Newsletter: Destination unknown

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Shore dives in Simon’s Town (only if forecast south easter does not materialise)

Sunday: Launching at 9.00 am and 11.30 am in Hout Bay or Simon’s Town

Sunrise over False Bay
Sunrise over False Bay

There is a good chance that diving could be good on both sides of the peninsula on Sunday. Saturday will be made unpleasant if the strong south easterly winds and predicted swell arrive, so Sunday will be the best choice for diving. (If the weather is good and wind is mild on Saturday, we will shore dive in False Bay.)

False Bay may be good if the swell does not turn as southerly as forecast, or if the  south easter doesn’t quite get up to the 40 km/h in the forecast. If the wind does arrive, then Hout Bay should clean up enough for some decent conditions.

We will launch on Sunday at 9.00 am and 11.30 am, destination unknown. We will decide late on Saturday whether we will go to Hout Bay or False Bay on Sunday. Either way both dives will be suitable for Open Water divers, maximum depth 18 metres.

regards

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

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Newsletter: Stuck record

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Monday: False Bay diving, launching from Simon’s Town jetty

Sunrise over Macassar and the eastern side of False Bay
Sunrise over Macassar and the eastern side of False Bay

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.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – second day

View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon's Town
View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon’s Town

Overall impressions from the second day of the Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium, which was held from 7-9 September at the Blue Horizon Estate above Simon’s Town, are these nuggets of sharky goodness:

  • Collaboration between scientists leads to amazing things, like the massive acoustic tracking system that covers the entire south and east coasts of South Africa.
  • You can tell a lot about what an animal is doing, without necessarily being right next to the animal all the time, with some clever technology and mathematics (yay maths!)
  • There are tiger sharks that are partially resident off Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. They are being tracked and studied. Something to bear in mind next time you visit!
  • Sharks that cross borders (e.g. tiger sharks, great white sharks) are hard to conserve and face huge risks when they move out of protected areas.
  • False Bay’s great white sharks are incredibly well understood (great work has been done in the last 5-10 years), and at the same time the more we know, the more questions there are!
  • We are beginning to get a better understanding of sevengill cowsharks in False Bay and research is ongoing. Plus, did you know there’s a huge sevengill population around Robben Island?
  • Many of the shark and ray populations around South Africa’s talks are not comprised of separate groups of animals (e.g False Bay’s white sharks, Gansbaai’s white sharks and so on), but interbreed all along their range. This means you can’t protect one aggregation site and expect the species to survive and thrive – you have to think about threats along the entire range of the animal. This was a common theme in the genetics talks (which is a difficult subject to explain to peasants like me).
  • Juvenile hammerhead sharks aggregate in Mossel Bay at certain times of year! (This wasn’t the point of what was an excellent talk, but I was excited to hear it.)

You can read a summary of all the day two talks on Storify, or I’ve embedded it below:

Ponta do Ouro (Mozambique) 2015 trip report

Sunrise at Planet Scuba
Sunrise at Planet Scuba

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.

The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro
The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro

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!

Laurine and Esther descending
Laurine and Esther descending

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.

Batman takes the reel
Batman takes the reel

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.)

Bookshelf: South African Coasts

South African Coasts – Sylvia Earle (contributor) et al

South African Coasts
South African Coasts

South African Coasts is an initiative of Sustainable Seas Trust, one of my favourite local non profit conservation organisations. You can read about their mission on their website, but in brief, they aim to care for the marine environment by caring for the people that depend on it. In South Africa, this is an eminently sensible approach, given the degree of inequality and disadvantage that is characteristic of many coastal communities.

Over a period of months, a photography competition was held with categories for everyone from happy snappers like me to professionals like Rob Tarr (whose amazing work features prominently in the book). Photographs had to be taken on the coast, or underwater. The best photographs, as judged by a panel of eminent South African judges including Fiona Ayerst and Peter Chadwick, were selected to appear in this book.

The result is a beautiful, remarkably high quality (given that people like me were allowed to submit pictures for consideration!) volume that can be read as a love letter from the people of South Africa to our 3,000 kilometre coastline. The book is organised thematically, with short essays by South African conservationists and adventurers at the start of each section. The foreword was written by Sylvia Earle, and the book publicises the establishment of the first few Hope Spots along the South African coast.

One of my favourite aspects of the book is the pages which feature twenty or more pictures of waves, or sunrises, or sunsets, arranged in a grid. Each photographer is credited for their work, and the location at which the image was captured is recorded. This is a beautiful souvenir volume for all the contributors, a great gift for ocean-loving visitors to our country, and – for me – a compendium of ideas for new places on our coast that I have yet to visit.

You can get a copy of the book here.

Newsletter: Cool, calm and collected

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Shore dives in False Bay, site TBC

A boatload of German wreck divers
A boatload of German wreck divers

Diving this week

We have had a busy week and False Bay has been really good. We have dived mostly wrecks this week but did go and look for cowsharks yesterday (no luck). All in all we have had good viz, very little wind and enough sun to warm almost everyone. This picture was taken today at Long Beach and we were doing a Rescue course. Hardly stressful conditions.

Long Beach today
Long Beach today

The weekend has some swell in the forecast with winds from all directions so it will be a hit and miss affair. There is a lot of dark water around and most of it close to Rocky Bank.

We will plan to shore dive on Sunday. I will choose the site later on Saturday afternoon. Text or email me if you want to dive.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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False Bay photo cruise

First light in the yacht basin
First light in the yacht basin

When diving conditions aren’t great, but it’s nice enough to be on the boat (and occasionally when it’s not!), a tour of False Bay is just the ticket. This particular winter’s day, bundled up in our warmest clothes, we set off at first light from Simon’s Town jetty to get to Seal Island nice and early. We were distracted by the sunrise beauty of Roman Rock lighthouse, and a pod of dolphins on the way out to the island. The dolphins checked us out briefly but didn’t want to stick around, so we left them alone.

Roman Rock at dawn
Roman Rock at dawn

Once we got to the island we were able to witness a couple of breaches of great white sharks chasing seals, as well as one on the decoy towed by Stef of Shark Explorers. He promised us a breach, and delivered! Witnessing these events is so much a matter of luck – you have to be looking in the right direction at the right time, because the sharks don’t give any visible warning of where they’re going to strike. Keeping an eye on small groups of seals returning to the island is the best way to improve your chances of seeing a jumping shark.

Sunrise across False Bay
Sunrise across False Bay

After a while at the island we headed north towards Macassar and Muizenberg. There is a huge, shallow plateau here that stretches far out from shore at a fairly constant depth of 5-7 metres. It was here that we saw quite a bit of whale action on last year’s whale watching trip with Simon’s Town Boat Company. Following the coastline from Muizenberg we admired the quaint old buildings of St James and the colourful beach huts there, and then popped into Kalk Bay harbour to see the fishing boats.

Ashley slip streaming behind the boat
Ashley slip streaming behind the boat

After leaving Kalk Bay we headed towards Fish Hoek, where we encountered our next door neighbour Ashley, out on his paddle ski. He wanted to catch up with his buddies, so we motored slowly out of the bay with him riding in our wake until the gap was closed. We meandered back past Glencairn, the quarry, and the Clan Stuart, finishing up back at Simon’s Town jetty.

Glencairn quarry
Glencairn quarry

These trips are ideal for photographers (or adventurers) who want to see the beautiful coastline of False Bay from a different angle. There is also the opportunity to see some of the marine wildlife that inhabits our bay between the mountains – birds, whales (when in season, and from a distance), dolphins, sharks (if lucky), sunfish (if lucky!), seals, and penguins. If you’d like to be informed about future False Bay photo cruises, get in touch or subscribe to our newsletter for advance notice.

Newsletter: Staying out of trouble

Hi divers

Weekend diving

No diving this weekend!

Conditions forecast

The conditions forecast for this weekend is not very different from the weather we had last weekend and as the weather experts say,we are in a seven day cycle. This has been very evident as we have had some really stunning midweek diving days with great conditions and good visibility. My guess is that Saturday will be lousy and although the weather clears on Sunday, it does so in the late afternoon only. Not to mention there are a few drastic swell direction changes starting tomorrow… So I reckon its a stay home weekend.

Sunrise over Sun Valley
Sunrise over Sun Valley

Things to do

There are a lot of things to keep you out of trouble if you aren’t diving:

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Exploring False Bay

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Sunday: False Bay photo cruise, meet at 7.15 am on Simon’s Town jetty

Sunrise in Simon's Town yacht basin
Sunrise in Simon’s Town yacht basin

Dive conditions

We have had really good conditions for a few weeks now with visibility between 10 and 20 metres depending on where in the bay you are diving.

This weekend is however more like one of those hard to call weekends we have so often in summer. There is a lot of rain in the next two days, a 5.5 metre swell and gale force winds but that is mostly gone by Sunday. The question is where will the dirty rain water run off end up, and how much surge will remain from the south westerly swell? Not to mention the day time temperature will max out at 12 degrees.

Sunrise at Roman Rock
Sunrise at Roman Rock

I think the best weekend option is to cover the tank rack with the bench on Sunday and have an early morning meeting time (7.15 am on the Simon’s Town jetty) and do another trip to Seal Island, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay… or head south to Rocky Bank Whittle Rock and Cape Point. On last weekend’s trip we saw a breaching great white shark at Seal Island, a small pod of dolphins, and the most beautiful sunrise. There are some photos on facebook from last Sunday’s trip.

Text or email me if you want to join us on Sunday to explore False Bay, and remember to dress warmly!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Sodwana 2014 trip report

Happy divers on the beach in Sodwana
Happy divers on the beach in Sodwana

Our third Sodwana trip (prior ones were in October 2010 and April 2011, with a Mozambique trip and a Durban trip in between) was from 26-30 April 2014. As usual we flew from Cape Town to Durban, rented vehicles (three cars between ten of us – two other reprobates drove ALL the way from Cape Town, although we suspect Shane hitched a lift on a car carrier for part of the way…) and drove the 350 kilometres from Durban to Sodwana. We stopped in Ballito for food, as we were planning to self cater.

Sodwana beach early in the morning
Sodwana beach early in the morning

Coral Divers was our destination. Most of us had already dived with them on prior trips (Angie even learned to dive there!), and their position inside the park and excellent facilities and staff led us to choose to dive with them again. They have a gazebo on the beach, regular transport between the camp and the beach, and dive planning and organisation runs like clockwork. Our only quibble this time around was that their school rental gear – which several of our divers made use of – was in quite poor condition. Matthijs tried four different masks before he found one that didn’t leak, and the well ventilated wetsuits left something to be desired. Fortunately the water was a comfortable 25 degrees!

On the tractor heading to the beach - picture by Otti
On the tractor heading to the beach – picture by Otti

We did six dives over three days, all on Two Mile reef. This is the cheapest option, and if conditions are dubious (as they were on our first day on the water), the best option. The further reefs (Five, Seven and Nine Mile) are magnificent, but require excellent buoyancy skills from visiting divers to protect the coral there, as well as favourable sea conditions for the longer boat ride.

The dives are for 50 minutes or until you reach 50 bar of air, whichever comes first. We visited mostly shallow sites (some of the Advanced divers did a deep dive on one of the days) so we were able to dive for a full 50 minutes most of the time. Because we were a group of twelve, we were generally split across two boats. We did manage some dives where we were all together at the same site, which was lots of fun! Some of the dives were lovely drift dives, which are fantastic because you use so little air. The surge (which has previously bedevilled me in Sodwana) was only severe on one of the days we dived.

After our two morning dives each day, we ate and then napped (me) or went exploring. In the evenings we braaied, cooked in the communal kitchen or ordered from the on site restaurant, and actually ended up going to bed fairly early. This was partly to escape Gerard when he got out of hand (on one notable occasion!), and partly because we were completely exhausted from our dives. We were also getting up very early to be ready to head down to the beach at 0645 each day.

Dinner time braai
Dinner time braai

It was a pleasure to spend time with such hilarious and interesting people, to do lovely long, warm, colourful dives, and to walk around in shorts and a t shirt while a warm 28 degree breeze blew. I hadn’t really scuba dived since last December, so it was great to get back into it again and remember how it’s done. Unfortunately I didn’t take many (or many nice…) photos underwater, as I was struggling with my (own, not rented) mask and I also initially didn’t feel confident enough to get close to anything. Once I settled my buoyancy – on the last day, alas! – I got going a bit more with my camera.

At the end of our trip, we said good bye to the other divers, and Tony and I stuck around in northern KwaZulu Natal to go to the bush for a couple of days. That’s another story…