Sunday: Boat or shore dives, conditions dependent!
We have had terrific conditions all week and have been taking full advantage. False Bay is cleanish and warmish. Visibility has varied from site to site but the bay is full of life. On Tueday we spent our surface interval time photographing sea swallows at Batsata Maze. Wednesday’s surface interval was spent filming giant short tail sting rays at Millers Point, and today we were fortunate enough to have two orcas swim by close inshore whilst the divers were on the SAS Pietermaritzburg this morning. Who knows what we will see tomorrow!
Sadly the diving today was somewhat overshadowed by the raging fire that descended on Simon’s Town with the westerly wind, despite the best efforts of many firefighters. Watching from the water you could see the speed at which the fire traveled and I doubt anything other than a thundershower was going to slow it down. On the run back into Simon’s Town we went through really thick smoke.
The weekend, however, does not look too rosy. At cowsharks this afternoon the swell was quite noticeable and although it stays at 3 metres for most of tomorrow, the forecast is for 5-6 metres on Saturday. It seldom reaches the height in the forecast but even at 4-5 metres diving becomes less than great. Surge and low viz are on the cards. I think there will be a better than good chance that Sunday will be semi-decent so I will provisionally schedule diving, either from the boat or perhaps a shore dive or two… Text me if you want to join and I’ll keep you posted.
It was frustrating to discover, when I bought my Suunto D6 in 2011, that a Mac-compatible version of the native Suunto software did not exist. This has changed in the intervening years, but I don’t care – my search for software that I could download my dives into led me to MacDive, and I’ve been using it ever since. Rather than tying me to a single brand of dive computer, MacDive handles almost any dive computer you can think of. The software currently costs $25, which is approximately one million South African Rands at current exchange rates, but it is excellent value and updates frequently as support for new devices is added.
Here’s a screen shot of MacDive, with the ten dives we did in Malta in 2011 selected. The dive profile on the screen is from one of the two incredible dives we had on the wreck of the Um El Faroud. The summary information at the bottom of the screen hides a lot more detail that can be stored about each dive, including gear configuration, dive operator, the name of the boat (if used) and Divemaster, and so on.
MacDive also calculates summary statistics for the dive sites that you load, and allows you to interrogate your dives by country, by date, by the computer used, and even by diver. The software would allow you to share the logbook with another user (or users), and if you look carefully you’ll see Tony’s name on the screen. That’s because I downloaded the profile of his dive at Doodles on that fateful day when my Suunto D6 fell through the bottom of the ocean. When I did that, I specified that he was the diver, and not me.
MacDive is full-featured software that not only allows you to record a lot of detail about each dive, but to add photos if you wish. The software matches the timestamp on the photo to the dive profile, enabling one to have fairly detailed information about depth and temperature when an image was taken (assuming your dive computer and camera have SYNCHRONISED WATCHES). I have exported the data out as a .csv file, which is excellent if you want to perform some analysis of trends in your air consumption, for example, or draw pretty graphs.
MacDive is compatible with a wide range of dive computers – I’ve used it with a Suunto D6, a Suunto ZOOP, and two different Mares Nemo Wide computers – which makes it ideal for a multi-computer family where the backup dive computer may be of a different make to the primary one. A full list of the supported devices can be found here and if your device is not supported, the developers of the software are open to adding it if you submit a request. In most cases the installation of a USB driver is required to make the dive computer talk to the software, but this is a once-off requirement and hardly onerous.
The forums and FAQ have been very helpful when I have had difficulty setting up different makes of dive computer, and the entire user manual is online in wiki format. With reference to the manual I have renumbered my dives to maintain the correct sequence, and merged multiple dives that were interrupted by an interval in water shallower than 1.2 metres that was long enough that my computer decided the dive was over. The database format is very flexible and allows one to keep the sequence of dives looking as neat as they would in a paper logbook.
I have been using MacDive for four and a half years, and have been very happy with it, particularly the fact that it isn’t tied to any single type of dive computer. If you’re looking for an electronic logbook and running the Apple OS, check it out.
Watching Whales & Dolphins in Southern Africa – Noel & Belinda Ashton
This is an enormously useful book for local whale watchers, and provides details on the life history and characteristics of the cetaceans found in Southern Africa’s waters. The text is illustrated by beautiful paintings and photographs showing the animals in full from various angles, including what you’d see if they were on the surface of the sea or about to sound.
Noel Ashton is an artist, sculptor and conservationist, whose sculptural work can be seen in the foyer of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Nature writer and designer Belinda Ashton has co-authored several books with him. The Ashtons also provided the whale and dolphin identification posters upstairs between the Predator Exhibit and the Kelp Forest tank. Their love for the natural world is evident in the beautiful illustrations and careful attention to detail in this book.
There is a history of whaling in South Africa, but fortunately there is now a yearly strong recovery in whale numbers and an appreciation of the economic value of whales alive rather than dead. There are incredible whale watching opportunities all around South Africa’s coast, including world-class shore-based viewing from Cape Town to De Hoop via Hermanus and De Kelders. There is boat-based whale watching out of Cape Town and from Gansbaai, Hermanus, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Durban, St Lucia, and other locations in between. For those who do not remember whaling, it is easy to become blasé about this embarrassment of cetacean riches, but it makes us, as South Africans, extremely privileged indeed.
For ocean lovers, this book is as indispensable as a bird book to a twitcher. It is highly recommended.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa) or here.
Here’s a quick read on shark repellents from Smithsonian.com. While it only takes a few paragraphs to explain the different attempts humans have made to avoid encountering sharks while using the ocean, the task of actually developing technology to do this is far more complex. Testing shark repellents is also ethically difficult – in the same way that it’s hard to test medications for use during pregnancy, as one could be causing harm to human subjects.
(It’s worth reading a bit about the Shark Shield device pictured above for more on testing. Testing the efficacy of stripy wetsuits, on the other hand, is almost impossible, and for this reason they can be almost impossibly lucrative – imagine a product where you don’t have to prove whether it works, and when it fails you can (a) throw up your hands and make an excuse along the lines of “it was a freak event”/”the guy must have been wearing it incorrectly” or (b) close the company and disappear.)
The “electronic fence” mentioned at the end of the article is the shark repellent cable that the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board tested at Glencairn last summer. You can read more about that (also from Smithsonian.com) here.
We had decent diving at Castor Rock and Boat Rock last weekend despite the patchy spots of visibility.
On Saturday evening twenty five divers shore dived at Long Beach and the Clan Stuart for 2015’s Diversnight. The conditions were pristine, and False Bay’s marine wildlife was out in abundance for the occasion. It was great to put faces to names and to meet and dive with so many of you. Thanks to everyone who took part!
The viz has improved all week and was already 10 metres on Tuesday when we went to Castor Rock and Rambler Rock. We are out tomorrow and Saturday, and I am sure the excellent viz is pretty much everywhere in False Bay. The weekend looks rosy: the wind is light and the swell is around 3 metres on Saturday with a little less on Sunday.
One of the locals in Struisbaai has a small, black dog that was playing at the harbour when we were exploring (and filming stingrays). The activity of choice was retrieving pebbles from the small shore break, with a small breath-hold as required, and then vigorously burying them in the sand higher up the beach. Passers by were encouraged to participate in the game, which is how we got involved – the harbour was quiet that day and we could not resist her wagging tail and persistent barking at the end of the jetty. I think this little dog would get on well with Dori from Ponta do Ouro…
Here’s a small video I took of the dog and her game:
Struisbaai the town is a picturesque little settlement, with deep historical roots, on the way to Cape Agulhas. The town is situated at the western end of Struisbaai the bay. (Struispunt marine beacon is situated at the eastern extremity of the same bay.)
Struisbaai harbour is home to at least two resident giant short-tail stingrays (Dasyatis brevicaudata). The rays are habituated to the sound of the returning fishing boats’ engines, and come out to investigate whether there are any scraps to be had. We were at the harbour long after the fishing boats had left (and perhaps returned already), and it was quiet, but a sport fishing boat returned while we were there and we saw two large, tell-tale black spots moving across the sandy harbour bottom towards the slip.
Tony stuck his pole camera into the water and got this footage, which is quite lovely. The rays will approach humans on the slipway, but I think some kind of fishy treat (tinned sardines?) is required to get them to come this close. We didn’t give them anything, so they checked out the camera and were on their way.
One of the rays that lives at the harbour – the largest one – is called Parrie (possibly short for Paris?). Parrie was, according to legend (I cannot verify this with a reliable source), once captured by the Two Oceans Aquarium team and lived in one of their exhibits for a short while. Intense pressure from the Struisbaai community led to his return to the wilds of Struisbaai harbour.
You can see a picture of Tony filming the rays from the jetty in the newsletter he sent out when we got home from the trip.
Just outside Arniston is the Cape Nature-administered Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve. The famous Waenhuiskrans sea-cave is actually inside the reserve (which doesn’t appear to be fenced but is indicated with signage). We visited the area and drove into the reserve to the cliffs overlooking Otter Bay, where we had lunch. At the opposite end of Otter Bay to Arniston is Struispunt, which is in fact the eastern extremity of neighbouring Struisbaai.
On Struispunt is a marine light, or beacon, which is essentially a wannabe lighthouse! I walked down the beach to visit it, and back on the sand road behind the beach. The beacon is a masonry tower 10 metres high, topped with a red and white striped globe for daytime navigation and a relatively small, solar-powered light (1,747 candelas) that flashes three times every fifteen seconds. The water off Struispunt is very shallow, only about five metres deep for some distance from the light, so its presence is essential.
The Struispunt light was erected following the wreck of SS Queen of the Thames, in 1871. It is visible for 11 nautical miles. Its western and eastern sides were painted red and white for a while, but most of the paint has worn off and I could only discern a faint reddish tinge. Behind the light, on the rocks, many gulls and cormorants were roosting when I visited. There were also some human fishermen nearby!
Weekend diving has become a scarce commodity of late and the best diving days have fallen in the week. This weekend looks a lot better than last weekend: there is very little swell and no howling winds to deal with. False Bay needs some westerly wind to clean it up, so I am going to choose Sunday as the better option for this weekend’s diving. It’s windier than Saturday but less likely to rain, plus False Bay will have had a bit more time to improve. The Atlantic was crystal clear yesterday but I have my doubts it is going to stay that way for the weekend with the hot day we have just had.
We are night diving on Saturday evening as part of the international Diversnight event, and will meet at Long Beach at around 7.15 pm. The idea is to be in the water at 15 minutes past 8.00 pm (2015). Text me if you are joining, make sure you bring your permit to dive in an MPA, and if you need to rent kit or a cylinder, I need to know by tomorrow (Friday) evening please.
Be sure your permit to dive in an MPA is up to date. It’s particularly important that you bring it on Saturday evening if you plan to dive, so don’t wait until lunchtime on Saturday to look for it!