Newsletter: Snack time

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Boat dives from Simon’s Town harbour, suitable for Open Water divers

Cormorant eating a pipefish
Cormorant eating a pipefish

It is a long weekend, however not one suited to three solid days of diving. As we speak, the swell has just reached 7 metres on the the CSIR buoy off Cape Point. The swell climbs and drops during the weekend, as does the wind.

All things considered, I think Sunday will be the only decent option. The water should be clean and the swell has more of a westerly tendency than it has today.

We were out last last Friday just after the storm swell and the surge was heavy. It was also by far the most trying conditions I have ever had to launch and retrieve the boat in. There were huge kelp islands and much foam all over False Bay. This week was a lot better and yesterday the visibility was 6 metres plus, and the surge manageable. It is that time of year where we have storms and swell and they often disappear as fast as they arrive.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Newsletter: Load shedding tips

Hi divers

Weekend diving

No diving!

Conditions report

It is once again a weekend that does not bode well for diving. We are looking at pretty much the same conditions that were around last weekend and from what I have gathered the conditions last weekend were somewhere between lousy and appalling. A 3-4 meter swell arrives tomorrow. It drops but lingers on Sunday and reappears in force on Monday. Both False Bay and Hout Bay are very green and brown and viz reports have been very poor.

I doubt the weekend will deliver any good diving, sure if you really need to dive and can deal with the surge and low viz then try sheltered sites from shore. For us, we will stay high and dry.

Congratulations

Life of Brian
Life of Brian

Brian, whom many of you will know from the time he spent here in late 2013 during which time he did his Advanced course and got comfortable diving in cold, not always clean water, qualified this week as a diving instructor in Hawaii. He has accepted a job at a dive centre there, and if you head out that way be sure to visit him. He is pictured above doing the aircraft recovery specialty, the raw egg specialty, and his best Grumpy Cat face. Well done Brian!

Load shedding tips

One way to guarantee that your area will not experience load shedding is to buy a generator, fuel it, wire it for connection to the mains, and then wait, with the excitement of a child, for the power to go out. It won’t, I promise. You can thank me later.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Diving in Sodwana

We enjoyed a beautiful few days diving in Sodwana in April. My photos were really poor, but I did take some videos that are marginally better simply because the water was so clean and the surroundings were so lovely. So here is a taste of what it’s like to dive at this wonderful diving destination. All of my dives were done on Two Mile Reef, the most heavily dived part of the Sodwana Reef system.

Here are some of our group of divers at Chain, a site at the southern end of Two Mile reef.

Chain is named after a ship’s anchor chain that (apparently still) lies across it. I have never seen this chain, and word is it’s practically invisible under all the encrustation of marine life by now.

I had never dived Zambi Alley before this most recent trip to Sodwana. It’s also a site on Two Mile, in the southern part of the reef adjacent to Chain. It’s named for the fact that fishermen used to see Zambezi (bull) sharks swimming up and down the sandy alley here. There aren’t any of those left here any more, but it’s still a beautiful dive site.

Stringer is one of my favourite dive sites on Two Mile reef. It is a nursery area for juvenile fish, and some lovely elusive specimens can be spotted there with a bit of patience.

Another site that was new to me this trip is Garden Route, which we dived more than once because it’s roughly in the middle of Two Mile reef and thus protected from the swell and surge to a certain degree, as well as from sand kicked up by the water movement. The coral here is magnificent.

Sodwana diving photos (April 2014) – part I

We’ve been back from our Sodwana trip for almost a month, and I’m starting to look forward to my next dive trip, which has not been planned yet. Alas. With this small problem in mind I had a rummage through the underwater photos I took while we were in Sodwana, to try and recreate the experience.

Under the boat
Under the boat

I haven’t done a lot of diving this year, and no underwater photography to speak of, so I viewed my camera as a strange, unfamiliar machine when we arrived in Sodwana, and spent most of the six dives figuring out how it all worked (again). Furthermore, my confidence in my buoyancy wasn’t great at the start of the trip, so I didn’t want to go too close to anything. I want to punch divers who crunch the coral, so I didn’t want to be that diver this time around!

Swimming across the sand gap at Stringer
Swimming across the sand gap at Stringer

As a result my underwater photos from the trip are mostly quite questionable. I include some here, more to show you how beautiful the reefs and clear water can be in Sodwana, rather than for you to marvel at my prowess in underwater photography. I took several videos, which I’ll share in the coming weeks – you can get an idea of how good the visibility is and how abundant the coral is from a bit of moving picture footage.

Angie photographing snappers
Angie photographing snappers

We struggled a little with the surge on one of our diving days in particular, but this is something that is a fact of life when diving on South Africa’s north coast. We mostly did shallow dives, and the reefs at Sodwana lie along a very exposed stretch of coast with few natural bays to protect divers from wind and swell. These factors combined to expose us to some near-washing machine conditions at times! Relaxing in the water and letting the surge move you about is the only way to deal with it, assuming you’ve got a handle on your buoyancy. Holding onto the reef or swimming against the surge are bad ideas.

You can see some photos from past Sodwana diving trips here.

Clownfish in their anemone
Clownfish in their anemone

Friday photo: Shark Alley, undiveable

Shark Alley with a big swell running
Shark Alley with a big swell running

You can’t believe the difference between Shark Alley when there’s a big swell, as above, and when there’s no swell at all. A shore entry would be impossible in these conditions; a boat dive would be awful, if you didn’t get too seasick on the way there to care. We’ve noticed that the cowsharks tend to leave the area for a several weeks late in winter (usually somtime in August and September), roughly corresponding with the period of time during which swells like this pound into False Bay. Tony reckons they leave to avoid the bad weather! Current research aims to determine where they go…

If you plan specially to dive with the cowsharks when you come to Cape Town, it’s worth checking whether they’re in town. All the dive operators know when they’re not around! Shark Alley is a lovely spot regardless of whether there are sharks to look at or not, but if there are no cowsharks and conditions are better elsewhere, it’d be more enjoyable to visit a different site.

A Day on the Bay: Boiling pea soup & a plane crash

Date: 6 September 2013

Ready to dive at Shark Alley
Ready to dive at Shark Alley

Lately spectacular vehicular disasters seem to follow me around. Hoping for good conditions – there was no real reason why the visibility shouldn’t be good – we set out for a dive with Open Water and Advanced students. Unfortunately the bay was filthy – we looked for clean water at Roman Rock, and found only compass sea jellies. We went south to Shark Alley, where – in desperation – we dived. It was like being in boiling pea soup, only colder. One of my students hung onto the kelp to try and keep position in the water. We had to abort a compass swim because of the surge. It was impossible to keep a heading.

Plane crash!
Plane crash!

Meanwhile, on the boat, Kate was watching a large, camouflage-painted radio controlled aircraft circling the boat and the dive site. It crashed into the water just before we surfaced. Its owner was watching frantically from the shore. Brian leaped into the water and retrieved it, and we drove to the slipway at Miller’s Point with it balanced precariously on the pontoon.

Brian gets ready to go overboard
Brian gets ready to go overboard

It started to smoke as the batteries short circuited. I told Kate – who was holding it – that if it caught alight she should throw it overboard. There was a small fuel tank that could have caused a problem if the plane started burning! Fortunately we were able to return the plane to its owner. If you recognise the plane, please tell its owner to get in touch because he must have some amazing footage of the boat at Shark Alley on the camera that was mounted on the fuselage!

Brian passes his swim test with flying colours
Brian passes his swim test with flying colours

It turned out to be a good day for fishing (Miller’s Point was packed) but not for diving.

Guest post: Christo on encountering a great white shark

Yesterday we had Craig’s point of view… Here’s Christo van Schalkwyk’s account of the Clan Stuart dive on which he and his fellow divers encountered a white shark. Christo has been diving since March 2012, and in the time since then has logged over two hundred dives, most of them here in Cape Town.

About 30 seconds into the dive, just as I got to the bottom, a little to the north of the engine block, I saw the shark approach from the south. It swam past us towards the north. It turned and swam back down the wreck in a southerly direction, on the inshore side. For a while it was out of sight. We kept looking out for it, while motioning to the other divers to bunch together and stay low on the wreck. A few seconds later we saw it approaching from the south again. I could see both eyes as it swam straight at me. When it was about three metres away it veered off slightly to swim past us, parallel to the wreck. At this point it was only about two metres away from Craig and me. I remember choosing the spot where I was going to hit it if turned back towards us.

Fortunately it kept gliding past and as the pectoral fins came past, something seemed to disturb it. It flicked its tail once and shot away to the north. (Seeing the video taken by Vlad later, it seemed as if one of us exhaling was what disturbed the shark, but this is only speculation.) After a second or two, it was out of sight and we didn’t see it again.

We crouched down low on the wreck, looking around, and repeated the instructions to the other divers to keep close and low down. At this time we saw Sergey coming towards us from a rocky outcrop (or piece of wreckage) about 3-4 metres away from the main wreck, towards the deep side. We beckoned (with some urgency) to him to come closer. He swam quite slowly towards us, but when he got close enough, we pulled him down onto the wreck with us. As he was positioning himself, his weightbelt caught on a piece of the wreck and came off. I had to help him put it back on from underneath.

We stayed where we were (just north of the engine block of the wreck) for about another minute or so. I remember looking at my dive computer which read 2 minutes at that point. It didn’t seem a viable option to surface, even though I knew Tony would be close with the boat. I didn’t fancy the notion of hanging around on the surface, trying to get all 6 divers on the boat, all the while not knowing where the shark was. After another half a minute or so, Craig and I had a hand signal discussion on what to do next. He suggested heading south down the centre of the wreck, in the opposite direction to the shark’s last known heading. I thought we should go for the beach, to the north west. We agreed on the beach and started off in that direction, staying very low.

Just before leaving the wreck, Craig’s weight belt came loose as well. I took the reel from him and held on to his BCD with one hand and the wreck and reel with the other, while he tried to put the weight belt back on. This seemed to take forever – I remember seeing Vlad sliding in under a raised sheet of steel and hiding there (and feeling a bit jealous of his nice cover…). Eventually I gave the reel back to Craig and got him to hold on to the wreck and got in underneath him to try and see what the problem with the belt was. Once the belt was back on, we dropped down onto the sand on the shore side of the wreck.

Then we had to swim over the sand, without cover, towards the beach. It took a while to gather the group together to do this. We stayed very low, flat on the bottom. As we swam the group seemed to fan out, so we stopped once or twice to reassemble. Craig kept watch to the north, while I scanned the southern arc. Once we got into shallower water the surge took us along quite quickly and the group spread out even more, but it wasn’t possible to do anything about that any more. We got tumbled a bit in the breakers on the beach, but in the end managed to help each other to the beach unscathed with only the loss of one mask.

Total dive time: 13 minutes
Boat entry, shore exit.

Christo’s diagram of the dive site, with indications of what happened where, is below. Click on the image to enlarge it!

Christo's drawing of the scene
Christo’s drawing of the scene (click to enlarge)

Newsletter: Getting it wrong

Hi divers

We spent a really great day in on and under the water working on a film shoot today without traveling more than 100 metres from Millers Point. The water was clean, the sun was out and about and the wind not too hectic. I could use about 6 such days a week, thanks.

Seahorse at the Miller's Point jetty
Seahorse at the Miller’s Point jetty

There hasn’t been a lot of diving otherwise this week, and the weatherman has been getting it wrong quite regularly, much to my annoyance. We did dive students last weekend, and while we were navigating the boiling pea soup at Shark Alley (no cowsharks at the moment – they’re on their annual hiatus) a radio controlled plane with a wingspan of about three metres crashed into the kelp near the boat. Brian did some heroic swimming, towed the plane to the boat, and we loaded it on board and delivered it to its owner at the Miller’s Point slipway. There were some tense moments when the electronics started smoking while it was on the boat!

Brian passes his swim test with flying colours
Brian passes his swim test with flying colours

Weekend dives

Deciding on whether or not to dive on weekends has been a little difficult of late as the forecasts are so often way off the mark. It’s almost a requirement to go out and take a look every evening and early every morning. Yesterday the Atlantic – well, Hout Bay – looked appalling and False Bay looked marginal. Today it’s a different story and False Bay was clean.

Never mind, this weekend we have swell, wind, perhaps rain and maybe even sun. Tomorrow early looks good, and Saturday will be OK but really surgy, Sunday will be howling… If the forecast is right. I have students, tourists and local divers so I will dive somewhere at some point if the weather looks good enough… Totally confused? Good, so am I. If you want to try for a dive, let me know and I’ll notify you if and when we hit the water.

Esti, Brian and I ready to dive at Shark Alley
Esti, Brian and I ready to dive at Shark Alley

Courses

I am currently running Open Water, Advanced and Divemaster courses, and we are getting ready to run a Research Diver Specialty course using the wreck of the Brunswick as a case study. This is a site you can dive even in a southeaster!

Coastal Cleanup

21 September is International Coastal Cleanup day, and we will be joining OMSAC and FBUC at False Bay Yacht Club, a venue with which those of you who’ve boat dived with me will be well familiar. The event details are here; if you plan to come along, you must sign up as instructed. There may be a registration fee to participate. It’s a lot of fun – we’ve cleaned at Robben Island and Hout Bay Harbour in the past – and a very good cause to get involved in. Encourage your non-diving friends to join a local beach cleanup.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, click here or use the form on this page!

Documentary: Wild Caribbean

Wild Caribbean
Wild Caribbean

In the tradition of the BBC’s Great Barrier Reef and South Pacific documentaries we watched last year and earlier this year, Wild Caribbean transports one to a series of exotic destinations and – with the outstanding production values one expects from the BBC – introduces their micro- and macro- flora and fauna, as well as the physical characteristics of the location.

Narrated in mellifluous tones by Steve Toussaint, with a wonderful musical score, Wild Caribbean transported us out of rainy Cape Town to the warm, shallow (and very deep) seas of the Caribbean, the thousands of perfect palm tree covered islands, the mangrove forests, and the magnificent coral reefs. There are four episodes, and we enjoyed the middle two – Wrecks and Reefs and Hurricane Hell – the most. In the episode about the abundant shipwrecks and reefs in this part of the ocean, we saw footage of the Kirk Pride, lying in nearly 300 metres of water on the Cayman wall.

The area is prone to hurricanes, and these events will only increase in severity and frequency as the planet warms up. The episode devoted to hurricanes is both terrifying (with some amazing footage of storm surges) and comforting – in most cases, the coral reefs, forests and animals are able to recover and thrive after these severe storms have passed.

I was also thrilled to get a glimpse, in the fourth and final episode, of the cenotes of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, haunt of cave divers and redolent with history and spiritual significance to the people who lived there. Aerial footage (which is used extensively) of the Great Blue Hole of Belize was also alluring.

Chance of being murdered aside, the Lesser Antilles islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao struck me as very promising diving destinations – particularly Bonaire. It is an extremely arid place with very little runoff due to erosion and rainfall, so the coral reefs surrounding it and Curacao are washed by crystal clear water and bathed in abundant sunlight. For divers, there is also magnificent footage of whale shark aggregations off the island of Utila, and of massing stingrays at “stingray city” at Grand Cayman, where one can stand in waist deep water and feed stingrays by hand. Humpback whales, orca and turtles also pass through these waters, which boast an almost dizzying array of macrofauna in addition to the coral reefs and tropical fish.

This is a wonderful production and we enjoyed it immensely. There is a companion book that looks beautiful, too.

You can buy the DVD here (South Africa) otherwise here.