The old sea captains knew this place;
a cat’s paw of wind on a calm sea’s face
foretelling changing weather;
gray granite rocks on either hand,
a narrow stretch of white beach sand,
a quarter of a cable’s breadth,
a stone’s throw out only four fathoms depth.
Not much room here for a ship’s boat to land!
Old mariner’s maps give its name
as Patientiebaai; it’s claim to fame
a small, clear, perennial stream,
but near the beach it’s trickling flow
was very, very slow;
it took an age to fill a barrel!
Like many things in life patience was required.
Turn back the clock 300 years
and it appears
not much has changed!
Patience is still required here,
where pleasures come dripping slow.
Watch the Kogelberg at dusk
after a long summer’s day;
at first a long smouldering pink
slowly burns to a purple glow;
then as the braaivleis fire burns low
and the full moon rises higher;
drink that glass of wine very, very slow!
Smitswinkel Bay, the History, Geography and Origin of its Name
Smitswinkel Bay is the last bay on the False Bay side of the Peninsula before the circum-Peninsula Road enters the Cape Peninsula National Park and lies in a spectacularly beautiful setting several hundred meters below the coastal road at the point where it turns inland and climbs up towards the entrance to the Cape Peninsula National Park. From the parking area, where the road turns West one looks down on a cluster of some 30 houses gathered around the sands of a small beach scarcely 50 meters wide that lies between several groups of grey granite boulders and a narrow stretch of strandveld shrubs and grass. The water close to the beach is often startlingly clear and a translucent turquoise blue indicating that it is likely icy cold. A small perennial stream enters False Bay at this point and was responsible for placing Smitswinkel Bay on old mariners’ maps under the name of Patientiebaai, the stream running so slowly that great patience was needed while the ships’ water barrels were being filled by the perennial, but slowly trickling stream. Over many years there has been considerable discussion concerning the origins of the name Smitswinkel Bay. (Tucker 1913, Botha 1926, Keen 2019, Botha 2021). In this brief review the history of Smitswinkel Bay is discussed and evidence presented that there is no doubt that the original name of the bay was Patientiebaai and that the name Smitswinkel (a blacksmith’s shop) originally referred to the promontory to the north of the bay and its associated rocks that form the northern boundary of what is today known as Smitswinkel Bay.
Before 1915, when the circum-Peninsula Road was built, there were no modern permanent inhabitants and it was only after the building of the circum-Peninsula road that the owner of Smitswinkel farm-1024 Petrus Hugo sold plots. The situation at that time is summarised by Herbert Tucker the author of a book describing the beauties of the Cape Peninsula: “…a further turn round the final spur of the towering mountain along whose slope we have journeyed reveals Smitswinkel Bay, deep-set in a rocky shore, and bounded by a bold peak that fronts the waves with a defiant head of perpendicular cliff. No human habitation occupies the strand or the green valley that slopes up from the shore; but the hoarse bark of a baboon from the heights above tells that other eyes are watching us; for a large troop of these formidable apes has its headquarters in this lonely region, ranging the hills as far as Cape Point and varying its diet by occasional raids on the farmers’ crops.” (Tucker H 1913.)
History of the name Smitswinkel
Today Smitswinkel Bay is known as a place of rural seaside peace with no access other than by several small footpaths (or by sea!) and with no modern amenities, such as water and electricity, other than those supplied by the landowners themselves. In his book “Place Names in the Cape Province” Graham Botha refers to Smitswinkel Bay (page 76) and states that this name is found on a map dated 1744 and he speculates that this name might be derived from the “Blaasbalg” (Bellows) and “Ambeeld” (Anvil) two rocks shown on the map of Johannes van Keulen(1654-1713) who was the map maker of the Dutch East India Company. However, he also notes that on Colonel Gordon’s map of 1780 it is named “Patientie Baai”. “Smitswinkel Bay”, Dutch for smithy, is a name found in 1744, but marked in Gordon’s chart of 1780 as Patientie Baai. One wonders whether the two rocks marked in Johannes van Keilen’s map off Cape Point as “recently discovered”, Blaasbalg, (bellows), and Ambeeld, (anvil), by which they are still known, have any connection with the previous one mentioned. Stavorinus has them marked as such on his map but the 1687 chart of van der Stel has two places off Cape Point marked as Penguin Islands.” (Botha CG 1926)
There is also amongst the “Resolutions of the Council of Policy of Cape of Good Hope”, housed in the Cape Archives, a record of a meeting of 27th December 1729 during which the report of the “equipation master” Jacobus Möller and an old sea captain Jan de Heer was presented. A very precise and easily recognizable description is given of Smitswinkel Bay, but under the name “Patientiebaai”. (Postscript 1) They were not impressed by the potential value of the small beach for refilling water barrels despite the presence of a perennial stream and drew attention to the many surrounding granite boulders, the small size of the beach and the frequently rough seas and swirling winds. There can thus be little doubt that the original name of Smitswinkel Bay in the records of the VOC was Patientiebaai.
This report describing the exploration of the western shore of False Bay later contributed to the decision of the VOC in 1742 that all ships arriving at the Cape between May 15th and August 15th should anchor in Simon’s Bay that was a satisfactory anchorage and with better access to water than Patientiebaai in the hope that this would prevent some of the damage wrought by the fierce winter storms that come into Table Bay from the North West. This in its turn led to the development of the southern Peninsula as market farming was encouraged to supply these ships.
The precedence of the name Patientiebaai is further confirmed by the report of Cornelius de Jong recording his voyage of 1791-1797 in the Netherland’s frigate “Scipio”. He regarded Smitswinkel as one of two prominences forming Patientiebaai. (Postscript 2) He remarks upon the fierce Southeast gales that might be experienced in summer but, importantly, regarding the dangers of winter storms he suggests that if one remains close to the shore between the western corner (Die Westhoek) of the Cape Peninsula and “the Smitswinkel” one will be sheltered from winter gales. This document also points out the steep nature of the overgrown coast-line preventing any easy communication on land between Patientiebaai and “Simons Bay”.
It is further of considerable interest that in at least three maps, all dating from the British occupations (1795-1802 & post-1806), two “Smitswinkels Bays” are identified. (an example is illustrated in Figure 1) Further it should be noted that the name “Great Smith’s Winkel Baay” is given to a bay immediately South of Simonstown while the present Smitswinkel Bay is named “Kleyn Smith’s Winkel Baay”. This anglicization of the name might also have accounted for the legend that Smitswinkel referred to someone named Smit who had a shop (a winkel) at the top of the Smitswinkel valley near the road.
The evidence presented above thus suggests that Smitswinkel was initially not considered a bay but rather a prominence forming the northern arm of Patientie Baai. One can imagine the scene; a typical wild North-West gale with stormy waves breaking around the Blaasbalk and Ambeeld, that were part of the Smitswinkel promontory and other rocks, with foam flying and the whole scene having the features of a blacksmith’s shop. Then, given a second Smitswinkel nearer Simonstown, Smitswinkel might well have been a generic term applied to any scene of navigational danger marked by rocks with breaking waves and flying spray. Similarly, it is also note-worthy that there are several rock groups named the bellows (blaasbalg) or anvil (Ambeeld) on old maps of False Bay.
The further development of Smitswinkel Bay
With the coming of the British in 1806 a system of perpetual quitrent was introduced to assist in promoting the better use of potential farming land. Amongst those taking advantage of the new system was Petrus Hugo who between 1816-1817 was granted the area now known as Smitswinkel Bay. This remained in the possession of the Hugo’s until 1915 when the “All Round the Peninsula Road” financed by the Union government was completed making possible access to the newly constructed Cape Point light house, but also to Smitswinkel Valley and the bay below. As farming cannot have been much more the subsistence farming the owner of Smitswinkel subdivided the area closest to the beach and offered the approximately 30 plots for sale. Despite the idyllic setting nothing came of the developers dreams of a new popular seaside holiday resort and Smitswinkel has remained a quiet residential holiday haven without any road access or any modern facilities such as electricity or running water other than that which the residents have organised for themselves. (Walker MJ 2005; Keen M 2021)
The geology of the Cape Peninsula is relatively simple and is clearly displayed at Smitswinkel consisting mainly of Table Mountain sandstone aged approximately 300 million years underlain by Cape granite of about double that age. In the southern Peninsula the sandstone slopes gradually from several prominent peaks in the East to a low shoreline in the West, the most prominent peaks lining the False Bay coast being, from South to North, Da Gama Peak, the Paulsberg, Die Boer, Juda’s Peak and the Swartberg all of which drop dramatically into the sea to the East, this drop being virtually perpendicular to the South of Smitswinkel Bay.
Between Smitswinkel Bay in the South East and Schusters Bay to the North West a fault line runs breaking the imposing face of the shoreline mountains and leads to the formation of the Smitswinkel Valley between the Swartberg and Juda’s Peak. At the fault line the land drops several hundred meters and it is consequently at Smitswinkel Bay that the impressive granite boulders that line the False Bay shore disappear under the sea and the shore is thereafter characterised by sandstone ledges projecting out into the sea that at Rooikrans provide ledges overhanging the sea that are a favourite haunt of rod and line fishermen.
These geological features give the Smitswinkel valley a split personality; while the northern slope of the Smitswinkel valley is thus formed largely from granite and its fertile detritus that to the South is almost entirely of quartzitic sandstone origin and thus alkaline, relatively poor in nutrients and tending to drain rapidly. (Haughton 1933) These factors then play a role in the plant habitat of Smitswinkel Bay as the upper Northern slopes of the valley form a habitat for Peninsula Granite Fynbos while the Southern slopes will tend to Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos and that immediately behind the shoreline is a typical strandveld flora with coastal thicket in places. The northern slopes will also be cooler and damper and near the “Patientie” stream have features of Afro-montane forest. An important feature straddling the “Patientie” stream at the top of the valley is the only remaining natural population of Leucadendron macownii.
Aside from its natural scenic beauty and botanical attractions Smitswinkel has become a well-known diving venue for the adventurous following the deliberate sinking nearby of 5 ex-SA Navy vessels MFV Princess Elizabeth, SAS Good Hope, SAS Transvaal, MFV Orotava, MV Rockeater. Trips to dive-site can be organised from Simonstown or Kalk Bay.
In conclusion the evidence presented above assists in clarifying the origins of the name Smitswinkel Bay.
The author thanks the staff of the Cape Archives and Records Service for making available the documents quoted in this article.
Extract from the Resolutions of the Council of Policy of the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Town Archives Repository reference code C84, pp72-109.
Dog wij vinden ons bovens dien verpligt tot narigt van zoodanig schip of scheepen dewelke in de mond van de baaij souden moeten geankert blijven, ter neerder te moeten stellen dat aan de west wal tusschen de tweede en derde hoek van buijten gereekent een flaauw baaijtjen gevonden word, staande in de caart onder den naam van Patientie Baaij bekend, daar een wijnig strand tusschen de klippen in van omtrent een quart cabel breete te vinden is en waaruit een riviertjen dat uijt het gebergte komt neederdalen, in zee loopt, dat seer goed water uijtleevert, maar men heeft meede bevonden dat hier met dood stilte schier geen schuijt aan de wal komen, door het aandringen van de Zuider tigt uijt zee, dwelke een seer sterke branding veroorsaakt, ook hebben wij ondervonden dat als de wind in de baaij uijt het W.N.Wt waaijt, deselve alhier met de wal meede loopt tot het N. en N,N,Oten, somtijds met vreeslijke harde val winden van het hooge gebergte, en schoon sulx geen groote slag van water maakt, maakt hetselve egter in dit baaijtjen een lager wal, sijnde daar en boven een agste part van een meijl buiten de klippen 7 en 8 vadem tot op een steen worp van de wal 4 vadems altemaal schoone sand grond diep, soo dat van gemelte baaijtjen en het daar vallende water onses oordeels selden of weijnig gebruijk sal kunnen genomen warden, en van hier tot in de Simons Baaij is geen andere bequaame plaats om aan te kunnen komen als alleen met dood stilte wanneer men tusschen de klippen misschien nog wel een kreek soude vinden om daarbij aan te kunnen landen, streckende de voet van het hoogte en stijle gebergte sig hier ook overall tot aan de zee uijt, buijten het minste gantsch onbruikbare weegen maaktig hier ook overall tot aan de zee uijt het minste voorland, invoegen hetselve gantsch onbruijkbare weegen maakt, sonder dat op de meeste plaatsen soo veel passagie is dat twee menschen nevens malkanderen langs het gebergte kunnen.
English translation of the above document:
In addition to the above we feel it necessary to report that such a ship or ships that might be anchored in the mouth of this bay (False Bay) should appreciate that between the 2nd and 3rd promontory a small bay is found that is named on the maps Patientie Bay that has a small stretch of beach about a quarter of cable in breadth and into which a small river flows down from the mountains delivering a good supply of water. But, one finds here, even when there is no wind, that a small boat could not approach the beach due a severe swell from the South causing a significant surf on the beach. We also noted that when the wind blew from the N.NW. it caused winds along the shore that were N.N.East at times with significant gusts dropping from the high mountains and although this did not disturb the water it increased the shore line and at a quarter of a mile from the shore the depth to clear sand was 7-8 fathoms and a stone’s throw from the shore only 4 fathoms so that our judgement is that the beach could not often be used and that this beach could seldom be of use. Furthermore, between here and Simon’s Bay there is no other suitable place to land except when the sea is very calm and one can perhaps walk amongst the rocks and might find a small creek. But the steep mountains reach to the sea and there is scarce enough room for two persons to pass one another on land.
De Jong C. Reizen naar de Kaap de Goede Hoop, Ierland en Noorwegen in de jaare 1791 tot 1797. Francois Bohn, Haarlem MDCCCIX
“In een mijner vorigen heb ik reeds gezegd, dat de Baai-Fals eerder een Golf zou kunnen geneemd worden. Het is een diépe inham; die door twee kapen of uithoeken, de een naar deszelfs vorm de Hangklip, de andere naar zijne ligging de Westhoek genaamd, gevormd worde. In dezen inham heft men des noods overall anker-grond. Doch men dient binnen de Patientie-Baai, die door den Westhoek en Smitswinkel gevormd wordt, te wezen, en den West-Wal te houden, om eenigzins gerust te liggen. Hier heeft men 35 en mindere vadem water. Met een zuid-oosten-wind flaat dit ‘er verschriklijk hol, maar voor een Noord-westen is men beschut.”
English translation of the above document:
“In my previous notes I already mentioned that False Bay could actually be called a gulf. This deep gulf is formed between two capes or projections, the Hangklip and the other in keeping with it’s situation, West Point. In this gulf in a case of urgent need an emergency anchorage might be found here. None the less one should keep within Patientiebaai that is formed by the West Point and the Smitswinkel and to keep to the West-shore to be able to relax somewhat. Here there is 35 fathoms or less of water. With a South East gale this can be frightening, but one is sheltered here from the North West winds.”
Botha CG. Place names in the Cape Province. Juta & Co, Ltd Cape Town Johannesburg; (1926).
Botha M. Smitswinkel: The Beach with two anvils. West Coast Escape; (July 2021).
Council of Policy of Cape of Good Hope; Resolutions; Cape Town Archives Repository. Reference code C.84, pp.72-109.
De Jong C. Reizen naar de Kaap de Goede Hoop, Ierland en Noorwegen in de jaare 1791 tot 1797. Francois Bohn, Haarlem MDCCCIX.
Haughton SH. The Geology of Cape Town and the adjoining country. The Government Printer, Pretoria; (1933).
Keen W. A personal history of Smits. West Coast Escape; (July 2021).
Raper PE, Möller LA, du Plessis LT. Dictionary of Southern African Place Names. Jonathan Ball Publishers; (2014).
Tucker H. Our Beautiful Peninsula. Denis Edwards & Co, Cape Town; (1925).