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.
It’s not uncommon to come across marine wildlife – seabirds, seals, turtles – apparently in distress. This is not always the case, so before you mount a complex and dangerous rescue mission, or try to provide help where none is needed, it may be wise to get an expert on the telephone to help you determine whether it really is necessary. Fortunately there is a range of 24-hour wildlife hotlines to choose from, depending on what species you are dealing with.
Seals with plastic or fishing line around their necks should be reported to the Two Oceans Aquarium (if the seal was spotted around Cape Town harbour or the Waterfront), or, more generally to the SPCA Wildlife Unit on +27 (0) 21 700 4158/4159, or +27 (0) 83 326 1604 after hours and on weekends. Unfortunately the odds are your seal is probably not going to get the help it needs if it isn’t in the port of Cape Town or at the Waterfront; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your darndest to advocate on its behalf.
You can help to deal with this problem at its source by retrieving any loops of plastic that you see floating in the water when you’re on a boat. Hout Bay harbour is a particular cesspit of plastic pollution, and with a nearby seal colony it’s a recipe for disaster. Cutting through any closed loops on plastic items (such as beer can holders) that you recycle or dispose of yourself also ensures that should the plastic end up in the wild, it won’t entangle an animal.
Seals found lying on the beach are usually not in trouble. Juvenile seals may rest for long periods – a couple of days at a time – on shore, and the most important thing to do is not to disturb them. They don’t need to be kept wet, they don’t need to be fed, and they can inflict a nasty bite. Encourage other members of the public to give the animal a wide berth, particularly if they have dogs. Lead by example. If the animal appears visibly unwell (fitting, for example) or is bleeding, then call the SPCA Wildlife Unit for a chat about what course of action is best.
Seabirds are most often found entangled in fishing line or plastic, pierced by fishing hooks, or, in the event of an oil spill, with oiled feathers. It is important to get help if possible, particularly for oiled birds.
SANCCOB has a 24 hour rescue centre which can be reached on +27 (0)21 557 6155 or +27 (0) 78 638 3731 (after hours & weekends). Their website provides the following advice to would-be seabird rescuers:
What to do when you have found an injured/sick/oiled seabird:
If you are unable to handle the seabird, SANCCOB will send out a unit to collect the bird.
If you approach any seabird, please approach with care. Some seabirds such as Cape Gannets and African Penguins have sharp beaks.
Have with you a towel, or blanket and wear protection over your hands and eyes. Use a towel/blanket to throw over the bird to catch it, ensuring that the bird is able to breathe.
If you have a large box ensure that there are holes for air before you place the injured/sick marine bird.
During the autumn and winter months, juvenile and sub-adult sea turtles sometimes strand on Western Cape beaches. These animals are often shocked by the cold and in poor shape – they do not typically occur in Cape waters but are washed down in eddies of the Agulhas current.
Do not put the turtle back in the sea or into water. It is probably weak, dehydrated and hypothermic, and is likely to drown. Keep it dry, and call the Two Oceans Aquarium for further instructions and assistance. The aquarium rehabilitates and releases the turtles in warmer water when they are healthy.
The City of Cape Town would like ocean users to report whale carcasses before they end up on the beach. This is mostly for public safety and resource allocation purposes, but if we can do anything to keep a whale carcass out at sea (or on a secluded non-swimming beach), it serves a conservation purpose as well. There’s a phone number you can use to do this – read more here.
If you come across a current or imminent live whale or dolphin stranding, contact the NSRI on +27 (0) 21 449 3500 immediately. They will activate the relevant authorities. Try to bear in mind that these events often do not end well for the animals concerned, as they are often sick or disoriented and impossible to assist. Be a help, not a hindrance, and obey whatever instructions you are given by the NSRI, SanParks, or whoever comes to take charge.
A free-swimming but entangled whale should be immediately reported to the NSRI as well – they will activate the South African Whale Disentanglement Network. Do not attempt to assist the whale yourself – this could be fatal for you (not the whale) – rather make a note of the direction it is swimming, and its precise location, and whatever other helpful information you can provide. Whale entanglements seem to be increasing in frequency around False Bay in particular, as more experimental fisheries are approved. (If this worries you, you could write a letter to DAFF about it.)
It would seem from the forecast that it is a open and shut case of where to go and what to do this weekend. To be honest I am not too sure of the right thing to do! Both the Atlantic and False Bay are a colour that does not exactly inspire one to throw on a wetsuit.
The wind has blown more easterly and north easterly today than was expected, so it will not have done much for the visibility on either side. Sunday is out of the question as the forecast is for humping south easter, so that leaves Saturday.
I am launching from Hout Bay tomorrow afternoon and will have a better idea of whether it is clean enough for Saturday. The other option is shore diving at Long Beach. I reckon that there is about a strong chance that the water won’t be clean enough for any diving at all, though.
The south easter has been blowing for a while now… Almost non stop. Windy, our wind generator at home who generates about a third of our monthly electricity requirements, has been having such a great time that she almost fell off the roof this week. She brakes herself when the wind reaches 78 km/h, and on several occasions the wind gusts exceeded that.
The Atlantic went from clean and cold, to cleaner and colder. The water colour in False Bay is not that bad but the surface conditions are pretty hectic. Fortunately I have had a lot of students requiring pool time so we have at least been getting wet.
There is wind and some swell for the weekend but I do believe that there is a possibility that Hout Bay will be good on Sunday. I have a bunch of students so will plan for both morning and afternoon dives, wind and swell dependent.
If the wind is driving you crazy too, check out the suggestions for land-based marine-related entertainment in last week’s newsletter.
One of the locals in Struisbaai has a small, black dog that was playing at the harbour when we were exploring (and filming stingrays). The activity of choice was retrieving pebbles from the small shore break, with a small breath-hold as required, and then vigorously burying them in the sand higher up the beach. Passers by were encouraged to participate in the game, which is how we got involved – the harbour was quiet that day and we could not resist her wagging tail and persistent barking at the end of the jetty. I think this little dog would get on well with Dori from Ponta do Ouro…
Here’s a small video I took of the dog and her game:
Struisbaai the town is a picturesque little settlement, with deep historical roots, on the way to Cape Agulhas. The town is situated at the western end of Struisbaai the bay. (Struispunt marine beacon is situated at the eastern extremity of the same bay.)
Struisbaai harbour is home to at least two resident giant short-tail stingrays (Dasyatis brevicaudata). The rays are habituated to the sound of the returning fishing boats’ engines, and come out to investigate whether there are any scraps to be had. We were at the harbour long after the fishing boats had left (and perhaps returned already), and it was quiet, but a sport fishing boat returned while we were there and we saw two large, tell-tale black spots moving across the sandy harbour bottom towards the slip.
Tony stuck his pole camera into the water and got this footage, which is quite lovely. The rays will approach humans on the slipway, but I think some kind of fishy treat (tinned sardines?) is required to get them to come this close. We didn’t give them anything, so they checked out the camera and were on their way.
One of the rays that lives at the harbour – the largest one – is called Parrie (possibly short for Paris?). Parrie was, according to legend (I cannot verify this with a reliable source), once captured by the Two Oceans Aquarium team and lived in one of their exhibits for a short while. Intense pressure from the Struisbaai community led to his return to the wilds of Struisbaai harbour.
You can see a picture of Tony filming the rays from the jetty in the newsletter he sent out when we got home from the trip.
We are back from an exploration trip to De Hoop. We took in Infanta, Arniston and Struisbaai as well as Cape Agulhas. Our aim was to gather info for future dive trips up the coast and we checked out the launch sites, accommodation, eating spots and so on. We went armed with a chart of the wrecks and reefs and chatted to some of the locals who use the areas daily. It was a fantastic trip and one of the highlights was filming the giant short tailed stingrays that are resident in the harbour at Struisbaai. We’ll share that video on Youtube in a day or two, and some photos on our facebook page. Instagram already has some highlights from the trip…
The weekend weather does not look all that rosy so we will launch tomorrow at 8.30 and 11.30. Saturday looks really messy and Sunday looks a little wet. We will launch on Sunday if the weather tones down from the current forecast. Either way, let me know if you’d like to be notified of possible Sunday dives, or if you’d like to be on the boat tomorrow.
Just a reminder to make sure your permit to dive in a Marine Protected Area is up to date. Also, if you book a dive please let me know in good time if you can’t take the spot on the boat so that I can give it to someone else.
She is under the flag of the Marshall Islands. This is a flag of convenience (though, it seems, quite a reputable one), and if you want to know more about the legal implications of the fact that 40% of all world shipping by deadweight tonnage fly Panamania, Liberian or Marshall Islands flags, I suggest you pick up the excellent book The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche.
Most interesting to us, however, was the small group of Cape fur seals basking in the sea on the ship’s bulbous bow, which was sticking quite far out of the water because she seemed to be unladen. The purpose of this bow shape, which is only effective on ships above a certain size that cross large bodies of water, is to reduce drag, increase speed and to improve fuel efficiency.
The seals, however, like it as a haul out spot. Who are we to argue?
This year we were once again a support boat for the annual Freedom Swim, from Robben Island to Big Bay. This is a 7.5 kilometre route, held every year in April, this year on the 11th. The water is, as you can imagine, often quite cold, and this affects the number of swimmers who are able to complete the route.
This year we supported Ned Denison, an American swimmer who bases himself out of Cork in Ireland (for swimming purposes). I read about his Cork Distance Week – a terrifying bootcamp of open water swimming – a few years ago and was interested to meet him. He has done every open water distance swim you can imagine, including a swim across False Bay from Rooi Els to Miller’s Point.
Apart from a very misty start, the day was perfect with no wind and extremely calm seas. Tony kept a good line straight from Murray’s Bay harbour on Robben Island to Big Bay on the Table Bay coastline. Ned didn’t stop once, and finished the swim in under two hours. It was a great day to be out on the boat, and fantastic to watch such a renowned swimmer in action.
At the beginning of this year, the NSRI launched the SafeTrx smartphone app. It is available in other countries, and the NSRI brought it to South Africa. I have been using it since February. It has taken a bit of getting used to with a few missteps on my part, but it now provides great peace of mind whenever I go out to sea. The app is a journey planner for boaters, with the capability of activating emergency contacts should you not return to port on time.
The app is available for iOS and Android systems. Skippers using the app can register a vessel (or more than one vessel) with the app (mine is Seahorse). You can provide a photo of the boat, its registration number, its radio call sign, and whether it has an emergency beacon (EPIRB or similar). When you depart for a trip, you select which vessel you are travelling in, how many passengers, what type of trip you’re doing (diving, cruising, safety, etc.), and an estimated time of arrival. You can also specify the route you’re taking by including waypoints on the trip map.
Once you’ve set up your journey, you can text it to your emergency contact(s). On your return to port, you re-open the app, close your journey, and have the option to text your emergency contacts again to let them know you’re home safely. These are screen shots from Clare’s phone showing the start and end of a trip with six people (including me) on board:
The SafeTrx app comes with a login to the SafeTrx website, which allows you to review your journeys online. You can actually see updates in real time; Clare took this screen shot from the website when I was out at Duiker Island in Hout Bay. When I started to return to Hout Bay harbour, the boat icon could be seen moving (jerkily) towards the harbour entrance.
The website information also allows you to evaluate the directness of the sea routes you follow, which is important when supporting open water swimmers, and gives useful statistics about how far you’ve travelled on the boat and for how long.
The first time I used the app, I didn’t set my ETA (estimated time of arrival) correctly, and left it on the default value, which is fifteen minutes after the current time. Not long after that time had elapsed, Clare (my emergency contact when she’s not on board) received a phonecall from Maritime Rescue stating that I was overdue and had she been in contact with me? She assured them that she had and that I was a first time user of the app, hence the mistake! We were extremely impressed by the speedy response, and glad to know that the system works so efficiently. Needless to say I have not made the same mistake again.
I encourage you to visit the NSRI website for more information about the use of the app, including download links. If you see me on the jetty and want to take a look at the app set up on my phone, please feel free to ask!