For those of you wondering which certification is better – PADI, SDI & TDI, NAUI, CMAS, SSI, IANTD, etc. – there are LOTS of them! – there are one or two things to bear in mind:
All the agencies teach you to dive. There may be minor differences in course duration and when you learn what skill, but at the end of the day you’re learning the same thing… So don’t stress about it too much!
The agency you learn to dive with must be a member of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC). This body sets minimum standards for dive training, and if your agency is recognised by the WRSTC you can be assured that you’ll get a certain level of training including a particular set of skills. WRSTC membership also ensures your qualification will be accepted worldwide.
The quality of your instructor is far more important than the agency (s)he teaches for. All the flashy course accessories in the world won’t make a difference if you do four twenty minute dives for your Open Water course – it’s just a waste of time.
Some agencies are very cheap to get certified with – the manuals are photocopied, and you don’t get as many free bits and pieces (like carry cases, stickers, SMBs, etc.) when you sign up for a course. Check that the lower course price is related to the lack of flashy accessories included in the course price, rather than to the fact that you’ll be in a class with seven other divers, or that the class will only be held every third Tuesday at 4 a.m.! (You should probably read this post, too.)
Some of the certification agencies specialise in particular areas of diving. IANTD is an example – they will teach you to use a rebreather, for example, if that’s your thing. I would select a specialist technical agency such as IANTD or TDI, rather than a recreational agency that has branched out into Tec. if you plan to go into technical diving. They have a long history and quality record of this kind of training, and their instructors have a solid grounding in the sport.
Tony teaches SDI and PADI, which together issue over 75% of diving qualifications worldwide. This combination gives him flexibility to offer affordable and quality courses that include online theory or hard copy materials. All students have the opportunity to do boat dives off our boat, Seahorse, conditions permitting. He’ll be the first to admit that the end goal of any diving qualification is the same… Learning to dive!
The past week has been great for diving and other than Sunday we were in the water every day. The temperature on Friday was 18 degrees on the Clan Stuart wreck. We were lucky to see rays three days in a row at different locations. A truly remarkable creature, this one was a good metre and a half across. We found this beauty at Long Beach in 7 metres of water. We also saw one on Thursday at the upturned yacht wreck near the yellow harbour buoy as well as one sleeping in the wreck of the Clan Stuart on Friday.
The summer winds are here and most of the boat launching will move to Hout Bay. The wrecks of the Atlantic are awesome and the viz this last weekend was 25 metres on the Maori wreck.
Starting this weekend I will be running one of my favorite series of courses being Nitrox, Wreck and Deep specialties. I am also doing a Night diver specialty over the next week or so and have two Open Water courses starting a week apart. I also have three Rescue and Divemaster students and different levels so there are lots of opportunities to get in the water. All dives this weekend will be boat dives and if you just want to tag along as a fun diver please remeber I need to book by Thursday midday.
Nitrox, or enriched air increases your bottom time. Diving to 30 metres on air you have a maximum dive time of 20 minutes but on Nitrox 32% you have 30 minutes.
Deep diving and wreck exploration go hand in hand with a Nitrox certification and this is how it works:
Nitrox R 1650 (course can be run in the evenings)
Wreck R 1950
Deep R 2050
If you sign up for either Wreck or Deep you will get the Nitrox course for R1250. Choose both specialties and Nitrox will only cost you R950.
Wreck and Deep both require four dives. All four dives will be boat dives and all will be Nitrox dives if you have done the Nitrox specialty.
One of my favourite things to see when I’m lying on the sand during a dive (waiting for Tony’s students to finish skills, for example) is a starfish making its way from one point to another. They don’t look like speedy movers, but they are – in this effortless gliding way that belies the fact that hundreds of little tube feet are working hard to get them where they want to go.
Like anemones, starfish have hydrostatic (comprised of water) skeletons. Their mouth is underneath, where their legs meet up, and they expel waste from the top of their bodies. They have what’s called a sieve plate, next to the anus, that they use to draw water into their bodies.
I didn’t know this until I started diving, but starfish don’t just stay as small as the little cushion stars you see in rockpools. We’ve seen ones as large as dinner plates, often in huge congregations like a social meeting. Windmill Beach is a particularly good place to see piles (literally) of starfish.
Starfish are pretty voracious eaters. For example, they like mussels, and will use constant steady pressure with their legs to force the mussel shell open a bit. Then they extrude their stomach (handy skill) into the mussel shell, and digest it in situ. Whenever you see a starfish hunched up over something, it’s eating. We have seen one trying to digest a tennis ball at Long Beach… Poor guy!
The rumours are true about starfish being able to survive if they lose legs. We’ve seen one with two legs lying in a gorgeous if slightly gruesome heart shape (our wedding starfish!), and one with six (I think sometimes the “regrow leg” gene goes a bit haywire and doesn’t know when to stop).
There are a few starfish varieties to see in Cape Town, and worth a look, even though they might seem boring and common…
There is a gorgeous star blaasop living in the Lagoon tank at uShaka Marine World where Tony and I dived last month. We saw him a year ago when we visited, and he’s grown a lot since then. Same as last year, we found him hanging out at the window looking into the Open Ocean tank – perhaps dreaming of growing up to be a shark one day.
He’s very friendly, and swam with me for quite a distance, occasionally making alarming forays towards my camera (which made for some great photo opportunities). I love his compact little body and the way his fins move back and forth at his sides – they seem far too small to propel his girth anywhere significant!
Here’s a short clip Tony took of the blaasop. Initially he was hiding in a packing pallette – during this part of the clip there’s an oil spot on the camera lens. Subsequently you see him investigating me. My hand is in a fist because I’d already been nibbled on by our cheeklined wrasse friend – looks like I am winding up for a punch but it was just a precautionary measure to protect my fingers.
I’m always on the lookout for thoughtful fellow-divers who enjoy sharing their knowledge, experience and opinions on the sport, and I’ve been following Duane Johnson of Precision Diving (based in Chicago in the USA) for a while.
He has a fantastic blog in which he gives his thoughts on a wide range of subjects (he’s into everything from ice and cave diving to wreck penetration) including his thoughts on teaching scuba diving. Here are some of his most popular posts:
I find klipfish the most frustrating creatures to identify – they come in a bewildering array of colours and patterns, and I am waiting impatiently for Guido Zsilavecz of SURG‘s book on klipfish to be completed!
Klipfish are lazy swimmers, and green and brown ones are usually seen very well camouflaged among fronds of sea lettuce or kelp. They tend to move in exactly the same way as the seaweed, allowing themselves to be pushed around by the surge, which makes them hard to spot.
There are also the more colourful variety – busy purple patterns being the most common – who hide themselves where there’s a lot of coraline algae and other purple seaweed growth. While they tend to spend most of their time curled lazily against the side of rocks or on the pipeline, they can swim away with startling speed when they feel nervous.
These fish usually seem to be solitary, but Tony and I saw a pair of them fighting – we think – at Long Beach a week or two ago. Since they seem fairly territorial, that may have been the source of the dispute. Whatever they were doing, it was the first time we’ve seen more than one of these fish in the same place, let alone interacting.
On Saturday I met a klipfish at Long Beach who was incredibly tame. He submitted to (and seemed to enjoy) having his chin tickled, head butted my mask a few times, and nibbled at my bubbles after trying to swim into by BC. I was interacting with him while Tony was doing the CESA skill with a student, and it was wonderful. Feeling that the fish are noticing you, rather than just swimming past oblivious (or hiding in panic), is very special.
Here’s an extremely dodgy video (the sea lettuce was somewhat annoying) of me and Corné (with the orange SMB) having some quality klipfish time.