It is anyone’s guess where the water will be cleaner this weekend, False Bay or Hout Bay. There is a lot of red tide in False Bay and many patches of dirty water visible from the top of Chapmans Peak.
I think Sunday will be the better day for diving, and most likely False Bay will be the better place to be. I will launch from the Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 am for Atlantis and 11.30 am for the wreck of SAS Pietermaritzburg. If the Atlantic pans out instead, we will dive the wrecks of the Maori and the BOS 400from Hout Bay. Let me know if you’re keen.
The cold front seems to have passed by and the second one that was meant to arrive tomorrow seems now to be giving us a miss. We had 40 mm of rain at home on Thursday, for which we are grateful. The break in the weather means there is a good chance some diving might happen this weekend!
I am going to shore dive on Saturday at Long Beach and launch on Sunday, the first dive being to the Brunswick, meeting on the jetty in Simon’s Town at 10.00am. The second dive will be at 12.30, the location weather and viz dependent.
Conditions in False Bay have been great this week, and I am sure they will be pretty good for the weekend. Some swell arrives tomorrow, so Saturday will be better for boating and Sunday for shore dives. Let me know if you want to get in the water.
Coursera is not the only provider of MOOCs. In fact, providers are legion. Future Learn is another provider, owned by the Open University, with an emphasis on European (mostly British) institutions as course providers. I have enjoyed a couple of their courses and can see a few more that interest me!
Don’t use these courses as a cudgel to beat yourself with. If you sign up for one and circumstances intrude and prevent you from finishing it within the allotted time, don’t be alarmed. The learning is meant to be for your own enjoyment, and the material will either remain accessible to you as a past student, or you can re-enroll for a future iteration of the course.
This will be a quick newsletter as we are downwind of a raging vegetation fire and the smoke is unbelievably thick. Even our tortoises are going to spend the night indoors. Firefighters, many of whom are volunteers, have been have a rough time of late and I admire their endurance, skills and management of these situations.
We had really good conditions in Hout Bay last weekend with clean and cold being the main factor. 8 degrees celcius is chilly but the viz was easy 15 metres.
The south easter has humped all week long and False Bay is a little messy. The visibility in the yacht basin today was actually very good but I think the rest of False Bay would have been messy. The yacht basin is protected from the south easter by the naval harbour.
The forecast leads me to believe that Hout Bay will be good on Saturday and False Bay on Sunday. I would also like to slip in a night dive on Saturday if the conditions permit.
Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus – John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell
Since reading The Man Who Ate His Boots, my obsession with the history of the exploration of the Canadian Arctic has not abated. You can expect to be troubled by many more Arctic book reviews and related material from me.
This book is a well-illustrated account of the discovery of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus, in the waters north of Canada. You will (may?) recall that Franklin’s entire expedition – some 130 men and two ships – disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage, on a journey begun in 1845. Parts of the mystery of their disappearance, and what happened to them, have since been resolved, but until late 2014 ago no sign of either of the two ships had been found.
If you are interested in the story, this relatively short book both recounts what is known of Franklin’s expedition and the subsequent searches for him and his men, as well as detailing the recent discovery of HMS Erebus by a team of Parks Canada archaeologists. There are underwater photographs and side-scan sonar images showing the ship standing upright in about eleven metres of water. It’s an excellent complement to Anthony Brandt’s more detailed history, but can equally well be read on its own, as an account of history spanning 160 years, meeting technology from the present.
Some sections – such as the extensive and laudatory passages devoted to former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and his reflections on the discovery – were puzzling to me. I was pleased to see how much credit was given to the indigenous Canadian people and their maps and oral histories for their role in locating the ship. Their accounts of the fate of Franklin’s men, and clues as to the location of his ships, proved crucial in the discovery of HMS Erebus, despite being immediately disregarded by Franklin’s contemporaries.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.
In the centre of Bredasdorp, the sleepy town in the Overberg that you will likely pass through on your way to De Hoop, Cape Agulhas, Arniston or any of the surrounding areas, is a museum devoted to shipwrecks. Tony and I paid it a visit while we were staying at De Hoop in September last year, and enjoyed it immensely. The museum is situated in an old church, and spills over into two other adjacent historical buildings.
The shipwreck museum contains artefacts from a wide variety of wrecks – many of them from the coastline between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas, but others from further afield (including our neck of the woods)! There is a display about SS Maori, including some of the pottery that was in the mixed cargo on the vessel.
In addition to cargo items (including a vast array of bottles spanning a few hundred years of history), there are figureheads, binnacles, ship’s bells, cannons and anchors – the latter located outside in a beautiful garden behind the museum. The ship’s wheel of SS Kadie, wrecked at the mouth of the Breede River, is also on display. The Arniston,Queen of the Thames, and Birkenhead wrecks also feature prominently. Familiarising yourself in advance with some details about the most prominent wrecks of the Overberg region will enrich your visit.
A separate garage-like structure (technically known as the Old Coach House), accessible over a tiny river bridge in the garden, contains a historical fire engine, carriages and other vehicles and implements of everyday life from a century ago. There is even a rocket-propelled breeches buoy apparatus, used from shore to rescue shipwreck survivors.
Another building included in the museum facilities is a fully furnished historical Overberg home called the Old Parsonage – when we walked through, there was even a (real live) cat having a cool nap on a hand-sewn quilt in one of the bedrooms.
I was quite surprised to discover the (a?) nameplate of the Antipolis, along with a small plaque commemorating the wreck, on the large terrace adjacent to the Leopard Bar, which I accessed during the course of a very lovely wedding at the hotel. I am sure that if you asked nicely, or moved smoothly like a lizard, you could do the same, even without a wedding invitation in hand. You might be able to crane your neck from the deck of the Leopard Bar, too.
The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage – Anthony Brandt
The Northwest Passage is a sea route (routes, actually) running between Canada and Greenland, across the top of the North American continent through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and through the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. At its end is the Far East, for hundreds of years the destination of the thousands of sea voyages that made their way around the Cape of Good Hope, and later through the Suez Canal. Its existence was an enormously appealing idea to Europeans, because if the east could be reached by sailing along the top of the world, great savings of sailing time and expense would result.
For a long time the existence of the Northwest Passage was merely a hypothesis, and in the 1800s the British expended vast quantities of energy exploring the Canadian Arctic in search of a sea route. The passage was first traversed in 1850-54 by Robert McClure, by ship and sledge. Roald Amundsen traversed it entirely by ship in 1903-1906. Until this century, the route was not navigable for most of the year owing to the presence of sea ice. Now, thanks (?) to climate change, there is far less ice to contend with.
Sir John Franklin was one of Britain’s most eminent Arctic explorers. He made several trips to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. His final expedition, starting in 1845, ended in the disappearance of his two ships (HMS Erebus and HMS Terror), Franklin himself, and all 128 of the men with him.
The story of his expedition, and the searches for evidence of its fate (upwards of 30 expeditions were mounted to look for him), and the subsequent discovery of what had happened (no spoilers here – it was awful) is related in gripping detail in The Man Who Ate His Boots. Brandt also provides ample historical context, describing prior expeditions which serve to illuminate the British motivations behind their exploration of the Canadian Arctic.
There was a curious mixture of stoic heroism and wild arrogance at work during this period of British history. The rigors endured by early Arctic explorers cannot be overstated – the environment is almost entirely hostile to human survival. The British did not believe that there was anything to be learned from the Inuit, indigenous people who live widely spread across the area, and suffered as a result. As one of the Inuit pointed out when the awful lengths Franklin’s men had gone to in order to try to survive were revealed, his people “know how to starve.”
There is a strong thread throughout this book relating to the colonial attitude towards colonised peoples. A belief prevailed in Britain that, equipped with a shotgun and a good pair of shoes, an Englishman could survive anywhere, and that his Christian piety would serve to protect him and speed his endeavours. (On one of Franklin’s earlier expeditions, which was a complete fiasco largely owing to poor planning, the British officers survived whereas the mixed-race local fur traders – who were doing all the manual work and carrying the supplies – perished. This was attributed to the protective influence of the Christian beliefs of the British men.) It was further reckoned that there was nothing to be gained from studying the techinques of the Inuit. Eyewitness accounts from Inuit turned out to hold the key to the fate of Franklin’s party, although their account was not believed initially (they were dismissed as habitually lying “savages”).
You can read reviews of The Man Who Ate His Boots at the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian. If you enjoyed Endurance, then I recommend you investigate this book. In light of the developing findings of the excavation of HMS Erebus, the material has refreshed relevance today.
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.