Mystery of sinking Knysna icon

The Paddle Cruiser restaurant, well known for offering thousands of tourists romantic meals on the lagoon, is now lying half under water
The Paddle Cruiser restaurant, well known for offering thousands of tourists romantic meals on the lagoon, is now lying half under water
Image: NSRI

Salvage specialists were roped in on Friday to determine what caused one of Knysna’s most iconic tourist features, the Paddle Cruiser restaurant, to partially capsize – with the left side lying under water and resting on the estuary floor.

The Featherbed Company’s 170-ton, two-storey vessel – which normally carries up to 120 passengers and has become synonymous with the Knysna estuary – partially sank in the early hours of Friday, just hours after a night-time cruise on Thursday.

No-one was on board at the time of the incident.

The company’s marketing manager, Martin Hatchuel, said the 16-year-old vessel, which runs lunch and dinner cruises and also caters for special events, would not be operational until it was ascertained what had happened.

Members of the Smit Amandla marine salvage company took over from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) – which had been activated at 6.30am – and were on the scene on Friday afternoon to evaluate and assess salvage options in an effort to try to get the boat upright.

Hatchuel said the incident was unprecedented.

“We have every possible safety measure in place, so it’s new ground for us all. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” he said.

“What we know so far is that some time in the very early hours of [Friday] morning, it somehow took on water in one of the holds.”

Hatchuel said the Paddle Cruiser’s last cruise was on Thursday night.

“Until we know how it sank and why, we won’t be able to know how long it will be out of action. What’s also of concern is that we don’t know the condition of the engine because one side of the engine was completely under water,” he said.

Work is under way to get Knysna's floating restaurant back on even keel
Work is under way to get Knysna's floating restaurant back on even keel
Image: NSRI

Management and members of the Featherbed Company’s staff were at the ferry terminus by 7am on Friday, with the NSRI crew assisting with stabilisation.

Officials and rescue services from the Knysna municipality, and representatives of SANParks, which manages the estuary, were also on the scene.

Hatchuel said personnel were taking steps to prevent further damage to the vessel, and to prevent any pollution of the estuary.

He said the company would operate minus the Paddle Cruiser – for now – and continue normal services, namely ecotours of the Featherbed Nature Reserve and boat trips on the John Benn, Heads Explorer, Three Legs rivercat, and with Knysna Rib Adventures.

NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon commended all those involved in Friday’s operation.

X