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!)
Looking at all the paraphernalia on the boat around him – wetsuits, BCDs, and other gear – I am guessing that the expression of opprobrium on Fudge’s face is related to the lack of direct attention he is receiving from the boat’s owner. Attention (and adulation) is like jet fuel to Fudge.
Tony got a new 5 millimetre Mares Pioneer wetsuit to replace his Flexa 8-6-5, which was getting a bit long in the tooth. When I was clearing photos off my old underwater camera, I found this little photo shoot, in which he appears to have been testing his gear in our swimming pool… Under the pool cover.
The water temperature was a sweet 25 degrees, according to the Mares Nemo Wide.
Here are some photos to show you what it’s like to dive off a liveaboard. They were taken on our Red Sea trip in October. The centre of the diving activity was the dive deck at the lower level of the boat, at the back. There we hung our wetsuits, and we each had a cylinder and a box to keep our loose bits of gear in. We used the same cylinder throughout the entire trip, and the crew used the long hoses of the compressor to fill our tins right where they stood. We didn’t unbuckle our BCDs from our cylinders once.
A black (air) or green (Nitrox) tag around the neck of our cylinders indicated what gas we were diving with. We used Nitrox throughout. A numbered tag attached to the shoulder of our BCDs enabled the crew to keep track of who had returned from their dive. They also wrote down our dive times and maximum depths for each dive, and we signed those figures off each evening. This is in case of an accident – they know what your dive profile is for the week.
There were dives before breakfast, after breakfast, after lunch, and at night. On the first and last days we did three and two dives, respectively. I managed three dives a day. Christo did four! Most of us skipped a dive here and there, owing to fatigue, illness (don’t drink the tap or sea water, is all I can say), and general laziness! The briefings were detailed, with maps or slideshows to familiarise us with each dive site. We were told what creatures to look out for, and where they like to hide. For wrecks that could be penetrated, the dive guides explained the preferred route more than once.
After getting into our wetsuits we sat down in front of our kit, shrugged it on with the help of one of the crew, and walked down to the dive deck. There we either put our fins and mask on and giant strided into the water, or held our fins and climbed onto one of the Zodiacs to be driven a short distance to the dive site. This technique was used at busy sites where there were many other liveaboards already anchored, or locations where it wasn’t safe for the big boat to go.
To get out of the water we were either fetched by a Zodiac, or we returned to the back of the liveaboard and climbed up the dive ladders in our full kit. Helping hands were ready to assist us with our fins. We’d put our kit back, hang up our wetsuits, put cameras into the rinsing container on the dive deck, and then eat. Every dive was followed by food! And often, a nap.
At times strong currents had us hanging onto lines down to a wreck, and this also made getting back to the liveaboard a challenge at times. On one occasion the current was so strong that I wasn’t sure I’d make it from the line tied to the corner of the stern onto the ladder in the middle of the stern – a distance of two metres – without getting swept away. Some acrobatics and long arm stretches from Tony saved the day!
The process of diving off a liveaboard is far less strenuous than diving in Cape Town, which is why we could still walk after doing three or four dives a day. For one thing, the warm water means you get far less fatigued, and you use less air, too. The crew were extremely helpful on our trip, even zipping our wetsuits and providing soapy water when pulling on our thick cold water Trilastic suits seemed too much like hard work!
Box sea jellies (Carybdea branchi) are common in Cape waters, and we sometimes see great swarms of them. They are characterised by a roughly cubic bell, with a single tentacle emanating from each lower corner. The tentacles may be retracted at will (if you touch one by accident, the tentacle shortens), and the jellies seem to extend them further at night – possibly for feeding purposes.
It is these trailing tentacles that can, it turns out, deliver a nasty sting. I have swum too close to a box jelly before, and where its tentacles touched my exposed face I felt as though I’d been splashed with hot water (actually not a wholly unpleasant experience on a cold dive). Within a few minutes the sensation was gone, and no marks remained when I came out of the water. On a night dive at Long Beach in July, however, I had a proper experience of how these jellies can sting.
I didn’t even notice the jellyfish as I swam around the wreck, but suddenly became aware of an intense stinging sensation around my neck where the top of my wetsuit meets the edge of my hoodie. We were only ten minutes into the dive, so I put it to the back of my mind and continued swimming. The pain was still there when I exited the water, and became more intense as my skin dried. I rinsed off in fresh water at the beach, and we headed home. The lower half of the front of my neck was an angry red colour with raised white welts. More rinsing in warm fresh water, and then an application of (not joking) some All Stings Considered gel that Tony bought in Durban ages ago did little to dull the pain.
It was a full three days before my neck stopped looking and feeling angry, red and lumpy. Tony reluctantly sent me off to the office – wearing a scarf, lest my colleagues think he strangles me in his spare time. As the sting healed it progressed to looking like a severe case of adult onset acne. We washed my hoodie, wetsuit and rash vest thoroughly to make sure that no stinging cells remained on them, because they can retain their stinging power for some time. Unfortunately not thoroughly enough, because the following weekend when I put on my wetsuit I was stung again, quite extensively – in the same spot on the front of my neck, and also around the back. Time to washing machine the wetsuit!
Fortunately our box jelly is nowhere near as venomous as some of the varieties found in Australia and Indonesia. I very much doubt that anyone has died from a South African box jelly sting. That said, if you’re the sort of person who reacts violently to things and often needs antihistamines, I’d take care to avoid exposure where possible. The NSRI has a fascinating explanation of the stinging mechanism and a run down of some of the treatment options here.
We are actually very fortunate that there are very few ways to get stung in Cape waters. The odds of a sting when one wears so much exposure protection are very small. The other frequent stinging culprit is the bluebottle, which tends to affect swimmers and those strolling on the beach more than it does scuba divers. Don’t hate the jellyfish!
I realise that this blog may (does) frequently overstep its apparent mandate, and delve into subjects other than the narrow subject of scuba diving. I make no apology for this – our interest is in everything ocean related, and there is much to learn and absorb. Everything is interesting!
With that in mind… An article I found from The Atlantic, written in 1995 (as I was matriculating), describes the joy of kayaking in gale force winds and stormy conditions. The author introduces Steve Sinclair, founder of what he calls storm-sea skiing, and who willingly ventures out in his fibreglass surf ski in 100 kilometre per hour winds (and commensurately high seas).
This sport is not for sissies. Writes the author:
I recently spent some time with Sinclair acquiring the fundamentals of ocean kayaking in three-foot swells and winds of no more than twenty miles an hour. During his opening lecture Sinclair emphasized that ocean kayaking is an in-water sport, and that the kayaker must be prepared for complete immersion in surf or building seas. He considers even the warmest outdoor clothing — a common choice of sea kayakers — to be inappropriate, even unsafe: it becomes waterlogged, loses its insulating qualities, and hinders swimming. In his view, only a wet suit is appropriate. Sinclair prefers a “wash-deck” kayak: one is strapped to the top of it rather than inside. Such a vessel — unlike one with a cockpit — is in no danger of flooding, and is as easy to right and remount as a surfboard. Sinclair insists on a helmet regardless of conditions, citing the high ratio of deaths to injuries in all water sports, in which drownings frequently result from unconsciousness following a blow to the head.
But, as Sinclair points out,
Paddling in a hurricane is fun – and also an excellent workout. Storm-sea skiing has also resulted in an adaptation in techniques and equipment which, if they are properly applied, could greatly increase the safety of ordinary sea kayaking.
The techniques learned from kayaking in strong winds may possibly be one reason why local surf skiiers are exceptionally competitive on the world stage. The run from Fish Hoek beach to Miller’s Point (when a north westerly wind is blowing), or in the opposite direction (during a south easter) is a popular, testing route that, by all accounts, is completely exhilarating.
Summer winds are fading and winter winds are slowly starting to arrive. The visibility of the Atlantic sites drops off and the water in False bay gets cleaner and cleaner as if pumped through a filter. A whole new range of creatures start to make an appearance while other creatures hide somewhere warmer. There are still several giant short tail stingrays hanging around at Miller’s Point, where the fishing boats drop the fish guts overboard near the slipway.
Many people feel it’s too cold to dive in winter… It is cold for sure, but with the right gear and on the right days, winter diving in Cape Town beats anything summer can come up with. Currently False Bay is clean and the temperature is around 15-16 degrees. By adding a shorty, decent gloves and a thicker hoodie you are all set. Dry suits, or damp suits as I call them, do also work, when they work. I don’t sell gear but I am very happy to give advice on whether a deal is a deal or a rip off!
We had fair conditions last weekend and dived with the sevengill cowsharks (thanks to Tamsyn again for the awesome photo!) and the seals on Sunday. It was surgy and the viz wasn’t the best but Shark Alley was swarming with sharks. Unfortunately the seals didn’t want to come and play because of the swell. Fortunately the reef around Partridge Point is stunning! The wind has been north and west a few days this week and the visibility has improved.
As for the weekend – tomorrow looks the best, but Saturday could work for one launch to Tivoli Pinnacles or an early double tank dive to Atlantis and Outer Castle. The wind comes up very strongly around lunchtime so we want to be out of the water early. Sunday will be wetter on the surface than it will below so I guess it’s a stay at home and watch Formula 1 instead.
As usual text me if you want to dive tomorrow or on Saturday. We are really looking forward to our Durban trip on 17 June, which is getting closer. There is still space on this trip and our Red Sea liveaboard trip in October, so give it some thought and let me know if you want more information.
One of the divers on the boat two weeks ago took this video of the seal we saw at the slipway. Keep watching right to the end!