Has Miller's Point ever seen anything like this?

An underwater braai with Jan Braai – part I

The underwater braai on the slipway
The underwater braai on the slipway

I received a phone call a while back that started with “We want to braai underwater, could you help us?” I must admit I hesitated a bit, thinking this was a doomed project, but I agreed to meet and discuss the plan. (For our readers who aren’t South African, a braai is what we call a barbecue, and it is a cultural institution here.)

The project started a while ago when Jan Braai, a South African “celebrity” (what do you call someone with their own television show, two cookbooks and a dedicated facebook and twitter following?) decided that for Heritage Day/National Braai Day, 24 September 2013, he would braai at the highest point of the country and at the lowest point. The lowest point is technically at sea level and we have 3000 kilometres of coastline, so he decided to do it at 3 metres below sea level and this how the plan was born.

A marine engineer in Pretoria drew up a proposal based on what he understood Jan wanted, some back and forth changes were made, and the build began. Once ready for testing the underwater braai unit it had to be transported from Pretoria and to ensure it did not fall off the trailer, it was welded on.

Jan Braai tests the gloves
Jan Braai tests the gloves

Testing the device

We arrived at Miller’s Point on a calm sunny day with a slight south easterly wind and (sadly) a low tide. The unit was to be towed out to a depth of 3 metres and slowly lowered until the entire glass section was below the surface and only the stack was above the water. Buoyancy was handled by four 200 litre drums welded shut. The drums, two on either side, were welded to a pair of hinged arms and connected to the main frame by a winch cable. When contracted the drums kept the entire unit on the surface and to lower the braai the arms were winched outward and up and the box descended.

Leaving the slipway
Leaving the slipway

Due to the trailer being part of the ballast and thus hanging well below the surface, the entire unit had a fairly large draft and getting it out of the basin at Miller’s Point was quite a challenge. We walked, pushed, swam and towed it with the boat and finally got it out to the depth we required. Craig and Christo worked incredibly hard to assist with this process. We then began lowering it and discovered we did not have enough ballast to get the braai compartment to sink. Regardless, the decision was made to test the capabilities of the braai and Jan lit a fire in the unit. It was at this point semi-submerged, not quite at the required 3 meters’ depth, but in at least two metres’ of water so all the glass was below the surface.

Smoke comes out of the chimney!
Smoke comes out of the chimney!

We had ignition, smoke came out of the stack (pumped out by a battery-operated extractor fan) and then suddenly one of the gloves failed and the unit flooded with water. Back to the slipway we went and despite the very low tide at Miller’s Point we managed to get it out the water and home for repairs. There were a few days before the final attempt in front of the cameras, and the engineer had a full to-do list to get the underwater braai ship-shape…

All systems go!
All systems go!

I’ll tell you about the final run tomorrow, but if you can’t wait and want to skip to the end result, you can see some video footage here.

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Tony

Scuba diver, teacher, gadget man, racing driver, boat skipper, photographer, and collector of stray animals

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