Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Wreck of the Lyngenfjord

The Gale of 1902 in which a dozen ships were driven onto North End beach and wrecked, would be the last such mass destruction of vessels in a gale. The conversion from sailing vessels to steam powered ships was driven by productivity considerations but as an ancillary benefit, they would eradicate weather-related disasters. The Lyngenfjord was one of the sparse diet of wrecks over the next century.

Main picture: The Lyngenfjord taken by George Wood. Tins of petrol had just offloaded onto the cliff edge when the disaster occurred.

Details

At Huisklip lie the remains of the Lyngenfjord, a Norwegian vessel en route from France to Madagascar. She was wrecked on 14 January 1938, notable for it being stormy. The Rademeyer family were camping at their seaside shack at Huisklip and were awakened early by their children shouting to their elders that they must come as a ship had been stranded. They could see the mast and funnel sticking up above a rocky promontory. The ship was so close to land that the first man jumped from the rocks to the ship’s deck. The first person ashore from the ship, walking over a plank bridge from the forecastle to the rocks is reputed to have been a smartly dressed French lady clasping her pet cat to her bosom. The wreck was bought by the enterprising Norwegian Captain Pettersen, who owned whalers and a whaling factory, and at one time owned more ships than the South African Government.

The gamble paid off, the ship holding together long enough for him to salvage a large part of her mixed cargo and make a handsome profit. An interesting fact about this wreck is that the ship carried liquor as part of her cargo. Some of this was salvaged quickly and secretly by locals before customs officers arrived on the scene. Speed was essential, so much of the loot was reportedly buried in the bush near the wreck with the intention of retrieving it as soon as the coast was clear. Unfortunately the customs officers remained on duty for some two years and at the end of that time the bush had grown back and all traces and markers had vanished! Despite their best endeavours, very little of the spoil was ever recovered.

The Lurie family blog

In this blog, the family sets out to track down the ship on which their parents were passengers.

Dawn writes: “I mentioned a vague (very) memory of my Mom, Selma telling me a story of how one night her brothers Martin and Jacob and David called at her home (she was married to my Dad Max) to tell her a ship had gone aground and the Norwegian crew had been brought to the Seaman’s Institute in Port Elizabeth. The boys often visited the institute – it was a contact with Norway, and a place where they could converse in Norwegian. The rescued sailors needed to be clothed, as they had lost all. They could not speak English. My Mom could translate. My Dad had a small outfitting shop, and struggling to make ends meet. That night the entire stock was sold to the seamen and my parents had a respite for a while from a precarious financial situation.”

So, was it possible to locate the ship that had been wrecked? Indeed, it was. The only shipwreck near Port Elizabeth in the 1930s that involved a Norwegian vessel occurred on 14th January 1938.

The records of the event show the following. It was a stormy day and the Norwegian freighter SS Lyngenfjord (built 1913) ran aground at Huisklip, at the mouth of the Tsitsikamma River near Cape St. Francis. No lives were lost, but the raging seas and the rocky coast soon battered the 5,627-ton steam freighter to pieces. She had been en route from France to Madagascar and was carrying a cargo of cement, timber and liquor.

The wreck of the SS Lyngenfjord off Cape St. Francis

Most of the cargo was salvaged, except the liquor. The locals looted the wreck and hid the liquor on the beach. Unfortunately, for them, the coast guard patrolled the area during the following two years. Speculation has it that some of the liquor remains hidden in the area. Not long after the ship sank, a “captain’s chair” washed out on the beach near Oyster Bay. The chair, made of Burmese Teak, has “SS Lyngenfjord” engraved on the backrest, with the metal number 22 underneath. On the front of the backrest is the emblem of the Grace Line – the original owners of the freighter. Today the chair has found a home in the entrance of a holiday hotel in Cape St. Francis; the Lyngenfjord Hotel.

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The Lyngenfjord unloading cans of cement

In 1980 Malcolm Turner who was employed as a diver by African Offshore Services at that time salvaged the site. Turner discovered two four-bladed manganese bronze propellers. The divers broke the two propellers into pieces and over the course of a month, moved the loose blades and other parts (including various bronze pumps, valves and copper pipes) into a stockpile in deeper water with the intent to return for them at a later date with a vessel to lift and salvage. Due to the heavy surf conditions experienced along this stretch of coastline, the materials were not recovered and the site was abandoned.

Sources

Main photo: Taken by George Wood but supplied to me by Rosemary MacGeoghegan, his daughter.

https://lurienorway.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-wreck-of-ss-lyngenfjord.html

The LydgenFjord – The Captain’s Chair

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