Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a massive sand dune that fed directly into the ocean that packed the sand to produce Bruce’s Beauties. When Bruce Brown found it, there was nothing but sand, whistling into the sea whenever the west wind blew, which was most of the time.
In the name of progress the dune was stabilised, houses were built, and the sand stopped moving, resulting in the wave quality deteriorating, and over time the beaches eroding to what is left today - nothing.
Forecast: Cape St Francis
In the process, two beachbreaks that used to have consistently good waves, both St Francis Main Beach and Anne Avenue, have also faded away. These days, it’s just small and inconsistent waves with backwash and wobbles, and no beach to hang out on after your session.
On beaches that used to have Hobies parked on them, and still 50 metres of sand beyond, there's now nothing. No sand, and the ocean is slowly eating away at the land, with many houses exposed and needing to be protected, sand-bagged, or have rocks placed everywhere to prevent waves reaching them.
Most property owners in the Canals and Village areas of St Francis agreed to pay a special 25 per cent extra levy that would raise additional funding required to restore the beach. The local Municipality doesn’t have the means of doing this on its own, so the SRA (Special Rating Area) is to raise the investment to proceed. The SRA in St Francis is behind the project to place five groynes along the beach, and then pump sand from the heavily silted Kromme River mouth. It is a project of some magnitude.
Unlike the Tweed River, on the Gold Coast - and the reason why the Superbank exists as one of the best waves in the world - the Kromme River sits on the wrong side of the longshore current.
On the Gold Coast, engineers simply ran the pipe out to sea far enough for it to reach the current, and shot the slurry directly into it. The ocean did the rest, carrying the sand outside of Duranbah, to start settling at Froggies, before worming itself around to behind-the-rock at Snapper. With the pump at full horns, it takes a few days for the sand to reach Froggies, but once it’s there it’s a relatively short time for the Superbank to get groomed to perfection.
In St Francis the first plan is to build up to 5 groynes in St Francis Bay, and then to proceed with pumping the sand from the heavily silted river. These things take time, and right now there is a EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report that is currently going through the system.
The goal is to pump 1 million cubic metres of sand from the silted river, to a receiving spot on the far side of the first groynes. The longshore current will do the rest, and take the sand down the beach, filling up at each groyne and slowly working it’s way down along the beaches. This will most likely result in the regeneration of the waves that have gone, as well as generate a couple of new ones. There might be a couple of New Pier-quality waves in the mix.
Much like Rabbit Bartholomew was consulted and was deeply involved in the situation at Snapper, so are the surfers in the area, with a few long time locals and residents actively engaging with the engineers, and being invited to meetings both in offices and on site at Bruce’s and on the beaches.
Region guide: South Africa
Those surfers have clearly identified a few points that the engineers are SRA were unaware of, like existing take-off spots and the existence of shale reefs that would make a difference to where the groynes will be placed.
There is the possibility that St Francis Bay could be far better than it was 50-years-ago.
With the construction of the solid groynes, and the added possibility of getting sand pumped to the waves at Bruces and Killers, the town could turn into one of the best surfing destinations in the world.
The town could turn into one of the best surfing destinations in the world To do that though, the project needs to be done correctly, and there is much research being done at ground level right now.
Currents have been tested with dye, as well as with biodegradable floaters, to get a total understanding of current movement and of direction and strengths. The goal however, is to reclaim the beaches, and the dream is to get a solid 40 metres of beach all the way down the beach to the spit and the river mouth. If the waves form, well that’s secondary to the objective and simply a bonus.
The fact that they are working together with the surfers is the first great step forward. The Seal Point Boardriders have engaged with the project, and former professional and big wave surfer Johnny Paarman, who currently heads up Nexus Catamarans and who has lived and worked in the proximity of Bruce’s for the last decade and more, was enthusiastic about the news.
“I’ve been waiting for the last ten years for this to happen,” said Johnny on the groynes proposal. “It is the only way to stop the transportation of sand by the long-shore current.”
As Rabbit said when they were working on the Superbank system, the goal is to keep the existing amenities – the waves – and if possible create new ones or improve the waves that they have. There are not going to be fewer surfers in the future, and the effect of surf tourism in a place like St Francis could be absolutely massive.
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The other kicker is obviously the fact that property could boom. Right now, it looks like some of the houses – and they are quite nice houses - are going to eventually fall into the sea, but if the beaches return – and they will if the 1 million cubic metres of sand is returned – those properties will suddenly be worth a lot more than they currently are.
If there are any cashed-up surf industry honchos who need to invest somewhere, St Francis is looking like a pretty good asset right now.
Cover shot: Bruce's Beauties by Alan Van Gysen