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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Whittle Rock

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The dive site Whittle Rock is an extensive offshore rocky reef on the central west side of False Bay, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Understand[edit]

Map of the dive site at Whittle Rock.

Whittle Rock and the surrounding reefs cover a large area, and are the most significant navigational hazard in False Bay, but as very little shipping of large displacement enters the bay, it is not at present that much of a problem. The Euphrates is reported to have been wrecked on the reef, but its position is not known. Several anchors have been found, and some of them mapped. It is also a popular fishing area for reef fish, and a spectacular dive site. It would certainly be more popular if it was closer to the launch areas.

Position[edit]

  • S34°14.846' E018°33.714' 1 Whittle Rock (Shallowest pinnacle): About 8 km offshore
  • S34°14.887' E018°33.775' 2 Whittle Rock South-east Pinnacle
  • S34°14.844' E018°33.682' 3 Whittle Rock West Pinnacle
  • S34°14.765', E18°33.622' 4 Whittle Rock North-west Pinnacle
  • S34°14.783' E18°33.795' and S34°14.776' E18°33.801' 5 Euphrates anchors
  • S34°14.756' E18°33.720' 6 JJ's anchor
  • S34°14.735' E18°33.590' 7 Riaan and Sven's anchor
  • S34°14.762' E18°33.575' 8 September anchor
  • S34°14.785' E18°33.666' 9 Little anchor
  • S34°14.917' E18°33.753' 10 South east pinnacle chain (Neptune's bath plug)
  • S34°14.???' E18°33.???' Georgina's anchor

There is officially a navigation buoy slightly to the east of the reef, but there have been occasions when it was not there. The current buoy replaces the one which sank some years ago. Divers have reported that it lies on the bottom, still attached to its mooring system, and probably simply sank after years of neglect.

This site is partly in a Marine Protected Area (2009) The Eastern border of the Table Mountain National Park MPA passes through the west part of the reef area. Most of the reef is outside the MPA.

Name[edit]

This area is marked on the SA Navy charts as a navigational hazard and named "Whittle Rock".

Depth[edit]

Maximum depth on the sand around the reef is more than 30 m. The top of the pinnacle is at about 5 m, but the variation is large due to the size of the site.

Visibility[edit]

Visibility is often better than on the inshore reefs, but as with any False Bay reef, it is not very predictable, and there may be better visibility at the bottom below a dirty surface layer. When it is more than 10 m this site is particularly impressive, as the topography of pinnacles, gullies, walls, huge boulders and overhangs, with the occasional swimthroughs can be appreciated. Visibility can exceed 20 m on rare occasions.

Topography[edit]

Huge granite corestone outcrops and boulders. The topography varies considerably as it is such a large area of reef.

To the east and north of the shallows there is fairly deep water within a short distance, and the topography is steep and craggy, while to the north-west it is relatively flat. A reasonable idea of the local topography can be deduced from the chart.

Main pinnacle area The main reef area near the 5 m pinnacle is the shallowest part of the reef, with an extensive area above 15 m, and several areas above 12 m, separated by gaps and gullies of varying depth and width. Slightly to the east of the main pinnacle there is a long, deep and narrow gulley. To the immediate north and west is a plateau area between 10 and 15 m deep

Western pinnacle area This area includes several deep and steep sided roughly parallel ridges and gullies, mostly running roughly north-south, and a large swimthrough at about 18 m depth, where an enormous boulder is wedged into a large gully. This boulder is the western pinnacle. The other ridges and gullies are further west.

North-western pinnacle area There is a small, fairly steep and very localised pinnacle on a generally lower profile area of massive bedrock.

North-eastern pinnacle areaTo the north-east of the main pinnacle, there is a massive outcrop which rises to 15 m, with steep sides and flattish top. Just to the north of this are the anchors thought to be from the Euphrates wreck, in a sandy bottomed gully running from south-west to north-east, at about 25 m depth.

South-eastern pinnacle area The South-eastern pinnacle is a massive outcrop with its top at about 12m, a steep wall on the north eastern side, and a flatter slope down to the south, where there is a sandy gully at about 27m depth sloping down to the east, in which there is yet another large iron anchor. The eastern sid of this pinnacle slpes down a few metres to an area of moderate relief, which includes a few smaller gullies and swimthroughs.

Geology: Granite corestones of the late Pre-Cambrian Peninsula pluton, surrounded by a sand bottom

Conditions[edit]

The site is exposed to wind and waves from all directions, however it is mostly quite deep, so short period waves will not affect conditions on the bottom greatly. Low short swell and light wind is best. There may be a thermocline, and the visibility may change significantly below the thermocline. Conditions at depth are not easily predictable, and may be better or worse than near the surface. There is no specific time of year for diving this site, you just have to wait for low swell and light winds.

A long period swell may produce significant surge at depth, depending on the local topography. In places the gullies will focus the surge, and in other places the high reefs and steep walls may provide relatively sheltered areas.

Get in[edit]

Whittle Rock and other offshore dive sites of False Bay

The site is only accessible by boat. It is about 8.5 km from the slipway at Miller's Point, but boats may also leave from Simon's Town jetty.

See[edit]

Decorator crab on a sea fan
Horsefish
Janbruin
Violet spotted anemone

Marine life[edit]

Much depends on which part of the reef you dive. There are a wide variety of invertebrates and quite a variety of fish seen in the vicinity, including shoals of Yellowtail. This is a popular fishing area and unfortunately there has been noticeable damage to the reef by anchors in the shallower parts.

Features[edit]

Anchor thought to be from the wreck of the Euphrates

There are several large anchors. The approximate positions are known for eight of them, and shown on the map.

  • Two large iron anchors with iron stocks, thought to be from the English East-Indiaman Euphrates which struck the pinnacle and sank in 1810, at 25 m depth, in a sandy bottomed gully at S34°14.783, E18°33.795 and S34°14.776, E18°33.801. Two more anchors are reported from near this point. All are between 24 m and 28 m depth.
  • A large anchor with iron stock at 17 m depth, at approximately S34°14.781, E18°33.721, (JJ's anchor)
  • An anchor at 18 m depth, at approximately S34°14.736, E18°33.592 (Riaan and Sven's anchor)
  • An iron anchor at 18 m depth, at approximately S34°14.785, E18°33.666 (Little anchor)
  • A large iron anchor at 15 m depth, at approximately S34°14.767, E18°33.575 (September anchor)
  • A large iron anchor at the base of the south slopes of the south-eastern pinnacle, of unknown provenance and uncertain position. (Georgina's anchor)

Photography[edit]

This is a good site for photography. Macro is a safe bet, as there will always be subjects for close up work. If the visibility is good, and it can be better than 20 m occasionally, wide angle scenic shots are an option.

Routes[edit]

At this stage no particular routes are recommended, but a swim around the 15 m contour is a good option for a fairly long dive with lots of scenic views if the visibility is good, and some excursions to the pinnacles.

If there is a lot of surge in the shallows, which is common in a long period swell even when the swell is quite low, the deeper areas will be more comfortable and possibly safer. The reef life also varies with depth and topography, and to get a good idea of what all can be found it is necessary to explore a reasonably large range of depths. Visibility and water temperature are somewhat unpredictable, and can differ from the inshore dive sites. There may be a thermocline, and visibilty at the bottom can differ quite a bit from nearer the surface. Even at 3 to 4m visibility it can be a good dive.

Stay safe[edit]

Hazards[edit]

Cold water is possible. Strong winds may develop over a short time, particularly in summer. Great white sharks have been seen in this area.

Skills[edit]

Much of the reef is fairly deep and beyond the range of novice divers, but there are also extensive shallower areas. The ability to deploy a DSMB is recommended, as this will help the boat crew to see you after the dive, and will warn fishing boats of your presence while surfacing. On some occasions there may be large numbers of small craft fishing in this area, and some of the skippers do not pay much attention to where they are going.

Equipment[edit]

A light is helpful both in deep areas to compensate for the loss of colour, and wherever there are deep cracks, overhangs and other dark areas. A compass is mostly useful for heading towards a planned point, as when heading towards a shallower area at the end of a dive. An SMB is strongly recommended to help the boat keep track of your position, or to find you when you ascend. Nitrox is generally useful to extend no-stop dive times as most dives at Whittle are fairly deep. The water temperature may be low, so good thermal insulation is also recommended.

Nearby[edit]

Back to Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#Reefs

This dive guide to Whittle Rock has guide status. It has a variety of good, quality information including location, conditions and equipment, and info on marine life and other sights. Please contribute and help us make it a star!