HERITAGE-SA Fisheries Museum
Out of its depth
Velddrif-Laaiplek is a fishing town situated at the mouth of the Berg River on the West Coast. During the decades of the 1940’s and 50’s, the natural river mouth was the portal between the Atlantic Ocean and the fishing factories. The mouth was as shallow as 25cm during Spring low tide.
As boats became bigger, the lack of depth combined with the sandbanks in front of the mouth, hampered the off-loading of the catches to the fish factories via the natural river mouth. To sustain the fishing industry, on which the Velddrif-Laaiplek community rely, a plan had to be mande.
(Photo 1 - The original river mouth)
Two sea jetties were built east of the current day river mouth in 1952. The jetty was treacherous during the west coast’s stormy winters and although it achieved some success, it was not a long-term solution.
In 1957 the Director of Marine Products in Laaiplek, Gerrie van Zyl, inspired the management of the factory and the community of Velddrif to appeal for the opening up of the Berg River Mouth. This led to the birth of the Berg River Action Committee. In January of 1958, the committee met with the Minister of Economic Affairs, Dr A.J.R. van Rhyn. The minister saw the problem facing the community and suggested that an in-depth study of all the possible solutions to the problem should be investigated. The investigation determined that the best permanent solution would be a completely new mouth for the Berg River.
(Photo 2 - New mouth breakwaters at sunset.)
For the new mouth to be a success, it was necessary to create a model which will take into account all relevant factors. Gerrie van Zyl granted £6000 towards the project of building this model, done by the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Stellenbosch under Professor R Truter. The research project was finished in August 1963 and found that the best way for the new river mouth was to dug through the sandy peninsula to create a new canal (300m long, 60m wide and 3m deep) and deepen the entry to the sea. Two breakwaters were to be built from the channel into the sea. The breakwaters measured 365m. This was approved by the government in 1964.
(Photo 3 - Stormkop leaving the harbour during the inaugaration.)
On the first of August 1964 work by Christiani&Nielsen (SA) Pty Ltd started for a tender of £650000, it was completed for £900 000. On 25 October 1968, the new harbor was inaugurated. Festivities filled the air while “Stormkop”, a fishing trawler to this day, led a fleet of trawlers, all sporting colourful flags, into the harbor for the first time. The fishermen showed their gratitude by painting “ 'n Beter Toekoms is vir ons Geskep” meaning ‘a better future created for us’ on one of the breakwaters. This slogan is still faintly visisble on the longest breakwater at the rivermouth.
(Photo 4 - The complete new mouth.)
This man-made harbor and river mouth is one of the twelve fishing harbours of South Africa and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
The SA Fisheries Museum remembers and commemorates this event, some would even say the building of the new river mouth might be the single most important event in the history of Laaiplek and Velddrif. Not only will it forever bind the present fishermen to the past fishermen, it allows the present fishermen to provide for the future.
One could say that the construction of a new mouth to the Berg River, might be the single most important event in the history of Velddrif-Laaiplek. Not only will it eternally connect the fisherman of the present to the intrepid, pioneer fisherman of the past, but it also present and future fisherman to sustain and ensure the unique communities of Velddrif-Laaiplek.