Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Simon's Bay, which takes centre stage in my new novel The Girl from... is part of False Bay, a huge horseshoe of sea that takes a substantial bite out of the southern end of the Cape Peninsula.
When the early Portuguese explorers were searching for the sea route around Africa, they would sometimes sail too far south. Upon turning east in the expectation of making landfall off Table Bay, they would instead find themselves in an enormous bay surrounded by mountains - but not the iconic Table Mountain. After several misses, they realised their mistake and named it False Bay and no doubt hoped their navigation would be better next time around.
But False Bay - and Simon's Bay in particular - would have its day. In the winter, it was common for fierce north winds to blow into Table Bay. Any sailing ships that happened to be at anchor risked being driven ashore and wrecked. Clearly, a safer winter anchorage needed to be found. Every inlet around the Peninsula was investigated until Simon's Bay, ringed by mountains and tucked into a sheltered segment of False Bay, proved the ideal spot. A gale could be howling in Cape Town, but Simon's Bay's waters would be quiet.
And so, from small beginnings in the mid 1700s (a tiny garrison, a bakery, a slaughter house, a smithy) a town called Simon's Town sprang up to support the ships that called. The Royal Navy based its South Atlantic Fleet there and, during World War 2, the dockyard repaired over 200 warships and played host to thousands of seamen who, like those earlier mariners, relished its shelter.
Thank God for Simon's Town, writes the hero of my novel in his War Log in 1941.
Gale-force winds. Massive seas. We need solid earth. An uninterrupted night's sleep.
Today, Simon's Bay is the home of the South African Navy and still welcomes seafarers and visitors to its beautiful shores. You can visit the town's excellent museums to learn about its history (Nelson called, did you know that?), go and see the penguins at Boulders Beach, take a dip in the azure sea or simply soak up the glorious air. It's a little bit of paradise close to the tip of Africa.
And it all started because the wind doesn't happen to blow as hard there in the winter as it does in Cape Town... or so they say!