We seem to be in a cycle of great diving days in the week and not so great conditions on weekends. This weekend looks much the same as the last few and neither day is going to be great.
We have a scientific charter first thing on Saturday before the wind comes up, so won’t be running boat dives that day. By mid-morning on Saturday, the wind will be up at around 25 km/h from the south, and on Sunday it’s meant to be closer to 50. Sadly I think its best you haul out the lawnmower.
Thanks to Arne for this photo, taken at Boat Rock a couple of weeks ago…
False Bay is clean right now, we had 10-12 m visibility at Atlantis and a little less at Alpha Reef today. A few minutes after the divers rolled into the water at Atlantis a juvenile humpback whale cruised by the bow of the boat, less than 5 metres away. There are signs of a red tide closer to Roman Rock but it was really mild. There were hundreds of compass jellies in the water on both dives. Thanks to Jerrel for this photo from today.
Last weekend we had a great shore dive at Windmill Beach, and enjoyed seeing so many other divers taking advantage of the excellent conditions. The visibility on Sunday was probably 6-8 metres and the water was a rather chilly 12 degrees.
The weekend seems to be a one day affair if the current forecast is anything to go by. Saturday looks good with little wind and mild swell. We will launch from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 am for SAS Pietermaritzburg and at 11.30 am for Pie Rock.
Sunday and Monday are meant to have more south and south easterly wind than I would like, and boating in that will not be great. I know a number of you guys are keen for a shore dive on Sunday or Monday but we will decide late Saturday on whether we do this or not.
Text or email me if you want to dive on either day, and I will keep you posted.
Sunday: Boat dives from OPBC or Hout Bay if conditions permit
Midweek launch: From OPBC to see the Volvo Ocean Race yachts arriving in Table Bay
The wind is forecast to do some real south easterly blowing over the next few days, so False Bay is messy but the Atlantic is a bit cleaner. There is too much wind on Saturday for any kind of pleasant diving or boating, but Sunday has less wind (according to some of the wildly contradictory weather forecasts) and I think the odds are good that Table Bay will be a better option than Hout Bay, if the water cleans up enough to make dives worthwhile. It is difficult to say for certain where would be best but we will make that call on Saturday afternoon. The plan will be to dive North and South Paw if conditions permit. Let me know if you’d like to be on the watchlist!
Last weekend we dived out of Hout Bay, visiting the BOS 400, Star Walls and then Tafelberg Reef. The water was less clean than expected: 8-10 metre viz and a very cold 9 degrees. Thanks to Georgina for this picture of an itsy bitsy basket star! On Monday I was out along the Atlantic seaboard for a film charter and despite the fog we found dolphins, a sunfish, a whale, hundreds of seals, and incredible bird life once we were far offshore. There’s an album of photos on facebook.
Volvo Ocean Race
The Volvo Ocean Race first leg comes to an end next week and the yachts are expected to arrive at the V&A Waterfront from Tuesday onwards. There is currently less than 9 nautical miles between the top four after several thousand miles of open ocean racing. The finish will be really exciting and we plan to launch as many days as possible next week to hopefully catch a glimpse as they race by… And perhaps a photo or two. Let me know if you think you’ll be able to take a midweek day of leave to go out on the boat.
Diversnight is an international night diving event that we try to participate in each year, just because. This coming Thursday, 6 November we will meet at Long Beach in Simon’s Town at 7.30 pm with the aim of starting the dive at 8.00 pm. We must be in the water at 14 minutes past eight to “count” and the aim is to set a new world record. There are currently 16 countries participating in this event. You can RSVP to the event on facebook, and read more about Diversnight here. There is no charge apart from any gear you may need.
If you need to rent gear, please let me know by Wednesday morning. You don’t necessarily need to be an Advanced diver to do a night dive, so give me a call or send me a mail to talk about it if you’re unsure. If you’ve been thinking about an Advanced course, though, this is a good time to get started.
We dived Long Beach on Saturday, and on Sunday went to Atlantis and Maidstone Rock. Conditions were good but then the south easter arrived! On Wednesday we launched in Hout Bay. The swell was around 2.5 metres and the wind started out light but eventually was gusting to closer to 40 km/h. Tafelberg Reef had around 6m visibility and about the same at the Katsu Maru. Below the surface it was okay, but the boat trip was a little hairy.
This weekend looks really good from a wind point of view, but finding good viz will require going out and looking for it. False Bay and the Atlantic are both very patchy with a whole range of different colours offshore. Our plan is to Launch from Buffels Bay and go and look for viz. We are joining OMSAC for the day and they are going to dive, snorkel and braai.
Sunday will really depend on what the bay delivers on Saturday but I think it will be better at deeper sites like the Fleur and Outer Photographer’s Reef. There is a 14 second, 3 metre swell that will be felt on the shallower sites closer in shore. Sunday may be a day where we just cruise around and look for cleaner viz.
Some of the sites we visited on Two Mile Reef were noticeably more barren – with less coral and more sand and rock – than others. I wonder whether this is a seasonal (or annual, or multi-year) variation, or whether it’s a slow process of the reef becoming silted up. Sites towards the middle of Two Mile, such as Garden Route, were covered with coral and looked exceptionally healthy.
Sodwana sees a lot of divers doing a lot of dives, year-round. There are at least eight dive charters operating from the beach, and Two Mile in particular sees some heavy traffic – including Open Water divers (many from Johannesburg) doing their first sea dives. During a recent conversation, Gerard blamed the heavy boat traffic for what he perceives as a slow decline in the health and biomass of the reef life in Sodwana; I wonder if the fishing activity that somehow co-exists with the dive charters has anything to do with it. Or perhaps we are imagining things, and just happened to dive on a few parts of the reef that were having a quiet day.
Whether we are imagining the changes in the reefs in Sodwana or not, it’s still a very beautiful place to dive, and worthy (as are all wild places on this earth) of our protection. You should go there and see for yourself!
The forecast for the weekend is by far the best I can recall seeing in a while. No wild winds, no massive swells and the water is currently warm. Day time highs are under 24 degrees so the algae should stay away. I have quite a lot of students to dive this weekend so will not have too much extra capacity.
There is a DAN Day taking place on Saturday 17 May in Cape Town that looks to be very interesting. Talks include “Finding the lost diver” and “A Risk-Based Approach to Diving Operation Management”, as well as a tour of the Unique Hydra facility (which is where Andre works). If you want me to forward you the full email with details, let me know. Space is limited – sign up here.
French naval fleet
There are a few French naval ships, including an aircraft carrier, in Table Bay at the moment. They are supposedly open to the public for viewing but there seem to be endless complaints on the local radio stations about this not happening. Never mind, they leave on Tuesday and I will plan to launch early from OPBC to get a few pictures as they leave the Waterfront. Text me if you want to join me.
Despite their unromantic name, the Alternatives are an extremely appealing dive site. So-called because they offer a sheltered alternative to diving SS Thistlegorm when conditions are poor, the Alternatives are a series of about fifteen coral pinnacles just around the corner from the Ras Mohammed National Park. We dived the furthest one along (closest to the Park), doing both a day and a night dive there.
After giant striding off the back of the boat, we headed towards a series of small pinnacles and coral heads surrounding a large pinnacle that split in two from about half way up. I was amazed by the sea fans – we saw one enormous one completely filling the space between two pinnacles. I took a photo of it, but it was backlit by the sun, so it’s not very good. We made our way around the large pinnacle, and headed slowly back to the boat.
The night dive we did here I enjoyed more than any other night dive I’ve ever done. It was warm, still, and clear, and there was so much to see! I found it helpful that we’d done a dive at the same site hours earlier – without that, I might have found the many small pinnacles confusing and disorienting. There were flashing strobes tied to a weighted line and flag under our boat, for navigation purposes, but some people did need fetching when they surfaced away from the liveaboard. That’s what Zodiacs are for!
Yesterday I posted a very short video showing divers at Photographer’s Reef in early August. The visibility was lovely – at least 15 metres. Here are three equally short videos showing a couple of the swim throughs at the site, and one almost swim through. While the reef itself is suitable for Open Water divers doing their qualifying dives, overhead environments definitely are not. This is not cave diving by any stretch of the imagination, but one wants to be qualified and in good control of buoyancy before venturing into an overhead environment.
I’m using the word “swim through” loosely here, as two of these videos don’t actually feature overhead environments.
This one is, however, and it is fantastic. I started recording when I was already inside the entrance. It’s a beautiful L-shaped cave created by stacked boulders. On the way out I had to practically belly crawl so as not to hit the sea fan sticking out from the wall, which – as you can see – has already suffered a little during the course of its lifetime!
Here, Craig swims ahead of me through a passage in the rocks. When visibility is poor, these passages are all but invisible, and you wouldn’t want to venture down them unless you’re very familiar with the reef and sure that there’s a way out.
This passage looks like it should be possible for a diver to fit through it (or quite far down it), but I judged it too narrow and likely to cause damage to the reef and possibly to myself, were I to persist in following it. I am sure someone has been down there before!
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.
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!
I’ve dived Photographer’s Reef twice now. The first time was at the ScubaPro Day, and conditions were marginal (read: pea soup with a howling current). I took photos then, but certainly not the kind that one would use to recommend a dive site to others. We dived this reef again recently, off the new(ish) Learn to Dive Today boat, Seahorse. The conditions were much better – calm on the surface, with about 6 metre visibility. When we turned the corner of the reef towards the seaward side, however, things got a bit greenish!
Photographer’s Reef (known as JJM Reef by old-school local divers) is located offshore from the Boulder’s Beach penguin colony, and one of the pleasures of diving here is seeing small groups of penguins passing by on the surface as they head out to forage for food. We didn’t see any underwater – that’s very unusual – but Tony, who stayed on the boat, said that one group that swam past kept sticking their heads underwater to check out our bubbles.
The reef is compact and shallow – the top is about 3-5 metres deep, and the sand is at perhaps 12 metres. This means you can have a very long dive here, and it’s the kind of place you want to spend time at. (We didn’t stay very long – it was the second dive of the day and the wind was freezing, so we were all coolish when we got in!) The indefatigable Peter Southwoodsuggests that this can be done as a shore dive, if you’re fit and have good navigation skills.
There are a number of swim throughs and caverns on this reef, which is made up of a jumble of giant boulders. We didn’t visit all of them, but they make for a very varied dive. There are gullies and overhangs to explore, and the site is aptly named as it is a photographer’s dream. (I’m sorry I didn’t do it justice!)
The site is inside a restricted area, and it was lovely to see numerous small roman defending their patches of reef. I saw a couple of abalone, but since reading Currents of Contrast by Thomas Peschak I’ve realised that we never, ever see abalone in the kind of abundance (and by that I mean wall-to-wall shells, so that their broadcast spawning technique can be effective) that nature intended and accommodated before most of these creatures were stolen from the ocean.
Christo found a cuttlefish inside one of the cracks in the side of the reef, and there were many nudibranchs to choose from. There’s an abundance of invertebrate life here.