- 31 October 2014
- Published by Clare
Saturday: No dives planned
Midweek launch: From OPBC to see the Volvo Ocean Race yachts arriving in Table Bay
The wind is forecast to do some real south easterly blowing over the next few days, so False Bay is messy but the Atlantic is a bit cleaner. There is too much wind on Saturday for any kind of pleasant diving or boating, but Sunday has less wind (according to some of the wildly contradictory weather forecasts) and I think the odds are good that Table Bay will be a better option than Hout Bay, if the water cleans up enough to make dives worthwhile. It is difficult to say for certain where would be best but we will make that call on Saturday afternoon. The plan will be to dive North and South Paw if conditions permit. Let me know if you’d like to be on the watchlist!
Last weekend we dived out of Hout Bay, visiting the BOS 400, Star Walls and then Tafelberg Reef. The water was less clean than expected: 8-10 metre viz and a very cold 9 degrees. Thanks to Georgina for this picture of an itsy bitsy basket star! On Monday I was out along the Atlantic seaboard for a film charter and despite the fog we found dolphins, a sunfish, a whale, hundreds of seals, and incredible bird life once we were far offshore. There’s an album of photos on facebook.
The Volvo Ocean Race first leg comes to an end next week and the yachts are expected to arrive at the V&A Waterfront from Tuesday onwards. There is currently less than 9 nautical miles between the top four after several thousand miles of open ocean racing. The finish will be really exciting and we plan to launch as many days as possible next week to hopefully catch a glimpse as they race by… And perhaps a photo or two. Let me know if you think you’ll be able to take a midweek day of leave to go out on the boat.
Diversnight is an international night diving event that we try to participate in each year, just because. This coming Thursday, 6 November we will meet at Long Beach in Simon’s Town at 7.30 pm with the aim of starting the dive at 8.00 pm. We must be in the water at 14 minutes past eight to “count” and the aim is to set a new world record. There are currently 16 countries participating in this event. You can RSVP to the event on facebook, and read more about Diversnight here. There is no charge apart from any gear you may need.
If you need to rent gear, please let me know by Wednesday morning. You don’t necessarily need to be an Advanced diver to do a night dive, so give me a call or send me a mail to talk about it if you’re unsure. If you’ve been thinking about an Advanced course, though, this is a good time to get started.
Diving is addictive!
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The Barrier Ice is a term derived from James Ross’s 19th-century expedition to the eponymous Ross Sea, and originally it referred to the (also eponymous) ice shelf — that vast floating delta of glacial ice, as vast as Texas or France — that fronts the sea like the White Cliffs of Dover…
Beyond the Barrier, even intellectuals struggled to find sustenance; they relied instead on the elaborate cultural baggage they brought with them to create comparison, contrast, and context, without which their minds would find nothing to grasp. Antarctica became known less for what it was than for what it was not.
Stephen J. Pyne (a specialist on the subject of fire!) writes for Aeon about the Antarctic, echoing some of the themes that occupied Gavin Francis in Empire Antarctica. If I think too hard about the prospect of spending time on the ice, it begins to seem terrifying. As Pyne says, “There are no other creatures, no other environs, no other emblems of a world beyond. There is no basis for meaning. There is only ice.”
Read the article here.
The Antarctic is the only continent that has no indigenous human inhabitants. The only people who occupy this ice-covered continent are scientists, kept company by penguins, seals, and other birds and marine mammals. Medical doctor Gavin Francis spent 14 months there at the British Antarctic base called Halley Research Station. He was drawn to the post by the prospect of the solitude he would experience and by the “blankness” of Antarctica – without human inhabitants, it lacks a cultural and historical context in the sense that we experience culture when we travel to other destinations. He was also enamoured of the emperor penguins that breed on the continent, and desired greatly to see them.
This is a beautifully written book. Francis steeped himself in the writings of explorers who visited the continent before him, and in the scientific literature of emperor penguins (though he does not mention having watched March of the Penguins or Happy Feet - clearly a gap in his research!). He alternates between lyrical and scientific frames of mind, evocatively describing the exploration of an ice cavern and then, in detailed practical terms, the dissection of a baby penguin. He does not mention very much about his human companions at the base, and I was glad of this. It gives a good sense of how he experienced his year on the ice – there were some other people there, but he was largely wrapped up in his internal experience of the place.
Francis structures his book around the passage of the seasons. This is a logical choice, as in Antarctica the cold and darkness of winter are magnified to the most extreme degree possible, only to be completely cast away by the endless days of the polar summer (not much warmer, however). There is enough information about the mundane details of his life on the base to satisfy one’s curiosity (for example, the modern outdoor clothing they used was so warm that even in a blizzard he could not feel the wind through his layers). But the focus is squarely on the continent itself, its beauty and inhospitable extremes. His descriptions of the emperor penguin colony close to the base, and the Adélie penguins found along the coast, are exuberant and moving.
The existential angst experienced by Francis as the end of his posting in the Antarctic draws nearer – should he return to civilisation? What should he do with his life? – is magnified by the lack of distractions on the ice. After a largely uneventful (yet fascinating to read about) year, he describes his subsequent life choices – marriage, three children – quickly, and glosses over what must have been a substantial period of adjustment to life in warmer, more populous climes. This is an incredible book that made me want to go to the ice, and stayed in my mind for some time after I finished reading it.
You can also read reviews from The Economist, the Telegraph and the Washington Times. Francis wrote for The Guardian about his experience at the end of the world – it’ll give you a good sense of his writing style.
Having watched and enjoyed the movie based on this book, Captain Phillips, I was keen to read the captain’s account of his ship’s hijacking. Like Sully Sullenberger, the passenger airline pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River after the plane was damaged by a bird strike, Richard Phillips has become something of a folk hero.
In A Captain’s Duty Phillips portrays himself as a blustery, no-nonsense man’s man, with no time for “milquetoasts”. (He in fact uses this word so often that it became ridiculous – I was under the impression that the only people who know what milquetoast means would be considered milquetoasts themselves.) The book alternates between Phillips’s struggles with the pirates on board the Maersk Alabama and then the lifeboat that he ended up in, and his family’s attempts to cope with the drama (and the media attention) while at home in the United States. I could have done without the family part of the story – wisely (and to heighten the tension), the film downplayed his family’s activities while the captain was in captivity.
One expects a screen adaptation to take liberties with the truth, but it turns out the movie is very faithful to the book’s description of events. Whether this means that Phillips’s version of things is too incredible to be true is for the reader to judge… Slate attempted to tease out fact from fiction, if you’re interested. You can read an excerpt from A Captain’s Duty here. I don’t think it’s necessary reading unless you’re a rabid fan of the film or of Captain Phillips himself, and want deeper insight into what happened.
Several of my friends – among them people who are nowhere near as obsessed with container ships as I am – have recommended that Tony and I watch this film. It is based on a true story (ahem, ahem) of the heroics of Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama. His ship was boarded by pirates while travelling past the Somalian coast on the way to Kenya. There is an account of the hijacking here, but it will ruin the movie for you if you read it.
Tom Hanks’s reliable acting skills aside, this is a gripping film. The captain ends up in an enclosed lifeboat with the pirates, and half the US Navy turns up to try and resolve the situation. The khat-chewing pirates operate at a level of near-insanity that is terrifying and compelling. Having read The Outlaw Sea and several other pieces on the subject of the at times intractable problem of Somali piracy, the depiction of their desperation and the ease with which they board and overpower a 155 metre long ship ring true.
Although it’s set on a ship, which gave it special interest for us, this is a drama that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes that genre. Both of us would recommend it.
Tony and I ate an ice cream and watched the sunset at Fish Hoek beach one Sunday evening. The colours cycled through a range of pinks to blue. Can you see the mountains on the other side of the bay? I think even Hangklip is visible in the middle of the image.
Sunday: To be decided, based on weather and conditions.
Text me or reply to this mail to be kept in the loop, or to book dives.
I know that not everyone is a sailing fanatic, but there are currently seven world class racing yachts doing battle in the Atlantic Ocean as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet head for Cape Town. Take a look at the website and facebook page if you are interested. These engineering marvels sailed by some of the world’s best crew are due to arrive in Table Bay between the 2nd and the 6th of November. I am going to be out on the boat in Table Bay with my camera. Text me if you want to be on the list to be notified of this. I have strong ties to Denmark so I am rooting for Team Vestas Wind, but it is a 6487 nautical mile leg – they started in Alicante in Spain – so it’s a long, hard haul and anything can happen.
We dived the wreck of the Maori and the Sentinel on Saturday last weekend and had around 10-12 metre visibility with chilly 9 degree water. Sunday was blown out. The weather this week has been all over the place. On Monday we dived False Bay and had really lousy viz with a grumpy easterly swell. Yesterday we were out on a film shoot project and in thick fog we went around Whittle Rock, down to Rocky Bank and then across to Cape Point. The water was dark brown all the way out to the entrance of False Bay, where it cleaned up a bit, and once back inside the Point the darkness returned. We jumped in at Partridge Point for a brief snorkel with seals in around 2 metre or less visibility.
All this means it will be an Atlantic weekend. The winds are forecast to blow somewhere between 10 and 30 knots depending on which forecast you rate the best. The water does not look very clean in Hout Bay or Table Bay today, but the wind tonight and all day tomorrow should fix that.
I will launch from OPBC on Saturday at 8.00 am for a double tank dive and may do a third launch if the conditions are good. The wind is meant to blow harder in the afternoon but we will play it by ear.
I will wait until Saturday afternoon to plan for Sunday once it’s clearer what the conditions will be. If you want to dive, reply to this mail or text me and I’ll keep you in the loop.
Diving is addictive!
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The logical extension of the “sea blindness” that Rose George describes (and attempts to set right) in Deep Sea and Foreign Going, is blindness to what happens to the ships that bring us all our worldly goods at the end of their lives – when they go out of service. They go to the ship breakers.
The effective lifespan of a ship is 25-30 years, and at the end of that time, if it hasn’t sunk yet and become a dive site (or disappeared without a trace), it is most likely to arrive on the coast of Bangladesh, China, India, Turkey Pakistan, or another poorly regulated third world destination. Here, giant vessels are chopped up on the beach by thousands of workers, swarming over the steel hulks like ants, dismantling them without the assistance of heavy machinery. Up to 90% of the steel is recycled. It is dangerous, polluting work. Safety and environmental standards are practically non existent in most ship breaking yards and accidents are frequent. The scale of the work is mind-boggling.