Sunday: Possible dives out of Hout Bay if the wind and swell give us a break!
It seems the forecaster at WindGURU found the box of purple crayons and has been liberal with them. Other than a slight lull in the wind forecast for Sunday, it’s purple all of next week too. I very much doubt we will get out on Sunday as there is currently a 4 metre swell flexing its muscles. The Atlantic water colour and temperature show signs of great visibility so if the wind is acceptable on Sunday we will launch from Hout Bay. Text, mail or Whatsapp if you want to be on the list.
Saturday: Boat or shore dives in the morning (early); night dive at Simon’s Town jetty at 7.00 pm
Its been a while since I have seen Muizenberg this clean, not that I go there all that often, but I do think we are going to have really good visibility in False Bay by Saturday and plan to start really early. At this point I have yet to decide on whether to shore dive or boat dive but will make that decision early tomorrow, so please text me your preference.
Diversnight takes place on Saturday evening. We will be diving off the jetty in Simon’s Town (note change of location), meeting at 7.00 pm. We need to be in the water at the hour of 8.16 pm (2016!) for our efforts to count towards the official Diversnight aims of, uh, night diving around the world at the same time. There’s a facebook event here, and the official event page here.
Please let me know by 5 pm tomorrow if you’re coming so that I can give the jettymaster the approximate number of divers to expect. If you need any gear, you need to tell me by tomorrow as well please.
The days are getting longer and the daytime temperatures are slowly creeping upwards… Well, on some days. Saturday looks like a better bet for False Bay with Hout Bay being an option on Sunday. The water colour off Dungeons has improved slightly today.
Tomorrow I am shore diving students at Long Beach at 10.00 am. On Saturday we will do an early False Bay double tank dive at 7.00 am. Let me know if you’d like to get wet.
As part of First Thursdays, you can attend the opening of the Birdlife Oceans of Life photographic exhibition at the South African Museum on the evening of Thursday 6 October. There’s information here (facebook) – this year’s exhibition includes a retrospective of the last few years’ best images.
Diversnight is on Saturday 7 November, so start charging your torches!
Earlier this month we returned from our second ever dive trip to Ponta do Ouro. (It was my third time there – on my first trip, in 2009, I wasn’t qualified to dive yet, and met my future husband, where he was diving and skippering five times a day and living in a reed hut. I still sometimes feel guilty for having a part in him leaving this little piece of paradise.) We flew to Durban. A shuttle transported us to the Kosi Bay border post, where we were met by Mike of Blowing Bubbles Diving. Mike drove us and our luggage over the dunes into town, and dropped us at Planet Scuba, where we would stay for the week.
Planet Scuba is situated on top of the hill that overlooks Ponta’s central square. Since my last visit (I think), a pharmacy has opened on the corner (pictured above), and later in the trip we purchased a much needed decongestant there (for a fairly princely sum, but beggars can’t be choosers).
Every morning we would walk down the steps to the road that leads to the beach, and head towards the point to meet up with the boat for diving. After diving, we would either walk back or get a ride on the back of the Blowing Bubbles bakkie. We breakfasted between dives, and then returned to the beach. The dives in Ponta do Ouro are boat dives, and the skippers launch the boat off the beach through the waves. There was almost no swell while we were there, so the surf launches were quite tame!
We dived for five days, most of us doing ten dives in total. We contemplated a dolphin trip with Dolphin Encountours, but reports were that boats were only seeing one or two dolphins, if any, and the trips cost more than a dive so we carried on diving instead. We were so, so lucky to see a huge pod of dolphins at the end of our last dive, near Ponta Malongane. On our first dive that day we had seen big schools of baitfish near the surface, and the dolphins had probably come to the area for feeding. We weren’t allowed to get into the water with them, but they swam past the boat for ages, and we heard them breathing as they passed by. Tony and I stuck our cameras over the side of the boat, and it turned out there were many more dolphins underwater than we could see on the surface.
The pace of life was very mellow. We dived, ate, slept, and repeated various iterations of that sequence. We admired the community of friendly dogs down at the beach. We enjoyed hungry cats and condensed milk milkshakes at Neptune’s, with a view over the Motel do Mar (where we stayed on our last trip) to the beach. We had a healthy and delicious lunch at Mango above the Dolphin Centre, and got thoroughly soaked by a tropical rainstorm on the way back to Planet Scuba. Christo, Esther and Laurine sampled the “chemical s***storm in a glass” (I quote Esther) that is Ponta do Ouro’s famous R&R (rum and raspberry). Strangely, none of them wanted any more…
The diving was excellent. The water temperature was 23 degrees, and we had (apparently mediocre for Ponta) visibility of about 10 metres, sometimes more. This was very acceptable to us as Capetonians. The reefs are teeming with life, and all of us saw something new. Laurine was enchanted by a turtle, Tony spent most of his dives upside down with his head in crevices in the reef, Christo directed all of us to exciting discoveries with his torch and pigsticker (a metal kebab stick slash pointer that must have a different name but I don’t know it), and Esther maintained her sense of wonder and calm as she brought up the rear of our little group on most dives. On one of the dives a very strong current gave us opportunities to use our SMBs, which was an excellent learning experience and a reminder of how important a safety sausage is, no matter where you are diving.
The air temperature was warm, the wind hardly blew, and for a while we could forget that at home in Cape Town it was cold, frequently dark, and overflowing with commitments and obligations. We returned the way we had come, but feeling a little more ready to cope with the rest of the Cape winter. We’ll be back in a couple of years, Ponta!
(I’ll share some little videos and more photos from the trip over the next couple of weeks.)
Earlier this month we hosted a scuba diving birthday party in our pool, for a group of extremely excited eight year olds. It was a slightly chaotic but enormously enjoyable day! The boys first mastered the use of snorkels, making drawings on slates while submerged. We were impressed by how well they took to skin diving, and they rocketed up and down the pool like sea otters.
After that they tried out scuba gear, and we were amused by the various ways they found to enjoy themselves. One of the boys kept inflating his BCD because he liked the sound the over-pressure valve made. Another made foamy fountains of water by purging his octo in the shallows. Others seemed to feel like Jacques Cousteau as they explored the pool! We taught them how to inflate an SMB using their spare regulator, and brought out our collection of underwater cameras for them to take innumerable selfies and group portraits that they could take home with them.
Parties like this are ideal for small groups of four to six participants, as they are supervision-intensive and a small group lets each child fully enjoy their turn to try out scuba gear under the supervision of the instructor. A little bit of advance planning is recommended for the purposes of paperwork, so get in touch sooner rather than later if you think this is something your child might enjoy. We can conduct the event in your swimming pool at home if it’s less than two metres deep, or at our pool. We have conducted a similar event at the Virgin Active gym, but that requires special permission. Be warned, the scuba diving bug might bite!
Here are some suggestions for things you can do at (or near) home that can have a positive impact on the environment.
The first suggestion is the most important!
Be a busybody
Keep tabs on what’s going on in your area. Are there new building projects or developments planned? Community newspapers are an excellent source of information. Attend meetings that give opportunities for public participation, register as an interested and affected party, make objections, write letters to the environmental consultants and your local council representatives. Also, tell your friends and buddies about opportunities to participate as concerned citizens.
Remember that a development doesn’t necessarily need to be in or on the ocean to affect the marine environment. For example, False Bay is where a large amount of the city’s effluent is pumped out. More people means more pressure on the ecosystem. Demand responsible solutions from municipalities and developers.
Keep tabs on proposed amendments to existing laws, and new laws and bylaws. Who is getting permission to do what? Are these decisions well thought out? Is it wise to allow whelk and octopus fisheries to operate in a bay that is visited by large numbers of whales and dolphins?
Hold the government (specifically DAFF and the Department of Environmental Affairs) to account. The environment belongs to all of us, and if it’s being mismanaged, it’s your heritage that’s being squandered.
An excellent example of the concrete results this kind of action by ordinary citizens can have is the recent flip-flop done by the authorities on the proposed diving ban in the Betty’s Bay MPA after many local divers, marshalled by Indigo Scuba and Underwater Africa, registered as interested and affected parties and submitted objections to the proposal.
Banning diving in the area would have essentially left it wide open for poaching. While the local law enforcement can’t and doesn’t do anything to stop illegal harvesting of perlemoen, eyes in the water in the form of recreational divers can at least keep tabs on what’s happening in the reserve.
Wear your heart on your sleeve. Let your friends know that conservation issues and protecting the environment are important to you. Don’t be scary and wild-eyed, just be yourself. (If you’re naturally scary and wild-eyed, I can’t help you.)
When you get an opportunity to discuss an environmental issue with someone who doesn’t know or care as much as you do, stick to the facts. Point them to other sources where they can find information to back up what you’re saying, if they are interested. That way, if they want to relay your argument to someone else, they can do so. Raw outrage isn’t necessarily transmissible (and if you’re too hot under the collar, they may just think you’re a lunatic).
Don’t use jargon. Don’t use cliches (people are smarter than you think). Don’t assume that everyone knows as much as you do about your pet issue – check that you’re pitching your pitch appropriately. Don’t be boring. Show people how beautiful and wonderful and intricate the environment is.
Get your hands dirty
Participate in beach cleanups and underwater cleanups. If you see garbage on a dive (and nothing has taken it for a home), stuff it into your BCD for disposal on land. Get into the habit of picking up stuff that doesn’t belong. Keep an empty bag on the boat for collecting rubbish as you drive in and out of the harbour. Hout Bay is an excellent spot for this. Most harbours are actually filthy.
Consume less of everything
Reduce your carbon footprint. This encompasses all the obvious things: recycle, buy local, seasonal produce, eat less meat, and participate in more recreational activities that are carbon neutral. (Unfortunately diving isn’t technically one of those; even if you do a shore dive, you still need to get your cylinder filled using a compressor that consumes energy.)
Here’s a good carbon footprint calculator that’ll help you identify the areas of your lifestyle that are having the greatest negative impact on the environment. Mine is my commute to work, which produces a horrific amount of carbon dioxide each month. (If I ever needed a justification for running away to sea with Tony and the cats, this is it.)
If you eat seafood, make wise choices that are kind to the ocean. If you fish for fun, follow the regulations defining what and how much you’re allowed to catch.
If you have financial resources and want to make a donation to a conservation organisation, first do your research.
What will the money be spent on?
What is the track record of the organisation? What projects have they worked on already?
Do you agree with their aims, objectives and methods? (Would you be proud to have your name associated with their work?)
Will the money be spent on branding and advertising (some people mistake this for real action), or on observable projects that will have a direct impact on an environmental issue that’s important to you?
Remember that addressing an environmental problem may very well involve work with people. Sustainable Seas Trust (not an endorsement, just an example) addresses poverty and food security as a way to relieve pressure on the ocean’s scarce resources, thus caring for people and the sea at the same time. It’s great to take kids snorkeling, but after a while (and a lot of kids) I hope funders can demand a bit more originality and effort in that area.
Personally, I prefer to support organisations that follow scientific advice or include a research component in their activities, because I feel that conservation that isn’t based on scientific data is just marketing… But you may feel otherwise.
If your donation is a significant one, ask for feedback on how it was spent.
Don’t fool yourself
Finally, remember that writing tweets and sharing pictures on facebook doesn’t achieve anything concrete (ok here’s an exception), even though your rate of hashtagging may make you feel like your efforts are putting Greenpeace to shame. Sorry kids. Even Shonda Rhimes says so.
Here’s a short video I took during an amazing night dive on a mysterious, very broken up vessel called the barge wreck, just off Bluff Point at Big Gubal Island. There were a lot of divers in the water that evening and their torchlight illuminated different parts of the barge at different times.
There is a barge wreck at Bluff Point on Big Gubal Island in the Red sea, where we did an amazing, fast drift dive along the side of the lagoon. During that dive we did stop in briefly at the barge wreck (its origin and identity is unknown), but it was on a night dive the previous evening that we actually spent a significant amount of time exploring the barge.
It’s supposed to be one of the best night dive sites in the Red Sea, and we were amazed by the amount of life on and around the wreckage. We saw multiple large moray eels, huge basket stars, enormous urchins, and a crazy variety of other life. We jumped off the back of our liveaboard, swam under a neighbouring liveaboard, and found the barge wreck just off its starboard side. It was teeming with divers from our boat and the other liveaboard, but there was so much to see over such a spread out area that it didn’t matter too much.
My favourite thing was the basket stars, of which there were many. We saw some huge ones, with diameter nearly as big as my arm span, and some small, palm-sized ones. They are not the lovely blue-grey colour of the ones we see in Cape Town, but the intricate design of their many arms is the same.
We also saw a number of moray eels. Our dive guide told us that two big ones live on the barge wreck, named George and Georgina. The ones I saw and photographed were extremely large. As with the night dive we did at the Alternatives, the water was very still and very clear, so torch light actually shone an appreciable distance. This kind of night diving is so easy and wonderful that I think it might have spoiled me for night diving in Cape Town!
My Sony DSC-TX5 has served me remarkably well, but after three years I was starting to itch for something with a bit more scope for manual control. The TX5 has an underwater mode: you switch it on, turn on the flash, and you’re good to go. It also has a rugged Sony-built housing that is almost neutrally buoyant with the camera inside, can be held and operated with one hand, and supports the addition of an external strobe (which I did). All these things make it incredibly user friendly and eminently suitable for a busy diver who might be doing other things (like grabbing onto other divers who are being wayward, or being a good buddy) and need both hands now and then.
I did a lot of reading and asking, and ended up settling on another Sony camera (my third, and the fourth for our family), the Sony DSC-RX100. It’s a tiny, pocket-sized camera that has many manual control options (aperture and shutter priority modes, manual and program mode, and some built in automatic modes) but isn’t a DSLR. It has received the most effusive reviews that I’ve ever read for an electronic device. Here’s Wired, and here’s the New York Times. Digital Photography Review also said nice things. It has a giant 20.2 megapixel sensor and a fast Carl Zeiss lens capable of a magnificent 3.6x zoom. You can read up about those things elsewhere. It takes HD video, and you can shoot stills at the same time. What sold me on the camera was its reported excellent performance in low light environments (a feature of several of the Sony models I’ve owned), which I figured would make it excellent for Cape Town diving.
There are a couple of options for an underwater housing for the DSC-RX100, but unfortunately nothing made by Sony. I settled on the Ikelite housing because there’s a local Ikelite presence, and because it wasn’t insanely expensive. The housing unfortunately has the hydrodynamics of a house brick and mine needed its clips replaced after less than thirty dives, but the camera is nice enough that I was willing to put up with having a perspex sea-anchor attached to myself in order to get it into the water. Toting the housing around has also thrown my buoyancy for a loop, so I’m having to consciously adjust some things to get my air consumption back where it was in the good old days. (I’ve decided that my next camera will probably have a manufacturer-built housing, or I won’t buy it.)
Anyway. After much debate I also splurged on the Ikelite W-30 wide angle lens, which cost more than the housing and which has been my only recent Ikelite purchase that has worked flawlessly and hasn’t needed replacement or repair, probably because it has no electronic or mechanical parts. It’s magnificent. It screws onto the outside of the housing, and is a wet lens, which means that upon getting into the water you have to make sure that all the air gets out and water fills the space between the lens and the housing, otherwise you get a line across the middle of your photos. Same goes for when you get out of the water – the lens has to drain before you can use it on land.
My most sustained use of the camera so far has been on our Red Sea trip last October – you can see all the underwater photos on flickr in my wreck dives set, reef dives set, and night dives set. I am still using it mostly on the automatic and very simple manual settings, but I expect that playing with the camera on land (which I haven’t had time to do much of) will make me more confident with it underwater. The buttons on the housing are very hard to use with gloves on or cold fingers, and they are extremely close together, which means you have to learn what each one does (or carry a cheat sheet on dives) in order to change settings underwater. Despite these complaints, you can access all the camera’s controls via the housing, which is more than can be said for other housings.
The camera flash is immensely powerful. The housing comes with a diffuser (for photography without an external strobe) and a shield to completely block the flash from the front when the strobe is on. I use the latter when I attach my AF-35 Autoflash, which works like a charm. I have tried using the flash on the camera while underwater, but you have to be quite far away from your subject to avoid blowing out the image.
Apart from the clip issue on the housing, I’ve been very happy with the camera so far and am looking forward to doing some more underwater macro photography, since the DSC-RX100 focuses much closer than the DSC-TX5 (and indeed any other camera we own). I’m also enjoying its very easy to use video function, as you may have noticed from the proliferation of videos on the blog since April 2013! I’ve added a video light that has come in handy for photography on night dives, but that’s another story…
Ok so this is a bit late, and if you haven’t done your Christmas, Hannukah and Festivus shopping yet, shame on you. Or just shame. Most of these ideas don’t entail going to a mall and having your personal space invaded by ten thousand hormonal adolescents. You can order online, or make a phone call or two. Get going!
For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:
I’m not going to suggest a magazine subscription – I’ve let most of ours lapse as we seem to have entered a long dark teatime of the soul when it comes to South African diving magazines. If the quality picks up, they’ll be back on the gift list at the end of 2014.
Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!
For lady divers
For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water? Suggestions here. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.
Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.
Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.
If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.
For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful: