Seasonal changes are one thing, but the conditions have been less than great for a while. Good diving days have been rare over the last six weeks. This weekend – again – is not too rosy from more than one angle.
Firstly, this week my tow vehicle decided to have a career change, so the boat has nothing to attach to. Secondly, even if I am able to wrest the panel van back from my wife, shore dives don’t look like a good option as there is a 2.5 metre, 16 second swell tomorrow. This grows to 4 metres on Sunday, and the swell goes somewhat southerly. This lingers on Monday, by which time the wind starts humping again.
Please bear in mind, if you do head out to Simon’s Town this weekend, that the navy is running a simulated disaster/attack scenario from early on Saturday morning, and you should expect detours and delays. Plan accordingly!
False Bay currently has a few experts really puzzled as there are no signs of any sharks anywhere. No cowsharks have been seen for a few weeks and not a single great white shark has been seen at Seal Island for close to three weeks. An area close to Cape Point that is often frequented by gully sharks, has also been barren of sharks lately. If anyone knows more or has a theory founded on facts and logic, I would love to hear it.
Both False Bay and Hout Bay look the same as far as water colour and viz are concerned. The water is not as clean and crisp as it has been for the last two weeks but it is still pretty good.
My plan is to shore dive on Saturday, most likely at Long Beach as the swell we have today tapers for the weekend but it does linger into Saturday. The harbour wall shelters Long Beach really well. Sunday will be touch and go (for me) in False Bay with the wind, so I think we will be better off in Hout Bay as there is less wind and very little swell.
Sunday is Mothers’ Day so for the first launch you can dive with us for free if you are a mother. We will go to Tafelberg Reef for a shallow dive. It will not be necessary to show war wounds, tell scary hospital stories or bring the actual child along (although if they are old enough to learn to dive, we should talk). We will believe you if you say you are a mom. No T’s but C’s do apply . (C stands for Clare and she will check your story.)
As usual, text or email if you want to dive on either day.
Several years ago the wonderful Tami gave me a WETSAC for my birthday. It sounds like something squishy and perhaps offensive, but in fact it is a marvel of ingenuity and designed to improve the lives of divers and surfers and outdoorsmen everywhere. She bought it at a craft market in Hout Bay, and both of us have been hunting for a retailer of this product since then. Recently, I struck it lucky with a well phrased google search (something like “wet bag”).
How many times have you struggled out of your wetsuit on a rough surface (Miller’s Point parking area and Hout Bay harbour, I’m looking at you), hurting your feet, standing on the neoprene and pressing it into the tar? You’re damaging yourself and your gear! Then you toss the dripping, smelly wetsuit into the back of your car – into a box, if you’re organised – and hope it doesn’t spray seawater and bits of grit from the parking area everywhere while you drive home.
WETSAC is here to help. Essentially a mat that converts into a waterproof bag, it comprises a circular piece of tough fabric with a drawstring around the edge. You stand on it to get out of your suit, throw in your gloves, hoodie and booties, then step off and pull the drawstring tight. Toss the bag into your divemobile and don’t worry about remnants of your diving and changing adventures ending up all over the boot. It is beyond convenient. Plus, you can buy it online. Make a note for next Christmas!
(I was not compensated in any way for this post… The thing is just geninuely nifty!)
Our cats (of which we have many, many) find our cars irresistibly appealing, and at the first opportunity will climb inside for an investigation. Tony once got out the gate and into the road with a car full of cylinders for filling, and a very wide-eyed Mini cat, who had climbed into the back of the vehicle while Tony was loading the tins.
Here’s Blue, still a little kitten, checking out (something next to) the buoy that the Divemaster (on our boat and shore dives) takes along with him on a reel and line, floating on the surface to mark the divers’ presence to boaters. She’s in the back of the divemobile. Everything gets a bit salty, and this seems to fascinate the cats – perhaps it’s one step away from bringing an actual fish home for them.
We spent a sunny day at Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve, facilitating some boat dives to Batsata Maze and an unnamed reef to the south of Smitswinkel Bay for Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club (OMSAC). We met a whale on one of the dives – he was fascinated by the divers’ orange SMB that they were using while safety stopping, and circled back repeatedly to have a look. It also took quite a bit of doing (in the form of multiple phone calls, emails and an early morning meeting with a ranger) to get permission to drive a boat full of divers and gear through the exclusion zone around Cape Point… But those are other stories.
The slipway at Buffels Bay is a civilised place, with no jockeying for position or aggressive fishermen. It is in a very rocky part of the bay, however, and at low tide it’s a tricky proposition to avoid clipping your motors on the bottom. On approaching the slipway, I asked the divers to hop off the boat into the water, and we moved slowly towards the shore. The water was slightly deeper than some of them were expecting!
After bringing the divemobile down and putting the trailer into the water, we manoeuvered the boat onto the trailer and winched and pushed it on. It was too shallow to drive the boat on, as I would usually. This is a hyperlapse video so it’s joyfully speeded up to make me look like Superman.
When we dive in False Bay, we’ll usually assemble in the parking area of False Bay Yacht Club, or (more likely) on the jetty in Simon’s Town just opposite the yacht club slipway. In case you’re a local, it might help to know that the jetty lies between the Salty Sea Dog and Bertha’s restaurant. If you’re not, the following directions may be handy.
You need to get to Simon’s Town from wherever you’re staying. This could entail a train ride on the southern suburbs line to Simon’s Town station (the last stop on the line), or a drive down the M3 or M5, or along Chapmans Peak Drive. However you do it, place yourself on the Main Road (the M4) that runs along the coast, through Glencairn towards Simon’s Town, where it becomes St George’s Street.
Upon entering Simon’s Town, look out for the station on the left. Keep going into the town. Further on on your left you will see the clock tower on top of the SA Naval Museum. On your right will be Paddlers kayak shop. You’ll be cresting and descending a small hill.
The first proper road to your left after the long, featureless wall surrounding the navy grounds is Wharf Street; you need to turn left here. The jetty is directly in front of you, with parking in front and to your right.
Look out for the divemobile in the parking area, otherwise take a stroll down the jetty to find Seahorse tied up (often on the left hand side near the stairs, but not with certainty)!
One Tuesday in early December, Tony escorted some members of the media – Murray Williams of the Cape Argus, and Bruce Hong of Cape Talk radio, on a dive along the inside of the shark exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach. It was just before the start of the school holidays, and since the net has been trialledmultiple times by now and is working well, it’s a good time to raise awareness of the additional beach safety and – importantly – peace of mind that the net offers. I tagged along as photographer.
The net at Fish Hoek beach is a world first. It has a fine mesh that is highly visible underwater, and is designed not to catch anything – unlike the shark gill nets in KwaZulu Natal. The net is put out in the morning and retrieved at the end of the day, but only when sea conditions allow it. The south easterly wind can bring huge quantities of kelp into Fish Hoek bay which would foul the net, so when there is a strong south easter the net cannot be deployed.
If you’re a water person, please educate yourself on how the net works, and its intention, and share it with your friends. Even now, nine months after the trial started, I hear uninformed comments from people who have not bothered to do any reading about the net, and assume it’s the same kind of net as the ones in Durban. It’s not. The whole idea is that nothing – no sharks, no humans, no klipfish – gets hurt. Shark Spotters and the City of Cape Town have been very clear on this from the start. I had a bit of a rant about this late last year.
I digress. We went to the beach, got suited up, and went to check out the net. It was spring low tide, so at its southernmost end we were in about 2 metres of water. The net is high enough that when the tide comes in and the yellow floats rise with the water level, it simply unfurls further downwards, making an unbroken curtain. The lower portion of the net rests on the sand, with two parallel weighted lines to ensure that it lies flat. You can see that in the photo above Murray is gripping one of these leaded lines, and that there is a fairly large amount of net waiting on the sand for higher tides.
We stuck close to the net, and didn’t see much marine life on the sandy bottom. I spotted a large sand shark (when I say I “spotted” him, I mean that I almost landed on top of him). We were mutually surprised, and he zipped away into the bay, sliding neatly under the bottom of the net. I also saw a box jelly cruising along the net. Given my recent history with box jellies, I kept clear! The sea floor in the area where the net is deployed is level, sandy and free from rocks. There’s more life on the catwalk side, where beautiful rock pools wait to be snorkelled.
We were accompanied by Monwabisi Sikweyiya, who is the Field Manager of Shark Spotters. He is a hero and I always feel a bit star-struck when I see him (although he has no idea why – he probably just thinks there’s something wrong with me). He swims along the net regularly – someone does each time it is deployed, actually – to make sure that it’s released properly and hanging straight down.
Swimming inside the net is completely voluntary. When a shark is seen in Fish Hoek bay the Shark Spotter still sounds the siren and the flag is raised to clear the water. The Shark Spotters team are still waiting to see how a shark will respond to the net when it swims close enough to be aware of it. So far none of the local sharks have come close to the net, as the summer season when sharks move inshore has only just started. Tony was half hoping that we’d be swimming along inside the net, look out through the mesh – and blammo! – see a great white shark. But we had no such luck, if that is the right word.
You can read the article that Murray Williams from the Argus wrote after the dive, here.
Technically a day by the bay, I took these photos on a drive down the western edge of False Bay to check out conditions for weekend launches. Just before Miller’s Point there was a huge crane manoeuvring cars onto and up from the rocks at the side of the road.
I approached cautiously, and watched the activity from inside the divemobile for a while. I couldn’t see any police cars (so it wasn’t an actual accident), or cameras (indicating that they were filming at that moment), so I hopped out of the car to investigate.
It was a film shoot for an American television program promoting the US Coast Guard. No one had arrived yet apart from the safety crew, who were manoeuvring the various vehicles into place. They had to adjust their position a few times because large swells threatened to wash the cars off the rocks. I asked one of them why they were doing this filming in South Africa rather than the United States, and his answer suggested that it was much easier to get a permit for what they wanted to do – potentially drop cars into the sea – here than it would be in the US.
I’m not sure if that’s a good reputation for South Africa to have!
Once I’d finished watching the activity with the crane, I got back to my original mission: making a call as to whether I was going to take the boat out or not. Conclusion: not. The sea was patchy in colour and choppy in the wind with quite a big swell – not great for diving.