Storms unveil ancient wooden ship hidden near Cannon Rocks

An almost complete hull of an approximatly 70m long ship was found at Cape Padrone near Kenton-On-Sea. From left, EL Museum principal scientist Kevin Cole and Charles Foster.
Image: SUPPLIED

Storm surges along the coast have scoured out a fascinating and well-preserved wooden shipwreck at Cape Padrone near Cannon Rocks along the Woody Cape coastline.

The almost complete hull is about 70m long.

The wreck was discovered on September 4 by retired school principal Charles Foster, who was so excited he described finding it as the best thing besides fishing.

“I didn’t catch any fish that day, but that was certainly a fish worth catching,” Foster said.

The avid rock and surf angler was taking a walk when he came across the maritime artefact.

“I kept walking and then said, ‘Hang on, this could be an ancient wreck,’ according to the timber I saw. I took as many photos as I could,” he said.

Foster, who is also a tour guide, contacted East London museum principal scientist Kevin Cole, who examined the evidence.

He has not yet identified the vessel.

Cole said: “At this time there is no firm identification of the wreck found by Foster. Research reveals that a number of ships have wrecked close to Cape Padrone over the past centuries.

“Google Earth imagery also suggests that the wreck has not been exposed for at least the past decade,” Cole said.

Cole said sometimes environmental factors could cause the wreck to be covered up again and he would have to be quick in his exploration of this coastal treasure.

“Measurements were taken of the iron ribbing, the wooden side beams of the hull and the crossbeams with a full photographic record to further interpret the hull geometry at a later date.

“Included here were also wooden and bronze pins still positioned in the wooden structure,” Cole said.

Foster said a recent trip to the site had revealed the wreck was again covered by sand.

A smaller shipwreck site comprising bits of timber was also noted east of the find on the same beach, but set back slightly higher up from the high-tide mark.

These pieces of ships’ timber have been sighted recently and are also depicted by Google imagery from 2017 to the present, which Cole said could possibly be part of the bigger wreck.

“I suspect the storm surge event which took place on August 18-19 along the entire Eastern Cape coast was responsible for scouring and removing tons of sand, which revealed this wreck after a very long time,” Cole said.

Ships that have sunk in the area are the Ann and Eliza (1796), the Gladiator (1860), the Jupiter T (1875), the Noatun (1892) and the Franze (1898).

The museum has investigated several of these in recent times, with shipwreck timber sightings being reported at Bonza Bay, Chintsa Bay and Igoda.

In 2019, Hennie Roos and Matthew Fenn came across ship’s wreckage while spearfishing off the Nahoon river mouth.

Three cannons were found, which were believed to belong to the Portuguese ship Santa Maria Madre de Deus, which wrecked near Bonza Bay in 1643.

The ship, a Portuguese naveta or freight vessel, was carrying at least 28 guns and was lost on a return voyage from the East.

Anyone who has further information, or earlier photos of the wreck site, is asked to e-mail kcole@elmuseum.za.org

DispatchLIVE

By Amanda Nano

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