- 28 November 2014
- Published by Clare
Both the Atlantic and False Bay have been great during the week. We had 8 metre visibility on an Atlantic charter on Wednesday, and today’s offshore winds have flattened False Bay nicely, and cleaned the water significantly. The water temperature on both sides of the peninsula is similar, 10-12 degrees, and the visibility is around 8 metres. I feel that if the water temperature is a single digit the viz needs to be double that, but we don’t always get what we want! False Bay will be the best option this weekend so we will plan to launch on Sunday, at 9.30 for Atlantis and for Tivoli Pinnacles at 12.00.
December is starting on Monday and the season gets really busy, really fast. We are going to focus on Open Water, Advanced and Nitrox courses this December. We will add a Nitrox course free to the first 5 people that sign up for an Advanced course during December. We are also able to run the Research Diver, Drift diver and Equipment Specialist courses during December and January. To see the range of courses available take a look here.
Please diarise our open house on Saturday afternoon, 13 December. Proper invitations to follow.
On Sunday while out on the boat we passed by the prototype shark repellent cable at the end of Glencairn beach. This is a non-lethal approach to keeping humans and sharks separate, and is in the testing phase. You can see how the cable is lying with electrodes on each side of the centre cable, the electrodes marked by orange buoys on risers that stick out at low tide. There’s a description of the cable here, and we’ll have some more photos on the blog next Wednesday.
This is a great project with a potentially significant impact on the relationship between humans and sharks in South Africa. The cable was developed at the behest of the KZN Sharks Board, and is being tested in co-operation with Shark Spotters and the City of Cape Town.
Last Friday the wreck of the Clan Stuart turned 100. She ran aground in False Bay on 21 November 1914. We had a little commemoration of our Clan Stuart dives on the blog.
Diving is addictive!
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A recent-ish article on Wired provided a pocket guide to the under-appreciated hagfish, a difficult to classify eel-like fish with no spine (but a skull). I’ve seen two in my life – the one above, at Shark Alley (we followed it, hoping to see a showdown with a cowshark), and one lying calmly on the deck of the Aster wreck in Hout Bay. They are found abundantly in the deep ocean where they seek out whale falls with their keen sense of smell. They can’t see much.
When disturbed, they secrete copious quantities of slime – enough to fill a standard sized bucket in a few minutes. The slime fouls up the gills of whatever predator (a shark? perhaps!) is attacking them.
How, then, does the hagfish keep from suffocating itself? They have “beautiful, almost balloon-shaped gills, and so that really restricts anything getting into them,” said Bucking. The hagfish pumps water through a series of small holes into pouches, where “there’s all these channels and chambers that spread the water out and put it in contact with blood so they can exchange oxygen.” It can also clear the slime off its body with the same technique it uses to feed, tying itself in a knot and passing itself through it.
Read the rest of the article here. I promise you it’s fascinating.
It was with extreme joy that I discovered this book. I brought it home and placed it on the table in front of Tony with an air of insufferable smugness and satisfaction – the same attitude he displays when he’s done something cool to the boat or his car. This book is excellent news for warm water divers, even part-time ones like us.
It’s a combination of Reef Fishes and Corals by Dennis King, and More Reef Fishes and Nudibranchs, by King and Valda Fraser, as well as a lot of additional material. It covers the south east and north coast of South Africa, so will be indispensible for trips to Sodwana and Durban. It also applies to Mauritius, Reunion, the Seychelles, the Comores and the Maldives. So I’ll have it with me for our 2016 Maldives live aboard trip… Diarise!
I’ve always travelled to Sodwana and Durban with my copies of Reef Fishes and Corals and More Reef Fishes and Nudibranchs, but if I must be honest I find it very hard to navigate the two books. There isn’t a clear division of species between them, so there are parrotfish (and wrasses, and rays, and so on) in both books and I’d need to check twice over to try and identify each creature I saw. This got tiring. Plus, the indices have a few incorrect page numbers in them, and if one thing is going to make me want to toss a book across the room, it’s a frustrating index. (A poorly drawn up index can render the best cookery book almost unusable, but that’s another story.)
The Reef Guide is a triumph. It covers 578 species of marine fish and 228 invertebrate species. Each creature has a beautiful photograph to identify it and brief details of appearance, behaviour and distribution. There is an index of scientific names (which is useful when travelling outside of South Africa, because common names vary widely) and common names as used locally.
There is also a glossary and a further reading section, referring the interested reader to books by local authors like Georgina Jones (A Field Guide to Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula) and Guido Zsilavecz (Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay). Some of the species in this book are found in Cape waters, but I wouldn’t use it as a primary reference. The further reading list also points to George Branch’s The Living Shores of South Africa, the invaluable Two Oceans by Branch and Griffiths, et al, Heemstra’s Coastal Fishes of South Africa, and Rudi van der Elst’s Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa. We are extremely fortunate to have a veritable library of marine reference books to consult as South African divers.
You can read more about The Reef Guide here.
Grab a copy here, before your next diving holiday. I’m looking forward to using it.
This footage is five years old and very grainy, but has some sentimental value to me. Tony filmed it after a night dive on the SS Clan Stuart, which on Friday celebrated (?) 100 years aground in False Bay. It was his first night dive in Cape Town (might have been his first dive of any kind in Cape Town, but I’m not sure) and my first ever night dive. I was pretty freshly qualified as an Open Water diver but still had (have) a lot to learn.
I can see just enough of myself towards the end of the video to note that I have my mask pushed up on top of my head, which is stupid. Don’t do that, kids.
Yesterday, 21 November 2014, marked 100 years since the SS Clan Stuart, a British turret steamer of 3 594 tons, ran aground in a south easterly gale off Glencairn at two o’clock in the morning. She was on her way from St Helena island with a cargo of coal, and dragged her anchor in the gale. Fittingly, the anniversary of her foundering was also marked by a strong south easterly wind!
The entire crew was rescued, but returned to the ship during efforts to refloat her. She was pumped out and pulled off the rocks by a tug from Table Bay, but permission for her to enter the dry dock at Simon’s Town was refused for fear that she sink and block the entrance to the harbour. Her captain was thus compelled to run her aground at Mackerel Bay, where she now lies, in order to prevent her from sinking.
She is now a well known landmark to drivers on their way along the coastal road between Simon’s Town and Glencairn, as well as being a popular shore dive site. We’ve had some great dives there, and here’s a round up of some of the material we’ve published about the wreck since starting this blog:
How to find the SS Clan Stuart by road (hint: it is not hard)
What does the Clan Stuart look like underwater?
Getting close to the engine block of the Clan Stuart
On the beach at Mackerel Bay
The wreck is quite heavily encrusted and there’s usually a lot to see. We’ve seen cuttlefish, small schools of two tone fingerfin, and for some reason I always see a wide variety of worms there! There is kelp growing on and around the wreck, but not so much that it’s hard to move around. On the beach we sometimes see African oystercatchers with their striking red legs and bills, and black bodies. Cormorants and gulls often perch on top of the engine block, too, giving them a convenient platform from which to go fishing.
On our first night dive together (Tony’s first in Cape Town, and my first night dive ever) Tony took a video (grainy) of some seals that joned us on the dive – you can find it in our post about Cape fur seals.
We also spotted a onefin electric ray on a dive on the wreck, whose electric personality seemed to interfere interestingly with Tony’s video camera.
On one memorable dive on the Clan Stuart (I think it was on 1 January one year, in the height of summer), we were surrounded by an agitated school of large white steenbras, who seemed to be trying to take cover behind us and on the wreck, repeatedly changing direction and swirling around us. Tony and I concluded independently that something large and toothy was chasing them, and exited the water by practically tunneling our way to the beach, trying to appear relaxed for the sake of the students accompanying us.
A few years later a group of Russian divers accompanied by two locals – diving off the boat this time – actually came face to face with a great white shark on the Clan Stuart – here is Tony’s story, Christo’s story, Craig’s story, and a short video of the shark taken by one of the Russian visitors. Undaunted by their experience they ended the dive on the beach, where I picked them up, drove them back to the jetty to get back on the boat, and they set out for another dive!
The best time to dive the wreck, in light of the above information and the typical movements of sharks in False Bay’s waters, is in winter. The visibility is likely to be better then, though it’s rarely exceptional (I would be ecstatic with 10 metres, and expect closer to six in the winter months). In summer you can expect 2-5 metre visibility. Don’t underestimate the waves on the beach, and keep your regulator in your mouth until you’re through. Save the chit chat for when you’re back on dry land!
A team of film makers has been working on a project about the Clan Stuart for some time. Here’s some of their work so far:
Fish Hoek valley is a narrow saddle of low lying land approximately thirteen kilometres across, with False Bay on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other. It looks beautiful from above, too. Here are some clouds at sunset, over the dunes at Fish Hoek beach.
Sunday: Launching for two dives, either in False Bay or Hout Bay
The wind has been a little unkind for a while and last weekend and much of this week we have just had howling south easterly winds. The Atlantic is clean, but cold, and False Bay is green but relatively clean a little offshore.
The weekend gives us a wind break and both Saturday and Sunday can work for diving. Sunday has a little less wind and swell so I think that will be the better day. I think it is a 50/50 chance that either False Bay or Hout Bay will be good, but will make that call on Saturday afternoon. Text or email me if you want to dive and where, and we can see who wins!
We’re having an open house on the afternoon of Saturday 13 December at 2.30pm – sort of an end of year get together (we haven’t figured out what to call it yet). We’ll be doing try dives in the pool for any friends and family who want to experience scuba diving, at no charge. If you have any new gear you want to test out you’re welcome to do that in the pool too. Alternatively you can just paddle around in your water wings. There will be snacks and drinks (if you rsvp!) and those of you who have exams and quizzes that need completing can get those done at the same time. We’ll send out a proper invitation in a week or two, but if you’re going to be in town we’d love to see you.
Diving is addictive!
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The most recent issue of Vanity Fair has an article on Nick Sloane, the salvage master who refloated the Costa Concordia and oversaw the towing of the ship to Genoa. Wonderfully, the article is written by William Langewiesche, author of The Outlaw Sea and this article on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Sloane is a local boytjie who lives in Somerset West when not abroad doing salvage work. He agreed to talk to Langewiesche for this article on condition that they did not discuss the Costa Concordia (I imagine he was utterly exhausted and sick of that subject). Many of the salvage jobs that Sloane has worked on are off the Cape coast – notable examples dealt with in this article are the wreck of the MV Treasure (now a dive site) in Table Bay, and the Ikan Tanda which ran aground off Scarborough in 2001.
… one of the greatest seafarers at work today is neither a naval commander nor an old-salt merchant mariner but a certain marine salvage master with a taste for chaos and a genius for improvisation. He is a burly South African, aged 53, by the name of Captain Nick Sloane. His job is to intervene where other captains have failed, and to make the best of ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground. Usually those same ships are threatening to leak bunker fuel—the sludge that powers them—along with crude oil or other toxins in quantities that could poison the environment for years to come. Sloane boards the ships with small teams—by helicopter from overhead, or by Zodiac from oceangoing tugs—and once he arrives he stays aboard and fights, sometimes for weeks at a stretch.
Do not be put off by the fact that the article doesn’t deal with the Costa Concordia salvage at all – I imagine we’ll see a book about that in a couple of years’ time.
Read the full article here. It’s a fascinating read.