Newsletter: Diving

Hi everyone

SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay
The SAS Transvaal is a huge naval frigate

The weekend was a real humdinger and we started off with a early boat dive out of Miller’s Point, seven of us all together and we visited the wreck of the SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay. The wreck, 94 metres long, lies in 34 metres of water and the top of the deck is at about 29 metres. Once we were down we dispensed with the deep skills for the guys doing their Advanced course and then cruised down the length of the wreck to the stern before starting back up to the dive boat.

SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay
SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay

Besides the good viz of about 8–10 metres we were honored with three Southern Right whales waiting for us when we surfaced. There are more photos on the blog and Facebook of these huge whales and tiny divers less than 50 metres apart. The whales don’t know the 300 metres regulations and we were forced to back away from them as they were totally oblivious of us. Coming face to face with such a majestic creature, in its own environment, relaxed and content to have us gawking is one of the many reasons diving is so rewarding. We were treated to them fluking, blowing broad V-shaped water fountains and diving around us. I would guess they were around 12 – 16 metres long. That is a lot bigger than the 9 metre rubber duck we were on. The skipperwas quick to get everyone on board and back slowly away from them.

Southern Right whales and divers in Smitswinkel Bay
Southern Right whales and divers in Smitswinkel Bay

Fisherman’s Beach

Urchins at Fisherman's Beach
Urchins at Fisherman’s Beach

The day got even better and after lunch we dived and explored the site called Fisherman’s Beach or sometimes called Froggy Pond. Clean white sand, an easy entry and several clusters of rocky reef make this an amazing site. We found a crevice in a small swim through that is home to a huge octopus and and he was very wary of us as I was on the one side of the opening trying to get a picture and Justin was on the other side peeking in. We were also treated to a very amusing feeding frenzy by a school of Fransmadam. I picked up a piece of kelp root and broke it into little pieces and they went wild snatching pieces from each other.

Coraline algae and other life encrusting a kelp stem
Coraline algae and other life encrusting a kelp stem

Long Beach

Door in the floor at Long Beach
Door in the floor at Long Beach

Today we dived at Long Beach and were able to confirm the hiding place of the pyjama catsharks with a photo. They are primarily nocturnal but are sometimes seen in the day. Over the last few weeks I have seen them in a small hideout a few times, never really sure of what I was seeing as it is a small opening. Today I put my video light in the opening and and held my camera in the entrance and took a few photos. They were sleeping stacked on top of one another.

We saw quite a few sea jellies, of different varieties, and lots of fish. It seems to be breeding season, as I also spotted a teeming mass of about 30 warty pleurobranchs the size of my fingernail – perhaps they had just hatched.

We were joined by Alexandra who has recently moved to Cape Town and has done lots of warm water diving. So the chilly Cape waters came as a bit of a shock!

Alex checking out a box jellyfish
Alex checking out a box jellyfish

Diving this week

Tuesday: Peak Performance buoyancy,

Thursday: Seven gill cow sharks.

Friday: I want to explore the Kalk Bay Harbour wall.

I have students on Saturday and Sunday starting their Open Water course, but we will start after lunch so I am planning another wreck dive to one of the other wrecks in Smitswinkel Bay on Saturday morning. With boat dives I need confirmation by Wednesday night.

For the group joining me in Sodwana don’t forget the dinner on Tuesday for final planning.

Have a good week and try and get wet, it beats sitting behind a desk, tell your boss you need a day of aquatic therapy, then come and dive, you will feel better the next day!!!

Permits: All divers need a permit, so please get yours at a post office near you.


Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
Diving is addictive!

Whale alert!

Tony took a group of divers on the boat yesterday, to dive the SAS Transvaal in Smitswinkel Bay. Two of them were advanced students who had to do their deep skills.

Deep skills
Justin and Gerard complete their deep slates with Tony

I was testing my new Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5 digital camera in its marine housing. The underwater shots are a mixed bag of quality so far – I was a bit over-ambitious trying to get grand sweeping shots, given that the visibility was only about 10 metres and the ship is nearly 94 metres long… But overall it was tremendously easy to use. More on the camera later, but I wanted to share these pictures taken on the surface. We’d seen whales on the way to the dive site, and when we surfaced they were very close. I took these photos from the boat while the others were still in the water.

Divers and whales
Divers and whales in Smitswinkel Bay – note the callosities on the whales’ heads
Divers and whales
Look at the size of those fins!
Divers and whales
Southern right whale frolicking in Smitswinkel Bay

The sound they make when they expel air (and mucous and nitrogen waste products, according to Wikipedia) from their blowholes is tremendously loud. I wanted to go to the airshow this weekend, not so much as to SEE the planes (though that is cool) but to HEAR them – I love the noise. However, after hearing a few of these whales snorting from less than 20 metres away, my desire for LOUD NOISES was satisfied.

Southern right whales
Southern right whales

The surface current was pushing the divers towards the whales, at which point the skipper got everyone back on the boat and carefully moved us away. Whales don’t always respect the 300 metre rule!

Why it’s a good idea to carry an SMB

When I met Tony he was living in Mozambique, and when his visa ended he moved to Durban. Around that time we had decided we quite enjoyed each other’s company, so I flew up every second weekend to visit him. He was working at Calypso Dive and Adventure Centre at uShaka Marine World as an Instructor and Divemaster, so I tagged along on dives on the Saturday mornings I was in town. I was a fairly new diver at the time (it was September 2009).

It was the first time I’d come up to Durban to see him, and he had a student who had to do a deep dive on the Saturday morning. The boat was heading out to the Coopers Lighthouse wreck, a mysterious ship lying in 24-32 metres of water whose identity is not certain. Some people think it’s an old whaler, but there are several theories as to its origin. The wreck is thought to be about 100 years old and situated in line with the Cooper Lighthouse on the Bluff.

The rubber duck left the beach at 0700. The sea was looking quite bumpy, and the boat ride wasn’t great. I am not the best sailor, but as long as the boat is moving I’m fine. It’s about a 25 minute ride through shipping lanes, south of Durban harbour.

There was a howling current when we arrived at the site, and while we kitted up on the boat we drifted some way from the shot line hooked to the wreck. The sea was horrible – I alternated vomiting over the side (so embarrassing) with doing up clips on my BCD! Once we were ready, the skipper circled round and dropped us close to the shot line, but on the wrong side – so the current was taking us away from the line rather than towards it. I was with Tony, and his student – who was on the other side of the boat – had managed to get to the shot line and was holding on for dear life. In the current, his body was horizontal, like a flag in a strong wind.

Tony and I swam and swam, for what felt like an hour. We were swimming into the current at about 10 metres depth, but I think we were either standing still or moving backwards (it must have looked quite funny, if you were in that sort of mood). We could see Tony’s student, and we could see the shot line ahead of us, and then it just seemed to vanish. By that time the student had joined us, and the current had taken us out of sight of the line.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would do at that point, but Tony had a plan, which he explained to me later, on dry land. We descended to about 20 metres, and stayed there for about 20 minutes. The three of us were hanging in the blue ocean – no sign of the bottom – surrounded by shoals of fish. We could have surfaced immediately when we lost the shot line, but then we’d have had to spend the duration of the dive sitting on the boat, which was being tossed about like a cork. (I’d already demonstrated low tolerance for this kind of activity by chumming the local fish life while kitting up.) That’s if the boat had even found us – the skipper wouldn’t be expecting divers to surface after only ten minutes, and the conditions were not conducive to him spotting us as soon as we surfaced.

After about 20 minutes we began our ascent, doing a safety stop at 5 metres with an SMB deployed. When we reached the surface, the sea was mountainous. There was no sign of the boat, and even if it had been five metres away from us we’d have struggled to see it because of the size of the waves. Tony clipped our BCDs together so that we would drift more slowly (larger surface area to offer resistance to the current), and told me to keep my regulator in my mouth becuase the waves were so big. (It was on this dive that I discovered that you can vomit through a regulator… useful fact to keep in mind…)

Then we waited. The bright orange SMB stuck up between us, and in between gags I scanned the horizon (which was not very large, thanks to the waves) for the boat. The three of us floated there for 55 minutes before the boat found us. After being hauled aboard like a drowned rat I heaved over the side for good measure and then concentrated on my lollipop.

The skipper told Tony he’d been driving around looking for us, cursing Tony for not having an SMB deployed. We did – but the waves were so big that the boat was practically on top of us before it could be seen. If we hadn’t had an SMB, I very much doubt they would have found us without the aid of the NSRI.

Reels and surface marker buoy (SMB)
Different sized reels and surface marker buoys (SMB)

For the uninitiated, SMB stands for Surface Marker Buoy. They’re generally tubes of orange, red or yellow plastic, that you inflate by inserting your octo or regulator at the bottom, and purging it. It’s generally considered good practice to deploy an SMB at the safety stop when you’re on a boat dive – it warns other boats of your presence, signals that you’re ok, and gives your skipper an indication of where to come and fetch you.

If you get lost on the surface, a SMB is essential. You’re not very visible dressed from head to toe in black, and that orange tube might be the only difference between a very long time drifting on the surface, and a quick rescue. They fold up really small, and with a little practice are very straightforward to deploy. If you’re diving off a boat, or in an unfamiliar location, make sure you pack your SMB.

Oral inflation

As I have mentioned before, problems arise when we don’t follow our training. I was working at a busy resort as skipper, Divemaster and Instructor. On a busy day I would kit up at 6.00am, launch the boat, dive, hit the beach to collect the next group, quickly change cylinders and head straight back out again to dive, sometimes doing four or five dives a day. We would only be done by early evening so there was no time for kit maintenance.

I had a problem with my inflator during the last dive of the day and quickly replaced it with a spare from my dusty tool kit late in the evening. Being too tired to fetch a cylinder I did not test it (mistake number one). The following morning I was distracted whilst kitting up and did not test it (mistake number two). The first dive of the day was to 40 metres. Being skipper and Divemaster meant I did not have too much time on the boat for a buddy check (mistake number three).

Half way down to the reef I intended slowing my descent and found my inflator was not working. Ah, no problem, I teach people how to orally inflate their BCD every time I have a student so I was not concerned. What I had forgotten was the pressure exerted at 40 metres on the bladder of your BCD is way more than you can imagine and oral inflation at that depth is a lot more difficult than it is at 18 metres. Instead of a few small breaths to reduce my descent it took a good eight or ten and by this time I was ready to bounce off the bottom.

Diving at Ponta do Ouro
Diving at Ponta do Ouro

The moral of my story: remember to always do a buddy check even if you have to do it on yourself. Don’t skip this step! And don’t change anything on your kit without testing it prior to dropping off a boat.

Breathing underwater

Most divers ask “how long will my air last?” There are several variables to this but primary factors are how much air you start with, the depth you intend diving to, and your rate of consumption.

Body size is important, and activity underwater and stress levels are also factors. Fitness is not necessarily an huge factor. An unfit overweight diver that moves slowly in a relaxed manner will consume less air than an elite athlete with a high stress level finning inefficiently.

A 12 litre cylinder filled to 200 bar will have 2400 litres of air. If your breathing rate is 20 litres a minute on the surface you could use the cylinder for 120 minutes. The same cylinder at 30 metres will only last 30 minutes.

If you decide to purchase your own cylinder, it’s critical to maintain it

The technical jargon to work out your predicted air consumption per minute is as follows:

The volume of the tank is divided by the breathing rate multiplied by the absolute pressure of the depth at which it is breathed.

Afterwards, you can calculate your realised or actual breathing rate for a particular dive. Take the amount of air you consumed on the dive in bar, and work out how many litres you used using the above information. You can work out how many litres of air you used per minute by dividing the number of litres by the dive time. You can track your air consumption, and tie it to a variety of factors – how you felt on the day, your weighting, how your gear was set up, and of course depth – if you keep proper records in your logbook for each dive.

Plan your dive and dive your plan

Three divers approached me at the dive centre one day, requesting I take them to a dive site where they could dive to 60 metres. They wanted to test some new equipment configurations. Two were certified advanced Nitrox divers, qualified deep technical divers and had made several dives to over a hundred metres… in a lake. The third diver, like myself, was qualified to dive to 40 metres.

So we draw up a plan: they will dive to 60 metres, spend 6 minutes at that depth, ascend to 50 metres and spend 5 minutes there, then ascend to 40 metres 5 minutes thereafter and so on until the reached 6 metres where they would switch to pure oxygen to reduce the deco stop time as the current at this site is strong. The third diver and myself would meet them at 40metres.

Using a software program called V Planner we calculated that including the descent time and ascent times for each stage, at a controlled rate, we would enter the water precisely 16 minutes after they started their dive and we would meet them at 40 metres. We would then all be together for the next 30 minutes, ascending with them to their 6 metre safety stop, ensure they had both switched to pure oxygen and then leave them and return to the boat.

The plan was that we would spend 6 minutes on our descent to 40 metres and all four of us would reach 40 metres together. They were made to clearly understand that should they have a problem at any depth deeper than 40 metres we would not be able to help them as we were diving 12 litre steel cylinders on a Nitrox 32% mix, limiting our depth – and what’s more we did not have the qualifications to go to 60 metres.

We discussed the plan in great detail and everyone was set. A red SMB would be hoisted if they experienced any difficulty and a yellow would be released once we met at 40 metres.

Mistakes happen

We started our descent on time, and watching my dive computer and timer I descended at the agreed rate. My buddy, however, did not. He descended way too fast. Believing that they would be in control of their dive he descended very fast and joined them, ahead of schedule at a depth of 55 metres. They were 3 minutes behind schedule as they had struggled to come to terms with the ocean current. Now we had a problem. I waited at 40 metres, but they arrived late, and this meant I would risk going into deco before we left for the 30 metre stop.

At this point my buddy ran out of air. He was closer to the deep divers as he was reading their slates, so he grabbed the first regulator he could see: the deco tank regulator, filled with pure oxygen. At depth oxygen is toxic and can kill you in a matter of minutes. I grabbed it out of his mouth, so he grabbed my regulator out of my mouth as he was now starting to panic. He was holding onto me so tight I could not reach my octo so I reached for the octo of another diver. So here we were three divers locked together at 40 metres, each with a regulator in our mouths that belonged to someone else. I managed to get him calmed and off my cylinder and onto the octo of the deep diver with the most air. Now back to normal, we started our ascent and did the required safety stops, reached the 6 metre stop for them to switch to oxygen and headed for the surface. I reached the surface with 10 bar in my tank.

Deep dive
Ascending from the almost disastrous deep dive on Atlantis in Ponta do Ouro. Note the hang tank of pure oxygen.

My buddy had been to 55 m on a Nitrox mix of 32%. The maximum safe depth for this blend is 40 metres. He had almost sucked on a cylinder of oxygen at 40 metres, this is a lethal dose at depth. Mistakes happen. Be meticulous with dive planning, rehearse your incident scenarios and make sure you dive your plan.

False Bay and Cape Peninsula dive sites

Peter Southwood has a list of the dive sites in the Cape Peninsula and False Bay on his wikivoyage site for diving in the region. Here’s our list (which is just his, alphabetised, plus some other sites we’ve explored of our own accord) with links to the dive sites we’ve done specific posts on.

This post will be regularly updated as we dive new sites.

13th Apostle
A-Frame (Oatlands Point)
Albatross Rock
Alpha Reef (Outer Spaniard)
Ammunition Barges
Andre se gat
Bakoven Rock
Bantry Bay
Batsata Rock
Bikini Beach
Blouklip (Bloukrans)
Blousteen Ridge
Blue Rock Quarry
Boat Rock (Bakoven Rock)
Buffels Bay
Caravan Reef
Castle Rocks and Parson’s Nose
Castor Rock
Cement Barge
Clifton Rocks
Container Bay (Mike’s Bay)
Coral Gardens (Oudekraal)
Coral Gardens (Rooiels)
Cow and Calf
Dale Brook
D-Frame (Oatlands Reef, Wave Rock)
Di’s Cracks
Die Josie
Die Perd
Dreadlocks Reef
Fan Reef
Finlay’s Point (Jenga Reef)
Finlay’s Deep
Fish Hoek Reef
Fisherman’s Beach
Froggy Pond
Geldkis Blinder
Hakka Reef (Middelmas)
Hangklip Ridge
Het Huis te Kraaiestein
Hout Bay Harbour
Insanity Reef
Justin’s Caves
Kalk Bay Harbour Wall
Kanobi’s Wall
Klein Pannekoek
Klein Tafelberg Reef (Salad bowl, Yacht wreck))
Kruis (Crosses)
Logies Bay
Long Beach
Lorry Bay
Maidstone Rock
MFV Orotava
MFV Princess Elizabeth
Mike’s Point
Miller’s Point
Muizenberg Trawlers
Murray’s Bay Harbour (Robben Island)
Mushroom Pinnacle
MV Aster
MV BOS 400
MV Daeyang Family
MV Gemsbok
MV Katsu Maru
MV Rockeater
MV Romelia
MV Treasure
Noah’s Ark and the Ark Rock Wrecks

North Battery Pipeline
North Lion’s Paw
Outer Castle (Blindevals)
Outer Photographer’s Reef
Partridge Point and Seal Rock
Penguin Point (Boulders)
Percy’s Hole
Phil’s Bay
Phoenix Shoal
Photographer’s Reef (JJM Reef)
Pie Rock
Pringle Bay
Pringle Bay Point
Rambler Rock
RMS Athens
Rocklands Blinder (Seal Colony)
Rocky Bank
Rocky Bay
Roman Rock
Roman’s Rest
Rooi-els Point
Sandy Cove
SAS Bloemfontein
SAS Fleur
SAS Gelderland
SAS Good Hope
SAS Pietermaritzburg
SAS Transvaal
SATS General Botha
Seal Island
Seal Island (Duiker island)
Sea Point Ridge Pinnacles
Shark Alley
Simon’s Town Harbour
Smits Cliff (Hell’s Gate)
Smits Reef (Birthday Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Batsata Maze)
Smits swim
South Lion’s Paw
South-west Reefs
Spaniard Rock
SS Bia
SS Cape Matapan
SS Clan Monroe
SS Clan Stuart
SS Hypatia
SS Lusitania
SS Maori
SS Oakburn
SS SA Seafarer
SS Star of Africa
SS Thomas T Tucker
SS Umhlali
Star Wall
Steenbras Deep Reef
Stern Reef
Strawberry Rocks
Sunny Cove
Tafelberg Deep
Tafelberg Reef
Three Anchor Bay
Tivoli Pinnacles
Tony’s Reef
Torch Reef
Troglodyte’s Cove (Cave Gully)
Two Oceans Aquarium
Vulcan Rock
Whale Rock
Whirlpool cove
Whittle Rock
Windmill Beach
Wonder Reef

Bookshelf: Extreme diving

Not for everyone, but definitely fun to read about… Here you will find accounts of dives to great depths, to shipwrecks and into caves, and dives pushing the limits of human physiology. Find a book about extreme diving in this lovely list.

Cave diving

Deep diving and technical diving

  • Raising the Deadcave diving tragedy at Boesmansgat
  • Fatally Flawed – reminiscences of deep cave diver Verna van Schaik
  • Deep Descent – diving the Andrea Doria
  • Shadow Divers – identifying a WWII submarine in the north Atlantic
  • The Last Dive living fast and loose as deep technical divers
  • Submerged – the memoir of Daniel Lenihan, who has worked around the world to preserve underwater heritage sites
  • Dark Descent – diving the wreck of the Empress of Ireland

Commercial diving


Bookshelf: Diving adventures

Here’s a reading list of diving adventures, old and new, spanning all kinds of diving. From Arthur C. Clarke’s chronicles of diving the pristine Great Barrier Reef and Sri Lanka several decades ago, to more modern accounts of wreck diving around the world, you’ll be sure to find something that meets your reading requirements here. Get set for an armchair diving adventure of note!

Travelling divers and interesting lives:

Maniacs (some admirable!):