Doodles is one of our favourite reefs to dive when we visit Ponta do Ouro. It is different every time, and there is often so much happening in midwater that you don’t know where to look. On one of our dives there during our recent dive trip to southern Mozambique, a school of talang queenfish swam past us at the edge of the reef.
This video starts out pretty dodgy – they were on the edge of what the visibility allowed us to see – but improves slightly towards the end. (The BBC wildlife unit isn’t going to be calling me any time soon.)
Queenfish have venomous dorsal and anal fins, according to The Reef Guide, which was an enormous help during our trip. They are large, fast gamefish and look as “in charge” as yellowtail and tuna do as they swim quickly by.
Tomorrow a 6.5 metre swell passes by, accompanied by 50 km/h winds. The odds of good diving conditions following that hot mess are slim so I am not planning anything for this weekend.
I have not forgotten about doing a weekend shore dive for folks who are rusty and/or desperate to get in the water, but this weekend isn’t the time for it. I’ll keep those of you who expressed an interest in the loop, and publicise it here and on facebook too.
One morning while we were in Ponta do Ouro, skipper Mike asked us what we wanted to see that day. Laurine had an answer ready: “A turtle!” So we went to Drop Zone.
We had not finished descending when Christo, spotter extraodinaire, noticed a turtle near the surface. We were going in opposite directions, though, so it remained in the distance. When we arrived on the reef, we almost immediately came upon another turtle being cleaned by a group of what I think are lined bristletooths, as well as a bright blue wrasse at the turtle’s right back flipper. The fish are nibbling algae off the turtle’s shell; this went on, peacefully, for some time, while we watched.
We continued the dive, and met a second turtle, who was obligingly friendly and swam alongside us (Laurine in particular – I could see her self-actualising right there) for a while.
Later I returned to the same part of the reef where we’d met the first turtle. The spa session was pretty much over, so I took a little more video. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome or make the turtle feel uncomfortable, so I started trying to withdraw from the area. The turtle, however, had other ideas, and approached me head-on while I back-pedalled slowly. It wasn’t at all hostile (hostile turtle, anyone?) but maybe a little curious or maybe just trying to get somewhere and I was in the way.
Being able to observe these creatures in the water is the most amazing privilege. They can live to 80 years of age. I don’t know how old this one was, but based on its carapace length of about 50 centimetres, work done in California suggests that it is perhaps 5-10 years old.
Here’s a very large octopus that we encountered a few minutes into the first dive we did of our recent Mozambique trip, to the ever-surprising reef called Doodles. He was standing about a metre out of a very small hole in the reef, looking scary. When he did withdraw into the reef, he couldn’t fit his whole body into the hole he’d chosen!
There’s something beautifully incongruous about surfacing after a dive to be greeted by a dog on the pontoon of the boat. We had this privilege after a dive to Creche, a dive site near Ponta Malongane. Dori SeaDog, who officially belongs to Wayne and Petro (formerly of Simply Scuba) and unofficially belongs to the entire diving community of Ponta do Ouro, accompanied us on the boat to the dive site, and then waited on the boat with Mike for the divers to surface.
Please enjoy this very short glimpse of Dori on the boat as we surfaced! On the way back to the beach she was spotted with one paw on the end of a lollipop stick, holding it against the deck of the boat, while she licked the lollipop on the other end.
I photographed this (recently deceased) backspine cowfish after retrieving it from the surface just inshore from Roman Rock, last Friday. This was an unusual opportunity to look closely at this not often spotted little chap. There was a visible plankton bloom in the area with a few other dead fish floating on the surface, too.
Both WindGURU and Windfinder have used their purple and orange crayons for the forecasts again which means the wind will blow harder than most people find enjoyable. Fortunately these colours are confined to Friday’s forecast, and by the weekend we are back to low wind conditions. The wind direction tomorrow will improve the already very good visibility in False Bay, so that is a good thing. The downside is it that might rain and it might be cold, but then again it might not. And you’re going to get wet anyway!
Saturday looks to be the warmer day so that will be my choice for boat dives. We will go to Fan Reef at 8.30 (meet at 8.00) and Atlantis or Outer Photographer’s Reef at 11.00 (meet at 10.30). We may do these as a double tank dives, in which case there will be no getting off the boat in between. There will be hot chocolate on the boat in my new Minion cups to make it worth your while.
Shore diving for the out of practice
We are planning a shore dive next weekend, on Saturday if the weather plays along, for everyone who needs to get back in the water and dust off their confidence and buoyancy skills, so make a note in your diaries and I’ll confirm the details in next week’s newsletter. Winter is a great time to dive in False Bay. The water is generally clean, and the prevailing winds flatten the sea. With this in mind, how about a trip to the post office next week to renew your permit to dive in a Marine Protected Area?
Earlier this month we returned from our second ever dive trip to Ponta do Ouro. (It was my third time there – on my first trip, in 2009, I wasn’t qualified to dive yet, and met my future husband, where he was diving and skippering five times a day and living in a reed hut. I still sometimes feel guilty for having a part in him leaving this little piece of paradise.) We flew to Durban. A shuttle transported us to the Kosi Bay border post, where we were met by Mike of Blowing Bubbles Diving. Mike drove us and our luggage over the dunes into town, and dropped us at Planet Scuba, where we would stay for the week.
Planet Scuba is situated on top of the hill that overlooks Ponta’s central square. Since my last visit (I think), a pharmacy has opened on the corner (pictured above), and later in the trip we purchased a much needed decongestant there (for a fairly princely sum, but beggars can’t be choosers).
Every morning we would walk down the steps to the road that leads to the beach, and head towards the point to meet up with the boat for diving. After diving, we would either walk back or get a ride on the back of the Blowing Bubbles bakkie. We breakfasted between dives, and then returned to the beach. The dives in Ponta do Ouro are boat dives, and the skippers launch the boat off the beach through the waves. There was almost no swell while we were there, so the surf launches were quite tame!
We dived for five days, most of us doing ten dives in total. We contemplated a dolphin trip with Dolphin Encountours, but reports were that boats were only seeing one or two dolphins, if any, and the trips cost more than a dive so we carried on diving instead. We were so, so lucky to see a huge pod of dolphins at the end of our last dive, near Ponta Malongane. On our first dive that day we had seen big schools of baitfish near the surface, and the dolphins had probably come to the area for feeding. We weren’t allowed to get into the water with them, but they swam past the boat for ages, and we heard them breathing as they passed by. Tony and I stuck our cameras over the side of the boat, and it turned out there were many more dolphins underwater than we could see on the surface.
The pace of life was very mellow. We dived, ate, slept, and repeated various iterations of that sequence. We admired the community of friendly dogs down at the beach. We enjoyed hungry cats and condensed milk milkshakes at Neptune’s, with a view over the Motel do Mar (where we stayed on our last trip) to the beach. We had a healthy and delicious lunch at Mango above the Dolphin Centre, and got thoroughly soaked by a tropical rainstorm on the way back to Planet Scuba. Christo, Esther and Laurine sampled the “chemical s***storm in a glass” (I quote Esther) that is Ponta do Ouro’s famous R&R (rum and raspberry). Strangely, none of them wanted any more…
The diving was excellent. The water temperature was 23 degrees, and we had (apparently mediocre for Ponta) visibility of about 10 metres, sometimes more. This was very acceptable to us as Capetonians. The reefs are teeming with life, and all of us saw something new. Laurine was enchanted by a turtle, Tony spent most of his dives upside down with his head in crevices in the reef, Christo directed all of us to exciting discoveries with his torch and pigsticker (a metal kebab stick slash pointer that must have a different name but I don’t know it), and Esther maintained her sense of wonder and calm as she brought up the rear of our little group on most dives. On one of the dives a very strong current gave us opportunities to use our SMBs, which was an excellent learning experience and a reminder of how important a safety sausage is, no matter where you are diving.
The air temperature was warm, the wind hardly blew, and for a while we could forget that at home in Cape Town it was cold, frequently dark, and overflowing with commitments and obligations. We returned the way we had come, but feeling a little more ready to cope with the rest of the Cape winter. We’ll be back in a couple of years, Ponta!
(I’ll share some little videos and more photos from the trip over the next couple of weeks.)
The 60 hp Mercury four stroke motors have been on the boat for nearly 18 months and had their 200 hour service yesterday. The decision to go from two 90 hp engines to the 60 hp was the right one for the size of the boat. The profile in the water is far better and the performance is more than adequate.
Fully loaded the boat will do 25 knots at 4000 rpm, a long way off the maximum rpm of 6000. At this level of throttle the fuel consumption is fantastic.
The huge reduction in fuel usage as well as the total lack of any repairs and other small mechanical things to take care of every week has been a huge improvement over the period. The requirement of only a fresh water flush between diving days to keep the motors in good shape has freed up a lot of time to work on other projects.
The only hiccup we have had was that the console-mounted hour meters both failed, one at 10 hours and the other at 60. Fortunately the engine management system stores this information so at the 100 hour service we had electronic units fitted. To access them one has to remove the engine covers, but this is a small inconvenience as they only need to be checked infrequently. At each service, we are able to get a detailed printout showing the activity of each engine, including how much time it has spent at what level of rpm.
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?
Saturday: Boat dives out of Simon’s Town, sites to be confirmed
Mozambique dive trip
We have just returned from a short dive trip to warmer waters. We had five days of really good conditions in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique, with no swell and almost no wind. The water was 23 degrees most days and on every dive we were amazed by something. Watch the blog for a trip report in the next week or two, and some photos and video from the trip. There’s an album of pictures on facebook already.
Dive conditions and plans
The bay has been treated to winds from all directions in the past week, and there appears to be a huge volume of dirty water swilling around. Some places are really clean and inviting and others not so much.There is some rain in the forecast for Saturday afternoon and a fair amount of wind for Sunday.
I am planning to launch on Saturday but will make a call on where during the course of the day tomorrow as I will take the boat out tomorrow for a good look around. If you’d like to be on board for Saturday’s dives, let me know by email or text message and I’ll keep you in the loop.