Green Point Lighthouse

Cape Town

28 October 2018

For the past two weeks the weather in Cape Town has been unseasonably hot, the temperature hitting more than 30 C every day.  The average high for October is 22 C and the record high 32 C (in 1997), yet last Monday my dentist recorded the temperature on her thermometer at 38 C.  Considering that October is equivalent to May in the northern hemisphere, summer seems to have arrived very early.  So, knowing that it was going to be another hot day, last Wednesday I decided to leave earlier than normal, at nine o’clock, for my habitual long daily walk.

When I set out from our ‘eyrie’ on the hill about Green Point, I could see a huge fog bank approaching the shore below.  By the time I reached the Promenade along Beach Road, some 25 minutes later, the fog was approaching and the temperature had dropped from hot to cool, only the closest buildings were visible, and the little of the ocean that one could see was eerie calm.  And the fog horn was regularly booming.

With the usually calm water, the kelp forests can be clearly seen

Now I grew up on the north coast of Ireland, where sea fog was not unusual, and in those days waking to the fog horn moaning during the night, was nothing unusual.  But it never occurred to me to find out out what made that noise.  I assumed that it came from something at the coastguard station on Ramore Head.  So now was my opportunity to find the source.

I assumed that it came from the Green Point lighthouse, about a kilometer away, but as I got closer, it was obviously not from the lighthouse, but from something by the water.

Green Point lighthouse on a clearer day

And there it was, an insignificant object on a pole, rusting and badly needing a repaint job.  I must have passed it a hundred or more times and never noticed it.

The fog horn

Just above the fog horn is a car park, and I saw a car arrive close to the horn.  Just as an elderly woman got out of her car and stumbled down the slope to the promenade, the horn boomed and the poor dear nearly fell over.

There have reputedly been more that 450 shipwrecks along the shores of Table Bay, most resulting from inclement weather, from the gales that lash the shore in winter.  In the case of De Visch in 4 May 1740, it was the result of a navigational error.  During the night, mistaking the light at Three Anchor Bay beside the current lighthouse for that of Robben Island, the ship was driven onto the rocks.  Thanks to a cable from ship to shore, all but two of the crew were saved.

One of the witnesses was Jürgen Leeuwenberg who later painted the scene of the disaster.  The painting hangs in the National Library of South Africa.


No two days are the same along the Green Point promenade…


The Great Storm of 1865

I well remember Saturday 16 September 1961, when hurricane Debbie hit the north coast of Ireland.  I was 14 at the time.  The previous day there were warnings on the radio of a major storm approaching, and as a precaution my father and Bertie Law filled bags with sand, placing them of the roof of our house, and roping them together.  The next afternoon the storm struck.

A peak gust of 183 km/h was recorded at nearby Malin Head.  Seven boats were sunk in local harbours, several caravans were blown over the coastal cliffs, and I saw two of my father’s hen houses rolling down the hill from the top field, complete with their occupants.  No storm in living memory came close in ferocity.

And then the torrential rain started to fall; and it fell for hours on end.  The road from Portrush to Coleraine was cut in several places with knee-deep flooding and the main drain under the railway embankment to the sea in Portrush was blocked with debris, causing deep flooding in the adjacent low-lying area.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience for those of us who witnessed it.

The storm that hit Cape Town on Wednesday 07 June 2017 was also well anticipated.  The previous day I had an appointment with my immigration consultant, and she told me that the office would close the next day, in advance of the storm.  And what a storm it was, as witnessed in the accompanying two videos,  recorded nearby at Three Anchors Bay.



The next day I walked along the promenade and there was grey sand, broken kelp and small rocks and shells everywhere.  The concrete coping on much of the newly built promenade wall was either loosened or was completely torn off and tossed into the park, as witness to the power of the waves that had struck it.

But the Great Storm that hit Cape Town on May 16 1865 was in another category.  For eighteen hours the storm raged and 17 ocean-going vessels, 30 cutters and uncounted small boats were either wrecked or stranded, with the loss of 60 lives.

The last to go was the Royal Mail Ship, Athens, which was swept onto the rocks near the lighthouse.  Although those on shore could hear the cries of the men, there was nothing that they could do to help them.  The crew of 29 perished.

HMS Athens

Today all that of the Athens that survives is the engine block.  From the shore it is not clear what one is looking at, but with a better camera all is revealed.



Despite the US government being in denial and withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, most scientists agree that our planet is going through a period of rapid warming, and that storms, such as those I mentioned above, will become much more common in future years.

I find that a sobering thought…