A Day on the Bay: Freedom Swim 2016

Maryna and Table Mountain
Maryna and Table Mountain

A day early in April was the date for the annual Freedom Swim, a 7.5 kilometre open ocean cold water swim from Murray’s Bay harbour on Robben Island to Big Bay near Blouberg. As we have in several previous years, we provided boat support for a swimmer.

This entails providing a straight course for the swimmer so as to minimise the distance swum, and keeping an eye on them to ensure that they don’t get too cold or show any other symptoms of hypothermia or distress. It requires communication with race control by radio, and a bit of boat and swimmer dodging in the early stages of the race when the water is thick with activity.

There was a 3.5 metre swell on the day, which made the ride out to the island a bit bumpy. As soon as we were in the shelter of the island, however, the sea was flattened as the swell diverted around the island. The water remained calm until we got quite close to shore, at which point the swell picked up. The final stretch from the rocks at Big Bay to the beach must have been very hairy for the swimmers!

Our swimmer, Maryna, swam in a wetsuit. She was part of the Lighthouse Swim relay team we supported last year. The water was relatively warm (13-16 degrees) clear at the island, and we could see kelp and quite far down into the sea. Great red streaks of water, probably an algae bloom, were filled with sea jellies (which stung Maryna, but she continued strongly). These were replaced by murky green water close to the shore, where the swell had lifted the sand particles into the water column.

It was a good day out, and always a pleasure to see Table Mountain in its majesty from the water.

The Phyllisia circuit at Cape Point

Some time ago I promised to describe the route we took in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to locate the wreck of the Phyllisia, a small fishing trawler wrecked in 1968 and one of the visible shipwrecks around the Cape Peninsula. Here’s that post!

The view from the start of the trail at Gifkommetjie
The view from the start of the trail at Gifkommetjie

Tami, Maria and I set out on a slightly drizzly, grey morning from the Gifkommetjie parking area inside the reserve. The first part of the walk was a steep descent down to the beach at Gifkommetjie, where we admired some fishing debris. From there, the trail meanders north, parallel to the coast. Most of the path is sandy, but other parts are rocky and hard-packed.

There are natural tunnels formed by the overgrowing milkwood trees, requiring a bit of ducking and crouching to go through. The feeling of being in a forest and yet right by the ocean is lovely. After about 2.5 kilometres – the path gradually bends inland – one reaches a T-junction, with an unambiguous sign saying SHIPWRECK, pointing left. If you want to see the Phyllisia, or just get closer to the coast, take that path!

Turn-off for the Phyllisia
Turn-off for the Phyllisia

It’s another few hundred metres across unclear paths over the dunes to Hoek van Bobbejaan, a promontory with a beach to the north of it (pictured below) that really shows the wildness of this stretch of coast, and how exposed it is to the open ocean. The Phyllisia is right on the outermost point of Hoek van Bobbejaan, and is the same colour as the rocks it’s lying on, so you might need to look carefully!

The beach at Hoek van Bobbejaan
The beach at Hoek van Bobbejaan

Just above the wreck is one of the (I think) large okoume logs that fell off a ship in Table Bay in 2008 – more on that in this post about the Shipwreck Trail. It’s a great spot to take stock of your surroundings, and a vantage point for photos, as Maria demonstrates below!

Tami and Maria on the log at Hoek van Bobbejaan
Tami and Maria on the log at Hoek van Bobbejaan

To return, follow the path back towards the T junction and keep going straight. The path forks again – the left fork will take you towards Brightwater, and is part of the overnight Cape Point trail. Take the right fork – you should start climbing the rocky ridge that you’ve been walking alongside, towards the level of the parking area.

The return route is along the top of the ridge, along paths that we sometimes struggled to find because the vegetation had been burned away. Upright sticks with red and yellow paint on the end provided some guidance at intervals. The views down over the path you’ve just walked, and back towards Hoek van Bobbejaan, are spectacular.

You can of course, also return the way you came, and do a short, sharp climb at the end back to the parking area, or do the entire walk back and forth along the ridge, skipping the milkwood tunnels, and descend to the shipwreck half way through the route.

We saw bontebok, ostrich, baboons, an angulate tortoise, and wonderful spring flowers in the dunes and on the mountain. The walk took us about three hours at a slow pace, with a regular photo stops. As always, if you go hiking, go in a group (four really is ideal), wear appropriate shoes and a hat, apply sunscreen take waterproof or windproof clothing even if the weather looks nice, bring water to drink, stay on the path, and tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

The Cape Point Shipwreck Trail

Burned landscape near Olifantsbos
Burned landscape near Olifantsbos

Lovers of shipwrecks and wilderness will enjoy the Shipwreck Trail (also called the Thomas T Tucker Trail, which has a nice alliterative ring to it) in the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Tami, Maria and I did it on one cloudy Saturday, close to low tide. (You can do the walk at high tide, but you won’t be able to get as close to the wrecks and some parts of the wreckage will be underwater.) The trail starts from the Olifantsbos parking area inside the reserve. There is a large sign saying THOMAS T TUCKER, which will send you on your way. A waist-high pyramid-shaped cairn of stones indicates where you must climb over the dunes onto the beach – the actual path is hard to discern at this point owing to fire damage.

Rockpools abound near Olifantsbos
Rockpools abound near Olifantsbos

The path follows the coast past the Olifantsbos Cottage to the next beach, where the remains of the Thomas T Tucker are strewn around. Don’t rush past the beach outside Olifantsbos Cottage, though – there is a huge wooden log, bored by teredo worms, with rust marks at its base showing where it was attached to the deck of a ship or where fittings for lifting by crane were located.

It is possible that this is one of several hundred okoume logs that came off a cargo vessel called Lola in Table Bay in 2008. The ship was apparently in very bad repair. Similar logs can be found at Hoek van Bobbejaan, Sandy Bay, and other locations along the Atlantic coast. (Incidentally, those logs were predicted to cause havoc in the 2008 storm that uncovered the wreck of the Commodore II.)

The mast on Olifantsbos beach
The mast on Olifantsbos beach

On the beach near the Thomas T Tucker you will also see some whale bones, which are becoming more and more damaged with each passing selfie, but are still impressive in scale. I suspect that more of that skeleton is on display at the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre near Buffels Bay in the park.

Whale skull near the Thomas T Tucker
Whale skull near the Thomas T Tucker

Continuing past the main wreckage of the Thomas T Tucker you will come across another small piece of rusty metal, which belongs to the same wreck even though it is so far away from the rest of the debris. Shortly you will spy the wreck of the Nolloth on the beach before you. Don’t overlook the rockpools on the way.

Moody skies over Misty Cliffs
Moody skies over Misty Cliffs

The route back can either be a retracement of your steps along the coast, or via the inland path marked by a sign on the edge of the beach just past the Nolloth. We struggled a bit to find the path as the plant life in the area has not recovered since the March fires, and in retrospect we’d probably have gotten on much better (and returned home much cleaner) if we’d just walked back along the beach!

Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach
Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach

You shouldn’t do any walking in the reserve without a proper map; my favourite is the Slingsby Map series. I got mine from the curio shop at Kirstenbosch, and they are available at most major bookstores (with a bias towards those in the south peninsula – I have seen them at both Wordsworth and at the Write Shoppe in Long Beach Mall). Be aware of and grateful for the baboons, don’t advertise your snacks, don’t go alone, and always take something warm with you even if it’s a sunny day when you set out.

Three adventurers at the Nolloth - me, Tami, Maria
Three adventurers at the Nolloth – me, Tami, Maria

In case you missed the links in the text, check out the separate posts on the two wrecks you’ll see along this trail: the Thomas T Tucker and the Nolloth.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Bookshelf: Empire Antarctica

Empire Antarctica – Gavin Francis

Empire Antarctica
Empire Antarctica

The Antarctic is the only continent that has no indigenous human inhabitants. The only people who occupy this ice-covered continent are scientists, kept company by penguins, seals, and other birds and marine mammals. Medical doctor Gavin Francis spent 14 months there at the British Antarctic base called Halley Research Station. He was drawn to the post by the prospect of the solitude he would experience and by the “blankness” of Antarctica – without human inhabitants, it lacks a cultural and historical context in the sense that we experience culture when we travel to other destinations. He was also enamoured of the emperor penguins that breed on the continent, and desired greatly to see them.

This is a beautifully written book. Francis steeped himself in the writings of explorers who visited the continent before him, and in the scientific literature of emperor penguins (though he does not mention having watched March of the Penguins or Happy Feet – clearly a gap in his research!). He alternates between lyrical and scientific frames of mind, evocatively describing the exploration of an ice cavern and then, in detailed practical terms, the dissection of a baby penguin. He does not mention very much about his human companions at the base, and I was glad of this. It gives a good sense of how he experienced his year on the ice – there were some other people there, but he was largely wrapped up in his internal experience of the place.

Francis structures his book around the passage of the seasons. This is a logical choice, as in Antarctica the cold and darkness of winter are magnified to the most extreme degree possible, only to be completely cast away by the endless days of the polar summer (not much warmer, however). There is enough information about the mundane details of his life on the base to satisfy one’s curiosity (for example, the modern outdoor clothing they used was so warm that even in a blizzard he could not feel the wind through his layers). But the focus is squarely on the continent itself, its beauty and inhospitable extremes. His descriptions of the emperor penguin colony close to the base, and the Adélie penguins found along the coast, are exuberant and moving.

The existential angst experienced by Francis as the end of his posting in the Antarctic draws nearer – should he return to civilisation? What should he do with his life? – is magnified by the lack of distractions on the ice. After a largely uneventful (yet fascinating to read about) year, he describes his subsequent life choices – marriage, three children – quickly, and glosses over what must have been a substantial period of adjustment to life in warmer, more populous climes. This is an incredible book that made me want to go to the ice, and stayed in my mind for some time after I finished reading it.

You can also read reviews from The Economist, the Telegraph and the Washington Times. Francis wrote for The Guardian about his experience at the end of the world – it’ll give you a good sense of his writing style.

You can get a copy here, here or – if you’re in South Africa – here.

If you’re as ice-obsessed as I am, also check out Endurance (for some historical context), and Ice Patrol.

Newsletter: Measuring up

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Saturday: Student dives at Long Beach, starting early (casual divers welcome)

Sunday: Boat dives from Simon’s Town jetty to Atlantis at 9.30am / Maidstone Rock at 12.00

Dive report

Last weekend we chose to dive Hout Bay, partly because I expected Simon’s Town to be a little too busy given it was nearing the end of the Lipton Cup, a sailing regatta hosted by False Bay Yacht Club. The sea was flat, with light winds and sunny weather and good visibility. We did three dives but by the third one were a bit chilly! It was sad to see all the poaching boats, and the damage that’s been done to the wreck of the Maori lately.

Diving at Vulcan Rock on Sunday
Diving at Vulcan Rock on Sunday

This weekend I think False Bay will be the place to be. We had really good conditions yesterday and the wind direction has been good for False Bay viz. There is going to be some swell so I think we will shore dive at Long Beach with students on Saturday (I’ll be focusing on my students, but casual divers are most welcome to tag along). We will hit the high seas for boat diving on Sunday. We will launch from Simon’s Town jetty to dive Atlantis at 9.30am and the beautiful Maidstone Rock at 12.00. Text or email me if you feel like a dive.

Physiology at the extremes

I attended a conference today focusing on how the human body responds to extreme conditions, with a focus on cold water immersion (but also including exposure to alcohol, drugs, and hyperthermia). It was fascinating, and one of the important things I took away from it is how important it is to take seriously our dives in Cape Town’s water. Our physiological responses and capabilities change after an extended period of time in cold water, and while you may feel that you’re still mentally sharp and fully in control, the opposite may be true, and this is when accidents happen. I’m looking forward to incorporating some of the things I’ve learned into our day to day diving activities at Learn to Dive Today.

Measuring wind speed on the boat
Measuring wind speed on the boat

Dive travel

Pencil in a trip to Ponta do Ouro in late April/sometime in May next year. We’ll start planning it early next year, but we’ll aim for five days of diving with a day of travel on each side. Start saving now! We have had amazing experiences there – some of our favourite dives were done at reefs called Doodles and Texas.

Faraway friends

We are thinking of our diving friends in far off lands – Bernita and Tamsyn, sending all good thoughts your way!

regards

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

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Newsletter: Over the rainbow

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Sunday: Boat dives to Maidstone Rock at 9.30 and Spaniard Rock at 12.00

Conditions report

False Bay has really delivered over the last few weeks. I have been fortunate to launch on 4 days this week and we have been rewarded with 15-16 degree water and really good visibility. The temperature dropped a degree today but we still had great viz, not much wind and very little swell.

Last Sunday morning we took an extremely wet (not in the forecast!) trip out to Seal Island, where we saw a couple of white shark breaches and a beautiful rainbow. On the way there and back we did feel like we were part of the Deadliest Catch reality show, though!  Andre took this picture on the boat.

Boating in rain gear
Boating in rain gear

Dive planning

These conditions look set to hold for the weekend. There is no doubt that both days will be great but I am going to pick Sunday and launch 9.30 from the jetty in Simon’s Town and we will go to Maidstone Rock for the first dive and Spaniard Rock at 12.00. Text me to book.

Rainbow over the deep south
Rainbow over the deep south

DAN Day

DAN is holding another day of talks focused on diver health and safety on Saturday 2 August, at Unique Hydra (the same venue as last time). You can see more information about the event and the program here. These events are highly recommended and I encourage you to attend.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Exploring False Bay

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Sunday: False Bay photo cruise, meet at 7.15 am on Simon’s Town jetty

Sunrise in Simon's Town yacht basin
Sunrise in Simon’s Town yacht basin

Dive conditions

We have had really good conditions for a few weeks now with visibility between 10 and 20 metres depending on where in the bay you are diving.

This weekend is however more like one of those hard to call weekends we have so often in summer. There is a lot of rain in the next two days, a 5.5 metre swell and gale force winds but that is mostly gone by Sunday. The question is where will the dirty rain water run off end up, and how much surge will remain from the south westerly swell? Not to mention the day time temperature will max out at 12 degrees.

Sunrise at Roman Rock
Sunrise at Roman Rock

I think the best weekend option is to cover the tank rack with the bench on Sunday and have an early morning meeting time (7.15 am on the Simon’s Town jetty) and do another trip to Seal Island, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay… or head south to Rocky Bank Whittle Rock and Cape Point. On last weekend’s trip we saw a breaching great white shark at Seal Island, a small pod of dolphins, and the most beautiful sunrise. There are some photos on facebook from last Sunday’s trip.

Text or email me if you want to join us on Sunday to explore False Bay, and remember to dress warmly!

regards

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

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Shark cage diving in False Bay (some photos)

Sunrise
Sunrise

We took a trip to Seal Island in False Bay to see the white sharks there, in late July. I’ve already posted my video footage from the cage. We also took some photos – mostly Tony. The trip entailed getting up very early, so as to be at Seal Island by sunrise. Once there, we scanned the horizon for predatory behaviour: typically, the white sharks here attack the juvenile seals from below, often launching their entire bodies out of the water in an explosive burst of energy.

Video still of one of the great white sharks we saw
Video still of one of the great white sharks we saw

It was a very rough day with a swell of about five metres, and from speaking to people who come to Seal Island often, I gather that the sharks tend to be less active on days like this. Their accuracy in striking the seals is reduced by the movement of the water column. Nonetheless we did see a couple of predation events, with the characteristic flock of seabirds waiting to pick up any leftovers, and the slick of “oily seal juices” (to quote Gary!) left on the surface afterwards. The sharks are so quick that if you’re looking the wrong way, it’ll all be over by the time you turn around.

After some time watching natural behaviour, a decoy (surprisingly realistic looking, made to resemble a young seal) is towed behind the boat, to try and elicit breaching behaviour from the sharks. We didn’t have much luck here, again probably because of the surgy seas, but one shark made a few investigations of the decoy before losing interest.

White shark next to the boat
White shark next to the boat

Finally sharks are attracted to the boat using chum, which is mostly fish oils and other fishy substances. A tuna head was splashed in the water near the boat, and when sharks came to investigate it they were visible from the cage. While in the cage we breathed off scuba regulators, which was great. Trying to breath-hold or snorkel while the sea was so choppy would have been next to impossible. The sound of the bubbles emanating from our regulators didn’t bother the sharks at all.

Bernita and some stormy seas
Bernita and some stormy seas

We spent about twenty minutes (or maybe more – I am not sure) in the cage, some of it just waiting for action, and some of it with our full attention focused on the enormous fish swimming by and looking at us with its black eyes. Five minutes of looking at a great white shark, eye to eye, gives sudden perspective on life and the natural world. I’ll recommend this experience to anyone who will listen!

 

Newsletter: All aboard!

Hi divers

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.

Ray at the slipway
Ray at 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!

Sevengill cowshark
Sevengill cowshark

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.

Weekend plans

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!

regards

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

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Dive sites (Southern Mozambique): Steps

Powder blue surgeonfish and goldies
Powder blue surgeonfish and goldies

Steps is a long, narrow reef running for about 4 kilometres in a north-south direction, making it ideal for drift dives on days when the current is strong. It’s relatively narrow, and ranges from about 13 to 16 metres’ depth. The reef is made up of a series of overhangs and gullies, providing abundant habitat for fish and other marine life.

I was happy to see both a male and a female boxy – I love these fish, and their nonchalant ways. We didn’t see any large creatures on this dive except for turtles, but I enjoyed the opportunity to try some fish photography. They just won’t sit still! Yellow and blue banded snapper are the only ones who oblige the cameraman, as they seem to be remarkably placid and reluctant to break their tight formations over the reef.

Emperor angelfish having a snack
Emperor angelfish having a snack

Oddly, I got cold towards the end of this dive, and surfaced for that reason rather than being low on air or time. I think it was because we didn’t actually have to swim much, and I’m a lazy finner to begin with. I never believed I’d get cold in 25 degree water, but with a lowered core temperature from dives earlier in the day it can happen!

Dive date: 9 May 2012

Air temperature: 25 degrees

Water temperature: 25 degrees

Maximum depth: 15.2 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 58 minutes

Blue banded snapper
Blue banded snapper