Bookshelf: Between the Tides

Between the Tides: In Search of Sea Turtles – George Hughes

I have been late in coming to this book, which was published about five years ago. George Hughes is a world-renowned, South African turtle scientist whose work has done much to ensure protection for sea turtles in the southern Indian Ocean. He was the guest speaker at an event held at the Two Oceans Aquarium to celebrate the release of Yoshi, the loggerhead turtle who spent over 20 years at the aquarium and is now powering along the Namibian coastline in rude health.

Between the Tides
Between the Tides

Dr Hughes was CEO of the Natal Parks Board and then Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, but Between the Tides relates his early career as a student looking for turtles along South Africa’s wild north east coast, in places that today support thriving dive and fishing charters. His legacy of turtle research continues.

Turtle surveys were conducted around Madagascar, the Comores, Reunion, the Seychelles, and on the Mozambique coast. The fact that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park now exists, offering a protected and well-regulated breeding environment for three species of turtles (loggerhead, leatherback and green – discovered there in 2014) is thanks to the early and persistent work of Dr Hughes and his colleagues. Turtles were first found nesting on this piece of coast in 1963, when it was still completely wild and mostly neglected by the authorities. In this book Dr Hughes recounts the development of the tagging program that he started, in which over 350,000 hatchlings were flipper tagged and/or marked over a period of 31 years.

Only about two out of every 1,000 hatchlings survive to return to the area in which they hatched, to breed. Female loggerheads are estimated to reach maturity around the age of 36 years, during which time they navigate an ocean of threats. This makes every surviving hatchling incredibly valuable.

The recovery of the number of loggerheads, in particular, has been quite spectacular, with more modest but noticeable gains in the leatherback population. More recently, as technology has allowed it, satellite tagging has shown their movements around the Indian ocean

If you find a baby sea turtle on the beach (this is the time of year when they start washing up), here is what you should do. The most important thing is to keep it dry, and to contact the aquarium as soon as possible.

Dr Hughes also discusses the sustainable use of sea turtles (for example, for food), something which I’d never thought about and which for that reason is fascinating – and very challenging to come at with an open mind, and appreciating the viewpoints of a scientist who has been steeped in turtle research for most of his life.  This is an excellent, proudly South African marine science book, written to be accessible even to those who aren’t turtle fanatics a priori. Highly recommended.

Get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

Newsletter: Guest photographers

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Launching from the Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock / 11.00 am for Atlantis

Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething
Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething

I think most people are keen for summer to arrive. I know I am. We dived last Friday at Atlantis and Boat Rock and had pretty good conditions – thank you to Arne for the photo above! Last weekend was a washout and the week has been dry thanks to the spring tides, swell and some wind.

The whales heard my complaints from last week, and on Friday a young whale breached in front of us again. This time while Geoff was holding the camera and he got a great photo!

Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby
Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby

False Bay is currently flat but not very clean. We are meant to have two days of westerly or north westerly winds so I think Sunday will be an option. There is also less swell on Sunday. I don’t think it is going to be paradise, but it will certainly improve over what we have right now.

We will launch on Sunday from theSimon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock and 11.00 am for Atlantis. This is the plan, but the dive sites may change as I prefer to dive in better visibility if we go that far south, so will change sites to suit the conditions.

In other news

Diarise Diversnight 2015 for the evening of Saturday 7 November! More details to follow.

Also, as of yesterday we are a PADI Resort Dive Centre – the only major difference so far is that we now appear here

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Paws for thought

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: No diving planned – why not join the coastal cleanup at Hout Bay harbour?

Sunday: 10.30 am and 1.00 pm to North/South Paw and Justin’s Caves, from Oceana Powerboat Club (very much dependent on wind strength on Saturday)

Monday: Seal rock at Partridge PointShark Alley, double tank dive launching at 10.00 am from Simon’s Town jetty

Recent dives

Last weekend we took the boat down to Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to join OMSAC for a day of snorkeling, diving and braai-ing.. The conditions were terrific and both the shore divers and those on the boat had great viz. We took the boat to Batsata Maze and to an unnamed site just on the outside of the exclusion zone around the reserve. We were very fortunate to have a whale cruising by during the safety stop, fascinated by the divers’ SMB, and then hanging around as the divers surfaced.  It is a stunning setting for a day out and even the tidal pool was filled with interesting creatures.

There are some photos on facebook, and a nifty little time lapse video of us putting the boat onto the trailer at the slipway. I usually wind the winch much faster than in the video, though – I must have been having an off day on Saturday…

Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay
Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay

On Monday we enjoyed fantastic visibility at Partridge Point, where we snorkeled with seals, and at Shark Alley. There are still a lot of cowsharks around – the time of year when they usually disappear is approaching, so we are watching with interest.

This weekend

A southerly swell rolls into False Bay in time for the weekend. The Kalk Bay Shootout surf competition participants are all excited. When surfers are excited, divers are not. We share the ocean… Just not always at the same time. There is also the False Bay Yacht Club spring regatta taking place on Saturday and Sunday – more info here.

I doubt there will be anywhere pleasant to dive in False Bay. The south easter only starts blowing on Saturday so I doubt that the viz out of Hout Bay will improve enough for good diving. That leaves the Atlantic seaboard. Twenty four hours of strong south easter might clean the water close inshore enough for good diving.

I reckon the best options will be North and South Paw or Justin’s Caves and surroundings, so that’s the plan for Sunday. If the south easter makes it over the top of Table Mountain, and cleans the water sufficiently, we will launching from OPBC at 10.30 am and 1.00 pm. If you’re keen to dive let me know and I’ll contact you on Saturday afternoon to let you know if conditions are good enough.

Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve
Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve

If you are at a loose end on Saturday, an excellent way to spend your time is at the coastal cleanup dive in Hout Bay harbour. We attended a few years ago, and it is great fun and good for the environment. Just wear a kilogram or two extra of weight if your weighting is usually marginal – the water is not very deep!

Cape Town International Boat Show

In three weeks’ time the CTICC comes alive with the Cape Town International Boat Show. This year there will be a new addition in the form of a “dive village”. Collectively a bunch of local dive centres and operators have come together to make this happen with the goal of showcasing the incredible diversity of diving we have to offer in Cape Town. The village will have a pool in the centre and we will offer non-divers an opportunity to breathe underwater and hopefully come to enjoy the ocean as much as we all do.

The show is on from 10-12 October at the Convention Centre. Come down and visit the representatives of your local dive operator and bring a friend who needs convincing that diving is the best thing ever, and amongst everyone in the dive village we will do our best to get them in the water. SURG will also be there showcasing some of the best photos taken in and around Cape Town’s waters. There are also bound to be a bunch of interesting course options, gear sales, camera displays and the like. Plus the rest of the boat show, which is well worth a look!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Swapping the motors on Seahorse

Motors fitted and ready to go
Motors fitted and ready to go

After making the decision to do so, replacing the two 90 horsepower two stroke engines on our boat with smaller and more fuel efficient four stroke engines took a fair amount of time. The task was loaded with extras such as rewiring the console, navigation lights and instruments, as the existing wiring was a little shabby. I also wanted to replace the fuel lines from the tank to the filter. To fit new control cables, control box wiring and battery cables, the deck section behind the console had to come out. While it was out it seemed pointless not getting everything changed at the same time. I also discovered that the clearance between the bottom of the console and the top of the tank was insufficient for the huge plugs on the new wiring looms so I had to lift the console as well.

Removing and replacing the actual motors went relatively quickly and by early afternoon both motors were fitted and the hydraulic steering connected and bled. The rest of the work is all far more time consuming but a lot less strenuous. Installing new control cables and the new wiring looms from the control boxes went well. I also ran new power cables from the batteries up to the console and rewired everything in the console. I split the console switch panel in two, so half the switches were powered from the port battery and the other half from the starboard battery. I also split the bilge pumps’ wiring so each battery has a pump connected to it. The tachometer, hour meter and navigation light wiring was already there but the wiring was not in great condition so I removed it all and made up a new loom.

Seahorse at the jetty in Simon's Town
Seahorse at the jetty in Simon’s Town

Coaxing cable and wiring under the deck is always a relatively slow process as there are existing sensitive cables such as the sonar transducer cable and VHF antennae cable going through the same holes.

The boat is also fitted with two electric bilge pumps, one is switched and one on permanent auto so these were also rewired.

Once the cables and looms were in place the motor loom plugs were attached to the engines’ new battery terminals and new fuel hoses and fuel were bulbs fitted. Propellers were next and suddenly, it was all done. Ready to start. The sound of a quiet four stroke running in the driveway as opposed to the noise the two strokes made will certainly endear me more readily to my neighbours!

Replacing the outboard motors on Seahorse

Given the current petrol price and the rate at which a 90 horsepower two stroke engine burns through fuel, we made the decision to fit smaller, more fuel efficient four stroke engines. You would think this to be an easy task, but, despite the current economic squeeze very few dealers seemed to interested in closing a deal.

The Mercury/Mariner 90 horsepower engines that were fitted to Seahorse when we acquired the boat were 1.4 litre three cylinder engines, and they weigh in at a little under 170 kilograms each. (One of them blew up, in an unfortunate turn of events, but we managed to find a similar pair to replace them.) The also burned around a litre of petrol per minute, per engine, at 25 knots, when the boat is fully loaded with divers. I wanted to replace these heavy, fuel-inefficient engines with smaller, lighter 60 horsepower four strokes to more fully take advantage of how well made our boat is. The truth is that a 6.2 metre rubber duck simply doesn’t need that much horsepower on the back, unless you need to run from the police.

The range of engines that I considered, were Mercury, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. Mercury was my first choice as I have owned boats since I was a teenager and I had the most faith in the Mercury engines I have owned. Sadly the price of the Mercury was the highest, Honda the next most expensive, then Yamaha, with Suzuki being the cheapest. I don’t actually think any of them are hugely superior to each other and each has its own good and bad points. There are boats fitted with all four brands of engine that I see regularly, clocking hundreds of hours. I was not too concerned by what I would end up with as since it is such a competitive market, none of them would be bad options. I thought that the best and safest way to be sure I received a detailed quote was to take the boat to each dealer so that they could see exactly what was needed.

The price for removing (not supplying) the old engines and replacing them with new ones varied between R1,800 and a whopping R12,000. The engine prices also varied wildly – some were quoted as really cheap engines but with expensive add-ons such as control boxes, and propellers, and other quotes were all-in. Some engines came with instruments some without, and it gets really cloudy when there is such conflicting information. We were swimming in quotations, none of them comparable to one another as they all included different things. Some quotes were amended several times as the salesmen “forgot” to add certain things. Some of the salesmen were woefully unable to answer questions about their product. The quickest anyone could do the engine swap was three days and the longest was five.

Tell tales on the motors
Tell tales on the motors

So after deliberating, weighing up the positive and negative points of each option, I set out to make a purchase of two 60 horsepower four strokes. This was easier said than done. Suzuki had stock, then they didn’t, and then they did, but when I said I was ready to go ahead, the price went up. Scratch that. Yamaha first had stock and then didn’t, but offered to sell us two 70 horsepower engines – which I didn’t want – if we paid an extra R20,000. The Botswana government had taken all the available stock anyway. Honda were, in all fairness, accurate with a detailed quote but were not interested in the word “discount” and would not budge on price, which I thought was unreasonable given the magnitude of the purchase.

I had now used up all the options I was aware of in Cape Town, so I tried Port Elizabeth, Knysna, Durban and Johannesburg. As old fashioned as it may seem, I wanted to buy from someone who actually had stock of what they were selling.

This rare animal turned out to be a company called Leisure Marine in Johannesburg. With a few emailed questions, a phone call and a bit of discussion, we were ready to place the order on a Monday morning. We made payment, and on Wednesday just before lunch the courier service delivered two 60 horsepower Mercury Bigfoot four stroke EFI engines with all the required bits and pieces for an engine swap to my front door. They weigh under 120 kilograms each and are 1.0 litre four cylinder engines.

I decided to do the engine swap myself, so that there was nothing I didn’t know about how our boat is set up. I had great fun unpacking and fitting the new engines to the boat, after removing the old engines! The effect on the balance and speed of the boat has been fantastic, and follow up service from Leisure Marine has been top notch.

I’ll share more about the process of swapping the motors tomorrow. If you want the potted version with only visuals, you can check out this post, then this one, and finally this one!

The view from below: beautiful visibility in False Bay

Once or twice a year, False Bay delivers up magnificent, flawless diving conditions. We visited the Brunswick and Photographer’s Reef in beautiful, twenty metre visibility. This video was taken at the start of the Photographer’s Reef dive, while Tony and another diver were on the surface.

This second clip was filmed as we swam towards Seahorse. Some of the divers were already next to the boat.

There are some photos from that beautiful day’s diving on facebook, here.

Sodwana diving photos (April 2014) – part II

What is Kate doing on the sand?
What is Kate doing on the sand?

Here are a few more underwater photos from our late April trip to Sodwana. Not great – see my disclaimer in yesterday’s post, for what it’s worth – but there you are.

Happy Otti
Happy Otti

Some of the sites we visited on Two Mile Reef were noticeably more barren – with less coral and more sand and rock – than others. I wonder whether this is a seasonal (or annual, or multi-year) variation, or whether it’s a slow process of the reef becoming silted up. Sites towards the middle of Two Mile, such as Garden Route, were covered with coral and looked exceptionally healthy.

Sodwana sees a lot of divers doing a lot of dives, year-round. There are at least eight dive charters operating from the beach, and Two Mile in particular sees some heavy traffic – including Open Water divers (many from Johannesburg) doing their first sea dives. During a recent conversation, Gerard blamed the heavy boat traffic for what he perceives as a slow decline in the health and biomass of the reef life in Sodwana; I wonder if the fishing activity that somehow co-exists with the dive charters has anything to do with it. Or perhaps we are imagining things, and just happened to dive on a few parts of the reef that were having a quiet day.

Sea fan on the sand
Sea fan on the sand

Sodwana is a Marine Protected Area, but perhaps it is not getting the monitoring and policing it requires to be fully effective. This is a widespread problem in all of South Africa’s MPAs, as well as a concerning lack of scientific thinking in the government ministries that are supposed to be keeping an eye on these things.

Freckled hawkfish
Freckled hawkfish

Whether we are imagining the changes in the reefs in Sodwana or not, it’s still a very beautiful place to dive, and worthy (as are all wild places on this earth) of our protection. You should go there and see for yourself!

A Day on the Bay: Running in the motors

Date: 6 April 2014

Team Aquaventures on board ready to roll
Team Aquaventures on board ready to roll

One Sunday in early April, Tony did a very early launch for an Aquaventures PADI IDC, taking the divers to the wreck of the BOS 400 and to dive with seals at Duiker Island in Hout Bay. You can see in the photo above that the sun hasn’t even reached Maori Bay as the divers kit up! The visibility on the BOS 400 was about six metres, and it was about eight metres at Duiker Island. At the wrecks inside Hout Bay (the Aster and Katsu Maru), there were reports of visibility of up to 15 metres.

After the early launch, Tony and I took the boat for a drive south towards Cape Point. We weren’t in a rush, partly because we needed to run in the boat’s motors gently, and so we stopped to look at the scenery.

Chapmans Peak drive
Chapmans Peak drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive is carved out of the mountainside at the intersection of the Cape granite and sedimentary layers (geologists love this fact), and this can be seen clearly in areas where the mountain isn’t highly vegetated (such in as the photo above). Tony showed me a strange “door in the cliff” – a neat rectangular opening (it seems) that looks like it should be in The Hobbit. You can’t approach it closely on a boat because there’s foul ground in front of it, and the sea is turbulent even when there’s not much swell.

Sea spray on Long Beach, Noordhoek
Sea spray on Long Beach, Noordhoek

Long Beach is long. There were lovely big waves, with spray unfurling from their tops in the light breeze. We could see horse riders on the beach, surfers in the swell, and at one point right across False Bay to the Hottentots Holland and Hangklip. Further down, the boiler of the Kakapo shipwreck was clearly visible on the sand.

Idle near a small kelp forest off Long Beach, Kommetjie
Idle near a small kelp forest off Long Beach, Kommetjie

Slangkop lighthouse (pardon the blurry photo) is being painted, it seems – the building is completely clad in scaffolding. This was our turning around point, but first we had coffee and a snack. Boating makes you hungry!

Slangkop lighthouse getting a facelift
Slangkop lighthouse getting a facelift

On the way back we stopped a few times to look around (Tony was looking for a whale shark, after NSRI report from St Helena Bay the previous day, and unconfirmed sightings of one in Kommetjie) and dangle our (ok, my) feet in the freezing water. There was an offshore wind blowing. In places the air was freezing cold, and in others the hot wind, smelling strongly of fynbos, made everything wonderfully pleasant.

We took a drive across the mouth of Hout Bay to Duiker Island, where the water looked quite clean. There were snorkelers in the water with the seals. I drove us back from the island (slowly) – I don’t have a skippers licence yet, and in order to get one I need (supervised) hours on the boat. So this was practice.

Once inside Hout Bay harbour, we milled around a bit waiting for the slipway to clear (some poachers were launching, amongst other activity). We came across the Seal Alert boat, which has sunk into disrepair but is a very enjoyable resting spot for some of the local seals. There are also a few boats that have sunk at their moorings – apparently because their drain plugs were stolen.

The middle (bright green) ship in the picture of the fishing vessels moored in the harbour in the above gallery of images, is the sister ship of a ship that ran aground off Betty’s Bay in February, breaking up and spilling huge amounts of fuel near the vulnerable penguin colony.

… and on with the new (outboards)!

Fitting a new motor with the crane
Fitting a new motor with the crane

The engine crane returns, to fit the 60hp Mercury motors to the back of Seahorse in another time lapse taken in our driveway at home. These smaller engines will significantly improve the boat’s fuel consumption, and adjust her profile in the water so she doesn’t sit so low at the back. This will improve her performance, which seems counter intuitive because you’d think that bigger engines would mean more speed…

… and out with the new (outboards)…

Boxed and ready to go
Boxed and ready to go

Here’s a time lapse to follow yesterday’s post, of unboxing a pair of Mercury 60hp four strokes, in our carport. The motors come boxed with a metal frame around them that stays attached right until they’re hanging from the engine crane. That’s the old motors to the left, resting on tyres, and Clare’s budding herb garden to the right of the image above!