I hope you have had a great Christmas and hopefully a break from the office. Fortunately my ”office” has been busy and I don’t relish a break from it. I know there are many of you chomping at the bit to dive and finish your courses but the southeaster has been howling non-stop since Saturday and the sea looks a little like pea soup. I hope it dies down soon so we can all get back in the water. Sunday’s early boat dives were also cancelled due to an unforseen breakage on the boat.
I spent Friday in the Newlands swimming pool with a family of five, the youngest being 9 years old. Abby was doing a program called Seal Team. It is unbelievably rewarding teach such young kids to dive and her older sister and brother, mom and dad took longer to get comfortable than she did. I had hoops in the water and by the second session in the water her buoyancy was perfect and she swam through the hoops with a big smile on her face.
I am going to plan a day in the diving pool at Newlands, it’s five meters deep and a perfect place to hone bouyancy skills, trim your gear and cull some of the weight from your heavy weight belts. Its also a wonderful place to test and get acquainted with all the amazing dive gear you got for Christmas…
Early January I will be starting a Wreck specialty and plan to include penetration into the Aster, lying in Hout Bay on the sand at 25 metres. I am also going to run a Nitrox and Deep specialty so if going to 40 metres is on your to do list don’t miss this (I hope you got a torch for Christmas)!
We recently dived the wreck of the Romelia (pictures courtesy of Clare). The visibility was not great but the colours and sea life were stunning.
There is an amazing contrast between the life, colour and water temperature between the Atlantic sites and the False Bay sites. I tend to favor the False Bay coast as the water is warmer but every time I dive the Atlantic I am astounded by the clarity of the water. On our last wreck dives, the Maori and the BOS 400 we had 20 plus metres visibility.
I have done one prior dive on the SS Maori, about a year ago. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, one I am not keen to repeat. The boat ride was harrowing – we took the narrow channel between Duiker Island and the mainland, and I had my eyes closed for most of it. I am not a good sailor, but Tony is, and even he was seeing his life flash before his eyes. Huge waves were coming from all directions and we later learned that the skipper had been so terrified negotiating the channel that he’d called the owner of the dive shop as soon as he’d dropped the divers into the water, and practically sobbed.
We were actually intending to visit the BOS 400, but when we got there the surge through the wreck was incredibly strong and the entire superstructure was creaking ominously. A call was made to go to the SS Maori instead – it’s a couple of hundred metres from the crane and the wreck is scattered on the seabed rather than being still mostly intact. The dive itself was extremely stressful – maybe 3 metres visibility, temperatures so cold that I sucked my tank dry in about 20 minutes (ended up on Tony’s octo), strong surge on the bottom that made it impossible to control where one was going, and I honestly didn’t see anything that I could describe as a wreck.
The experience we had diving the Maori on Reconcilation Day could not have been more different. Tami and I were finishing our Wreck Specialty course, Cecil was finishing his Open Water course, and Tony had a group of casual divers with him. The boat ride was a pleasure, apart from the smell (or rather, taste!) of the seals on Duiker Island as we sped past. The water was so blue that Grant could see the wreck below us while he dropped the shot line.
The SS Maori ran aground in Maori Bay (named after it) in 1909 in thick fog. The ship lies perpendicular to the mainland, depth ranging from about 6 metres down to about 22 metres towards the centre of the bay. The ship was carrying a cargo of railway lines, cast iron pipes (visible in great stacks that are very tempting to try and swim through – common sense won out), explosives, and crockery. A fair amount of beautiful porcelain is still visible on the site, but apparently it’s been well worked and looted over the years.
The visiblity on this dive was sufficient (20 metres or so) for us to be able to see far down the ship as we explored. Parts of the wreckage are very broken up, but there are large parts of the wreck that are relatively intact. We descended on the engine block, at the shallow end of the wreck, and into beautiful kelp forests that glistened green in the clear water. It was cold, very cold, but having something amazing to look at tends to distract one from the inconvenience of chilly fingers.
As far as sea life goes, there’s a fair amount of kelp and other sea plants. Oscar found me a huge cuttlefish to photograph, just posing nicely on a rock, and there were some molluscs, the odd nudibranch, lots and lots of rock lobsters and crabs. We also saw a nice school of hottentot. Like the BOS 400, though, you visit this site first to look at the wreckage. Anything else you see is a bonus.
I can see why the Maori is such a popular dive site – we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and Tami and I were heartbroken when we had to ascend, as our air reached 70 bar. It’s a very large site and several dives are required to appreciate its full scope. I plan to do those several dives, and then some!
Dive date: 16 December 2010
Air temperature: 23 degrees
Water temperature: 4 degrees (that’s what my computer said!)
Tami and I finished our WreckSpecialty course independently of Kate, because she was on a deadline and had to get back to Mud Island (which is so deep in snow at the moment that it should be renamed!). We finished the course in spectacular fashion with a dive of surpassing magnificence on the SS Maori just outside Hout Bay.
Dive 4: SS Maori
Like the dive we did on the SAS Pietermaritzburg for the second dive of our Wreck Specialty, the Maori is at a moderate depth and none of the stupidity that comes with deep diving (at least for me) or rapid air depletion is an issue. It’s a large, spectacular wreck but more broken up than the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks. It was carrying an interesting cargo, much of which is still visible at the site. The large amount of metal lying around means that a compass is next to useless.
Here’s a picture to whet your appetite, but more information can be found in a detailed post about the Maori, to follow!
Much to Tony’s relief (probably), the three of us – Kate, Tami and me – are now certified Wreck specialists. Tami and I did not do any penetrations as part of the course – the wrecks we ended up diving on didn’t permit it – but when we get a chance to visit the MV Aster in Hout Bay with Tony, we hope he’ll show us how!
The last week has been very hectic with a lot of students signing up, so I will be diving nonstop until Christmas – at which point I will enjoy a dry day featuring some turkey and a nap! I have seven Open Water and two Advanced students on the go with some DSDs thrown into the mix and hope to certify most of them before the end of the year.
On Thursday we did two amazing dives in the freezing (8 degrees) Atlantic. The first was on the SS Maori, which sank in 1909 with a diverse cargo including large iron water pipes, porcelain and railway sleepers.
The wreck is in a small, sheltered bay about 7.5kms from the Hout Bay slipway and we enjoyed the incredible 20 metre plus visibility as we explored the large wreck.
The second dive was in the same bay, on a more modern and intact wreck of a floating crane called the Bos 400. It ran aground in the winter of 1994 while under tow by a tug. It was outfitted with no expense spared, with a state of the art hospital, bridge, and helipad. The helipad collapsed within the last three months and the wreck is far more stable now than it was last time we visited Maori Bay.
This has to rate as one of the best dives I have ever done. The wreck is huge, unbelievably impressive and you could spend a lifetime exploring it. Again, the visibility was for miles. A large portion of the crane sticks out of the water and we took a drive around it on the boat before dropping into the water.
I am hoping that the dive charters will launch on the Christmas weekend (boxing day or the 27th) and I will let you know if boat dives are planned.
Congratulations to Corne who has just finished his Rescue course, and to Tami and Clare for completing their Wreck specialties. Also to Cindy, Cecil, Koen and Francine for Open Water.
Congratulations to Kate, who arrived in Cape Town on 8 October 2010 having never dived before, and is leaving on 10 December qualified as a Divemaster, with more than 60 dives and over 45 hours underwater under her belt!
While she was here we dived almost every day, in all sorts of conditions. She dived in visibility ranging from pea soup (with croutons) to over 10 metres, water temperatures from 11 degrees up to 18 degrees, and experienced a wide range of what Cape Town diving has to offer. She even did a dive in just a shorty wetsuit – the water LOOKED warm but wasn’t – and I am pretty sure she’s the first diver EVER to do something like that in this city!
She experienced everything from orally inflating another diver’s BCD at 15 metres, to securing Clare’s cylinder when it came loose (oops!), tying knots underwater, a meeting with a very frisky sevengill cowshark on her first ever dive with sharks at Shark Alley, and using a lift bag to ferry our artificial reef out to the correct depth.
She spent a lot of time towing the buoy line, inflated SMBs and balloons underwater (the latter was highly amusing to watch), mapped wrecks and the pipeline at Long Beach, exchanged information on the layout of the SAS Pietermaritzburgwith wikivoyage guruPeter Southwood, enjoyed high-speed boat rides to various local dive sites, filled cylinders at a local dive centre, and navigated at night in order to find the yellow buoy at Long Beach. She’s breathed from a hang tank at a safety stop after a deep dive, and from another diver’s octo while swimming to shore. She’s a pro with a compass. She’s also done some underwater photography – thanks to her, the gobies at Long Beach have a serious complex about the paparazzi!
Kate dived with and without a computer, in various types of gear and several different wetsuits. She knows the difference between an A-clamp and a DIN fitting. She removes and replaces inserts on cylinders with her eyes closed, changes O-rings, and puts on her own kit. She has filled over twenty cylinders as part of her compressor operator course.
Kate was also a fantastic ambassador for diving for the various students of mine that she interacted with. As part of her Divemaster training, she led dives, demonstrated skills, helped students with their kit, and took on various tasks in order to prepare her for the responsibilities that go with this qualification. She did all of this with good humour, good sense and great precision.
During her stay, Kate buddied with all kinds of divers. She met Russians, Swedes, Canadians, French and fellow British divers, and some regte egte South Africans. She assisted foreign-language students with understanding the questions on the quizzes and exams when their English wasn’t up to the task. She got on famously with everyone she encountered, and was never grumpy or a prima donna.
The SAS Good Hope is one of the five ships scuttled in Smitswinkel Bay. This was the second dive I’ve done on it. (The first one involved an unfortunate case of nitrogen narcosis – I had to briefly stop my descent because I felt it again this time, but nowhere near as badly.)
The water was a chilly 13 degrees at the bottom, and while the visibility was excellent – perhaps 10 metres – it was very dark. The wreck is spectacular, of massive dimensions (94 metres long) and with large sections caved in. There are numerous bits of metal to swim under (we did try one or two under Tony’s instruction) and overall it is incredibly dramatic. The darkness, however, meant that even though my eyes could see the entire structure in front of me, my camera couldn’t see more than a foot or two. So the only pictures that came out were of a macro nature.
Our skills on this dive involved use of a reel and line. We tied off the reel on the wreck, and then swam into the current, keeping it tight as if we were going to using it in penetration. We turned two corners and tied it off each time. I really do not like the way I feel at depth – I feel noticeably stupid – but I was quite proud of our performance.
We did a good safety stop in very green murk, and deployed an SMB from seven metres or so. There was a fairly large swell so surface conditions were not ideal, but I managed to keep my breakfast down which pleased me no end.
Apologies for the absence of newsletters for the last two weeks – life has been a bit hectic. My cellphone was stolen last weekend, so if you haven’t already sent me your contact details please hit reply and let me have your phone number!
Clare and I are getting married this coming Saturday, so I will be taking a few days off from diving starting on on the 27th November. I’ll be back in the water on Wednesday 1 December and everything will continue as normal from there.
Kate, my UK Zero to Hero candidate, is well into her Divemaster course, and I have several Open Water courses on the go as well as one or two starting in the near future. We are also close to completing the Wreck Specialty course, which has involved some very enjoyable boat dives in False Bay.
The weather has been super for diving the last few weeks, with water temperatures varying from a fresh 13 degrees at Long Beach (with fantastic 8 metre visibility!) to a much more acceptable 18 degrees. We have been exploring the northern part of Long Beach, and finding all sorts of little creatures on the sand.
We have started a small research project in the form of an artificial reef on the sand at Long Beach, and will be tracking its progress – and which creatures move into the neighbourhood – with interest over the next while. Watch the blog for details. Here’s a picture of us swimming the raw materials out using a lift bag:
This weekend we did two boat dives in False Bay. The first was to the SAS Good Hope, where we had excellent visibility despite rather dark and cold conditions. Kate, Clare and Tami completed some of their Wreck Specialty skills. The second dive was to Photographers Reef, a beautiful location that is very appropriately named! Despite the rainy weather, the conditions underwater were fantastic.
PS Remember that a voucher for a DSD is a great Christmas present for non-diving friends and family. Contact me for more information.
PPS Please remember your diving permits from the Post Office (costs about R95 for a year). Season is in full swing and random checks from the authorities are likely. If you’re caught diving without a permit, your kit may be confiscated… An expensive day at the beach!
Tami, Kate and I are busy with the PADI Wreck Specialty course. It involves four wreck dives, and a theory component. You don’t need to be an Advanced diver to do the course – though all three of us are – but an Adventure Diver qualification is sufficient.
(The Adventure Diver qualification is like Advanced-lite: instead of five adventure dives, you only do three. Also, you can credit each adventure dive towards the first dive of the corresponding specialty course.)
The theory component is simple: there’s a short (50 page) manual that covers safety aspects of wreck diving as well as some of the historical and (marine) biological considerations that should be borne in mind when exploring wrecks. I was particularly struck by the section pointing out that some wrecks are war graves or the final resting place (like Titanic) of many civilian souls, and should thus be treated with the same respect as you would a grave in a cemetery.
The manual is also very clear and forceful on the subject of wreck penetration, an activity that seems terrifying to me. You need the correct equipment, and (as Peter Southwood says repeatedly on his Wikivoyage pages) if you don’t know what that is, you’re not qualified to enter a wreck! Also, there are particular techniques required to handle that equipment: you need to know how to manage a reel, belaying it correctly, as well as how to handle yourself in case of entrapment, entanglement, or disorientation. Added to all this, many wrecks are unstable and all of them are in a state of decay… Locally, the SAS Transvaal, SAS Pietermaritzburg and BOS 400 come to mind (the latter collapsed during a storm this past winter, and is now in a radically different orientation).
The MV Rockeater is the oldest of the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks – it’s been down there since 1972. The ship has a lot of interesting bits and pieces sticking up off it, as well as a collapsed helicopter pad and a drilling derrick that is lying on the sand next to it. It’s 65 metres long and very, very lively. We saw a sleeping pyjama catshark in the wreck, as well as nudibranchs, lots of fish, and the most beautiful sea fans. Space cadet here didn’t lower her camera’s lens cover before putting it in the housing, and didn’t check that everything was in order with the camera while still on the boat… So at 20 metres when I switched it on, it told me to “lower the lens cover in order to shoot”… Opening the housing to do so was not an option! So I just had to look, no pictures.
Our project on this dive was to determine which way the current was flowing, and then swim from the shot line down the wreck into the current. We’d do this to 1/4 of our air, and then turn around and swim back with the current.
Dive 2: SAS Pietermaritzburg
The SAS Pietermaritzburg is a more recent scuttling (1994) but lies in a very exposed spot just off the Miller’s Point slipway. It has a fascinating history – before being purchased and renamed by the South African government, it took place as the lead minesweeper in the D Day invasion of Normandy. And now it’s lying 1 kilometre from Miller’s Point!
The visibility wasn’t great (apparently fairly standard for this site), but it’s a fantastic wreck. Maximum depth (on the sand) is about 22 metres, so you can have a nice long dive in relative comfort. The wreck has all sorts of cool places to look inside, a ladder up to the deck, and for the brave (or foolhardy), some swimthroughs under the hull.
It was nudibranch paradise… Instead of giving my full attention to the mapping project we’d been set (drawing the wreck including estimates of width and length, the compass direction in which it’s lying, and depths on the deck and sand), I was taking National Geographic quality photos of those gorgeous sea slugs.Fortunately Kate’s map was good enough for both of us!
Tony was doing dive 4 with Cindy, an Open Water student, so Gerard, Kate, Tami (once she found us!) and I cruised the wreck investigating all the awesome features. We will definitely be diving this wreck a lot more in the future.
Weather permitting, we’ll do the second and third dives for the Wreck specialty next weekend or the weekend after that.
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.
Summer is closing in on us fast and the water is getting warmer, time to dust off your dive gear and get wet. The rays are back at Long Beach, whales are still around for a few weeks and the ocean is waiting for you to visit.
October has been a busy diving month. The trip to Sodwana was awesome and we are thinking about another trip early December or perhaps early January.
I have been lucky to have dived almost every day since the beginning of the month and congratulations to the following people on their certifications:
Anna, Belinda, Richard, Gabby, Lorna, Kate
Gerard, Justin, Kate, Sophie, Tami
Kate is here from the UK doing the Zero to Hero program with me. She started on the 13th October and has done Open Water, Advanced, and is busy with Nitrox and Rescue. Next week she will start her Divemaster program.
On Saturday I will finish an Open Water course and continue with a Rescue course. Sunday the plan is to dive the sevengill cowsharks and Boulders, perhaps see a penguin underwater.
Saturday we are having a Halloween night dive.
These are the rules:
you must dive in a Halloween theme something or another… use your imagination
you must find treasure… I will hide several prizes during the day at the site we dive
to find them you must… use your imagination!
we will have an egg cracking contest… underwater… where you must crack and remove the shell of a raw egg gently, so the egg stays intact…
coffee and ( ) on the beach afterwards… plus you get to open the treasure you found…
I am going to run an Advanced open water course, a Wreck specialty, Night diver specialty, and a Deep diver specialty course during the month of November. Dates are 6th, 13th and 20th. The Deep specialty will qualify you to 40 metres and the Wreck specialty will include wreck penetration for those keen to explore the inside of a sunken ship. Night diver will give you great confidence is low visibility diving conditions.
The Deep and Wreck courses are dependent on boat scheduling and detailed dive planning so book early if you are interested.