The Christmas weekend has arrived and our gifts this year include some good visibility and a the cowsharks being back at Millers Point. We hope to launch tomorrow, if the wind and rain are a bit milder than the forecast, and again on Saturday.
Then it is eating and napping time for a day or two, and we will plan to dive again on Tuesday, most likely in the Atlantic. If you’d like to do some festive season diving during the next week or so, let me know.
We would like to wish you all a good end of year rest, and merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. Thanks for the support and friendship, and we look forward to a diving-filled 2017.
We seem set for a week of pleasant conditions. That rates as a good early Christmas present in my book. On Saturday and Sunday we will launch from Simon’s Town early to finish a few Advanced and Nitrox courses.
On Monday we will do shore dives to continue with Open Water courses, and the rest of the week will be for fun diving. Let me know where you want to go and when you’re free, and I will see if we can make it happen.
Stuck for Christmas presents? Check out our 2015 gift guide. It’s still pretty fresh, but to it I would add Into a Raging Sea, by Andrew Ingram and Tony Weaver, commemorating 50 years of the NSRI. Available at all good bookshops!
No diving this weekend, but conditions are promising for weekday dives next week!
A six metre swell put paid to any hopes of celebrating Youth Day with a dive, but we have a week of very favourable conditions coming up. This coincides with school holidays (for some lucky ones) and we hope to get some good diving done.
We won’t be diving this weekend, but if you’d like to be informed of any planned aquatic excursions next week, let me know.
Things to do
It’s cold out now and then, and if you’re looking for things to do on your non-diving days, here are some suggestions:
The new I&J Ocean Exhibit and the jelly hall opened today at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Read about it here and here, and check out some photos on Instagram. The full tunnel is the closest feeling to being underwater that you can have while on land, and might persuade some of your non-diving friends to take the plunge.
On our last day in Denmark, after a week-long family visit between Christmas 2015 and new year 2016, we went to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium. (Actually we were wrong about it being our last day in Denmark, but that’s another story involving Turkish Airlines, who seem to innovate in the field of disappointment.) The aquarium is situated in Kastrup, Copenhagen, quite close to the airport, and overlooks the narrow sound called the Øresund, which separates Denmark from Sweden.
We visited on 1 January, after (eventually) sleeping through the sounds of Copenhagen’s residents letting off five hundred metric tons of fireworks, starting at 5.00 pm the day before. We bought tickets online (a small saving in Danish krone that amounted to eleventy million ZAR) and arrived at opening time. The building is surrounded by a reflection pool, and is built in a spiral form inspired by the shape of a vortex. In the larger halls the high ceilings give a tremendous sense of space; at 10,000 square metres, the building is very large. The halls are generally wide and I imagine it could accommodate a very large number of people before feeling crowded.
The aquarium is divided into three sections. The first is focused on the life found in the lakes and ocean of Denmark and northern Europe. I particularly enjoyed this first part of the aquarium. The animals are adapted to the cold water, so some of them were very similar what we find around Cape Town, and the displays were creative and interesting. There was also the obligatory “anchor with fish” tank, which was (as always) mesmerising. One of the pictures in the gallery below is of Tony checking it out.
Two sea otters live at the aquarium, having been rescued as infants and raised by hand. The male and female otters were found in Alaska when they were four months old with a broken jaw and wounds after a boat strike, and as a 1.5 kg abandoned one day old respectively. As usual, seeing such an intelligent animal in captivity stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings. That said, you are a stronger person than I am if you could have left these two baby otters to their natural fate (that is, death). The otters spend a lot of time (up to six hours per day) grooming, and in between keep very busy, requiring a lot of enrichment from their four keepers. It was magical to see them.
Also in the northern seas and lakes section is the puffin exhibit, mimicking the cliffs of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory. Here, also, we found a touch pool (which the Danes call a sensing-aquarium), and a terrifying ambulatory mascot.
The second section of the building is devoted to tropical lakes and rivers, with incredible freshwater exhibits. We saw piranhas, terrapins, frogs, little black rays the size of pancakes, with white polka-dots, and electric eels. The rainforest exhibit is kept at a temperature and humidity level that are impressive in the Scandinavian winter, and I can imagine that this part of the aquarium is popular with expats from warmer climates!
The third part of the aquarium is for the rest of the ocean, and although it’s a big ask to cover (or summarise) so much in the remaining space, it does a fabulous job. The Ocean tank holds four million litres of water, and is home to rays and hammerhead sharks, and other warm water fish. Amongst many other things, there are seahorses, leafy seadragons and coral reef fish to see.
We watched feeding time for a while, which was quite funny – the aquarists row out onto the water in a small inflatable boat, and administer the snacks from on board. Standing in the tunnel, we could see the boat from below, with the oars working frantically against what I imagine was a bit of surface current.
One of the things that Den Blå Planet does really well is to integrate multimedia, virtual reality and interactive technology into the aquarium experience. This reduces the number of animals required to be on display, and – for the most part – probably takes care of itself, requiring no cleaning and feeding. My favourite such exhibit was the bouncy plankton wall in the ocean section of the aquarium. The photo below is pretty terrible because the display moves all the time, but I put a video on instagram which shows how the plankton clear a space for you when you walk along the wall.
We finished off our visit with a flæskesteg sandwich at ØST, the restaurant at the back of the aquarium. It was still a bit misty, but the large windows looking out over the sound let in a lot of light. There is a play area outside, and despite the midwinter temperatures, children in snow suits were making the most of it.
I did not get the same strong conservation message from my visit to The Blue Planet that I think the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town works so hard to propagate. This could be because of different cultural approaches to living a “green” lifestyle; in Scandinavia the government does a lot of the work for you, providing renewable energy, prioritising pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and making it ridiculously easy to recycle, for example. In South Africa it is more of a conscious personal choice and effort to reduce one’s environmental footprint, and there is there is thus perhaps more of a requirement for direct conservation messaging.
Anyway, if you’re in Copenhagen, visit! Next time we’re in Denmark, we’ll check out the little Øresund Aquarium at Helsingor, which is entirely focused on local fauna.
We had a small gremlin interfere with our newsletter timing yesterday and for this we apologise.
We had decent conditions on Wednesday with dives in the vicinity of Roman Rock. There was a dirty layer on the surface, but underneath there was clear water with visibility of about 12 metres. Today we are taking visitors from Port Elizabeth to explore some local dive sites.
I feel like a stuck record when another newsletter has no real news of the diving kind. A good newsletter is also meant to be full to the brim of diving related plans, but this weekend does not allow me completely to fulfil that requirement.
Hout Bay may just be magical tomorrow: the south easter has blow strongly all day, but there has been some swell and it did not look all that great this morning. I think I’m going to hedge my bets on the swell and wind being light for Monday and will launch in False Bay. Let me know if you want to be on the boat.
The Cape Agulhas lighthouse is the most visually pleasing lighthouse that I’ve visited so far. Tony and I visited it while we were staying at De Hoop last September.
Cape Agulhas was named by the Portuguese from their word for needle. During the 1500s, when they were plying Southern Africa’s coastline, the magnetic declination in the area was approximately zero, meaning that there was no deviation between true and magnetic north, and the compass needle pointed to true north.
(Technical sidebar: Cape Agulhas lay on an agonic line during the 1500s. An agonic line is a line on the earth’s surface along which the magnetic declination or variation is zero. Earth’s magnetic field slowly changes, and with it the positions of the north and south magnetic poles. For this reason, the variation between true and magnetic north at a point on the earth changes slowly over time. You can examine a map of historic declination over the last 400-odd years here – if you scroll it back to 1590 you can see the green line through Cape Agulhas.)
The lighthouse is within walking distance of the southernmost tip of Africa inside the Agulhas National Park, and was built on land donated by Michiel van Breda, a local landowner (for whom Bredasdorp was named). Van Breda had experienced the trauma of shipwrecks along the stretch of coastline on his farm, with hundreds of dead bodies washing up after ships foundered on the rocky shores in rough seas. The shipwreck museum at Bredasdorp commemorates many of these wrecks.
The lighthouse was commissioned on 1 March 1849. It has a 7.5 million candela light that emits one flash every 5 seconds and has a range of 31 nautical miles. The lighthouse tower is 27 metres high, with a focal plane 31 metres above sea level. The tower is made of limestone with a white lantern house. By the 1960s the tower had deteriorated to such an extent that the lighthouse was temporarily decommissioned (its job performed in the interim by an aluminium tower), and restoration was undertaken. It was recommissioned in 1988.
The lighthouse is open to the public (also on weekends, which is unusual for a South African lighthouse) and contains a museum and a gift shop on the ground floor. The view from the top is well worth the climb.
We are back from a trip up north… Really far north – so far north that the temperatures, so I was told, were 0 – 2 degrees Celcius but to me felt like minus 50 degrees. It was great diving in False Bay this week in 22 degree water.
The weekend is a little on the questionable side as the wind and swell forecasts are not promising. I think the best option is going to be Table Bay, and If we go it will be to North and South Paw. I will take a look there tomorrow at the conditions and confirm late afternoon to those on the list if we are diving. Let me know if you’re keen to dive by email, text, or message in a bottle.
Here are some holiday reading recommendations – not too taxing, not entirely insubstantial – to enjoy while lounging under an umbrella by the pool or waiting for a flight to board. You will probably enjoy them because they’re about marine life, and I assume that if you didn’t have a passing interest in the ocean, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.
Longform is a website that provides reading recommendations – usually (as the name suggests) long form stories, not restricted to a particular range of topics. I am a subscriber to the Longform newsletter, and lately a user of their iPad app.
The Longform guide to sea creatures is a short list of juicy long articles whose common thread is that they focus on marine animals. I’ve shared some of them with you already – Killer in the Pool and Moby Duck being the most notable. Others are about giant squid, octopus, tuna, whales, and the Loch Ness monster. It’s a page worth bookmarking, should you anticipate requiring a couple of hours of thoughtful, fact-checked, well researched reading on the subject of marine life.
You can find the list of Longform sea creature articles here, and a mostly overlapping but slightly different version on Slate.com, here. (The advantage of the Slate list is that you can send the articles to your Kindle, to read later.)
In the centre of Bredasdorp, the sleepy town in the Overberg that you will likely pass through on your way to De Hoop, Cape Agulhas, Arniston or any of the surrounding areas, is a museum devoted to shipwrecks. Tony and I paid it a visit while we were staying at De Hoop in September last year, and enjoyed it immensely. The museum is situated in an old church, and spills over into two other adjacent historical buildings.
The shipwreck museum contains artefacts from a wide variety of wrecks – many of them from the coastline between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas, but others from further afield (including our neck of the woods)! There is a display about SS Maori, including some of the pottery that was in the mixed cargo on the vessel.
In addition to cargo items (including a vast array of bottles spanning a few hundred years of history), there are figureheads, binnacles, ship’s bells, cannons and anchors – the latter located outside in a beautiful garden behind the museum. The ship’s wheel of SS Kadie, wrecked at the mouth of the Breede River, is also on display. The Arniston,Queen of the Thames, and Birkenhead wrecks also feature prominently. Familiarising yourself in advance with some details about the most prominent wrecks of the Overberg region will enrich your visit.
A separate garage-like structure (technically known as the Old Coach House), accessible over a tiny river bridge in the garden, contains a historical fire engine, carriages and other vehicles and implements of everyday life from a century ago. There is even a rocket-propelled breeches buoy apparatus, used from shore to rescue shipwreck survivors.
Another building included in the museum facilities is a fully furnished historical Overberg home called the Old Parsonage – when we walked through, there was even a (real live) cat having a cool nap on a hand-sewn quilt in one of the bedrooms.