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Take a slight detour on your way to the old lighthouse to visit this magnificent cliff-top viewpoint and gaze across to Bellows Rock, the site of the Lusitania wreck. The loss of the Lusitania resulted in the relocation of the light at the Point to its current position nearer the water. This cache is part of the Shipwreck Series. For the series methodology and more info visit SS: Shipwreck Series via the related web page link.
The Lusitania was a 5,557 ton steel twin-screw Portuguese steamer built in 1906 for the Empreza Nacional de Navogacas. She was the second largest liner in the fleet until the Lisboa (GC2DTJE) was wrecked six months earlier just north of Jacobs Bay. The Lusitania left Lourenco Marques (Maputo) on 15 April, 1911 carrying nearly 800 souls. The commander was Captain Faria and the liner was due in Cape Town on the morning of Wednesday, 19th April.
About 10.30 p.m, on the 18th, Captain Faria sighted Cape Point light and set a course to give the Point a wide berth. The evening was calm but there was a land mist, and soon the Lusitania lost sight of the Cape Point light. At 11h40 the mist lifted suddenly and Captain Faria was alarmed to find how close the light was; the current must have been stronger than he had anticipated. Immediately he put the helm over and the mail steamer headed for the open sea. Ten minutes later, without warning, she struck Bellows Rock, some 4 km from the lighthouse.
The crash was appalling - at one moment the liner was travelling at speed, the next she was stationary, her crumpled bows piled up on the rock. At once there was confusion. A Portuguese lady describing her experiences later said: "I screamed - screamed very loud. My husband came to me and told me there was no danger, but I knew!"
There were only three English passengers - Hugh le May, D. James and Mrs. Glenny. ""When the vessel struck, Mr. James had just retired and was lying reading in his bunk; the book was knocked clean out of his hands, and he jumped out of his bunk and ran up on deck. He met other scantily attired figures, all enquiring "What's the trouble". Nobody knew the answer. Meeting the chief mate, Mr. James asked in Portuguese "What happened?" - the mate only shrugged. James ran down to the engine room where his friend, Mr. Ireland, was chief engineer. He tried a different question: "Have we hit a rock?" "Looks like it", was the nonchalant answer.
The crew were very calm and performed their duties splendidly. It was only when the seamen started preparing the boats that the trouble came;
for a few minutes there was a panic-stricken scramble for places. during which women were pushed roughly to one side. The panic did not last long. The cooler-headed of the passengers assisted the officers in calming the others, and the work of lowering the boats began.
A number of people got into the boats and made their way towards the coast. The entire Cape Point peninsula is precipitous and attempts to land could be disastrous. The only possible spot is the little beach down below between Cape Point and Cape Maclear.
So the lighthouse staff spent much of the night scrambling along these cliffs with lanterns, warning off boats, and trying to direct them to this tiny bay. Two boats actually landed in this bay, but even here the sea was so dangerous that one upset and a woman and two men were drowned. Another man was fortunate enough to be rescued by a young student who was visiting Cape Point at the time.
Meanwhile a tug the Scotsman had left Simonstown and steamed at full speed for the Lusitania. She saw Cape Point light and the brightly lit Lusitania, but then a thick fog rolled in and everything was obscured. The tug signalled and signalled, and went first in one direction and then in another for over an hour, but could not find the Lusitania. Fortunately the fog lifted momentarily and the tug was able to spot the liner.
The tug collected 7 lifeboats floating around and then transferred the people that had remained on the Lusitania. Eventually there were 500 people on board the small little tug. The warship Forte arrived at 07h00 and relieved the Scotsman. By 10h00 everyone had been taken off except Captain Faria who refused to leave his ship. Eventually the Captain of the Forte boarded the wreck and persuaded Captain Faria not to sacrifice his life. Sadly lowering the flag to half-mast Captain Faria left the Lusitania, and the Forte sailed for Cape Town.
Aboard the Scotsman were the two English passengers, Mr. James and Mr. le May. They were booked on the mail steamer from Cape Town that afternoon, but as they approached Simonstown the tug skipper shook his head: "You'll never make it. There's the train getting ready to leave now" and he pointed across the bay to the railway station. "Lend me one of your boats, please" said Mr. James to Lieut. Bridgeman. "Certainly" said that surprised officer and four men to help you".
As the Scotsman turned towards the harbour, the spectators saw the little boat set out across the bay. The water was choppy and the wind rising, but they reached shore in time to catch their train and the mail steamer.
The very next morning, without fanfare or warning, the Lusitania suddenly slipped off Bellows Rock and sank without a trace.
Haqre gerr ol gur fvqr bs gur cngu. Yrnir ab fgbar haghearq.
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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum