Newsletter: Fine time

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Saturday: Boat dives at 9.30 am to Outer Castle and at 12.00pm to Maidstone Rock

Sunday: Boat dives at 9.30am to Atlantis Reef and at 12.00pm to the SAS Pietermaritzburg wreck

Klipfish on the BOS 400
Klipfish on the BOS 400

Conditions report

We dived out of Hout Bay last weekend, visiting the Oakburn and BOS 400 on one dive, and the kelp forest a bit north of Duiker Island for the second dive. Liam spotted a huge ocean sunfish in Maori Bay while diving the BOS, and Clare chased it (unsuccessfully), filming this dodgy video. Even though the fish is moving its fins at such a leisurely pace, it’s powering through the water. We had beautiful conditions above and below the water, with surprising 15 degree temperatures, and enjoyed our unseasonal Atlantic jaunt.

Loryn descending at Duiker Island
Loryn descending at Duiker Island

This weekend

We have not had good weekend weather for quite a few weeks this winter, so it’s great to see another warm, windless weekend coming up. We plan to visit some of False Bay’s beautiful reefs, colourful and bursting with life. Atlantis has a couple of shallow pinnacles and a jumble of rocks and pillars that drop down to 27 metres on the sand, if you feel like a deep dive. It’s also perfectly suitable for Open Water divers. We will also do a wreck dive to the SAS Pietermaritzburg on Sunday. This special ship participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II.

Whale watching trip

We are planning to do a boat based whale watching trip in False Bay with Dave Hurwitz of Simon’s Town Boat Company one weekend in September or early October, depending on availability. Dave is licensed to approach whales to within a few tens of metres, whereas the rest of us mortals must stay 300 metres away from them unless they surface or approach near us, and even then we have to move away as soon as possible.

We did this trip last year and it was a wonderful experience. There is nothing quite like being close enough to a whale to hear it breathe. If you’d like to come along, please let me know before the end of this week, so that we can include you in the planning. The trip is R850 for adults and lasts several hours. For an idea of recent whale activity, check out the Boat Company facebook page.

Punishment

Occasionally divers on our boat will refer to certain items of dive gear as flippers and goggles. This drives me nuts and for a long time I have wondered about a cure. I have one now. All divers will be required to have a credit card on board. Spot fines, or liquid punishment as I would like to call them, will then be issued for transgressions. These can vary wildly but the minor issues such as flipper will carry less of a fine than harsher offences such as requests to “open my oxygen” or “turn me on”. We can also fine the first person to say they are “cold” or “I was sweating underwater”, or uses the word “toasty”. These payments can be made instantly as we now have a credit card machine on the boat.

Weekly nags

You need your MPA permit if you come for a dive in False Bay. I have temporary permits available but it’s much more cost effective to go to the post office and get one that’s valid for a year. Regardless of where we go, you should ideally have a surface marker buoy (SMB) and know how to deploy it, or dive with someone who does (preferably the former).

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

P.S. I am only half joking about the fines, but not about the credit card machine!

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Newsletter: Good mileage

Hi divers

Weekend launches

The weekend does not look all that rosy. A rather large swell is forecast and a little rain for tomorrow and Saturday, and then a fair amount of south easter for Sunday, but it blows later in the day so this is the plan:

Saturday 9.30 and 12.00, to Outer Photographer’s Reef and Maidstone Rock.

Sunday 8.00 and 10.30, to Spaniard Rock and the Brunswick / Caravan reef

Klipfish at Spaniard Rock
Klipfish at Spaniard Rock

All launches will be from False Bay Yacht Club. As usual, text me if you want to dive. We have Advanced students for Saturday and need to start early on Sunday as the wind picks up after lunch. These launches are subject to a final call early on the day as the swell may or may not affect us. It is always a sign of bad weather to come when big boats seek shelter in False Bay; at present two large ships have come into the bay, presumably to hide from the wind and swell.

Recent dives

Variable dorid at Pyramid Rock
Variable dorid at Pyramid Rock

We have had a good run of late and last weekend we were out on the boat on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The weather was not nearly as bad as the forecast so we had some good diving, as well as encountering a large number of extremely frisky whales. It was also good to see some new and old faces on the boat. The viz was not spectacular, but there was not too much wind or swell. Today we had 4-5 metre visibility at Long Beach.

Octopus at Pyramid Rock
Octopus at Pyramid Rock

We had really good mileage out of the white shark encounter two weeks ago and were fortunate to have the story run on a few local blogs, from which the Sunday Times got hold of it, and that led to a short radio interview on Cape Talk on Monday morning. That kind of exposure doesn’t come around very often, so thank you False Bay, Christo, Craig, the Russians and of course the shark. If you haven’t heard what happened, click here.

Two red sponge nudibranchs at Spaniard Rock
Two red sponge nudibranchs at Spaniard Rock

There are two red sponge nudibranchs in the photo above. See if you can see them: a bigger one just above the snail, and a smaller one to the right of the image. They are perfectly camouflaged!

Dates to diarise

The next ScubaPro Day is on Saturday 26 October. On that day we will be spending some time in airports on our way back from the Red Sea, so unfortunately our boat won’t be participating. If you’re keen to do some cheap boat dives and maybe try out some ScubaPro gear, however, diarise the date. More information will be provided in the next few weeks.

The next Cape Town Dive Festival is on 2-3 May 2014. More information on that will be revealed in the coming months, I imagine.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Fields of fish

Hi divers

It’s winter so not as many people dive as they do in summer, but the week’s diving has been good with little or no swell and clean water at around 15 degrees. We had lovely conditions at the infrequently-dived wreck of the Brunswick last Saturday, before the rain came, and equally good conditions at Long Beach yesterday. There are some photos on facebook here and here. If you haven’t liked our facebook page already, please do – you can keep up to date with what we’re up to. We post photos regularly and try to do a visibility report whenever we dive.

Fish and box jellies at Long Beach
Fish and box jellies at Long Beach

For once the weekend weather and dive plan is an easy call. Both days look exceptionally good and the bay is quite clean and calm right now. We are attending the DAN Cape Town event on Saturday so there will be no diving, but we will launch on Sunday to do qualifying dives for Open Water students. We will launch from the Yacht Club in Simon’s Town and the plan will be to visit Photographer’s Reef and the cowsharks.

Anemone on the Brunswick
Anemone on the Brunswick

Please remember your MPA permits. If you plan to come diving, check that yours is valid. If you don’t have one (or if it’s expired), head down to the post office with your ID book and about R100 and ask for a “scuba diving permit”. We dive a lot inside the marine protected area, for which you need a permit.

Wreckage of the Brunswick
Wreckage of the Brunswick

Our Red Sea trip is in October (17-26th). There are still one or two spaces on the liveaboard if you feel like a last minute (almost) holiday, but it’s almost full. We’ll do a local trip (to Sodwana or Durban) again in the new year so don’t worry if you miss out!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Racing into summer

Hi divers

Divers at Shark Alley, looking for cowsharks
Divers at Shark Alley, looking for cowsharks

We had pretty good conditions last weekend and did two dives at Long Beach on Saturday and two launches on Sunday. We had 4-6 metres visibility at Photographer’s Reef and about the same at Shark Alley. The sevengill cowsharks are scarce right now with very few sightings.

Octopus at Photographer's Reef
Octopus at Photographer’s Reef

This weekend

The weekend weather does not look altogether bad but there are a couple of events that may slow you down in getting to the dive sites:

  • Saturday: a cycling event from Simon’s Town station over Red Hill, around to Cape Point and back to Simon’s Town station – repeated several times over throughout the course of the day. Participants raise sponsorship for however many laps they do.
  • Sunday:  the Big Walk… there is a walk starting at 9am at Long Beach. Road closures shouldn’t be a big problem – just Fish Hoek main road to Muizenberg, and the Long Beach parking lot will be a bit crowded.

I won’t launch this weekend as I have students. We will be at the pool on Saturday doing Open Water and Rescue and will do the same on Sunday at Long Beach.

Baby klipfish at Long Beach
Baby klipfish at Long Beach

We attended a talk at the Fish Hoek library this evening on the Glencairn Barge, believed to have sunk in 1978. It appears no-one really knows its history! The speaker was from Underwater Surveys and showed some fascinating images of wrecks scanned using their very advanced (and expensive) downscan imaging system.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: An early start

Dear divers

The long weekend and the Cape Town Dive Festival is upon us so given the length of the week we decided on a quick newsletter that would arrive in your mailbox earlier than usual.

Cape Town Dive Festival

The weather forecast for the weekend is a hot topic right now and changes from awful to okay and back to dodgy at every update. Given the recent inaccuracies we have all experienced with the forecasts, we are hoping for good – or at least decent – weather.

Shy little klipfish on the SAS Pietermaritzburg
Shy little klipfish on the SAS Pietermaritzburg

You should all have received a confirmation email with all the relevant info about the festival (if you’re attending) so I won’t cover all that again other than to remind you to bring your dive certification card and MPA permit to registration. There is very poor cell phone reception in the area so qualifications cannot be verified online.

If you have a gear requirement from me please let me know ASAP what to bring for you.

Last weekend’s diving

Another little klipfish on the Pietermaritzburg
Another little klipfish on the Pietermaritzburg

We dived the SAS Pietermaritzburg on Saturday as we wanted to get some photos of its current state as there are plans under way to have the wreck protected as a heritage site. This normally only applies after 60 years but salvors have been removing parts of the wreck and it is felt by the diving community, other interested parties and the naval community that it should be left alone. It is claimed that the wreck has not been affected but the salvor himself has admitted to removing up to 20 tonnes of metal from on and near the wreck.

Weekend diving

Thursday being a holiday, plus a promise of sun all day we plan to launch at 10 and 12 or alternatively do a double tank dive to avoid the wind that comes in the afternoon. I am keen to dive the cave area of Batsata Maze and to explore a section of the Smits cliffs.

Divers descending onto the SAS Pietermaritzburg
Divers descending onto the SAS Pietermaritzburg

Friday and Saturday we will be at the Dive Festival.

We may also launch on Sunday, depending on the conditions and the fullness of our cylinders. I’ll notify you by text message if you’re a regular boat diver with me, and if you’re not but would like to be informed of prospective launches, please drop me an email or send me a text to express interest.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive sites: 13th Apostle

Sea cucumbers covering parts of the reef
Sea cucumbers covering parts of the reef

Positioned at the end of the Twelve Apostles mountain range (and thusly named), 13th Apostle reef is a distinct mass of granite boulders surrounded by a sandy bottom. Waves have long been observed to break here in bad weather, but the reef was only dived for the first time late in 2010. It’s quite a long (13.3km) boat ride from Hout Bay, near Llandudno.

Hydroids, urchins and soft corals
Hydroids, urchins and soft corals

We visited it on a day when surface conditions were somewhat choppy despite the lack of wind, and the boat ride there felt endless. And wet. Visibility, however, was stellar – when my buddy failed to arrive at the bottom I was forced to resurface, and on my way back down I could see Tony and Vanessa 15 metres below me. They, in turn, could see my legs and the boat while I was on the surface.

Tony & Vanessa, seen from near the surface
Tony & Vanessa, seen from near the surface

The top of the reef is between 6 and 10 metres deep, punctuated by deep cracks. There are in fact a couple of swimthroughs and overhangs, one of which forms a very large cavern. The reef itself has kelp growing on top and down to at least 15 metres which, as Peter Southwood points out, implies that light often penetrates to that depth, in turn implying frequent good visibility at the site. There is the usual covering of urchins, sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sponges, soft corals and hydroids.

Tony found me a beautiful basket star, and I discovered a brooding cushion star – an unusual sea star that makes me crave refined carbohydrates. We also saw large numbers of west coast rock lobster and schools of hottentot. Parts of the reef were covered by dense schools of baby fish – the Atlantic is very fecund.

Basket star
Basket star

This reef has a distinct edge, and while it’s quite large, if you land on it you probably won’t get lost. It feels quite far out to sea (it isn’t, really) and it’s essential (as with all Cape Town boat diving) to have an SMB to deploy before you surface. Tony in fact sent his up with me when I ascended early in the dive to look for my buddy. I descended on the line and found him and Vanessa at the bottom.

Tony in his drysuit
Tony in his drysuit

Dive date: 25 March 2012

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature: 10 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.8 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 30 minutes

Vanessa on her deep adventure dive
Vanessa on her deep adventure dive

Dive sites: Steenbras Deep

On Sunday 11 March, since the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour was going to prohibit access to basically the entire peninsula, we decided to take an expedition out to the eastern side of False Bay to do a boat dive with Indigo Scuba, run by Kate and Deon Jonker. We’ve been meaning to do this for ages and ages, so we were very glad to finally get ourselves over there! The southeaster (which had blown strongly in the few days prior to the 11th) actually cleans up the eastern side of False Bay while it messes up the western side, or at least has some positive effect on visibility. So while we are diving in the Atlantic during the summer, Indigo launches out of Gordon’s Bay and explores local dive sites such as Pinnacles, Cow and Calf, and the Steenbras River Mouth.

Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat
Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat

We met at Indigo Scuba in the morning, loaded up the boat, and then drove the 5 minutes to Harbour Island in Gordon’s Bay, from where we launched. It’s an extremely civilised launch site and overall experience… The foul-mouthed snoek slinging fishermen crowding Miller’s Point seemed like a bad dream!

West coast rock lobster buddy pair
West coast rock lobster buddy pair

It’s about 11 kilometres from Harbour Island to Steenbras Deep, and one has the feeling of being quite far out to sea – although we could see the mountains surrounding False Bay on both sides of us. The wind was stronger than the weather man had predicted, giving rise to some quite serious wind chop and a bumpy and wet boat ride. When we arrived at the reef we could see that there was more wave action on top of the pinnacles than in the deeper water surrounding them. Deon dropped a shot on one of the two pinnacles that comprise the reef (the top of the pinnacle we dropped onto is at about 18 metres, with the sand at about 30 metres). A murky descent (standard for False Bay in summer!) down the shot line led us to the top of the pinnacle, where visibility was only about 2 metres and it was very green.

Bull klipfish
Bull klipfish

As we ventured slightly deeper we encountered some invigorating (ahem!) thermoclines (one of them was actually visible as a haze in the water) and improved visibility. There was quite a strong current in places, and lots of surge.

There are many similarities between the reefs we dive on the western side of False Bay, but the overall pattern of the sea life was subtly different. The fish seemed far less skittish than their compatriots to the west, and happily swam within a few tens of centimetres from my mask. Nudibranchs abound, and close inspection of the corals covering the rocks is well rewarded. There seemed to be fewer sea cucumbers, and feather stars were not quite as dominant as they are in some of the other parts of False Bay. The corals, sponges and sea fans are beautiful and very numerous.

The sand around the reef is very coarse and full of shells, and the reef itself abounds with cracks, gullies, small pointy pinnacles, and walls that can be traversed at a variety of depths. The gullies appear to be much beloved by west coast rock lobster, and shysharks were quite common too.

This reef is not in a marine protected area (MPA) – none of the eastern False Bay dive sites are. Kate, who regularly dives both sides of the bay, says she can see a distinct difference in the number of fish that they see on “their” side of the bay compared to the western side. So even if I am quite cynical about the competence of the administration and will to police the MPAs, clearly they are having some effect!

Dive date: 11 March 2012

Air temperature: 29 degrees

Water temperature: 12 degrees

Maximum depth: 24.8 metres

Visibility: 2-10 metres

Dive duration: 38 minutes

Dive sites: Sandy Cove

On the surface in Sandy Cove
On the surface in Sandy Cove

Sandy Cove is a beautiful little bay that serves as the entry point for a number of the dive sites at Oudekraal, as well as being quite a pleasant dive in its own right. It is located just north of the Twelve Apostles Hotel, and access to the site is down a steep slope from the road. There is a small sign on the roadside, and the path starts around about there. If you drive past the site on a weekend in summer, you’ll see numerous divers’ cars parked in the yellow line as the traffic whizzes by. This, and the fairly steep climb (which is actually no worse than the one at Shark Alley) are the major negatives of diving here.

The path down from the road takes three branches. The first is to Justin’s Caves, the second leads to quite a difficult entry point to Sand Cove, over a boulder beach between large granite boulders, and the third – which is the longest – leads to a small sand beach with convenient resting places that provides the easiest entry at this site.

Tony in the kelp
Tony in the kelp

The cove itself is ringed by kelp forests, with a sandy patch in the middle. The depth is only four to five metres inside the cove, and it’s sheltered enough that it could be used for confined water skills training. The anchor of the Het Huis Te Kraaiestein, a very old wooden wreck that lies just outside the cove, is located on the fringe of the cove closest to the road.

Tiny klipfish on a rock in Sandy Cove
Tiny klipfish on a rock in Sandy Cove

The other dive sites that can be reached via Sandy Cove are Geldkis, Strawberry Rocks, Mushroom Pinnacle, and Geldkis Blinder. You could also swim around to Justin’s Caves from here, but it’s not the shortest route. Negotiating the kelp forest can be a bit tricky, but there are sufficient distinctively shaped rocks and granite formations that with a bit of practice navigation will come quite naturally.

Hottentot feeding off the sand
Hottentot feeding off the sand

Dive date: 25 December 2011

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature: 13 degrees

Maximum depth: 5.8 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 42 minutes

Newsletter: Whirlwind diving

Hi divers

Bernita in some nice visiblity at Oudekraal on Christmas day
Bernita in some nice visiblity at Oudekraal on Christmas day

The last week or so has been quite hectic with lots of diving being done. On Christmas day Clare and I (having discharged our family responsibilities the day before) did a lovely shore entry at Oudekraal in the company of Bernita. We had the entire ocean to ourselves and felt rather privileged.

Several of us enjoyed a pair of stunning boat dives in the Atlantic on Wednesday, and in between I’ve been shore diving and in the pool with Open Water students. Tomorrow I am starting a Rescue course and a Nitrox Specialty, as well as continuing with Open Water students. I also have Advanced students on the go so every day the weather permits, I am diving.

Tony and Angela descend onto the Maori
Tony and Angela descend onto the Maori

I won’t be on the boat this weekend, but Grant is launching and if you feel like a boat dive contact him directly (and fast). Conditions on the Atlantic side look quite good, but next week will most likely deteriorate somewhat with a large swell… Just in time for everyone to go back to work!

I wish all of you a safe long weekend and a peaceful and prosperous 2012. Hope to see you in the water soon!

Basket star on the Aster
Basket star on the Aster

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive sites: Atlantis Reef

One of the pinnacles of Atlantis Reef rises to near the surface
One of the pinnacles of Atlantis Reef rises to near the surface

Atlantis Reef was discovered in September 2011 by Steven Benjamin of Animal Ocean. The site was named for the lost city which is (according to legend) submerged now, but was also known as the Pillars of Hercules prior to its rediscovery by Animal Ocean. Atlantis comprises two massive pinnacles that rise to within 4-5 metres of the surface, along with a jumbled collection of enormous boulders strewn about their base. We dived the site in mid-October, in conditions of almost top to bottom visibility. The topography of the site is breathtaking – huge, vertical walls and enormous rocks distinguish it from the lower rocky reef characteristics of the Roman Rock area. The sand lies at about 30 metres on the seaward (eastern) side of the reef, but the average depth is about 20 metres. With a large cylinder full of a nice Nitrox mix, you could dive here for days (water temperature permitting).

We dropped right on top of the pinnacle closest to shore, and the boat skipper hadn’t used a shot line for fear of damaging the pristine and hardly dived reef. Tony and Justin went down to the sand in order to do a compass swim for Justin’s Deep Specialty course, and I hovered next to one of the pinnacles. The pinnacles are about 3 metres across on their tips, but widen out to a large, roughly rectangular base on the sand. Between the pinnacles is a large overhang, and large cracks in which we saw congregations of janbruin. We spotted some very large (more than 30 centimetre long) zebra and Roman between the pinnacles, as well as some white seacatfish also enjoying one of the cracks in the rock. I discovered some fascinating facts about Roman this week, but they can wait…

Massive school of hottentot, fransmadam and other fish
Massive school of hottentot, fransmadam and other fish
Goot inspects the school of fish
Goot inspects the school of fish

To me, the most spectacular feature of the marine life on the reef is the large schools of fish that assemble around the pinnacles. The reef lies within the Castle Rocks Protected Area and no fishing is allowed there, and it obviously hasn’t been discovered by the fishermen – both commercial and amateur – who don’t care about protected areas and enjoy the fact that they aren’t policed at all. Hottentot, fransmadam, and zebra mill around in their hundreds – I have never seen a school of fish like this in the Cape. The strepies at Long Beach last summer were – until now – the most prolific fish I’ve seen here. The fish are quite relaxed and just reshaped their school around the divers.

Divers pass between the pinnacles
Divers pass between the pinnacles

There are also the usual sea fans (plus what looked like a nursery for baby sea fans), massive nudibranchs of several varieties, sea cucumbers, anemones, and a lot of other invertebrate life. The top parts of the pinnacles are covered with huge redbait, interspersed with Cape urchins and several varieties of sea anemone. Lower down on the pinnacles we found orange wall sponges and other sponge species, as well as large klipfish trying to camouflage themselves against the wall.

Blue gas flame nudibranch
Blue gas flame nudibranch

There was some interesting discussion about whether it is right to have an “exclusive” dive site that only you know the co-ordinates to. An argument was put forward that when one finds a pristine spot like this, it’s natural to want to protect it from careless, ignorant or inexperienced divers. Hopefully the boat charters – all of whom now know where this reef is – will put aside financial considerations when taking divers to this reef, and only allow divers who they know can manage their buoyancy and don’t engage in behaviours that are detrimental to the marine life of the locations they dive. Whether this happens will remain to be seen. (I, for one, am not optimistic… Enjoy it now, while it lasts.)

I want to go back to this site tomorrow, or yesterday if that’s possible. I’ve been (irritatingly) ranting about it to whoever will listen since we dived it. It’s wonderful to me that we are still finding new places to dive in our local bay of plenty, and so close to shore, too! Also, seeing how healthy and abundant the fish that call this reef home are, I’m thrilled that (it seems) the Marine Protected Areas are working, despite hopelessly inadequate support from the authorities. It made me so, so happy to see this reef. Can’t wait to go back!

Tony swims past the top of one of the pinnacles
Tony swims past the top of one of the pinnacles

Dive date: 15 October 2011

Air temperature: 19 degrees

Water temperature: 13 degrees

Maximum depth: 21.5 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 40 minutes