Dive Report – SAS Pietermaritzburg Wreck

One of the many good reasons to dive Cape Town is of course the huge amount of wrecks that line it’s shores. Yes, sad as it may be, in the old days this oddly shaped pile of rocks was not the easiest to navigate and ships often found themselves in a bit of a pickle when they got too close to shore. Luckily, the 85 crew members of the SAS Pietermaritzburg (Previously HMS Pelorus between 1943 – 1947) were not affected by her sinking at all, seeing as she was scuttled intentionally 50 years after she played her role as a minsweeper during the 1944 invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Now, after 11 years below roughly 20m of water, she is one of Cape Town’s most dived wrecks being accessible to novices and veterans alike.

At 09h15 on 20 June, we arrived at the Miller’s Point slipway to meet up with some friends for a mid-winter dive on the PMB. The air was crisp, the water was flat and the wind was calm. Winter in Cape Town is arguably the best time to dive False Bay, when despite the frequent rainfall, the wind dies down enough to allow the sediment to settle meaning that on days with little to no swell, the visibility clears up nicely. This was one of those days.

Jagged edges where rust has crippled the thinnest parts of the metal sheet deck
Jagged edges where rust has crippled the thinnest parts of the metal sheet deck
Odd as "sinking a ship to create a reef" sounds, that's exactly what happens
Odd as “sinking a ship to create a reef” sounds, that’s exactly what happens

We kitted up and hit the boat, and after some minor fuel problems, we were off! Smooth sailing as they say across the glassy surface to where the PMB lay (That unintentionally sounded like a rhyme). Seeing as these days my options are twins or… um… twins, I had a bit of an exhausting kitting-up ceremony, but soon enough I was ready to hit the water. Into the drink we went, grabbing onto the shotline and slowly following it down to awesomeness. By the time we were 7m under, we were able to see the wreck clearly. Yup, that’s 13m viz. In False Bay. Big Grin

Some things decay faster than others. Here, a winch body high in magnesium is doing a lot better than the sheeted iron decks
Some things decay faster than others. Here, a winch body high in magnesium is doing a lot better than the sheeted iron decks

Fans

We reached the wreck and spent the next 45 minutes inspecting all of her hidden gems: The ever-relocating toilet seat, the dark little corners, the mangled metal seams and eerie passages & doorways surrounded by ever-decaying metal walls… What a blessing to be able to be this close to something that has played such a vital role during WWII. I was especially pleased seeing that this was the first dive where I was able to REALLY use my new DIY GoPro dive tray & arms kit together with my 2x Knog Qudos video lights. It was great to be able to shed some light on the darker corners of the wreck, especially during the cabin swim-throughs. One of my video lights had suffered a partial flood the previous week and I was happy to see that it did not happen again, meaning that the extra care I took in lubricating and double checking for obstructions the morning had paid off.

Shielded from the brunt of the stormy swells, these fan flourish in an area of constant movement
Shielded from the brunt of the stormy swells, these fan flourish in an area of constant movement

Roughly 45 min later, my wife was at 70 bar and we decided to call it a day and head up. Not doing boat dives too often, I decided to deploy my DMSB for the heck of it, even though the shot line was not far away. I never get a chance to use it at Long Beach. A short safety stop at 5m marked the end of our dive and we hopped back aboard the SS Bardwell for a chilled cruize back to shore.

It's rare to get a chance to get such a large chunk of the PMB wreck in one picture
It’s rare to get a chance to get such a large chunk of the PMB wreck in one picture
A tiny spider crab defends it's home from passers-by
A tiny spider crab defends it’s home from passers-by

The dive specifics were as follows:

Max Depth: 19.5m (TBC)
Avg. Temp: 13 degrees Celcius
Visibility: 15m
Duration: 48min

Here’s some video footage of the cabin interior. This was the first time I was able to test my dual Knog Qudos video lights on a wreck, and they did not disappoint!