Newsletter: Hello pumpkins

Hi divers

Weekend dives

Launching on Saturday and Sunday, at 9.30am and 12pm – conditions are dubious, so a final call on the status of the launches and their locations will be made first thing on each morning. Text or email me if you want to dive.

Hawkfish at Bluff Point
Hawkfish at Bluff Point

Red Sea trip

So, the Red Sea trip has come and gone and without a doubt I will miss the visibility the most. On a bad day we had 20 metre viz and on a good day easily 40. I won’t go into the dives that much as Clare will post details with pictures on the blog and facebook in the coming weeks. We did about 20 dives in total so there is a lot to cover. Every dive was done on Nitrox. Since it’s Halloween, the photos in this newsletter are from one of the night dives we did while we were in Egypt, at a wreck of a small barge located at Bluff Point.

Having been out of the Cape Town water for the last two weeks I have very little to contribute but I am keen to get in the water this weekend and shock my self into the reality of slightly cooler water.

Basket star at Bluff Point
Basket star at Bluff Point

Dive conditions

As usual we are puppets on the strings of weather forecasts that all have oddities this weekend. Tomorrow and Saturday False Bay is supposed to have a south easterly swell and a south easterly wind. That means that Atlantic might work. It does not look too clean today but the south easter tomorrow might be enough to clean it up (but don’t hold your breath – one day of south easter is rarely sufficient).

On Sunday the swell is very westerly so that is good for False Bay, but will Saturday’s swell ruin it? Hard to tell. The plan therefore is two launches on Saturday and two on Sunday at 9.30 and 12 noon. Destination unknown, but irrespective of whether we dive False Bay, Hout Bay or Table Bay there are so many sites to choose from and we you can decide on the day. I will go and take a look at the sea really early and text whoever has booked by 7.30 as to the launch site.

Moray eels at the Barge wreck, Bluff Point
Moray eels at the Barge wreck, Bluff Point

Diversnight International

It’s Diversnight on Thursday 7th (this coming Thursday) and we will dive the jetty in Simon’s Town as we did last year. We will meet in front of Bertha’s at about 7.00 -7.15pm, and aim to enter the water at around 8 pm. The whole idea is to have as many divers in the water at precisely 2013… Thirteen minutes past eight, around the world. Sign up (or get details) here.

If you need to rent a torch or gear, please let me know by Wednesday! And don’t forget that there will be a couple of lucky draw prizes, and cake!

Dates to diarise

DAN Day, Saturday 9 November – remember to book in advance if you want to attend.

We are still running our lucky draw boat dive/Nitrox course competition for passengers on our boat each month from October to December. October’s winner will be announced in next week’s newsletter, and on facebook. To be eligible to win a prize (of a Nitrox course, or two free boat dives if you’re already Nitrox certified), you just need to do a boat dive with us. Simple!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Sunset on a Long Beach night dive

I took these two short video clips on a night dive at Long Beach on 20 July.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWwjtk55e8s&&w=540″]

In the first clip, it’s still quite light. Dinho is breathing off his octo because it free flowed at the beginning of the dive.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GseDbLlpQA4&w=540″]

The second clip, which was taken just a minute or two later, is much darker – the sun was setting at that very moment. At the end you can see Tony in his Batman hoodie. You can also glimpse Craig over the kelp on the wreck, with the buoy line, and Tamsyn in a wetsuit with blue detailing on the arms. We were eight all together for this dive, and the light shed by our torches and cyalumes is quite considerable.

For another glimpse of what night diving is like, you can check out another video here.

Christmas gift guide 2012

In the interest of planning ahead, here’s our annual Christmas gift guide. This is specially for the people whose idea of a good gift is “whatever’s available in a shop close to the mall entrance on 23 December!”

Books

For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!

For lady divers

For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water – suggestions here, otherwise try what I’m currently using: Aussie Moist Three Minute Miracle, which is available at Clicks. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.

Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Memberships

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

My underwater alphabet is available for R200 in A1 size, fully laminated. Shout if you want a copy.

If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful:

FAQ: What’s it like on a night dive?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca0VmARGEYEw=540]

Clare took this short clip on a night dive we did in February at Long Beach. There were seven divers, and you can see that – contrary to what you might expect – there’s quite a lot of light to see by. The frantically waving torch you can see at one point was me signalling to Clare to come and have a look at a doublesash butterflyfish we’d found. The visibility on this dive was about 5 metres.

This dive was part of JP’s Advanced course and Corne’s Divemaster training; the other divers just came along for fun. You can elect to do a night dive as one of your three dive choices on the Advanced course (you have to do a deep dive and a navigation dive), and you can even do an entire Night Diving Specialty if that’s what floats your boat. Divemasters are expected to be familiar with night diving in order to be certified.

Night diving is excellent training for low visibility diving in general. Divers each carry a torch (preferably two), and we use strobes and cyalumes attached to each diver’s cylinder to keep track of everyone. At the beginning of the dive we cover our lights and allow our eyes to acclimatise to the gloom. It’s surprising how much ambient light there is, specially if there’s a full moon.

Documentary: Ghosts of the Abyss

Ghosts of the Abyss
Ghosts of the Abyss

I must say I was not filled with optimism when the Disney logo swirled across our screen at the start of the DVD, but having watched all 60-odd minutes of this James Cameron (he of the 1997 film Titanic, inter alia) production, my concerns were dispelled.

In many ways this documentary can be viewed as the companion piece either to the movie Titanic, or to the various books by Robert G. Ballard concerning this great wreck. Having become fascinated by the ship, Cameron mounted an expedition in August and September 2001, on board a research vessel loaded with Mir 1 and Mir 2, two Russian submersibles, as well as two ROVs, each about the size of a cooler box (albeit cooler boxes costing $250,000), that were able to penetrate the wreck while being operated remotely, tethered to the main submersibles by fiber optic cables.

The documentary is narrated by Bill Paxton, star of my favourite series Big Love, who played a role in the movie Titanic and actually goes on a dive or two in the submersibles. The experience of descending the 4,000 or so metres to the ocean floor, and seeing the great ship illuminated by a special lighting rig to facilitate cinematography, must be life-altering. Tony and I had a (brief) debate as to whether we’d accept the offer of a visit to the wreck in one of the tiny (three-man) submersibles… The agreement was that we would, as long as we went together!

The view out of the windows of the Mirs is very limited, so cameras mounted outside the submersible record the state of the wreck and the faces of the submersible passengers as seen through their view ports. Animation is used to show where fittings and decorations existed, and then faded away to show the way the wreck looks now (or did, ten years ago). On one hand it’s a scene of great devastation, but on the other surprising details remain as they were that April night in 1912. A water carafe stands on a dresser, undisturbed; leaded glass windows survive intact; and part of the ship’s steering equipment remains on the bridge.

Until now the most complete pictures I’d seen of this wreck were artist’s renderings – its great depth, size and the darkness surrounding it preclude wide-angle photography. The sophisticated lighting and camera equipment used by Cameron’s crew produced spectacular footage that evokes both the loneliness and the grandeur of the wreck. The film was originally produced for an Imax in 3D.

You can get the DVD here if you are in South Africa, otherwise here.

Shark “research”

It is true to say sharks are in trouble worldwide. Almost any attention to their plight is a step in the right direction. Sadly all too often the attention the sharks receive in the media is of little value to their plight and is purely an attempt to boost the participants’ perception of themselves as “great shark experts”.

This article describes a show that is a perfect example of this. It describes the National Geographic Shark Attack Experiment Live. Does the name make you skeptical? It should. The “experiment” sets out to show little concern for the sharks – a perspex cage was placed in the ocean that a shark would quite likely swim into and risk injury (and I am sure there would be no reporting on this if it happened).

The National Geographic Shark Experiment starts from a premise that comes straight out of Jaws: sharks want to eat people. The only refinement is that the experimenters planned to figure out what garnish they prefer. What is shocking is that the participants are all people who present themselves as being very concerned about sharks. This kind of so-called research is exploitative, tacky, and in poor taste – but, more fundamentally, it does nothing to remove the stigma associated with sharks as mindless predators. It panders to the Shark Week mentality of sharks as ravenous beasts with blood dripping from their jaws, tantalises viewers – exactly as Jaws did – with views of bikini-clad women swimming with apex predators, and has no scientific content whatsoever.

An assortment of other “experiments” were performed, such as dangling a string of plastic beads in front of a shark to prove a bling theory (who thinks this up? no one swims with a pearl necklace on). Once the diver dropped it the sharks followed it down and possibly ate it. The swimming and splashing surfer test was not done near great whites as this would “perk the interest” of any predator… So now reef sharks are no longer predators?

The best for me was diving with a dictaphone and making it seem like this was an earth shattering discovery. Divers dive with all these sharks all the time with video cameras, still cameras, video lights and strobes. What does a dictaphone do differently to all that other electronic equipment? Who swims with a dictaphone, anyway?

Science has proven sharks to most likely be colour blind and use contrast as a visual tool. Dispelling the myth of “yum yum yellow” whilst in a pink bikini is hardly a myth buster. It makes one fairly sure that the “science” was not actually the main feature here.

Pretending that three or four tests done by a single individual can help us to draw any conclusions about sharks is disingenuous and misleading to an often ignorant public who only know what the media tells them about sharks. Real science involves multiple tests, control groups, and the scientific method.

What we already know (real facts by unscientific people): thousands of divers worldwide dive with shiny, dangling scuba gadgets, strobes, cameras, bright shiny regulators, a multitude of brightly coloured fins, masks and wetsuits. Some dive in swimwear with bright shiny silver cylinders strapped to their backs. These people have black skin, pale skin, or bright red sunburned skin. A vast majority of them urinate in the water, their wetsuits and their swimsuits… And you’re more likely to be involved in a car accident on your way to the beach than you are to be bitten by a shark.

And yet, a respected (I think) institution such as National Geographic chooses to associate itself with a television special that takes, as its starting point, the view that sharks are looking for (appropriately dressed) humans to bite. How classy and scientifically up to date.

Christmas gift guide 2011

It’s that time of year again. I trust you are all feeling suitably festive. Here’s our annual (well, second so far) Christmas gift guide. Use it/don’t use it…

Books

For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Probably not a good idea to get a mask unless the place you buy it will let the person exchange it if it doesn’t fit!

Donations

For the person who has everything, or just because you’re feeling grateful:

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these!

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

Dive sites: MV Aster

Tripod mast
Tripod mast

Tony has been alternately ragging and begging Grant for the last long while, wanting to dive the MV Aster in Hout Bay. He finally got his wish, along with me, Goot and Cecil, one magnificent weekend in early July. The sea was flat, the air was warm, and after an unseasonal week of southeasterly winds, the Atlantic was fairly clean.

The Sentinel outside Hout Bay harbour
The Sentinel outside Hout Bay harbour

The Aster is just outside Hout Bay harbour, fairly sheltered in the mouth of the bay. It was deliberately scuttled – by divers, for divers – in 1997. The ship was cleaned, the interior was stripped of wires and furnishings, and all doors and hatches were removed. Openings were cut into the hull of the ship, and it’s probably one of the most friendly wrecks to penetrate in Cape Town. When we dived it, Peter Southwood was venturing inside to check that his schemes of arrangement on the wikivoyage site are correct and current.

Peter Southwood's line stretches beneath a hatch in the deck
Peter Southwood’s line stretches beneath a hatch in the deck

The top of the wreck is at a depth of about 20 metres, and if you bury yourself in the sand under the ship you might get 28 metres or so. There’s a large tripod mast that extends to within 10-12 metres of the surface, and ascending next to this is a treat. The ship stands upright, alone on a sandy bottom, and the wreck of the Katsu Maru lies about 30 metres away over the sand. The Aster was a crayfishing vessel, and is about 36 metres long. There are gangways, ladders, winches, lots of superstructure, and even a railing at the bow if you want to play Titanic there (Tony did).

Reminds one of a scene from Titanic?
Reminds one of a scene from Titanic?

The Atlantic is nutrient-rich (effluent from the Disa River in Hout Bay probably also helps here) and the wreck is quite heavily encrusted. Tony observed that even though the Cedar Pride, a wreck he dived when living in Jordan, has been underwater longer than the Aster, she’s far less covered with marine life.

Hagfish on deck
Hagfish on deck

I found a hagfish sleeping on deck below the mast, and we were delighted by the many tiny West coast rock lobsters all over the wreck (some large ones too). We found a couple the size of shrimps – adorable (to my mind)! There’s a lot of invertebrate life to enjoy, but I didn’t find any nudibranchs despite looking. Many of the ones found on this wreck are of the “beige with brown spots” variety and having never seen one in real life, it’s going to take a while to train my eyes to find them!

Tiny West coast rock lobster in a mussel shell
Tiny West coast rock lobster in a mussel shell

The marine life is lovely, and can absorb one for ages, but our chief enjoyment was in being on a large, intact wreck with lots of interesting shapes to look at. The tripod mast is spectacular, and there are winches, railings and cut-out compartments with windows that can all be enjoyed by a recreational diver not trained in wreck penetration. There are gangways along the side of the ship which are open on one side, and one or two areas on the deck that are overhead environments but have one whole wall missing, so a wreck penetration could be done in stages.

We dived on 32% nitrox, and I had a fifteen litre cylinder (sheer chance!). When we started ascending I still had 25 minutes of bottom time available, having spent the bulk of the dive at around 20 metres or so, and probably could have reached my NDL on the air remaining in my cylinder. Without buddies though – no thanks! Most of the dive we were accompanied by seals, and they were playing on the surface as we climbed back into the boat.

Tony ascending with his camera
Tony ascending with his camera

We’ve also done a night dive on this wreck – a spooky but thrilling experience.

Dive date: 10 July 2011

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 13 degrees

Maximum depth: 27.1 metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 37 minutes

The BlueFlash boat coming to fetch us after the dive
The BlueFlash boat coming to fetch us after the dive

Night dive on the Aster

Goot, Tami, Tony, Clare, Gerard and Cecil, ready for a night dive on the Aster
Goot, Tami, Tony, Clare, Gerard and Cecil, ready for a night dive on the Aster

I’ve never done a night dive off a boat before, and never gone deeper than about 12 metres on a night dive, and so it was with mixed feelings that I signed up for a night dive on the MV Aster in Hout Bay, on the evening of 17 September. We’d spent the morning diving in Hout Bay harbour as part of an OMSAC-organised underwater cleanup, and in the afternoon Underwater Explorers was running some boat dives. The visibility on the 2.30pm dive we did on the Aster was passable – not midsummer Atlantic clarity, but a respectable 8-10 metres. I spent most of my time on the deck in the centre of the wreck, on top of the bridge, and around the base of the mast. A strong current was pushing into Hout Bay. The wreck is at about 30 metres on the sand, and the deck is at about 24 metres. The top of the bridge is at 19-20 metres.

A tube worm retracts into its shell
A tube worm retracts into its shell

We launched for the night dive just before 6.30pm. On the boat was Tony, who has done lots of night dives (many off a boat, too), me (who has done lots of night dives, but all shore entries close to the city lights), Tami (ditto), and Goot, Gerard and Cecil, who were all doing their first night dive EVER. I don’t think they realised how awesome they were… Descending 25 metres onto the deck of a wreck, into the 11 degree waters of the Atlantic, in the dark, is something quite special!

The Aster is eerily illuminated by our torches
The Aster is eerily illuminated by our torches

We rolled into the water just before 7.00pm, and descended on the shot line. The first few moments were quite disorienting – it was very dark, much darker than the surface conditions hinted it would be, and it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust and for me to figure out where I was on the wreck. Soon I was more relaxed, and I managed to hunt down the tiny basket stars I’d found on the afternoon dive so that I could show them to Tami. I was glad that I’d done an afternoon dive on the same site – it helped with orientation in the dark, and I enjoyed going back to places where I’d seen things a few hours earlier to check whether they were still there.

Basket star feeding at night
Basket star feeding at night

Tony and I were wearing our Christmas strobes – awesome little gadgets except that the gaps between the flashes can be a bit long when trying to do a quick head count. We also had multiple cyalumes and some rather old glow in the dark Bright Weights (weights is a misnomer here – they are in fact positively buoyant). Those didn’t work too well, but we’re not going to give up on them just yet – perhaps more time under a bright light and/or in the sun will charge them better.

The mast of the Aster at night
The mast of the Aster at night

Doing a safety stop in the dark is a challenge. I didn’t realise how much I rely on having a visual reference – even just watching the depth on my dive computer – to manage my buoyancy at the end of a dive. Using other divers as a reference is not ideal – what if they’re using ME for a reference too? This dive was the first time I’ve used the backlight on my Suunto D6 since I’ve had the computer (about 40 dives), and I realised that the default setting it’s on (illuminates for 5 seconds) is hopelessly and irritatingly too short for a safety stop in the dark. I was also wearing an unbelievably buoyant second wetsuit over my usual Mares Trilastic, which had me shooting towards the surface like a very large cork every time I broke the five metre mark. All this aside, we managed – all of us, together – a safety stop, and then we were on the surface around the buoy, looking for Richard and the Underwater Explorers boat.

The Underwater Explorers buoy on the surface
The Underwater Explorers buoy on the surface

It was very, very peaceful on the surface (until Gerard started on about the crotch strap of Cecil’s new Poseidon wing, purchased for his forthcoming cave diving adventures), and the air wasn’t cold at all. Getting on the boat was a bit of an exercise – dive gear being predominantly black. The boat was far enough from shore that there was very little ambient light to assist the skipper and us in stowing our kit properly, but Richard was organised and quick, and we managed. We had a wait of a couple of minutes for Alistair and his two buddies (all on twins) to surface, and then we headed back to dry land, a warm shower, and the deep sleep that always follows a day of diving.

Tami, Gerard and Cecil waiting to board the Underwater Explorers boat
Tami, Gerard and Cecil waiting to board the Underwater Explorers boat

Dive date: 17 September 2011

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 11 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.3 metres

Visibility: 10 metres (always tough to estimate on a night dive, but we did do a dive at the same site a few hours earlier)

Dive duration: 27 minutes

The divers back on the boat
The divers back on the boat