were adrift, pushed relentlessly towards shore by gusts of up to 55 knots from across the South Atlantic. Braving the rain and cold, dozens of Capetonians stood in a car park off the coast road between Camps Bay and Llandudno, transfixed as the 42,050 tonne tanker Antipolis wallowed unerringly towards the rocky shore of Oudekraal in the fading light. A nearly full moon rose behind dark clouds, raising the tide. About two kilometers to the south, the 32,913 tonne oil tanker Romelia would suffer the same fate a few hours later, sinking on Sunset Rocks in Llandudno at 1.30am.

Like onlookers in the car park, Captain T Hara of the 9,200hp Japanese tug Kiyo Maru No 2, which had spent two months laboriously towing the two empty tankers up the west coast of Africa from Greece en route to scrapyards in Taiwan, could only watch. While Cap des Tempêtes lived up to its name, the tow cables had snapped less than half an hour before sunset on July 28, 1977. Efforts to reconnect them through a 10m swell had failed.

E Antipolis. (Photo: Brian Ingpen)

He “couldn’t do anything,” he later told a reporter. TheArguswho, like the Cape Town weathersplashed the wrecks on their July 29, 1977 front pages.

Now, 44 years later, the unusual summer storm of Wednesday January 19, which SA Weather Service senior scientist Dr Tamaryn Morris called a once-in-20-year event, returned part of the sunken Antipolis on the rocks.

It’s unclear how this summer storm managed to do what decades of winter storms failed to do.

Morris offered little information other than to say that waves of the combined height and period on Wednesday have only occurred once in the summer in the past 19 years. But waves of similar, if not greater power, are relatively common in winter. Swell guru and founder of popular surfing website Wavescape, Steve Pike seemed to offer the best explanation. Wednesday’s swell was coming from a more westerly direction than most winter swells, Pike said, and because it was summer there may have been less sand covering the wreck of the Antipolis. This, combined with the fact that the wreckage had rusted and been broken up by waves over the decades and, therefore, lighter, likely resulted in much of the Antipolis being washed ashore.

Unlike the Romelia, which hit a rocky plateau 800m offshore and broke in two the next day, the bow of the Antipolis came to rest on a semi-protected rocky beach just 75m from the road. , almost as if it had been docked there.

Llewellyn Raubenheimer, reporting in the Cape Town weather on Friday, July 29, 1977, quoted Bakoven resident Kevin Robb, who was among those who had seen the Antipolis run aground at 7:45 a.m. the previous evening: “It came in slowly and just calmed down.

“She didn’t seem to move an inch after that, almost like she was deliberately tied there.”

TheArgus journalists – unnamed – wrote that a broken chain and jagged ropes were “draped from his bows”, and “if the weather improves, a nimble person could scale ropes hanging from the Antipolis” to ascend aboard the ship.

By Saturday, July 30, the Argos weekend reported that a policeman with a guard dog was tasked “to prevent people from taking souvenirs”. At this point, there was a catwalk and a rope ladder hanging from the port side.

TheArgus Journalist Henrie Geyser and photographer Robin Brown were the first press group to board the ship. Geyser’s August 3 report noted “a trail of rushing raiders visible throughout the ship”.

The “beautiful bar” in the cabin adjoining the captain’s cabin had glasses and “one more bottle of gin”, there were dishes and pots lined up in the galley and laundry in the cupboards, but the barometer, the gyrocompass, radio and medical equipment had been stolen. Doors and windows had been smashed, drawers torn out and their contents spilled. The newly restored wreck attracted its fair share of spectators. Spending an hour photographing the now-rusted carcass, amateur vlogger Adam Spiers and a friend, along with another couple, climbed the path to the parking lot and took pictures.

Cape Town has urged people not to climb on the wreckage, but today’s scene is a far cry from the thousands of people who flocked to see the wreckage in its early days.

The remains of the Antipolis ship wrecked on January 25, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Daily Maverick/Leila Dougan)

TheArgus reported that on the first weekend, cars were parked along the shoulder of the coastal road for “more than a mile on either side of the stranded vessel”. Traffic police pleaded with people to stay away.

‘You can tell people they don’t need to rush here,’ said ‘harassed’ traffic cop TheArgus journalists. “She will stay here for months.

“Checking out the wreckage is one thing” was the title of Shauna Westcott’s story in the Argos weekend Saturday July 30. Westcott said the ice cream vendors were doing a roaring trade despite the chilly weather, including the quip: “a lollipop makes you happy”.

“A carnival atmosphere erupted when a yellow helicopter appeared. As it hovered over the Antipolis Bridge, a woman shouted “For the love of God, Bertie, pass me the binoculars”.

The ship was so stable ashore that parties were held on deck a few years before authorities ordered the ship cut at the waterline, after which it became a popular dive site.

South African History Online states that it “was a party place until its superstructure was removed and sold as scrap.”

Comments on the Flickr photo-sharing site suggest that these were well-organized parties, although at the height of apartheid they were probably reserved for whites.

Vivien Bruwer wrote that André Dumas of Wood Pecker Promotions threw a shipwreck party on board. It was “incredible”, she writes, with disco equipment and “everything you need to have a great party” flown in via specially constructed scaffolding.

Bruce Frykman wrote that he was on a business trip from the United States in 1977 and attended a party aboard the Antipolis hosted by the National Sea Rescue Institute, complete with all the beer and wine that you could drink.

“We danced to rock and roll on the bow of the ship and later my wife and I climbed the open steel bars welded to the main mast to the crow’s nest. There we shared a bottle of wine while watching the dancers far below,” he said.

NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon this week expressed doubts that the NSRI had held a party aboard a wreck, but a photo shared by Cape Town weather Expedition writer Brian Ingpen suggests otherwise. Graffiti on the superstructure bears the words “NSRI Station 8 Hout Bay” and “Community Carnival — Maynardville”. A photo on Flickr, presumably taken earlier, only contains the words “Watney’s Grill”, the name of a restaurant in Sea Point. The various graffiti indicate that we had fun and that we were able to sponsor the party.

Tony Jackman, who now writes for Daily Maverick but began his career as Cape Town weather The maritime journalist, under legendary editor George Young, said he had vague memories of parties aboard the Antipolis, but never attended.

Jackman was 23 and working under Young when both ships ran aground. He recalled that Young, who lived in Camps Bay, picked him up from Three Anchor Bay on his way to work. This Thursday morning, July 28, 1977, Young told him to look out to sea towards Robben Island. He pointed to two tankers, one behind the other, and a small tug ahead of them. With huge seas, Jackson said Young predicted the tankers would drift. Young wrote about it in his column, published on the 29th, with photos of the wrecks on the front page.

The remains of the Antipolis ship wrecked on January 25, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Daily Maverick/Leila Dougan)

Young wrote that the tug Kiyo Maru No 2 had sought to enter the port for refueling and refueling, which would have required the harbor tugs to take over the tankers’ tow line and tend to them by sea ​​”for at least four days”.

But the harbor tugs were “too fully committed to quayside movements and are by no means up to the task of handling high-sided tankers tied together in winter storms,” ​​Young wrote. .

The Japanese tug should have waited for Safmarine’s world-class 18,000 hp tug Wolraad Woltemade “to take on offshore responsibility for the two tankers”. At the time, the Wolraad Woltemade was trying to pull the 306-ton Taiwanese trawler Kuoai and its cargo of 100 tonnes of frozen fish away from the beach where it ran aground, just meters from threatening dolosses outside the port. of Cape Town. Captain T Hara was turned away with his tankers to wait out the storm on the high seas.

Hara said he believed the 56mm diameter cables connecting his tiny 252 tonne tug to the vessels being towed had snagged on another wreck, on the sea floor. Interviewed by Sean O’Conner of TheArgus, Hara said his tug was not in deep water and the 720m cable to Antipolis was “well below the surface”. It must have snagged and snapped under the strain.

Hara said the break in the cable showed he “caught something” and saw “a splinter” below the surface of the water. The Romelia’s cable “broke in exactly the same way”.

Her cargo joined more than 350 other wrecks along the peninsula’s coastline, making Young’s sightings prescient. Young, however, was wrong on one point. He predicted that ground-based Antipolis would soon be on the roster and fall apart. But, stranded on granite, it remained stable for years.

This time, however, after 44 years in the unforgiving ocean, he’s in no condition to throw a party. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly daily maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookshops. To find your nearest retailer, please click on here.

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