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Tue, 14 July 2020

The seas turned into a battle-field of brutish violence, and yet surreal beauty, yesterday as a super-charged tempest stormed the ramparts. Spike drove around the Cape Peninsula.


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KABOOM! About 300m out to sea at Bakoven, a huge wave detonates into the stormy sky. Photo Spike


I came around the last corner on Chapmans Peak from the Noordhoek side of the Cape Peninsula as the world turned grey from a rain squall that clattered against the cliffs. Spumes of spray hissed upward off the seaward rim of the curved concrete wall around a left-hand corner, whiplashed vertically by the westerly gale.

As I passed through the gap at the summit between the protruding buttress and the rockface, the wind Ear drums popping, my car rocked violently sidewaysexploded into a buffeting cacophany. Ear drums popping, my car rocked violently sideways. It was intense. I looked up to ensure a 100 ton boulder wasn't bouncing down the mountain in slow motion, and scarpered towards Hout Bay. The ocean was heaving. Earlier, I had stopped several times in the middle of the road on Chapman's Peak - everyone was doing it with impunity - to watch huge waves busting at the base of the cliffs below, clawing their way up 30 metres or so.

It was hard to judge how big the waves were when you're parked up to 200 metres above the crashing carnage below, but the noise helped. The roar was deafening. I could feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. That scary sensation resulted in my first apprehensive glance up the mountain.

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HEAD OF THE SNAKE: Slangkop Lighthouse stands sentinel as the ocean attacks. Photo Spike


What a day to get a feel for the majestic might of the ocean at her most violent. I began the journey watching the sea boiling for a kilometre out to sea from the Slangkop Lighthouse in the deep south. There was more white water than green. If you removed the land, you'd be in a storm out to sea. And yet the eye was 500 miles away. We were at the end of the conveyor belt. We were perched on the periphery of the storm - no-where near the core carnage.

The coastline between Kommetjie and Scarborough was like a battle scene from Lord of the Rings. Mountains of water rumbled to shore covered with a seething mass of smaller, mutant chunks of ocean, whipped sideways by the gale. In Tolkien's mythology, you'd say they were Mamakils - those giant elephant-like creatures that steam-roll all in their path - covered in a hideous, shrieking swarm of wargs, goblins, ogres, trolls and orcs.

I stopped above Llandudno, which was awash in white water about 500 metres out. No mind-surfing here. Just thinking it was enough for the NSRI to set off on a rescue mission. Along the coastal road to Camps Bay, cars had stopped to marvel at the ocean theatrics. Just before the Twelve Apostels hotel, I almost crashed into a tree when I saw a distant detonation of white shoot high into the air.

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ANYONE FOR A PADDLE: A giant wave prepares to pound the beach at Llandudno. Photo Spike


"Yes! That's where I am headed," I thought. Parking in the tiny carpark at Bakoven, I found a path to the beach, watching a foamy wodge of water march across the gap in trees and houses at the end of the lane. I found my rock blaster, a round cluster of huge boulders hunched above sea level. On the main beach at Bakoven, a small crowd of people watched and filmed each "oooh!" moment.

Kadoof! The impact of ocean on rock brought about spectacular conflagrations of spray that exploded with velocity in all directions. Each explosion was achingly bright and white against the gunmetal grey of the stormy sky. Pointy shafts of salt shrapnel erupted outwards, each spumy spear the trail of a NASA rocket that slowed into mist and drifted away - the journey done; the intent spent.

Next up was a stop at Queens Beach in Sea Point, which was packed with excited storm chasers. It was about 5pm, and the ocean was peaking. By all accounts, according to the CSIR wave rider buoy for Cape Point, that peak was 20 metres at 18 seconds. Twenty metres! By golly. That is 65.6 feet, and easily the biggest swell I have seen in my life.

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GLIMMER OF GOLD: A foaming ocean through the drenched window of my car. Photo Spike


Huge-Swell-July-2020-047For all we know, speaking about swell in the singular, this could have been just one wave that caused the buoy to spike at that height, but my conviction is that for around two hours, we got the vengeful byproduct of a core peak velocity in the originating wind field of around 93kts.

I would have thought the period would have been way more than 18 seconds - more like somewhere between 20 and 23 seconds - but I believe that the peak period was possibly masked by the sheer mass and frequency of swell coming directly off the conveyor belt.

My round trip was lastly capped, so to speak, with the obligatory gawk at the filthy creme de la creme of chocolate latte that sucked, and surged, and shot scuds of foam at giggling bystanders lining the promenade around the narrow confines of Three Anchor Bay.

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FLATTENING THE CURVE: The GFS model forecast a 17m x 18 second peak. Photo Supplied


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GOBBLEDEE GOOK: Anyone for a frothing chocolate milkshake Atlantic smoothie? Photo Spike


The consistency and thickness of the chocolate soup as it ebbed, flowed and launched up the walls created a million shapes a second. I must have shot 100 photos of the foamy configurations, which morphed and glooped and sighed and burped, fashioning facsmiles of anything you wanted to find. The face of Jesus? Easy! The balrog on the bridge fighting Gandalf? Yip. Donald Trump being chased by a demon wielding a pointy stick? Definitely!

To decrypt the total messaging dumped on our shores over a 24 hour period? Now that is a task. Perhaps it was a warning.

A glimmer of hope appeared as I headed along the foreshore highway - a rainbow appeared over Cape Town.

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WHAT LIES AHEAD: A rainbow appears before sunset on Mighty Monday. Photo Spike


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CORE WIND FIELD: This moment in the storm was behind the above swell peak. Photo Windy


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WALKABOUT: A man in a wetsuit strolls past foaming flotsam flicked up by the waves. Photo Spike


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