The heart and soul of a seaside community
Harbours have always held a certain fascination and charm that conjures up feelings of nostalgia and images of yesteryears' people and things gone by. Watching an old veteran trawler stately leave or enter a harbour evokes a strange sense of yearning to know the secrets and wisdoms that it harbours in its war-torn belly.
Gansbaai is one of only a very few working fishing villages left in the Western Cape. The fishing industry dates back to the earliest settlement days in Gansbaai when Johannes Wessels erected the first temporary dwelling in 1881 next to the fresh water fountain on the spot where the old harbour is now. It was named Gansgat (goose hole) after the colonies of Egyptian geese that congregated around the fountain. The name was later changed to the more respectable Gansbaai (Goose Bay). Other nomad fishermen soon followed suit and laid the groundwork for a thriving fishing industry that even today is the biggest employment-generator in Gansbaai.
Today, Gansbaai has 3 harbours from where commercial, pelagic and recreational fishing vessels leave on a daily basis. Until a few years ago, before the strict clampdown on permits and quotas, the old harbour was a beehive of activity with between 70 - 80 boats setting out to sea every day. In recent years, the fishermen have become heavily restricted by these quotas and permits and only a few boats leave the old harbour on any given day.
The impressive new harbour adjacent to the original harbour was recently built to allow safe entrance and docking to the huge pelagic vessels. Eight pelagic boats that are responsible for the supply of anchovy and sardines to the fishmeal and canning factory in the old harbour, are permanently docked here. The activities of these old dames have also been affected by the permit and quota restrictions and thus they fare the open seas much less than in earlier years.
A highlight on local fishermen's calendar is the open crayfish season between November and January when permit-holders can embark on pursuing this delightful delicacy in our rich and rough waters.
The small bay at Kleinbaai has become the hub of marine activity as most of the commercial and recreational fishing boats depart from there in search of kabeljou, steenbras and geelbek in the deep sea between Dyer Island, Pearly Beach and Buffeljachts. The Kleinbaai harbour is also the heart of the thriving whale watching and shark cage diving business that catapulted Gansbaai to the top of the list of international tourism destinations. On every given day, five to nine of these specially designed and streamlined ladies carry tens of tourists to Dyer Island and surroundings to explore our wonderful marine wildlife.
The impressive old harbour wall that has been guarding the come and go of thousands of these old veterans of the sea, is still a popular place for hand line fishing or a romantic stroll. It yields panoramic views of the endless ocean that inspired the origin of the town and in many ways, still sustains it.