Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Smits Reef
The dive site Smits Reef. also known as Batsata Maze, Birthday Reef, Seekatbank and Horseshoe Reef is a rocky reef in the Smitswinkel Bay area on the False Bay coast of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
This reef has a wide variety of colourful invertebrates and spectacular topography in good visibility. The Maze is a small area with some interleading swimthroughs among the large boulders to the south-east of the reef.
The reef is north and offshore slightly from Batsata Rock, and extends into the mouth of Smitswinkel Bay.
This site is in a Marine Protected Area (2004). A permit is required. The reef shown on the map is all just outside the Paulsberg Restricted Zone.
This site has too many names. "Smits Reef" is obvious and logical , as it is in Smitswinkel Bay, and the popular contraction for the wrecks of the area is "Smits wrecks", so Smits Reef makes sense. "Batsata Maze" refers to the nearby Batsata Rock, but most of the reef is not really much of a maze, so it is recommended that this name is reserved for the small section at the south east corner, centred on S24°16.517' E018°29.017' . "Birthday Reef" is probably a purely arbitrary reference to an unknown person's birthday, and the relevance is unclear. "Horseshoe Reef" refers to the shape of the north eastern part of the reef, which is a massive area of granite with a deep indentation, not entirely unlike a horseshoe in shape. The whole area is known to fishermen as "Seekatbank", presumably because of the abundance of octopus (seekat in Afrikaans) caught here.
Maximum about 27m on the sand, top of the highest pinnacle is about 4m. Most of the Maze is around 15 to 18m and this would be the average depth for most dives.
Visibility is likely to be similar to that on the Smits Wrecks. 20m would be exceptionally good, 8 to 10m good and less than 5m would be considered poor.
The reef is an immense outcrop of granite, with cracks and deep gulleys, and a lot of large boulders, surrounded by sand. To the south the sand is a relatively narrow strip, beyond which is more reef, which may extend continuously to Batsata Rock. To the north, lower reef is visible across the sand on a good day. This has not been mapped, and the extent is not known. There is also some low reef near the main reef to the east of the Maze. On the other sides, the sand extends much further, and there does not appear to be much more reef nearby.
The main reef can be considered in several sections: The south end has the maze, the west side has a large number of large boulders, scattered over the bedrock of the lower part of the reef, but does not appear to have many deep overhangs or big holes, with one notable exception where a huge boulder on the reef overhangs a lower section by several metres. The north eastern corner is similar, the northern ridge has relatively steep sides, and the sand bottom is deeper than on the west side. The east side from the big northern indentation south east to the Maze is moderately sloped, with fewer big boulders than the west side. The top of the reef is fairly flat over quite large areas in the middle.
Batsata Maze is a small section of the reef towards the south west where a jumble of large boulders lie on top of the lower outcrops and form a group of swim-throughs, overhangs, gaps and caves. There is a relatively complex group of linked swimthroughs and holes under the rocks at a depth of roughly 20m to the east side of the Maze. The main entrance at S34°16'30.9", E018°29'01.5" faces 120° magnetic (roughly south east) and is at the north west end of a fairly deep gap between boulders. The swimthrough forks to both sides, but the south fork appears to be bigger. If you follow the 18m depth contour north from this swimthrough, you should find a few others, considerably smaller, in the general vicinity of the Maze.
Horseshoe Reef is the north eastern section, comprising the northern ridge and the east face of the main reef.
The West Reef is across a sandy bottomed gap from the west side of the main reef. There is a sheer sided pinnacle near the southern end of this section, and a more gradual slope to the sand to the north.
Geology: Granite of the Pre-Cambrian Peninsula pluton on a quartz sand bottom with occasional shelly areas.
The site is exposed to swell from the south east, and to a certain extent, from the south west. Longer period swell will make conditions on the reef uncomfortable or hazardous due to strong surge, but short period waves will just make it uncomfortable on the boat. Visibility is less predictable, and at this time is largely a matter of luck and reports from divers who were in the area recently.
The site is usually at it's best in winter but there are also occasional opportunities at other times of the year, though least often in summer, when the south east wind tends to blow much of the time.
Only accessible by boat. The site is approximately 5.8km from Miller's Point slipway.
Like many other sites on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula, the shallowest areas have large numbers of the large solitary sea squirt known locally as "red bait", The steeper walls tend to be covered in common feather stars, with a scattering of Elegant feather stars and a variety of encrusting and more bulky sponges, False Corals, Gorgonians. The deeper reef tops have red-chested and Mauve sea cucumbers, Gorgonians, strawberry anemones and striped anemones. There are also places where there is a surprisingly dense cover of brittle stars, and Cauliflower soft corals can be found scattered around the less exposed areas.
The west reef appears to be notable for the numbers of catsharks and Orange wall sponges seen there. Flatter areas of the deeper rocks tend to have large numbers of sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Hottentot seabream and Galjoen can be seen on the pinnacle.
Good site for invertebrate phorography. (photographic equipment suggestions)
The site is too big to see it all on one dive.
No site specific hazards are known. Some of the swimthroughs are a bit tight and you should exercise caution and good judgement before entering them. You can not get lost in them, but could get stuck. It is technically an offense to damage the reef life, and other divers tend to object, as this is what we dive to see, so be careful.
Appropriate certification for the planned depth is expected, but no special skills are required.
The site is fairly far offshore, so a DSMB is a useful safety feature if it is necessary to surface far from the shot line, which is quite common practice, as it may be difficult to find your way back — it is, after all, called the Maze... A compass will help with navigation and Nitrox can significantly increase no decompression dive time depending on the depth of the dive.