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The Jetty - Restaurant instead of Harbour Cranes

Avatar of inke inke - 06. January 2017 - Discover Namibia

The wooden jetty with cranes and rails. Source: National Archives

Swimming in the bay at the breakwater (Mole) or standing on the jetty and marvelling at the sunset is an experience that is as much a part of a holiday in Swakopmund as salt belongs in the ocean. It is surprising then to find that both of these attractions are simply the result of a few quirks of history. If the bay of today’s Walvis Bay, 30 km further south, had not already been in British hands at the end of the 19th century and had Imperial Germany not declared the southwestern part of Africa a protectorate and done its utmost to build a harbour for the country, things might have been very different. 

The breakwater and jetty are the remains of the first and third attempts to give Swakopmund a pier where ships could moor. Both were planned as an alternative to the natural deepwater harbour at Walvis Bay, the enclave then part of the sovereign territory of the Cape Colony under British rule, where steep handling charges and customs fees were levied by the British. Construction of the breakwater began on 2 September 1899. Three-and-a-half years later, in February 1903, the small harbour was ready. It was intended for smaller vessels which would ferry goods and passengers to and from big steamers anchored in the streets. However, after just a year the breakwater basin had silted up to such an extent that even light boats could only make it to the pier at high tide. 

A different approach was therefore attempted in 1904. A jetty 280 metres long was built at a headland south of the breakwater, sporting three sets of tracks, one for cranes and two for railway wagons. Completed as early as April 1905, the jetty was in use for for several years. However, untreated spruce timber had been used in its construction and it soon became apparent that the wood was slowly but steadily being eaten by woodworm. 

Finally, in 1912 a new jetty was built from iron and concrete. It was supposed to be 640 m long, jutting out far enough into the sea to avoid the area where the heavy breakers formed. The approach to the clearing area was planned to be 490 m long and 7.50 m wide, while the clearing area itself was to be a platform 150 m long and 20 m wide. The pylons, consisting of an iron core protected by a concrete case, were driven more than 2.5 m into the solid granite rock of the ocean floor. There were also traverse struts to brace the jetty against the breakers rolling in from southwest. Galvanized iron was used for the upper parts of the construction in order to defy the corrosive mixture of air and saltwater for as long as possible. 

Construction work was very complex. The holes for the pylons were drilled with the help of divers and heavy machinery, then an iron pipe was sunk, followed by the iron abutment. Next the cavity was filled with small pieces of metal and concrete and finally the iron pipe was removed and used for making the next pylon. 

When the drilling equipment hit a section where the granite was covered by a layer of concrete-like conglomerate of stones, sand, mud and lime ((Nagelfluh), construction work stalled and only 262 m of the jetty had been completed by August 1914, when the ourtbreak of the First World War put an end to further construction and under the subsequent South African administration the deepwater port of Walvis Bay was preferred. Even so, at least the jetty’s walkways were covered with planks in 1919 so that it could be accessed for promenading and angling. 

The iron jetty was built just a few metres south of its wooden predecessor. Not even the part that was ready was ever used for its original purpose. As far as is known a ship moored at the jetty only once. Old Swakopmunders, almost choked with emotion, will tell you that in 1952 the South African destroyer “The Acteon” moored at the jetty. The whole town was astir and cheered the crew and invited them from bar to bar to celebrate the special occasion.

Subsequently the jetty served as a tourist attraction, a photo scene, a meeting place for dates, the start or finish of swimming competitions and also as the backdrop to a restaurant. In the late seventies the jetty was in danger of collapsing and was provisionally repaired. In the late nineties its further existence was at stake when serious damage was once more detected. After several years of public fundraising efforts and some 360,000 Namibia Dollars donated, the City of Swakopmund finally made available the additional amount of 1.6 million Namibia Dollars necessary for the thorough restoration of at least part of the jetty. The repaired section was ceremoniously reopened in 2006. A businessman came to the rescue of the remainder of the jetty. He had the structural safety of the pylons examined and the platform repaired. Since 2010 a restaurant is situated at the far end of the jetty.

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