Coastal foraging part I: the forage

Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed
Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed

A chance conversation with a friend who also volunteers at the Two Oceans Aquarium led to me enrolling in a coastal foraging course with Roushanna and Gael Gray from Good Hope Gardens, the nursery between Scarborough and Cape Point. Their coastal foraging courses are run during the summer months (I went in December), on dates close to spring tide, so that the maximum possible area of shoreline is available to forage on. The course takes the form of a rock pool expedition on Scarborough beach, followed by lunch – prepared by the participants – at Gael’s beach cottage.

Foraging for edible seaweed
Foraging for edible seaweed

As I get older I am finding it increasingly difficult to suppress a wildly eccentric streak that frequently finds me – consciously or unconsciously – making small preparations for some kind of apocalypse (zombie or otherwise). This might be related to living on the South African roller coaster for too long, but whatever the origin of this latent anxiety, it has served to make our home life more sustainable and – little bit by little bit – more independent of the electricity grid, the municipal water system, and grocery stores. The idea of coastal foraging dovetails nicely with my desire to learn how to live a little bit more off the land than off the shelves at Woolworths!

Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials
Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials

It is important to respect some simple rules to ensure that your foraging is sustainable, safe, kind to the environment, and legal. Each of us had purchased a mollusk permit allowing us to harvest mussels, obtainable from the post office (available for R94 using the same form as the scuba diving in marine protected areas permit), and these were inspected by fisheries officials quite early on in our forage. You don’t need a permit to harvest seaweed (however if you wanted to do it on an industrial scale you might need to go through official channels).

There are three types of mussels found on South Africa shores: the ribbed mussel and black mussel are indigenous, and the Mediterranean mussel is introduced. Unfortunately Mediterranean mussels out-compete the indigenous varieties, and we only saw one or two black mussels while we were out. The mussels we harvested were the Mediterranean variety, distinguishable from black mussels by the thick, flat edge to their shells. Black mussels have pointy edges all around their shells, making them more streamlined.

Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)
Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)

There is only one type of seaweed growing along our coast that is harmful to eat (acid weed – Desmarestia firma, which has sulphuric acid in its fronds). This brown algae species does not grow on the rocky shore but only further out in the surf zone. This gives rise to the simple rule of only harvesting seaweed that is growing on the rocks, and never collecting seaweed that is floating free.

When harvesting seaweed, we used a pair of scissors to avoid pulling the entire plant off the rocks, and cut no more than a third of the leaves. Seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals, particularly iodine and potassium. It isn’t something you’d make a whole meal of, but it is a healthful addition to many dishes and – once you know how to prepare it – tastes pretty good!

Clouds at Scarborough
Clouds at Scarborough

You can read more about the Good Hope Gardens coastal foraging experience here and here. Watch this space for more about what we prepared with our seaweed spoils…

Newsletter: Try it out

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: 6.00 am on Simon’s Town jetty for double tank dives in the Roman Rock vicinity

Saturday: Dives from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 and 11.30 am, sites dependent on conditions

Dive conditions

We had good conditions last week; they held for the weekend and then kept going at the start of this week. Yesterday and today, however, the viz took a bit of a nosedive and is possibly going to settle into the summer visibility groove of a warm 4- 6 metres, depending on your eyesight. There is very little swell or wind in the forecast which will help.

I doubt there will be too much difference between Saturday and Sunday so the plan is as follows: a screechingly early double tank launch on Saturday (6.00 am on the Simon’s Town jetty). On Sunday we will meet for 9.00 am and 11.30 am. The sites will depend on what we find on Saturday.

A Cape long-legged spider crab
A Cape long-legged spider crab

This Cape long-legged spider crab hitched a ride to the surface on one of the divers’ booties this week. Isn’t he a handsome chap? He is back where he belongs!

Try diving in the pool

In the month of December until Christmas, we are offering Discover Scuba sessions (try dives) in our pool, free of charge, every Wednesday and Thursday after 3.00 pm. If you have a friend that needs a little persuasion to qualify as your future dive buddy, then bring them along. Booking is essential. Get in touch if you want to reserve a slot.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Genius gear: the Wetsac

Using the WetSac
Using the WetSac

Several years ago the wonderful Tami gave me a WETSAC for my birthday. It sounds like something squishy and perhaps offensive, but in fact it is a marvel of ingenuity and designed to improve the lives of divers and surfers and outdoorsmen everywhere. She bought it at a craft market in Hout Bay, and both of us have been hunting for a retailer of this product since then. Recently, I struck it lucky with a well phrased google search (something like “wet bag”).

How many times have you struggled out of your wetsuit on a rough surface (Miller’s Point parking area and Hout Bay harbour, I’m looking at you), hurting your feet, standing on the neoprene and pressing it into the tar? You’re damaging yourself and your gear! Then you toss the dripping, smelly wetsuit into the back of your car – into a box, if you’re organised – and hope it doesn’t spray seawater and bits of grit from the parking area everywhere while you drive home.

WETSAC is here to help. Essentially a mat that converts into a waterproof bag, it comprises a circular piece of tough fabric with a drawstring around the edge. You stand on it to get out of your suit, throw in your gloves, hoodie and booties, then step off and pull the drawstring tight. Toss the bag into your divemobile and don’t worry about remnants of your diving and changing adventures ending up all over the boot. It is beyond convenient. Plus, you can buy it online. Make a note for next Christmas!

(I was not compensated in any way for this post… The thing is just geninuely nifty!)

Tips on shopping for dive gear

I’ve been diving for a while, owned a lot of dive gear. Here are some tips on shopping for gear, some learned through painful experience!

General rules for buying gear

  • Try it on before you buy it. Wetsuits, booties, hoodie, you name it.
  • Try on your BCD and weight belt OVER your wetsuit – two layers of 5 millimetre neoprene adds a LOT of waistline!
  • Make sure you understand the returns policy of the shop you’re using.
  • Get acquainted with the Consumer Protection Act (if you’re in South Africa).
  • Shop around! Don’t let sales people sweet talk you. They are more interested (generally) in making a sale than in making you a happy diver.
  • Don’t cut the strap of your dive computer shorter unless you’re VERY sure you’re never going to dive in cold water (wearing lots of wetsuit and gloves to make your wrist thicker).

Second hand gear

  • When purchasing second hand cylinders: get them viz’d first (at the expense of the seller) before agreeing to purchase.
  • Try and get the seller to allow you to “test dive” expensive items such as dive computers before agreeing to purchase them.
  • It’s a good idea to check BCDs for leaks before purchasing, unless you plan to use the BCD only for shallow dives, and even then it’s iffy.

Gear to avoid

  • Don’t purchase based purely on colour (ladies, I know it can be very tempting).
  • Be realistic about what you will use the gear for. (Do you really plan to dive to 100 metres, under ice with that regulator?)
  • Don’t fall for wrap around face masks with 3 glass panels (here’s an example) without trying one first – they give rise to very confusing visual phenomena and distort things hugely as they pass across the join in the panes of glass!
  • Avoid BCDs with inflate/deflate handle handles (example here) – I have never yet seen a beginner diver (and even some divers who have done over 100 dives) using one who was in proper control of their buoyancy.
  • Neoprene covers on mask straps (example here) usually only work without a hoodie. They have a tendency to slip off your head during a backward roll off the boat when worn over a hoodie (although some people swear by them!).
  • Smaller volume masks are usually better for beginner divers than huge five litre models! They are much easier to clear.
  • Do you really need a three foot dive cutlass, as opposed to a small knife?

Repairs

  • Get a second opinion on extensive repairs.

Dive gear maintenance: Booties

Booties are hard to get dry and even after an entire day in the sun they can still feel damp inside. After a good day of diving I soak them for a few hours in detergent, rinse them with the hose and then pour in a good dose of Dettol or Savlon, swirl this around and then hang them out to dry. Because of the unknown origins of the feet that are put in rental booties I try and keep the inside healthy!

Booties drying on a rack in the garden
Booties drying on a rack in the garden

I find it best to leave them on a rack in the shade and in a draft and eventually they do dry. Once dry, I silicone the zips and work them up and down a few times to spread the silicone and dust them liberally with baby powder. They are now ready to be stored or used again.

Many of the same principles that I apply to smelly wetsuits in this post also apply to booties.

Fantastic Trilastic

I’ve been wearing a fantastic new wetsuit for the last few months: the Mares Trilastic 8-6-5. Like Tony’s Mares Flexa 8-6-5, the Trilastic (which is just from the new range) is 8 millimetres thick on the torso, 6mm on the upper arms and thighs, and 5mm on the forearms and calves. The one I have is from the She Dives line by Mares, which makes allowances for women’s body shapes.

Wearing a loose hoodie and an anorak over my wetsuit
Wearing a loose hoodie and an anorak over my wetsuit

With it I wear a loose hoodie, and my booties and gloves go over the bottom of the wetsuit ankles and wrists, not underneath. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The Trilastic doesn’t have zips on the legs and arms
  2. The wrist, neck and leg seals are kind of special and seal very tightly against my skin (except for the neck seal)

The wrist and ankle seals don’t have zips and are quite delicate. Wearing the booties over the leg seals involves a bit of gymnastic stretching to get the zips closed, but it results in warm water trapped very effectively inside the wetsuit and boots. Unfortunately it makes me look extremely bulgy after a dive because the water can’t escape, but it keeps me warm!

I like the small zip at the front – it makes a big difference to my experience of seasickness, since my old ScubaPro presses very uncomfortably on that little dip at the bottom of one’s neck. This contributes greatly to the urge to hurl! There’s still fabric touching on my neck, but not nearly as firmly or tightly as a wetsuit with just a back zipper. I actually wanted a wetsuit with a front zip, but in the thickness I wanted (i.e. VERY) there wasn’t anything available for ladies.

Accidental photo of the Mares Trilastic neck detail
Accidental photo of the Mares Trilastic neck detail

With it I have a 0.5 millimetre thick Mares Rash Guard. It’s very warm but I do find the stitching a bit coarse and I have to be careful how I line the seams up on my arms and torso. The wetsuit seals so tightly that after some dives, however, my arms even have dry patches on them. I slather vaseline on the skin in the front of my neck before repetitive dives, because I get an uncomfortable chafe going on there if I spend a day in my wetsuit and rash vest.

The sleeves of both the wetsuit and rash vest are a bit long (or perhaps my complaint should be that I have short arms). I suppose I can have them adjusted (might be cheaper to do the sleeves rather than the arms). In the mean time I make use of Gerard’s patented plastic bag donning technique for wetsuits.

I can still wear a shortie on top of the 8-6-5. It remains to be seen whether Atlantic diving will require this.

Handy hints: Transporting dive gear on a scooter

Preparing to depart
Preparing to depart

Perhaps you’ve wondered how you’re going to make it along the coastal road from Simon’s Town after a dive, with a bag full of dive gear. You’re worried that a strong gust of wind might catch your enormous dive bag and overbalance your bike. What’s more, maybe you have a passenger who also has a large bag of gear. What to do? Stay at home?

Final mechanical check
Final mechanical check

Fear not! Help is at hand, courtesy of Andrew and Oliver. Their solution is as follows:

  • wear your wetsuit, booties, weight belt and BCD
  • stow your regulators and masks under the seat of your bike
  • get the passenger to hold both pairs of fins
  • don’t forget the helmets!
Ready to go!
Ready to go!

I’m afraid if you have cylinders too, we can’t help you. A bigger bike might be required…

These boots are made for diving

Prodiver booties
Prodiver booties

Naughty husband Tony got me a new pair of booties from Andre recently – my old ones were getting a bit long in the tooth and were exceptionally well-ventilated.

They’re the same ones Tony has been wearing for a while, and have made a huge difference to his overall warmth in the cold Cape water. They’re 5 millimetres thick with very rugged soles, perfect for shore dives and the kind of rock clambering we sometimes find ourselves doing at sites like Sunny Cove. Diving in Cape Town is hard on kit, and the water is cold – so these are perfect for the conditions here.

What’s more, I feel like Lady Gaga with my platform heeled booties as I prance around Long Beach parking area!

FAQ: How do I clean a stinky wetsuit?

Maybe your wetsuit smells funky because you perspired in it. Maybe there are other reasons… Whatever the cause, here are some tips for keeping it fresh and fragrant.

Give it a hot rinse

This is the most important part of regular pong prevention. Don’t waste your time dipping the suit into a communal rinsing tank at the dive centre. Unless you get there first, that water is full of contaminants…salt, body fluids and sand. The easiest way to do this is to take your suit in the shower with you, otherwise lay it down flat in the bath and give it a good once-over with the shower head. Hot water is better than cool water for breaking down the mineral salts from the ocean and your body.

Our garden after a day of diving
Our garden after a day of diving

Hang it in the shade

After rinsing, hang your suit to dry on a thick wooden or plastic hanger, preferably one specially made for wetsuits. You can tape two normal plastic hangers together to make a (much cheaper) good solution. Try to keep the front and back of the suit apart so it can dry more quickly. Even a length of plastic piping pushed through the arms of the suit to make them stand out helps a lot with drying. (Plus, it makes the suit look like someone is in it, which scares away burglars and pigeons when it’s hanging outside!) Air circulation is key. Avoid direct sunlight, it will dry faster but will be stiff and hard to get on the next time you try.

Soap the suit

Every once in a while give your suit a shampoo. Scrub it well inside and out, using a sponge on the neoprene and a soft brush on any nylon or plushy linings. Almost any kind of soap will work to reduce the smell, but some are better than others. The best soaps for the job are “wetsuit shampoos” (check your local dive store) or a gentle baby shampoo like Johnson’s. Next best are regular bath soaps and shampoos.

I also use the cheapest, smelliest shampoos and bubble baths that I can find. Examples are Colgate shampoo and those 1.5 litre bottles of luridly coloured bubble bath that cost almost nothing. The cheaper it is, the stronger the smell, it seems! Dish and laundry soaps (like the green Sunlight laundry bars) are too harsh to use regularly on your wetsuit, but will do the job in an emergency. Don’t ever have your wetsuit dry cleaned (unless you want to destroy it)!

Clare and I occasionally put our suits through the washing machine – on the coolest temperature setting (it’s 30 degrees celcius on our Bosch), with mild organic laundry detergent (Pick n Pay and Woolworths have good in-house brands) and some baby fabric softener for smell (Sta-Soft has a good baby-safe fabric softener fragrance that is very mild and smells great). Turn off the spin cycle and let the suits air dry out of the sun. Just be careful when you open the drum – there will still be water inside if you didn’t spin the wetsuits, and arms and legs tend to trap gallons of liquid!

We also use laundry detergent to wash the suits by hand in my plastic tubs in the garden – the best seems to be something with enzymes in that will clean off the biological waste (you know what I’m talking about) inside the suit. Woolite, which works like a charm, has been discontinued (at least in Pick n Pay in South Africa) but something like Bio-Classic, added to the washing water and foamed by hand, also seems to work quite well. Purpose-made wetsuit shampoo will be your very best option for a long term solution – there are quite a few available.

Of course, all of this applies to booties too, which can develop an unearthly smell quite of their own accord. A good soak after rinsing in some Dettol or Savlon helps to keep bacteria at bay. Once dried I silcone the zips. I put talcum powder (the smellier the better) inside all my pairs now and then to keep them fresh. The only problem is that you may resemble a cocaine smuggler the first time you put them on after powdering. But your dive buddy won’t mind!

The reason I’ve been wearing flip flops to the office

It’s been a while since I put a picture of my feet on the internet, and this is my first diving injury to speak of in almost 110 dives. So this is to demonstrate that fifteen litre cylinders do not mix well with feet, even feet wearing 5 millimetre booties.

Nicely bruised foot
Nicely bruised foot

Excuse the brutally chopped toenails. I put the cylinder down on my foot while unpacking the boat after our dive on the Cape Matapan. Next time I’ll just take my own kit (with my 10 or 12 litre cylinder) off and let Tami carry her own fifteen!