12 May 2008 | Cape Town SA
May 5, 2008
"In the end, everything is a gag."
Today we went to Signal Hill, where the South African Navy shoots off the daily Noon cannon, and has been doing so since 1806 (except Sundays and public holidays).
We decided to follow up on one of the previous blogs where it was reported that a cannonball from the noon gun destroyed a car 5 kilometers away.
Originally intended to signal the ships around Table Bay, via the noise and smoke, to set their chronometers (vital for accurate navigation) modern technology has turned this into just another tradition.
The guns were designed by Captain Thomas Blomfield in 1786 and cast by Walker & Company early in 1794. The British brought them to the Cape during their 1795 occupation and they were probably used by the Royal Navy in the battle of Muizenberg against the Dutch on August 7, 1795.
Since 1864 the guns have been fired automatically via a direct link to the South African Astronomical Observatory.
There are two guns and both are set up every day. They alternate firing one, with the other as a backup in the event the main gun does not fire and the backup needs to be fired manually. On January 7th, 2005 both guns failed to fire due to technical problems (the first time that happened in 200 years).
The gunner packs the barrel with a 2 Kg. powder charge and uses a ramrod to push it all the way in. He then punctures the powder bag with a metal rod through the firing hole, places a cartridge in the hole and arms the firing pin. At precisely noon, there is a loud bang accompanied by a huge puff of smoke and the tradition has continued.
I asked the gunner about the Chico killing shot: It was all an April Fools joke! He says he is still receiving phone calls about it. Even his superior officer called the day the article was published. What hurt the most was that he was referred to in the newspaper as a "rookie".