Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wild Coast: A Shipwrecker

On our first morning, we woke up to find dolphins swimming in front of the hotel. For the next three days, almost by appointment at 8am, you could see their dark gray fins, slipping gracefully through the swell right in front of us. You cannot help but want to go out and swim with them. I also spotted a whale...a much bigger shiny gray shape...further out...and wasn't sure whether to believe my eyes. The hotel staff suggested equivocally that it was probably a humpback whale.

On our second day a tremendous thunder and lightning storm lashed across the sea. We saw bolts blitzing down far out to sea, and others tore up the sky directly over head. The power flickered and finally was knocked out for a couple of hours. Incovenient? Well, it has a sort of old world charm coziness. And you feel directly connected to the power and energy of the surrounding air and landscape.

Meanwhile you have seasounds erupting around you, day and night, in stereo. These Beta (or is it gamma) waves have a soothing effect.

When I returned back from our brief escape, my father pointed out that the previous manager of Kob Inn had been shot to death. My father said his own experience of the Wild Coast had bcome jaundiced by his own experience - an attack on himself and my sister in broad daylight. The attack was covered in local newspapers at the time.
These are exceptional a country where almost all the residents are poor, and survive on government pensions. The mines no longer draw the men to work. Now they stand idly on their fields, waiting for the mail, and for the mielies to grow.

But don't be fooled. The area may have a soothing persona at times, but the Wild is only a heartbeat away.

Two ships have come to grief right in front of Kob Inn. One only 10 years ago. A sailboat pilotted by a french fellow...he had sailed the world for 7 years, but once he came around this coast, the boat burst into flames (after hitting a reef, and then another reef). Hotel residents used an inflatable banana (usually towed behind a speedboat) to float to the stricken vessel and assist in a rescue of the frenchman, his wife, and son.
The Idomene, more than 100 years later, was not so fortunate. Sailing from Rangoon (Myanmar/Burma - situated just north of Thailand, once known as Siam) in late 1887, it had a cosmopolitan crew from Liverpool, Manchester, Germany, Norway, New York, Ireland, Sweden and France. Described as 'a fine rigged ironship', it had been sailing for 51 days when the terrific seas around the Wild Coast dragged it towards grief. 13 of the 24 crewmemebers drowned, including Captain W. Roy.

The local herdsmen were said to be incredibly helpful. The under-headman, Konpan, sent for the headman, Dwessa, and survivor were covered in blankets and warmed by fires.
A newspaper stated:
"God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth." They went further to report that nothing of the ship was vandalised, and that the behaviour of the local Xhosa's ought to be extolled.

Here's more:

The Wild Coast partly derived its name from its under- development, but mostly from the pounding breakers and cauldron of its boiling seas when stormy conditions reign. This particular part of the Eastern Cape coast has been the graveyard of many a ship through the ages, and ship’s skeleton, artefacts and structures bear mute testimony to the loss of lives and vessels.

Most of these wrecks vanished beneath the waves and have been forgotten, yielding up nothing but an occasional small treasure for the beachcomber. Some are still visible as rotting hulks lying in shallow water, like the Jacaranda at Qolora Mouth or the Idomene at Qora Mouth. Some have left a legacy – the name of Coffee Bay supposedly comes from a ship that was wrecked in the bay with a cargo of coffee beans. It is said that the beans grew into short-lived coffee bushes that gave the bay its name.

Some have left their names – it is believed that the name Port St Johns comes from the wreck of the sixteenth- century Portuguese ship Sao Joao. Mazeppa Bay’s name comes from one of the apparently few ships that made it – the British ship Mazeppa often used the bay for anchorage and survived to tell the tale. But the most famous wreck of all is that of the English ship, Grosvenor.

Her tragic end came on August 4th 1782, while on a return voyage from India. She ran aground then sank in a very deep gully off a rocky little bay called Lwambazi. Although only 14 of the 150 people on board drowned, just six sailors reached safety at a frontier farm near Port Elizabeth. News of the disaster prompted the colonial government to send an expedition to rescue the survivors. They only found 12. For many years, however, rumours persisted of the 'un-found' survivors living with local tribesmen, and an expedition in 1790 discovered a colony of about 400 people of non-African descent living on a tributary of the Mngazi River. These were the sad remnants of the various shipwrecks along the coast.

The expedition found no trace of the Grosvenor. In the meantime, however, another legend had arisen: that the ship had been carrying a fortune in bullion and silver. One of the rumours insisted that the fabulous Peacock Throne of Persia (a royal chair made of solid gold with peacocks outlined in precious stones, and which had been looted round about this time) had been smuggled on board.

What followed was an absurd and costly series of recovery schemes, many of which cost more than any reputed treasure on board the ship. Steam-drive cranes, suction dredgers, undersea tunnels, boulder breakwaters, high-pressure water- jets, explosives, mining efforts – even a group of spiritualists led by a ghost – made no impression whatsoever. Only two cannons and several gold and silver coins have ever recovered from the wreck of the Grosvenor. It lies there still, in its dangerous little gully, its secrets hidden by treacherous currents and drifting sand. What treasure is on board, and how to get to it, no man knows

No comments: