The SS Lusitania at Cape Point is one of the most exciting dives in Cape Town!

Diving Cape Town – lesser known wrecks – SS Lusitania

The Lusi is a special wreck for many reasons, and a must for anyone who has build enough experience diving Cape Town’s waters. Not only is it one of the most beautiful reefs in the Cape, its also jam packed with history. It was a Portuguese twin-crew liner built in 1906 in Lisbon. The ship was wrecked on Bellows rock off Cape Point on the 18th of April 1911 with 800 people on board, eight died when a life boat capsized. This shipwreck ended up being the reason we now have two light houses at Cape Point. Even though it’s one of the shallowest dives in the “lesser known dive sites” series, it is definitely one of the most challenging to dives.

The Lusi is located at Bellows Rock off Cape Point, a pinnacle that comes up from 40m and breaches the water above. Even on a good day, there’s white water smashing up against the pinnacle in what can only be described as a washing machine. We often refer to the rock as the meat grinder, a place that is covered in razor sharp barnacles waiting to devour any diver that comes too close.

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The boat ride is long, 19.2km long to be exact. The closest slip way is Miller’s Point, and the average ride out is an hour. We travel all along the Peninsula, spotting the occasional seal, pod of dolphin and in winter there seems to be whale around every corner. We make our way past Cape Point and we’re in open ocean, and there it is, Bellows Rock.

There is no shot line for this dive, which is something we often use while diving Cape Town, the waves would simply catch the buoy and within minutes drag it on to the rocks, so ideally we do a negative entry. The skipper does the count down and we roll back in to white water. We descend immediately and make our way through heavy current and surge to a ledge at 10m, once on the ledge all divers gather and we make our way down. If you’re not on the ledge within the first 3 minutes of the dive the team has to continue without you.

Our descent is to 35m, where the wreck is nestled in to what looks like a giant cave, we are greeted by giant boilers that once propelled this goliath of a vessel. Scattered around the site are the broken remains of a ship; portholes, boilers, anchors and everything else that spells disaster. In between the 100-year-old wreckage, an incredible ecosystem has formed, the life on the Lucy is impressive and far more intricate than any other wreck in Cape Town. There are schools of hottentot, galjoen, streepies, crayfish and the constant feeling that sharks are circling you. Every now and then a Bronze Whaler, a Hump Back Whale or a school of yellow tail will make an appearance, every time a different surprise. A true testament of what diving Cape Town can provide. The video below shows one of the surprises we once encountered.

 

Once we have reached the end of our dive time, things start to get serious. Navigating off the Lusi is no easy task, if you don’t get your bearing perfectly right there’s a good chance you’ll make your ascent much too close to Bellows Rock, in which case the meat grinder will devour whatever may come in its path. We take a SE bearing and commit, however we start to see white water, much like the white water at the beginning of the dive. Are we too close? Did we get the bearing wrong? Are we going to be mince pie? The answer is Lusi Pinnacle.

Diving Cape Town - credit to Peter Southwood

Diving Cape Town – credit to Peter Southwood

Lusi Pinnacle is probably the most harmless yet stressful thing I know of. While the pinnacle only comes up to 8m below the surface, its still close enough that it causes enough turbulence to have a cloud of white bubbles around it. This creates a moment of doubt on every dive where I think to myself “I’m swimming in to the meat grinder”. Once you’re close enough you see the pinnacle pass beneath you and the white water starts to fade in to a calm blue.

We limit decompression to under 30 minutes on this dive, this is due to currents possibly pulling us back to Bellows Rock. The boat knows this is a stressful dive, so it remains close to our DSMBs to make us feel safe, for if the boat is with us the meat grinder must be far away. Another awesome day diving Cape Town.

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