Testing a self-inflating life jacket

If you’ve been on our boat, you may have noticed that I always wear a life vest. It’s a slimline one that we purchased in Denmark a few years ago. The vest contains a small gas cannister with a pellet (looks like a headache pill) that releases the gas in the cannister and inflates the jacket when the pellet gets wet enough to dissolve.

Tony's "don't take my photo" face
Tony’s “don’t take my photo” face

When we went back to Copenhagen between Christmas and New Year, we purchased replacement cannisters, thinking that for safety’s sake it would be wise to service our life jackets to ensure that when we need them, they’re in tip top condition.

The question then arose as to what to do with the existing, unused cannisters in the life vests. Since you can repack the vest with a new gas cannister and dry pellet after deployment, and neither Clare nor I had seen one of these life jackets in action before, we decided to let it fire off in the swimming pool. Here are the results:

It definitely renewed my confidence in the life jacket, an important component of our safety gear, and (as you can hear in the video) provided some significant entertainment for my camera person Clare.

A Christmas dive with cowsharks

One of Cape Town’s best known dive sites is called Shark Alley, located close to shore near Pyramid Rock in False Bay. Here, broadnose sevengill cowsharks may be seen fairly reliably. There are times when they aren’t around (perhaps owing to a recent orca predation, or some other mysterious cause).

Jerrel filmed this beautiful footage on a dive at Shark Alley in December 2014, on a calm day with pretty good visibility. Look out for our boat, Seahorse, and of course the sharks. Thanks to Jerrel for the video!

If you’re curious as to how one conducts a dive with three metre long apex predators, check our our protocol for scuba diving with cowsharks. An ethical dive operator will also inform you of the likelihood of seeing the cowsharks, and whether they have been seen recently (i.e. in the last few days) by divers, before accepting money to take you diving at the site.

Giant short tailed sting rays at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point
Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting rays reliably appear in the warm, shallow waters of False Bay during the summer months. They are seen frequently at inshore dive sites such as Long Beach, but mostly during the warmest months of the year.

They can be seen fairly reliably year-round, however, near the Millers Point slipway. As with Parrie the ray at Struisbaai harbour, the rays at Millers Point have figured out that the discarded fish guts thrown overboard by the fishermen returning from a day on the bay are a steady source of snacks.

Here’s some fly by traffic coming past the boat one November day near the slipway, where we paused between double tank dives to change cylinders and de-gas.

It is illegal to feed these rays or to bait the water to attract them (or anything, if you don’t have a permit), but a short cruise in amongst the fishing boats queuing for the slipway will cause them to come and investigate. Snorkeling or diving this area is very risky because of the boat traffic, so take care.

Playing with a dog at Struisbaai

The little dog at Struisbaai
The little dog at Struisbaai

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

Tony filming the dog fetching a stone
Filming the dog fetching a stone

Here’s a small video I took of the dog and her game:

The stingrays at Struisbaai harbour

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
Struisbaai harbour

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.

An information signboard in the harbour
An information signboard in the harbour

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.

A private fishing boat enters Struisbaai harbour
A private fishing boat enters 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.

False Bay safety stop

Let the divers eat cake!
Let the divers eat cake!

We had beautiful conditions in False Bay early in September, and while some of the divers were safety stopping I filmed them from the boat. The visibility was that good! Here are Georgina and Arne doing their safety stop and ascent over the reef. Note their textbook use of an SMB to indicate their position to the boat.

Compass sea jellies in False Bay

Compass sea jelly, photo by Jerrel
Compass sea jelly, photo by Jerrel

On one of the relatively few days this past winter (early in August) when we had really good visibility, the western side of False Bay was full of compass sea jellies. I filmed some of them from the boat while Jerrel and Nick completed their dive. Watch out for the “shark” at the end!

Panorama of Checkers, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Plate coral at Checkers
Plate coral at Checkers

The dive site Checkers, that I visited for the first time on our most recent trip to Ponta do Ouro in southern Mozambique, is notable for the amount of plate coral that can be seen there. Unlike many of the other sites in the area, Checkers has quite dramatic topography, changing depth over relatively short areas. Here’s a short panorama video I shot at one point during the dive. There weren’t many fish around at this point, but you can see the plate coral and the slope of the reef.

You can also see, right at the end, one way of diving with your main squeeze!

Potato bass at Doodles, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Potato bass at Doodles
Potato bass at Doodles

We had amazing experiences with potato bass last time we dived in Ponta do Ouro, encountering them most notably at reefs called Texas and Doodles. This time, Doodles did not disappoint us. There is a one-eyed potato bass (his eye was caught on a fishing hook) who is very comfortable around divers, and when we met him this time he calmly swam through the group. Check how large he is compared to Laurine!

He was accompanied by a school of juvenile kingfish – the yellow and black ones – that will grow into amazing silver swimming machines similar to these queenfish. He also had a remora in his entourage (visible in the picture above), which could not seem to get a grip on him but was sticking around anyway and doing a lot of swimming in the process.

After the other divers moved on, I stuck around and watched him for a bit. He swam towards me slowly, like a cowshark, and I regretfully and respectfully made tracks.