Guest post: Craig on encountering a great white shark

A boatload of happy divers
A boatload of happy divers

Here’s Craig Killops’s account of the dive at the Clan Stuart last Saturday. Craig (on the far left in the photo above) is just about to qualify as a Divemaster, and has just passed one of the most stressful tests any DM will have to face!

3, 2, 1…. Backward roll! Four divers perform a negative entry whilst I and a diver with drysuit remain at the surface after a positive entry. Diver with drysuit starts drifting slowly away from me, about 4 metres, whilst trying to organise himself. We give each other the okay signal and go down. I see the all too familiar silhouette , as seen on documentaries, glide between myself and the diver wearing the drysuit. I keep an eye on drysuit diver and try signal but diver too busy with equipment.

I head off to the rest of the group to signal that a shark has been spotted. Before the message has even been conveyed I see all eyes enlarged and focused behind me, the now clearly visible shark circled back showing its true inquisitive nature. Now with the group I notice that the drysuit diver is not with us and Christo also discovers this whilst we carry out a head count. We lay low on the sandy bottom at 10 metres and make our way quickly and calmly to the wreck.

As we are seeking cover in the kelp on the wreck a sillouette approaches again – it is not the shark but the drysuit diver, mid water. We signal him to stay low and to quickly come join the group as he is still oblivious to the presence of the shark. About ten seconds after he joins us the now very curious shark makes a full frontal approach towards Christo and myself ,we are up front to the left hand side of the group. When we blow bubbles (tactically or nervously…?) the shark makes a sudden turn at most two metres away from us into the green haze.

We calmed ourselves and ensured everybody was okay and accounted for. After brief comms Christo and I agree to stay low and take the group back for a shore exit roughly 150 metres away, which was probably the longest swim I have experienced mentally. Staying low on the wreck caused myself and another diver to drop our weight belts due to snagging. Big thank you to Christo for his prompt assistance in getting my weight belt back on. Not exactly the time you want to be floating to the surface.

Tucked up in a huddle formation we headed off , Christo keeping a left lookout whilst I keep a right lookout and both of ensuring the group is in close pursuit . With a 3 metre swell running into the bay there were fair sized shorebreakers on the beach which made shore exit interesting. Once we were all safely ashore we signaled the boat to say we were okay. Tony needed no explanation of what had happened – he had a front row seat to watch the dark shadow circling the group. Big thank you to shore support Clare Lindeque who arrived to transport some excited divers back to the harbour for a repetitive dive at Roman Rock, I think the Clan Stuart had provided its entertainment and blissful memories for the day.

Will definitely be keeping an extra wary eye out when diving the Clan Stuart from now on.

You tell me: Divemaster or no divemaster?

In Cape Town, most dives are done without the direct leadership of a Divemaster. If you’ve dived in Sodwana, for example, all the dives are led by Divemasters who tell you when to end the dive (usually after 50 minutes if you’re not low on air before that), find awesome little critters for you to take pictures of, and constantly count the divers to see whether everyone’s still with the group.

Dive briefing on the beach at Sodwana
Dive briefing on the beach at Sodwana

What do you think – are Divemasters a necessary part of a dive, or are you happy to explore by yourself? Or, do you prefer something in between – a group or buddy who know what they’re doing, and you’ll stick with them? Share your views below!

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 Tell me more in the comments…



Diving with your main squeeze

For some, diving is an escape from a busy work schedule and for people like this diving is often something they want to go off and do alone. For some, diving is great as long as they have a new buddy on every dive as it is a way to broaden their social circle. Diving does ensure you constantly meet new and interesting people and even if you dive on a regular basis with a club there are often newcomers, tourists and other club members at dive sites and on dive boats.

I have found that due to the nature of my work I have developed an ability to understand what most people are trying to tell me underwater, plus I have developed a technique of describing what I am trying to say and this is over and above the regular signs we use during training. There are also a series of signs for turtles, eels, sharks nudibranchs etc. that most divers will use, but what do you do when you find something out of the ordinary?

For example, we found a horsefish on a dive at Long Beach. I knew what it was but had difficulty trying to convey this description to the group diving with me. Only Clare understood what my very odd behaviour meant and after almost drowning with laughter she moved in to take a closer look.

When you dive often and with the same person as a dive buddy you develop an understanding of their behaviour and will find it easier to interpret their unusual signs. When this person is also your Significant Other it makes a huge difference. Facial expressions, body language and behaviour all contribute to the ease at which you communicate underwater. Tim Ecott writes about this in his book Neutral Buoyancy.

Clare and I on the boat heading back from a dive (into the wind!)
Clare and I on the boat heading back from a dive (into the wind!)

(Plus, if you play your cards right, you can look like dorks on the boat together! This picture was taken while Clare and I were attempting to protect our eyes from the freezing, stinging spray on the back of Grant’s boat during a winter trip in False Bay.)

Dive Deals column: Don’t become a lost diver

Here’s the second in my series of articles for the website.

Don’t become a lost diver

Last week we looked at some of the situations and reasons that could cause a freshly qualified scuba diver to give up on the sport. This week I’d like to examine some of the simple things that can be done by the qualifying diver – before, during and after doing one’s first dive course – to reduce the attrition rate of new divers and avoid becoming a statistic.

Learning to dive

Firstly, learn to dive in a place you feel comfortable, with an instructor you feel good about. Choose an instructor whom you trust, and find approachable. Ask a lot of questions before you sign up. During the course, never hesitate to tell your instructor you are not sure of something you have just learnt. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If you’re not comfortable performing a skill, ask if you can do it again. That skill might one day make the difference between a disastrous dive and a dive that ended well for all concerned.

Buying gear

Don’t buy the first piece of gear you are shown based on the sales pitch. There is very little junk available in the dive industry, but it just might not be what suits your budget, your body shape or diving needs. You WILL ultimately be better off buying your own equipment, but don’t rush into it without some research. Try on different styles of wetsuits, dive with different style BCDs, various volume masks, and so on. Then you will be qualified to make a good decision about what kit to buy for yourself.

On the boat

Do not hesitate to tell the skipper you are nervous, and never hesitate to tell the divemaster it’s your first dive and you are apprehensive. Don’t be shy to tell the group on the beach during the briefing you have never dived in the sea, or never been deeper than 12 metres, or whatever the case.

The divemaster faced with 10 new faces every dive cannot be expected to read everyone’s state of mind. Equally, a skipper that takes 30-40 different people out on his boat each day can’t be expected to know everyone’s gear, mental state, or qualification.

As a divemaster, skipper, and instructor, I can assure you the vast majority of people in the dive industry are helpful, keen to see you dive with them again and again and will go to great lengths to assist you whilst you find your feet. All you have to do is tell them that you’re just starting out. Don’t be afraid to ask the diver nearby for help as they will most likely be happy to share their knowledge. If they aren’t, don’t take it personally – unfortunately you will meet ungracious people in all areas of life – and just ask someone else.

Bad experiences

In the unlikely event you have a bad experience on a dive or with a dive operator, don’t give up move on as there are many, many, options and the vast majority of dive operators are good at what they do, keeping you a happy diver. After all, a dive centre filled with enthusiastic divers is a fun place to be and to these individuals diving will soon become a way of life. Diving has more to offer than any other sport in the world. (My opinion, yes, but shared by millions.)

Dive briefings

Diving in Cape Town is often done without a Divemaster. Many of the dive sites are shore entries and quite often they are dived by casual divers and groups of friends.

Dive briefing on the beach at Sodwana
Dive briefing on the beach at Sodwana

Resort environments most often only conduct led dives, meaning there is a Divemaster that knows the site, the local conditions and the wildlife you will most likely encounter. These dives will invariably start with a dive briefing where the site will often be drawn on the sand or displayed in a book. The Divemaster will detail the site, the dive time, what percentage of you air will mean that you are “low on air” (often based on the depth, conditions and skills of the group), who leads, who follows and who buddies up with whom. Dive time and profile will also probably be based on the Divemaster’s computer. A good briefing will also cover lost buddy procedure, what to do in an emergency and the hand signals that will be used. Entry and exit techniques or special requirements will also feature. Some briefings will also include the signals for specific creatures.

In essence a dive briefing should cover as much as possible is a relatively short time (10 minute briefings will bore any diver to death) unless you are planning a very technical or potentially hazardous dive. The more you cover in a briefing the less chance of confusion underwater.

Diving, irrespective of the location is best conducted in a safe manner. (You get to do a lot more dives that way!) Understanding the weather, assessing the conditions and having some knowledge of the site goes a long way to ensure a good dive. Diving within your own ability also rates highly.

Cape Town offers the qualified diver a wide range of dives and the fact that there might not be a Divemaster with you does not mean you should not experience the dives. There are a few basics to consider, knowing the dive site is only possible after you have dived it a few times. Once you have decided to dive a site, read all the available information on the wikivoyage site for diving in Cape Town. This website will be your Divemaster. It will tell you how to get in and out, what skills and qualifications you need, depth, and the marine life to be expected. It will also tell you which weather conditions are best for the site. Pay close attention to the bearings if you want to see a specific feature, and know what the bearing is to get you back to shore.

Armed with all of this knowledge you and your buddy/buddies need only agree on a few issues before you set off. Plan your dive and dive your plan. If you agree it will be a 40 minute dive, stick to that. If you decide on who will lead then keep the order as such. Who your buddy will be and depth are important and it is important to agree on signals. As a qualified diver you are responsible for your own air so you need not have a Divemaster check it for you. If you are a group that dive together often then its best to base the dive time on the member with the worst air consumption, unless they are happy to return to shore alone. You will need a compass, and you will need to read the site details together to ensure you all have a good idea of the environment and likely conditions. You must have an SMB as this avoids the potential haircut you can receive from a passing boat.

It should not be required to cover this but I will ANYWAY, Make sure your equipment is proper, the correct size, and in serviceable condition. Don’t enter the water if you have an equipment malfunction or a leak or any other issue. Don’t think “we won’t be deep,” or “we won’t be far from the shore” and dive with faulty equipment. Should an emergency arise and you are swept out to sea, that small leak on you BCD will soon be a huge problem.

Diving is a very safe sport if you follow the rules, do the checks, and dive within your training. Do these things and you will have thousands of dives, each one often better that the last one.

Lomography: Dive buddies

My camera housing has a large mechanical shutter release button, and when I don’t turn it off after a dive it sometimes bumps against my leg as I walk up the beach. The resulting accidental photographs, while neither beautiful nor perfectly composed, have a particular charm. While I can’t conceive of purposely taking a bad photo (you can always make it look bad afterwards in Photoshop!), when I look at these photographs I can almost see the appeal that lomography has among the trendy hipster set (of which I am emphatically not a member).

Here are some of my favourite pictures of my dive buddies:

Tony disentangling his camera gear at Long Beach
Tony disentangling his camera gear at Long Beach

The fair Kate spent two months with us doing a Zero to Hero course (Open Water to Divemaster). She spent a lot of time towing the buoy around!

Kate walking up the beach behind me with the buoy
Kate walking up the beach behind me with the buoy
Kate waits on the sand
Kate waits on the sand

Kate and I took Jeremy, a Canadian visitor, for a dive one November day. We saw beautiful schools of strepies on that dive. You can see my face at the top right of this photo, looking down at the camera. I was probably about to unclip it from my BCD.

Jeremy the Canadian
Jeremy the Canadian

Finally, here are some student photos…

Mark removing his mask
Mark removing his mask
Tony and a student leaving the water
Tony and a student leaving the water

This could actually be Kate!

Mystery student of Tony's
Mystery student of Tony's

Handy hints: Learn to dine today

Tony and I eat a lot of rubbish most days we dive. There’s an early morning (often before 0700) departure from home (and I’m NOT good in the mornings) and we usually only finish up around 1500 if we do more than one dive. We’re also generally based in locations where shops and restaurants are few and far between. I’m trying to correct this in a healthy way, but after a couple of hours submerged in 10 degree water we’re cold and hungry enough to eat just about anything…

Cecil and Gerard dining in style at Long Beach between dives
Cecil and Gerard dining in style at Long Beach between dives

So imagine how inspired and impressed I was to see Gerard (a regular in our Handy Hints section) and his dive buddy Cecil’s arrangements for the morning they were to spend at Long Beach in Simon’s Town between dives. As you can see in the picture above, they have camping chairs, an improvised table on the back of Cecil’s bakkie, rolls, a flask of hot coffee, and (I kid you not – Cecil is offering it to Gerard) some wheat-free, gluten-free quiche, made – I supect – by Cecil’s beloved better half.

Now THAT is dining in style!

Are you a good diver?

Who decides when you can be considered a good diver? When do you feel you are a good diver? Most of all, what makes a good diver?

Having good buoyancy skills, good air consumption and being quick and efficient kitting up are all signs of a good diver, as are having serviceable kit and the right gear for the dive. Hundreds of dives in your log book are also meant to be a good indication, but are they? All too often you find that more experienced divers have long forgotten the early days when they were the ones on the boat without any experience. At some point we all were new divers, holding up the launch because we forgot something, holding up the backward roll because we hadn’t defogged our mask, or put our fins on yet. We have all been there, forgetting to put your weight belt on first and then making everyone wait while you de-kit and re-kit to get ready.

Adam, Kirstin and Goot kitting up on the boat
Adam, Kirstin and Goot kitting up on the boat

Often the more experienced diver will take the same risks that a novice will but for different reasons.

An experienced diver might dive with a loose or worn weight belt buckle or a leaky inflator or leaking regulator because they have been diving with it like that for ages, whereas a novice might do the same out of ignorance, not realising these problems exist purely  due to  the lack of experience.

Before you decide that you can class yourself as a good diver you need to have all of these skills plus a few I may have forgotten:

  • good buoyancy
  • good air consumption
  • correct finning techniques
  • a good understanding of the ‘’dive buddy’’’ concept

As far as equipment goes you need to dive with  well maintained gear even if it’s old:

  • the right safety gear, i.e. SMB, reel, knife
  • snorkel (depending on the circumstances)
  • compass
  • timing device or computer, depth gauge,
  • good exposure protection: gloves, hoodies, etc if you are cold water diving

But most of all you need the right attitude. Be helpful to the novice sitting next to you that is struggling to get into their equipment, have some tolerance for their  inexperience. South Africa has one of the highest rates of new divers giving up diving after their initial training course. Much of this has to do with the feeling of inadequacy bestowed on them by experienced divers and a large part due to their first few dives being conducted in less than optimal conditions.

Be my buddy…

Many experienced divers have very low tolerance levels for new divers, especially on a boat. It is sad that they have quickly forgotten that they were once a greenhorn, new to the world of diving and slow in getting ready once the boat had reached the dive site. These are usually the divers that will do stupid things thinking they are “exceptional divers” and in fact they are the ones that should know better. Experience comes with time, time underwater exposes you to many different situations and we all learn from these sometimes silly mistakes and sometimes dangerous errors of judgment.

An Open Water course, irrespective of the certifying agency, is essentially an introduction to the basics, and all the skills you acquire during your course will not be of a huge benefit in a dire situation unless you hone them from time to time. Many a diver will not have removed their mask underwater since they did their first dive course and I know of many such divers who have never performed any of the skills since the training days of their course.

You will seldom see an experienced diver doing a buddy check, but you will often be asked to turn their air on for them after they have kitted up and are ready to roll into the water. You will seldom see them checking their buddy’s training level, but will often see them alone at the bottom without a clue as to their buddy’s whereabouts. You will seldom hear anyone on the boat voicing any concerns about the dive site or the dive conditions, yet you will hear all of these thoughts after the dive. Imaging swimming around underwater blissfully unaware of the near-panic state half the group are in. What will you do if you are suddenly faced with a group of panicked divers?

Dirk, Tony and Cecil on the surface at North Paw
Dirk, Tony and Cecil on the surface at North Paw

A  few simple tips

Imagine this… You are qualified and ready to explore the world. You book a dive and are allocated a buddy on the boat on the way to the dive site. “Hi my name is Bob!” and a few minutes later you backward roll into the water. Descending slowly you look at your buddy Bob, who is descending like a rocket as he is wearing twice the required weight and wonder, “Can he dive? How long will he stay down? What will I do if he sucks his cylinder dry in 10 minutes and refuses to surface alone?”

Diving is a very safe sport. Follow the rules and things just don’t go wrong, but deviate, modify and ignore them and a good dive can turn bad very quickly.

  • Know your buddy. Prior knowledge that your buddy has problems equalising will prevent you sitting on the bottom waiting for 20 minutes for them to descend.
  • Know how his equipment works, know his dive style and know his level of experience
  • Have a plan that includes the depth you will go to, the route you will follow, who will lead and what your planned low on air pressure will be, will he ascend alone, do you both have an SMB, a knife, a snorkel and a whistle?
  • Know what feature of his attire you will use to recognise him as divers all kitted out in black look very similar in 3 metre visibility.
  • Know your own equipment well, know your limits and voice your apprehension if it is there before the dive Knowing your buddy is terrified of jellyfish makes it easier to understand their need to swim at high speed in the opposite direction when confronted by one.
  • Do a thorough buddy check: it takes but a minute, remember that there is a 100% chance that a problem experienced underwater by either you or your buddy is going to be your problem, so plan your dive and dive your plan.

Diving with a buddy

During your Open Water course you are conditioned to dive with a buddy, and a part of the training is doing a buddy check. There are many benefits to a buddy check, but a quick once over of your buddy who does the same to you is not enough. A decent buddy check covering all of the elements of BWARF ensures you and your buddy are ready, have air, have no dangly bits and have all the required items (a mask is not part of a check but try and dive without one and see how little you see).


You both have octos. It’s important to test yours, but equally important is that you test your buddy’s – after all there is a good chance it’s you that will need it in an emergency. Equally important is that you know where everything is on your buddy’s gear. It is unlikely that everyone knows just how to ditch their buddy’s weights if they have an integrated weight system.

Often you will be allocated a buddy on the boat, on the way to the dive site, and you have no idea what kind of gear they are using or even what it looks like. Try and make sure you buddy is next to you on the boat. Once in the water find them on the surface first, and descend together; looking for a total stranger at depth can be a little difficult.

Agree beforehand what the plan is when the first one of you reach the stipulated low on air pressure. Decide who is going to lead, discuss who will navigate, what your dive time will be, your dive profile and so on.

Few people realise just how enjoyable diving is when you have the same buddy dive after dive. Clare and I have done close to 100 dives together and we are so set in our ways that we know exactly what the other is thinking , planning and how each of us will react in a given set of circumstances. For example, when we found a horsefish at Long Beach, I displayed an animated action of a horse being ridden. Clare understood what I was doing but the other six divers in our group thought I was a lunatic.

Know your buddy, plan your dive and dive your plan.