Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Of Shipwrecks and Spectacular Scenery

Notoriously rugged and dramatically beautiful, South Africa’s Wild Coast certainly lives up to its name. And as Nick van der Leek recently discovered, it also makes for a very memorable holiday destination (as long as you arrive overland!).
The 280 km strip of coastline, extending north from present day East London and south from Port Edward in KwaZulu-Natal, has become a serial killer of ships. In fact, shipping disasters such as the peppercorn carrying Santo Alberto in 1593 and the Santo Espirito (transporting Ming porcelain from China) 15 years later became so common that many historians believe that these losses preceded the disintegration of the Portuguese empire.

Luckless survivors of 16th and 17th century shipwrecks found the land north of the Fish River and south of Durban already inhabited by one of South Africa’s largest tribes, the amaXhosa (a word thought to mean “fierce”). Imagine the travails, then, of the survivors of the Stavenisse, a Dutch ship that sank near Coffee Bay in 1686. During the same time, two English ships, the Bonaventura and the Good Hope, also suffered similar misfortunes.

The crews of all three ships – having encountered one another in similarly unpleasant circumstances – decided to work together to construct a makeshift boat in order to sail back to Cape Town. En route they encountered and rescued more survivors. Among these was a French teenager who had already had his fair share of adventure, which included smuggling himself to America, visiting the Far East and most recently, enjoying the protection of a local Xhosa chief. Having learnt the Xhosa language, the young lad (just 13 years old) acted as a guide and interpreter for his companions.
Even fairly recently the Wild Coast still manages to rustle up some maritime action and claim the odd ship or two...  Read the rest.

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