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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Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 8

Deadliest Catch, Season 8
Deadliest Catch, Season 8

It’s been a while since we’ve watched any Deadliest Catch, but I needed to feel good about my job again, so a dose of this Discovery Channel favourite was required.

There are a couple of younger captains this season; we were interested to see how much they talked up their abilities, and how often they took ridiculous risks that endangered their crew. One of them in particular brought his train wreck of a personal life on board at the start of the season, which culminated in a restraining order from his ex girlfriend and almost no pay for his crew.

We also found the family dynamics interesting. There are many fathers and sons, and pairs of brothers, working in the fleet, and family feeling is strong. Some of the relationships are deeply unpleasant. The captain of the Kodiak, who demonstrates repeatedly what a mean, vindictive person he is, repeatedly belittles his son after losing patience with him when he doesn’t learn fast enough. By contrast, the supportive learning environment provided on board the Northwestern enables some of the young crew to grow and learn. Edgar, one of our favourite people in the show, gets an opportunity to spend some time in the wheelhouse when his brother Sig (who is an awe-inspiringly consistent fisherman) lets him take a turn at driving the boat.

One of the boats featured in the series had a crew member medevaced as a result of a panic attack (the official line was “seizure disorder”, but he was clearly having a panic). This hasn’t happened before – there is always a feature with the US Coastguard, but it has always involved other boats up to this point. The calm of the helicopter pilots and rescue swimmers is very impressive.

The latter part of this season had a soap opera feel to it. An ice-induced hiatus in the opilio crab season led to many of the captains taking a break from fishing, to wait for the ice to clear from the crab grounds. The film crew follows the captains and crew home, and – in some cases – deep into their personal problems during this period. Tony and I were relieved when they got back to fishing, although it was nice to see the beautiful homes, mostly in Washington State, that the big bucks earned crab fishing can buy.

Did this help me feel better about my job? Yes it did: sitting at my desk in a winter sunbeam isn’t too bad, or too difficult. The chances of losing the end of one of my fingers or being struck on my head by a chunk of ice are slim. Small mercies.

Series: Deadliest Catch – Lobster Wars

Lobster Wars
Lobster Wars

Lobster Wars is a Discovery Channel production, produced by the same team who brought us Deadliest Catch (seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and its Tuna Wranglers spin-off. It tracks fishermen (and a woman) on board the American lobster boats that set out to fish Georges Bank from the beautiful New England harbours (and expensive holiday destinations) in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

This is a slightly tamer version of Deadliest Catch. The fishermen work long, hard hours on occasion, but the labour is not as backbreaking as it is on board a crab boat. They are at sea for a week at a time, and the lobster traps are lighter and smaller than the crab pots seen on Deadliest Catch. The boats are small, and the fishery is a low volume, high value one – two or three lobsters in a trap is worth getting excited about.

Lobstering can be extremely lucrative, particularly during the winter season shown in the episodes of this series. Fierce competition on the fishing grounds and heavy fishing pressure on a valuable resource (which can sometimes be in oversupply) makes for a turbulent working environment – never mind the weather. While not quite as stormy as the Bering Sea, Georges Bank can throw up some extreme weather events of its own.

The fishing grounds on Georges Bank are “controlled” by different boat captains, who have time-tested locations that they return to year after year. We found this puzzling – that one could exert control at a distance over a piece of sea floor with relatively few conflicts. Or perhaps not so few – this article explains the phenomenon quite well. One source of conflict that recurred repeatedly in this series was between the lobster boats and trawlers, called “draggers” by the lobstermen. The trawlers shown working Georges Bank had outriggers, and if a string of lobster traps gets caught in their gear, the traps can be dragged for miles, and left in a tangled heap far from their original location.

The antics of the crewmen are mildly entertaining, but we struggled to differentiate them because of an apparently universal fondness for pulled-up hoodies among lobstermen. One female crew member is featured, working on board a boat called the Timothy Michael, and acquitting herself marvellously. A new crewman exclaims in disbelief that there’s a woman on board, commenting that he’s been on a boat where there’s been a dog on board, but never a woman. I was impressed by his liberal attitude, and am sure he’s in a supportive, mature relationship with an incredible human being who values his unique strengths and abilities.

This isn’t Deadliest Catch or Tuna Wranglers, but it is entertaining enough. The scenery, of New England and the seascapes, is lovely, and learning about a new fishery is always interesting. There are the usual lyrical waxings about how the “fishery is dying”, but the problem isn’t examined further, and no one dares to suggest that perhaps we’ve already eaten most of the fish in the sea, and if we carry on at this pace, we’ll eat it all.

You can get the DVD on Amazon.com.

Dive sites: Brunswick

Tony and students on the surface over the wreck of the Brunswick
Tony and students on the surface over the wreck of the Brunswick

The Brunswick is a historical wooden shipwreck that lies a few hundred metres off the northern end of Long Beach in Simon’s Town, directly opposite the northern end of the white apartment buildings overlooking the Main Road. Like HNMS Bato, she is infrequently dived. Having lain underwater since 1805, she is heavily overgrown and much of her decking and hull is covered by sand. She used to be a shore entry (with a precipitous climb over the railway line), but in recent years a large number of boulders have been added as a breakwater between the ocean and the railway line, and climbing over in dive gear is no longer possible. For this reason we do the dive from the boat. Close to shore and in shallow water, the Brunswick is an ideal site to get used to boat diving.

Extensive field of wooden decking
Extensive field of wooden decking

The Brunswick was a British East Indiaman, which means she carried men and goods between Britain and the East Indies – (south)east Asia and India. She was carrying a cargo of cotton and sandalwood from China back to Britain when she was captured by some French vessels off Sri Lanka, and brought to Simon’s Bay. In September 1805 her anchor rope parted, and she ran aground during a south easterly gale. Most of her cargo was salvaged, as she lies in shallow (less than six metres deep) water.

We found the dive site to be similar to HNMS Bato, which was also a sturdily built wooden ship of similar vintage. The Brunswick was 1,200 tons, and her wreckage is spread out quite extensively. There are many thick, wooden planks, laid out as they would have been to form her decks, as well as much evidence of the bronze bolts that secured parts of the ship together. There are also many copper bolts, rivets and what could be small amounts of rolled up copper sheathing in evidence on the site.

Anemone among feather stars and papery burnupena
Anemone among feather stars and papery burnupena

The highests parts of the wreck are covered with feather stars, anemones, sea cucumbers, and kelp. There are many octopus, and peering under the wreckage with a torch yielded a couple of very large pyjama catsharks. We were lucky to dive the site most recently on a day with lovely visibility, and the shallowness of the water means that there’s a lot of light penetration which improves things enormously.

The highest parts of the Brunswick wreck
The highest parts of the Brunswick wreck

Before diving this site, you should call the SA Navy Ops Room on 021 787 3818, to ask for permission and to tell them how long you’ll be. Same procedure as at Long Beach.

Dive date: 13 July 2013

Air temperature: 19 degrees

Water temperature: 15 degrees

Maximum depth: 5.4 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 42 minutes

Mark helps Christo at the boat after the dive
Mark helps Christo at the boat after the dive

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 7

Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 7

Deadliest Catch is a long-running reality television series aired on the Discovery Channel. We watch it on DVD. The seventh season once again reminded us how fortunate we are to have jobs with at least some concept of “office hours”, and safe, mostly predictable working conditions. Season 6 was marked by the death of one of the captains, Phil Harris, whose two young sons, Jake and Josh, are left as part-owners of the vessel Cornelia Marie. The conflicts inherent in being both a boat owner and a deckhand are shown in technicolour as they clash with the captain they hire for the red king crab/blue crab season, and after catching no crab in a week, they head back to port. Their opilio season is a lot more successful, and the captain they hire for this fishing stint spends time teaching them and gives them opportunities to drive the boat and make decisions about where to fish.

A similar spirit of mentorship is seen on the Northwestern, where Captain Sig invests considerable time and effort into one of his young deckhands, also called Jake. His brother Edgar, erstwhile deck boss, has left the ship, but we were surprised how well things continued to run without his laconic presence. Jake, who is occasionally prone to bizarre immature outbursts (“I hate you all!” is a frequent refrain) is groomed to one day run the ship – he has been on the Northwestern for several years – and Sig somehow manages to strike the right mix of encouragement and discipline, giving Jake more and more responsibility for the day to day running of the deck, allowing him to set pots, and to drive the boat on occasion.

Two new boats feature in this season, both captained by young men (one still in his late twenties) with a good deal of attitude and cockiness. One of them (Captain Scott “Junior” Campbell) makes a really good showing, and we were impressed by how he managed his layabout younger brother. His calm demeanour was in stark contrast to Captain Keith Colburn of the Wizard, whose anger management problems even vented themselves on one of the show’s cameramen who happened to be walking past when the fishing was poor.

Other than the two new boats, this season is more of the same, and if you enjoyed the prior seasons I can recommend this one. We did appreciate a few more underwater shots and what looked like footage captured by attaching a GoPro to the hook that the crew use to retrieve the line attached to the submerged crab pots. There isn’t much from the US Coastguard, but there are truly awesome Arctic storms and some very gory (but not serious) injuries. I expect most people will wince the most at the sight of Captain Scott struggling with a kidney stone!

There’s a very interesting interview with the impressive captain of the Northwestern, Sig Hansen, here.

You can buy the DVDs here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

 

Friday poem: A Few Lines from Rehoboth Beach

Via Beach Chair Scientist. Fleda Brown is a contemporary American poet.

A Few Lines from Rehoboth Beach – Fleda Brown

Dear friend, you were right: the smell of fish and foam
and algae makes one green smell together. It clears
my head. It empties me enough to fit down in my own

skin for a while, singleminded as a surfer. The first
day here, there was nobody, from one distance
to the other. Rain rose from the waves like steam,

dark lifted off the dark. All I could think of
were hymns, all I knew the words to: the oldest
motions tuning up in me. There was a horseshoe crab

shell, a translucent egg sack, a log of a tired jetty,
and another, and another. I walked miles, holding
my suffering deeply and courteously, as if I were holding

a package for somebody else who would come back
like sunlight. In the morning, the boardwalk opened
wide and white with sun, gulls on one leg in the slicks.

Cold waves, cold air, and people out in heavy coats,
arm in arm along the sheen of waves. A single boy
in shorts rode his skimboard out thigh-high, making

intricate moves across the March ice-water. I thought
he must be painfully cold, but, I hear you say, he had
all the world emptied, to practice his smooth stand.

Bookshelf: The Edge of the Sea

The Edge of the Sea – Rachel Carson

The Edge of the Sea
The Edge of the Sea

The Edge of the Sea completes the trilogy begun by Under the Sea-Wind and The Sea Around Us. Its focus is on the coastline, the meeting point between land and ocean where one is most conscious of the passage of time and the cycles of nature. Rachel Carson was an American writer, and lived and worked on the east coast of the United States. The northern reaches of this coast are similar to the Cape Town coastline, in that there are kelp forests and much invertebrate life in the cool water. Its southern reaches in the Florida Keys, however, are characterised by coral reefs and mangrove forests, more reminiscent of Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu Natal, on South Africa’s north western coast.

This is a more conventional piece of nature writing than Under the Sea-Wind, and its scope is far narrower than The Sea Around Us. It is fascinating, however, to delve into the secret lives of crabs, sand fleas, limpets, urchins, sea stars, clams and a large number of their neighbours. While – for the most part – we don’t find the exact same creatures on our side of the Atlantic, their adaptations to life in the intertidal zone are similar, and their behaviour and diet is too.

The section on the coral reefs and mangroves of Florida was interesting to me because that kind of coastline is relatively unfamiliar – I’ve only visited coral reefs three times (Zanzibar, Sodwana twice) and don’t know nearly as much about how those ecosystems work. It was the first time someone articulated for me a point that – in retrospect – is probably completely obvious to everyone else on earth, but for me was a lightbulb moment. Coral reefs only occur on east-facing coasts (think about the location of the Florida Keys, the Great Barrier reef in Australia, the east African coral reefs), as the western coasts of continents are typically subject to upwelling driven by wind and the direction of the earth’s rotation.

Rather than being an active participant in the life of the shore, man is portrayed here as an observer, unable to influence the tidal and seasonal rhythms that drive all behaviour here. The book is illustrated with beautiful line drawings and one or two maps, and I’d recommend it highly. There’s a comprehensive glossary with full species names at the back.

You can buy the book here, or for Kindle get it here.

Dive sites (inland): Marico Oog

I am sure National Geographic wants this shot too
I am sure National Geographic wants this shot too

Marico Oog is a natural spring, the source of the Marico River. It is located on a farm in the North West Province of South Africa, and we visited it on our way home from Botswana in March. It’s possible to dive in the spring, which is mostly why we took a detour off the N4, the boot of our tiny rental car loaded with a couple of rented cylinders and our dive gear.

Heading off for a dive
Heading off for a dive

The water in the Oog is crystal clear, and water lilies grow around the sides in the shallow (1-3 metre deep) water. The bottom is covered by lush green vegetation that looks like salad, and the bottom in the deeper areas is silty and causes great clouds to obscure the visibility when it is disturbed. Entry is via a ladder, and the initial swim is through shallow water filled with lilies, their long stalks curling towards the surface, where lily pads provide landing spots for dragon flies.

Water lilies
Water lilies

A small pool (less than 10 metres wide) that drops down to about five metres’ depth appears on the right; the very bottom here is muddy, but lilies line the edges. A small ridge separates this pool from the main pool, which is perhaps 20 metres across and has three distinct zones of vegetation. The top area surrounding the pool has a flat bottom and is covered with water lily plants. From 3-6 metres there is green foliage, and from 6 metres to the bottom of the pool is mud.

A platform is suspended from drums at about 6 metres, and is used for skills training by the Johannesburg dive schools who sometimes bring their students here (not much sea in Gauteng). At the very bottom of the pool, a pipe descends under a rock, from which the spring water is collected for bottling. The rock apparently forms part of a swim through, which I was not about to try. Willie, the owner of the farm, told us that a trained cave diver had reeled out 100 metres of line (resonably taut, I hope) in a dive beneath the rock, so there’s enough space to travel quite far below the Oog towards the very source of the spring.

Crab
Crab

The fauna inhabiting the Oog is not prolific, but we saw several crabs in the mud, and a number of fish. I’ve struggled mightily to identify the fish, some of which seem to feed from the silt at the bottom of the pools, and others of which look like bass or tilapia and were seen with a huge cloud of fry. There are also eels, but we didn’t see any. We did spot a giant monitor lizard clambering about at the edge of the reeds while we were watching birds returning to roost in the reeds and feed at the Oog in the evenings.

It was interesting to dive in a freshwater environment – in contrast to the usual 7 kilograms of weight I use to sink me and my 8 millimetre Cape Town wetsuit for a shallow dive, I wore 3 kilograms, and not even on a weight belt. Two kilograms were in my BCD pockets, and the 3rd kilo, added as an afterthought, moved from by sternum to behind my knee during the course of the dive. The migration of a square block of lead through my wetsuit was something of a distraction, it must be said.

Marico Oog is a popular night diving destination, and when the moon is full it must be magnificent. It is recommended that not more than eight divers use the Oog at one time, and even this would be quite cramped for my taste. We were fortunate enough to have it all to ourselves, and for my second dive of the day I was all alone. Tony observed the most of my second dive from the pontoon attached to a cable that can be pulled out over the Oog – it was novel to dive in water so clear that we could see each other in the different mediums.

Reeds above the surface, water lily stems below
Reeds above the surface, water lily stems below

I’ve been wanting to go to Marico Oog since Tony told me about it when I met him, but thought I’d never get there because it’s so remote. Actually, it fitted in quite well with flying to and from Lanseria airport and driving to Gaborone – we took a lot of dirt roads to get there, but there’s a tarred road running straight past the farm from Zeerust. If you’re in the vicinity and fancy some total relaxation and beautiful diving, a visit to Marico Oog is highly recommended.

Dive date: 22 March 2012

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature: 20 degrees

Maximum depth: 12.4 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 36 minutes

Clean water for miles
Clean water for miles

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 6

Deadliest Catch Season 6
Deadliest Catch Season 6

Tony and I continue to feed our strange addiction to this Discovery Channel show. We found Season 5 to be dark and grim. Deadliest Catch Season 6 deals with even heavier subject matter, but somehow manages to uplift one at the same time. If you haven’t seen the series and plan to, and don’t know what happens, you probably shouldn’t read any further.

The usual ingredients are all there: foul-mouthed crab fishermen, rough seas, ice, snow, sleet, storms, and huge pots of beautiful, valuable Alaskan red king crabs and opilio crabs. The core group of captains still feature – Sig Hansen of the Northwestern, the Hillstrand brothers of the Time Bandit, and Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie. The mercurial and superstitious Keith Colburn of the Wizard returns in this season, and newcomer Captain Bill Wichrowski of the Kodiak attempts to make a crab fishing comeback after years out of the game.

To a certain extent the personal dramas overshadow some of the fishing activity, which is mixed for all the captains. The father of one of the crew members of the Northwestern goes missing, and the emotional strain of trying to support his family and the feeling of helplessness at not being in Seattle to assist with the search plays out in the young man’s mind. His experience is mirrored by that of the Harris brothers, whose father Phil has a stroke during the offloading of opilio crab and is hospitalised in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eleven days later he succumbs to another stroke, and the Cornelia Marie loses her captain. One of the joys of this series has been watching Phil Harris and his sons together – as a fisherman he spent months on end away from home when they were children, and he clearly relished the time he spent with them working as deckhands on his boat. His send-off by the captains of the other vessels in the fleet were very special – ranging from fireworks on the Time Bandit, to Captain Keith – choked up with tears – dropping a full crab pot overboard, with no lines or buoys attached and a buoy inside with Phil Harris’s name on it – so that Phil would always have a full pot to come back to.

The final episode of the season is a tribute to Captain Phil Harris. He’s held up as someone who lived the American dream – making his way from hardscrabble beginnings, through labour with his hands, to a position of commercial success. It’s has fascinating parallels to the Hillstrand brothers’ life story, as told in their book Time Bandit. The back-breaking work on fishing boats was often followed by days of wild partying, and the large amounts of money that can be made by crab fishermen were not always spent wisely. The long periods of absence from home caused strain in relationships, and the primary regrets that fishing fathers seem to have is that they “weren’t there for their kids”. Edgar Hansen, deck boss of the Northwestern, has his own existential (and physical – he has chronic back pain from years of work on deck) crisis for the duration of this season, and attempts more than once to signal to his older brother Sig that his time as a fisherman is drawing to a close. Sig is not receptive to these signals.

While it’s hard not to get caught up in the personal struggles of the fishermen, Tony and I do love most of all the sea and the boats. Footage of Captain Bill fishing up near the ice floes is spectacular, and we were happy to see that the producers experimented a tiny bit more with the camera work this season. GoPro cameras were used strapped to crewmen’s heads, the picking hook, and (we suspect) to obtain some other brief underwater footage of pots being hauled over the rail. Occasional use of CGI illustrates concepts such as the buoy configuration for fishing in the ice, and the problems caused by frozen or leaky hydraulic lines, along with the interconnectedness of the systems on the vessel that rely on these lines.

You can get the DVD box set here if you are in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

Meet and greet

It’s been a while since I’ve anthropomorphised sea creatures in print… So here’s a collection of encounters to entertain you (and if you haven’t dived in the Cape, to show you who lives here)!

Urchin and gas flame nudibranch at Partridge Point
Urchin and gas flame nudibranch at Partridge Point

I realise that the urchin and the nudibranch (and indeed the two nudibranchs in the picture below) probably have nothing to say to one another. But something about nudibranchs – their apparent lack of a face, maybe? – makes it very easy to ascribe thoughts and emotions to them. They also are rarely seen moving – to me, even with their riotously bright colouring, they are a blank slate upon which I may imagine whatever feelings I wish.

The urchin, therefore, has offended the nudibranch. The black nudibranch is giving the silvertip some avuncular advice, since the silvertip is still wet behind the ears, so to speak.

Silvertip and black nudibranch at Partridge Point
Silvertip and black nudibranch at Partridge Point

Sponge crabs grip onto sea fans with their little claws, and are often so covered by their protective layer of sponge (much like vetkoek) that you have to look really carefully to see their claws, let alone any other physical features. These two, however, seem to be getting cosy.

Sponge crabs at Partridge Point
Sponge crabs at Partridge Point

Granted, sea stars are not shy to interact (or compete) when a tasty snack is at stake. In fact, we often see great piles of them – particularly in the presence (or vicinity of) mussels. They seem to have no sense of personal space whatsoever. This, to me, makes the following image very charming. There’s an element of shyness and reserve (what, you don’t see it?) in the awkward approach of these two spiny sea stars that is so often lacking in starfish interactions.

Sea stars on a collision course at Long Beach
Sea stars on a collision course at Long Beach

With that bit of nonsense over, I encourage you to go out and meet and greet someone today, even a stranger. Just not a creepy stranger, or that person at work whom you suspect is secretly stalking you and ascribes far too much significance to meaningless interactions.