Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Cow and Calf
The dive site Cow and Calf is a shoreline rocky reef in the Gordon's Bay area on the east side of False Bay, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Information is provided which may assist in planning Recreational and Research Scuba diving at this site, and links to photographs of marine organisms that have been found there.
(reasons to dive at this site)
Name "Cow and Calf"
Named for the twin reefs just offshore which approach and sometimes break the surface, and which are reminiscent of a whale cow and calf.
Description of location
This site is NOT in a Marine Protected Area (2009)
Access is easiest by boat, but is also possible from the shore.
Boat dive: From Gordon’s Bay (2.4km) or Harbour Island (3.0km). The site is the reef which is visble at most times as an area of turbulence or white water.
Parking is on the seaward side of the road below the five houses. The climb is moderately steep but not difficult. The path is not clear and should be checked out before kitting up. There are two entry points:
1. Down steep rocks to a ledge directly inshore of the reef, 75m at 019° magnetic from car park. There is a good exit point to the west of a little gully at the east side of the ledge, almost a staircase. At the west side of the ledge is a small shallow ridge parallel to the shore which is a convenient step at low tide. The choice of exit points depends on tide and swell. Don’t rush it, and time the wave sets to choose an opportunity for exit when the waves are smallest.
2. Entry/exit at the north-east facing gully. See also the access section for "Vogelsteen" for this alternative entry and exit point.
Paved roadside parking area with garbage bin. Security is probably no worse than any other roadside parking area.
The site is exposed to the north west wind. It is slightly protected from south west swell but is shallow and there will be surge, which will reduce visibility as there is a fine light silt in this area. It is very well protected from south easterly winds, and these will generally flatten the sea in this area, so it is usually best during or after south easterly winds. The site is usually at it's best in summer but there are also occasional opportunities at other times of the year.
This is an area which sometimes has plankton blooms (red tides) which will cause poor visibility.
Maximum depth about 13m on the sand.
Ordovician sandstone of the Table Mountain group, probably ‘’Peninsula’’ formation. Strike is parallel to the shoreline and dip is steep, about 60° to the southwest
Cow and Calf
The gap between reef and shore is about 5 to 8m deep, with low ridges and boulders. The inner ridge of the reef breaks surface at low tide, The outer face of this ridge drops to about 7 to 9m, and the gap to the next reef is about that deep. The outer reef is very sheer on seaward side, rising from 10m to very near the surface. The bottom slopes down gradually to sand at 12m, with a narrow band of pebbles and small boulders. At the base of the ridge it may be possible to see across the pebbles to the sand if the visibility is good, and the pebble zone tapers away to the south west. These are rugged reefs of sandstone with quartzite veins. The bottom insore of the ridges is rock and medium to small boulders with pebbles, sand and shell in crevices. The inner reef is about 33m from the shore and is about 35m long. The outer reef is about 45m off the shore and about 50m long.
Stone Dog and The Slot
There is a deep narrow gully (“The Slot”) 100m south west along the shoreline from the entry ledge, which connects by a short, shallow, narrow tunnel at the surface to a second gully (“Stone Dog gully”) which opens to the bay about 150m from entry point. There is a large rock above this gully which from the water looks a bit like a sitting dog. The Slot is deep and narrow, with almost vertical sides, getting shallow suddenly at tunnel, then a similar gully other side at roughly 90° to the Slot. The tunnel is mostly in the intertidal zone, and is angled sharply down on the seaward side. Quite a strong surge usually runs through the tunnel and may rise to the ceiling. This could be very dangerous in a big sea. Position of tunnel approximately S34°10.370’, E018°50.202’. Stone Dog gully has several relatively big boulders in it and the surge can be quite strong. About 30m further west along the coastline is Red Bait gully, a deep narrow gully a couple of metres wide and about 7m deep, with walls covered by red-bait pods. Another 40m west is a pair of gullies of similar depth but somewhat wider, at the extreme east of the "Pinnacle" dive site area.
Shore access requires a scramble down steep rocks and a slightly tricky entry and exit depending on tide and swell. The tunnel at Stone Dog is tight and the surge through it can be very strong.
This is a suitable site for inexperienced divers as it is close inshore and shallow. Night dives are best done from a boat as the climb up the hillside will be tricky on a dark night. Take the conditions into account and decide for yourself.
A reasonable level of fitness and agility is required for shore entry, particularly down the rock face to the ledge.
Good photographic site for invertebrates
No special equipment recommended.
Marine life (and features)
There are a lot of gorgonian sea fans (Eunicella spp) at the base of the ridges, Higher up are Multicolour sea fans, and the tops are covered with Red bait. A variety of other sessile animals encrust the rocks among these zones, and there are various small seaweeds as well.
Views of the site from the shore and sea.
The reef at Cow and Calf at low tide on a calm day.
Entry route down the rocks at Cow and Calf