Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/SS Lusitania
This article is a travel topic
Just beyond the steep drop-off on the east side of Bellows Rock
This site is in a Marine Protected Area (2004). A permit is required.
The "SS Lusitania" was a Portuguese twin-screw liner of 5557 tons, built in 1906 by Sir Raylton Dixon & Co, and owned by Empreza Nacional De Navegacao, of Lisbon. The ship was wrecked on Bellows Rock off Cape Point at 24h00 on 18 April 1911 in fog while on a voyage from Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) with 25 first-class, 57 second-class and 121 third-class passengers, and 475 African labourers. Out of the 800 people on board, eight died when a life boat capsized. On 20 April the ship slipped off the rock into 37 m of water to the east of the rock.
the depth is 35 to 40m on the wreck. The nearby Bellows Rock is exposed occasionally , but you do not want to go too close. The diveable reef starts at about 15m.
Bellows Rock is a granite reef, and is probably part of the Cape Peninsula pluton. The top of the reef is exposed by swells, and breaks even in very low swell. The reef slopes down from Bellows Rock to the east, and drops off almost vertically from about 15m to about 33m, where the wreck lies between the wall and some boulders further east. The wreck is very easy to find, and is spread over a fairly large area. The wreck lies with the stern to the south, where the bottom is at about 40m. The bow is to the north and a bit shallower. The wreck itself is structurally broken up, not much of the hull is recognisable, but there are several scotch boilers and what may be engine structure nearby. Occasional dinner plates, fragments of tiles and crockery, pipes, valves, a few portholes and possibly a large switchboard with cables lie scattered, seemingly at random. There is also a winch and an anchor in a hawsepipe, with a long length of chain which partly wraps round the base of the north eastern wall of the rock. The wreckage is encrusted with coralline algae, but not thickly, which makes the pieces easy to see, unlike most of the local wrecks which are much more thickly encrusted. The wreckage is not particularly rich with reef life, unlike the rocks, which are.
Geology: Granite of the late Pre-Cambrian Peninsula pluton
This site should only be dived if the swell is very low, as the break on Bellows Rock can be powerful and dangerous. The ride is relatively long, and will be uncomfortable in a chop. The site is usually dived at short notice, often on weekdays, and early in the morning before the wind picks up. When conditions are good it is an exciting and spectacular dive and is considered to be one of the prime dives of the region. Visibility is usually good when the site is diveable, and on very rare occasions may exceed 40m. There may be a current setting west, which will carry you onto the rock if you are not careful during the ascent.
Access to this site is only by boat. It is 19.2km from Millers Point slipway.
The reef is encrusted with coloutful invertebrates. Occasionally a shoal of Yellowtail Seriola lalandi will swim past.
A steel wreck of historical interest. The structure of the hull has broken up considerably, but there are still a number of recognisable engineering components of interest.
(photographic equipment suggestions)
No particular route is recommended, but starting deep at the stern and working north to the bow and then ascending along the wall is suggested. This allows you to assess the current direction and strength, which may be quite strong if setting to the west. This route allows the current to carry you clear of the rock during ascent if you stay in sight of the top of the wall Make your final ascent when the current starts to take you away from the reef and you will be sure to be clear of the rock. An alternative suggestion is to swim away from the rock to the north-east (towards the sun on an early morning dive) to get away from the white water around the rock. Most divers will choose to surface with a DSMB so the boat can keep track of their position, as there is usually a current setting west to north west, and land is far away.
Cold water is possible. Strong winds may develop over a short time. There is usually a strong surge and breaking waves over the exposed rock and surrounding shallow areas. Nitrogen narcosis is probable on air and Nitrox mixtures. A current is often present, and may carry divers towards the white water. This should be avoided by swimming away from the rock to the north (across the current) if the current is flowing to the west, as is frequently the case. When ascending (preferably on a DSMB) keep a lookout for white water above you and do not surface if you can see it. The boat can not come in close to the rock to pick you up. Rather stay at about 6m (or deeper) and swim away or around the break until clear. It is usually not a good idea to swim upcurrent to get away from the rock, as you have to swim hard and continuously. It is more effective to swim across the current before you are near the white water, so that the current carries you past the break, rather than towards it. It is much safer to be picked up downstream.
The ability to deploy a DSMB is strongly recommended, as is the fitness and agility to get back into the boat after the dive quickly and with a minimum of fuss, as the boat can not hang around near the rock. This is not a dive for beginners. Most dive operators will not book divers for this site unless they have seen them in the water and are satisfied with their skills and fitness.
A DSMB and reel for each diver are highly recommended in case of being separated and off the wreck, A light is also strongly recommended as it is frequently quite dark due to overcast conditions. Nitrox can increase no-stop time, Trimix can reduce the risk of narcosis. A dry suit will be warmer both during the dive and while travelling there and back, specially in winter. A fairly large cylinder will be required, and either a pony cylinder or isolation manifolded twins will give the peace of mind of a fully independent backup gas supply.