Navigation specialty course

I am a notoriously bad navigator. Shockingly, embarrassingly inept. On the navigation dive for my advanced course, I swam a triangle instead of a square. Tony tried to console me by telling me that “a triangle is a more difficult shape to swim”, but doing it by accident doesn’t make it any less pathetic.

With this in mind, he gave me the PADI Navigation Specialty for my birthday last year. It’s been a great help. The manual deals with basic compass navigation, and then progresses to more advanced topics. It covers marking a particular spot – taking a bearing off several landmarks so that you can find it again – as well as estimating distances and bearings in the presence of a current.

Tools of the navigation trade
Tools of the navigation trade

The course involves three dives on which specific skills are practised. I learned about natural navigation, using a Nav-Finder to follow an irregular path, and lots about compass navigation in general. It’s made me a more confident underwater navigator, which can only be a good thing!

Solo diving

There has raged a heated debate for a long time on the merits and dangers of solo diving. Solo diving is the as the title suggests, diving alone, no buddy, no surface support (if boat diving) and most likely no one waiting on the beach.

Off on my own in Sodwana (don't worry - my Clare took this before she caught up with me!)
Off on my own in Sodwana (don't worry - my Clare took this before she caught up with me!)

Very little solo diving takes place in a resort environment, primarily because they want a full boat before they launch. It’s not a common practice, most resort environments have heavy boat traffic as there are often many operators diving the same dive sites, these skippers look for a buoy close to a boat (the boats follow a surface buoy towed by the dive master), and skippers don’t really want divers scattered all over the ocean as it is hard to keep track of them. If the resort you are diving with has an anchored boat it is easier to do a solo dive especially if you loose the group as there is seldom a dive master thats going to come looking for you. You may be lucky to find a skipper that will drop you off separately from the group, but it is rare.

Cape Town is a little different. It is often a case where someone on the boat is doing a mapping project, or some research or looking for a specific feature underwater so solo diving happens. The skipper and sometimes other members of the group know you are down there but not where.

If you want to maximise the number of photos you get on a dive or get some good video footage then solo diving makes this easier. Not having a buddy means you do not need to check up on them, you do not need to periodically look for them and you wont have them yanking on your fin to show you something cool just as you are about to get that ”shot”. By the same token there is then no one looking for you, checking up on you and no one for you to signal ”out of air” for example.

If you are going to go solo diving start small, somewhere where the beach is close, the weather is good and someone knows where you are, how long you plan to dive and what your route will be. It is for some an intimidating experience and your comfort level takes a while to increase.

Once you decide to try solo diving be brutally honest with yourself: do you trust yourself, your equipment and your ability to think rationally in a stressful situation? If not, don’t try it.

If you are okay with all of these aspects make sure you have the right gear. Split your weights over a weight belt and integrated weights. You’ll need a knife, a compass, a dive computer, decent gloves, a hoodie and all the rest to ensure you don’t get cold, tired, uncomfortable or lost. Be sure you know when to turn the dive if you are swimming out somewhere and returning to the same spot. Ensure you plan and monitor your air consumption, checking more often because just knowing you are ”good on air” won’t help you if you have a leak on your first stage that no one tells you about… There is no one there remember. (If you think you have a leak, you can roll onto your back and look up and between breaths you will be able to see if you do.)

Plan your dive and dive your plan.

Newsletter: Sodwana trip and lost gear

Hi divers

Compliments of the season to everyone. Thank you for your support and for the many awesome dives we enjoyed last year. I’m looking forward to a busy dive-filled 2011 and I wish you all the very best for it.

The wind has been a pest for the last couple of weeks, so my Open Water students have been waiting patiently for the sea to flatten and for the visibility to clear (hopefully)! We will be diving our hearts out for the next few days and I will have some of you certified by the end of the week.

Dive report

We did a super dive at North Lion’s Paw near Clifton last week, in stunning visibility. I found a manefish, which usually lives in 400 metres of water, but was visiting our waters for the summer.

Manefish (Caristius groenlandicus)
Manefish (Caristius groenlandicus)

Cecil found his first underwater treasure, a boat anchor, which we raised using Bernita’s SMB (thank you Bernita!).

Bernita beneath the anchor
Bernita beneath the anchor


We are planning a trip to Coral Divers in Sodwana from Saturday 16 April to Wednesday 20 April. The Saturday and the Wednesday will be for travel (fly to Durban and then drive about 4 hours to Sodwana), and then we’d spend four nights/three days at Coral Divers, and do six dives. The Easter weekend is from 22-25 April, so we will be off the roads before it starts and avoid the high season prices that kick in on Good Friday.

Our last Sodwana trip was a roaring success and I can highly recommend the diving (and the company). As far as costs go, I will give you a better idea in next week’s newsletter, but it will probably be in the range of R3500 per person including flights, car hire and basic self-catering accommodation. There are a range of accommodation options so you can sleep in as much luxury as your heart desires.

The Coral Divers website gives you some idea of what the campsite is like. My blog has some photos and dive reports from the last trip, which can be found here.

As we did last time, there will be opportunities for you to do dive courses such as Advanced, Nitrox or a specialty while we’re there, at a reduced rate. Non-divers are welcome – we’ll be done in the water by lunchtime and there’s lots to do in the area.

Please indicate by return mail if you might be interested so that I can work out some numbers and get an accurate quote. Final commitment will be made by paying your deposit at a later stage, so don’t sweat about being totally certain at this point!

Lost gear

If anyone has accidentally gone home with one of my dive compasses, please let me know! It’s been missing since November.

Boat dives

Please note that if you cancel a boat dive less than 24 hours in advance, you will unfortunately have to pay the dive fee. I buy 10 dive packages from Grant, and when he gets a late cancellation that spot on the boat can’t be filled and I am billed for the dive. Thank you for understanding!

Grant is on holiday for a week (well deserved) so no boat diving this weekend.


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

<strong><a href=””><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-486″ title=”Learn to Dive Today logo” src=”” alt=”Learn to Dive Today logo” width=”73″ height=”67″ /></a>Tony Lindeque</strong>
076 817 1099
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<em>Diving is addictive!</em>

Zero to… HERO!

Congratulations to Kate, who arrived in Cape Town on 8 October 2010 having never dived before, and is leaving on 10 December qualified as a Divemaster, with more than 60 dives and over 45 hours underwater under her belt!

Kate demonstrates incorrect snorkel technique
Kate demonstrates incorrect snorkel technique (in the car, on the wrong side)

While she was here we dived almost every day, in all sorts of conditions. She dived in visibility ranging from pea soup (with croutons) to over 10 metres, water temperatures from 11 degrees up to 18 degrees, and experienced a wide range of what Cape Town diving has to offer. She even did a dive in just a shorty wetsuit – the water LOOKED warm but wasn’t – and I am pretty sure she’s the first diver EVER to do something like that in this city!

She experienced everything from orally inflating another diver’s BCD at 15 metres, to securing Clare’s cylinder when it came loose (oops!), tying knots underwater, a meeting with a very frisky sevengill cowshark on her first ever dive with sharks at Shark Alley, and using a lift bag to ferry our artificial reef out to the correct depth.

Kate transporting part of the artificial reef
Kate transporting part of the artificial reef

She spent a lot of time towing the buoy line, inflated SMBs and balloons underwater (the latter was highly amusing to watch), mapped wrecks and the pipeline at Long Beach, exchanged information on the layout of the SAS Pietermaritzburg with wikivoyage guru Peter Southwood, enjoyed high-speed boat rides to various local dive sites, filled cylinders at a local dive centre, and navigated at night in order to find the yellow buoy at Long Beach. She’s breathed from a hang tank at a safety stop after a deep dive, and from another diver’s octo while swimming to shore. She’s a pro with a compass. She’s also done some underwater photography – thanks to her, the gobies at Long Beach have a serious complex about the paparazzi!

Kate and Clare getting their bearings on the beach
Kate and Clare getting their bearings on the beach. To infinity and beyond!

Kate dived with and without a computer, in various types of gear and several different wetsuits. She knows the difference between an A-clamp and a DIN fitting. She removes and replaces inserts on cylinders with her eyes closed, changes O-rings, and puts on her own kit. She has filled over twenty cylinders as part of her compressor operator course.

Kate was also a fantastic ambassador for diving for the various students of mine that she interacted with. As part of her Divemaster training, she led dives, demonstrated skills, helped students with their kit, and took on various tasks in order to prepare her for the responsibilities that go with this qualification. She did all of this with good humour, good sense and great precision.

Kate helps Anna with her hoodie
Kate helps Anna with her hoodie

During her stay, Kate buddied with all kinds of divers. She met Russians, Swedes, Canadians, French and fellow British divers, and some regte egte South Africans. She assisted foreign-language students with understanding the questions on the quizzes and exams when their English wasn’t up to the task. She got on famously with everyone she encountered, and was never grumpy or a prima donna.

In the ocean she encountered seals (she’s not a fan), giant short-tailed sting rays, hundreds of octopus, sevengill cowsharks, and her favourite friends – barehead gobies! They’re going to miss you, Kate… And especially your underwater singing!

Barehead goby
Look at that sad little goby face!

The courses Kate completed during her stay in Cape Town are:

I am confident that she is a safe, capable diver with excellent experience under her belt so far, and I look forward to hearing about her future exploits in the underwater world.

Kate on the move
Kate on the move

Night Diving Specialty… Completed!

On Saturday I did the final dive of my Night Diving specialty course, and Kate did the first one of hers. We went to Long Beach, did a dangerous surf entry through the 3 inch high waves, and proceded to do some night time navigation.

The goal was for us to make our way out to the yellow buoy, and then swim back on a slightly different heading. In retrospect it was a tough ask, because the buoy is attached to the sea floor by a chain. Unless we had been pinpoint accurate, we’d never have seen it (and indeed we didn’t) even if we were a few metres away.

Kate and I getting our bearings on the beach
Kate and I getting our bearings on the beach. To infinity and beyond!

Night navigation SUCKS. I did not enjoy it at all, but feel rather proud of myself and Kate for our efforts. We did spend two intervals on the surface arguing about which heading to take, and the second time we surfaced for a look-around, we lost the buoy. Detective Kate deduced that it was behind the yacht on our right (yes, we were THAT far out).

Juggling compass, torch, camera (have not figured out night-time photography yet, so my pictures are like something out of the Blair Witch Project) and dive computer left me feeling as though I did not have enough arms. Some kind of wrist-strap that will make the torch an extension of my arm is definitely in order. The fact remains, however, that night diving is awesome fun… But this expedition did persuade me that it’s more fun when you know where you’re going!

What’s in my dive bag

I have travelled around a bit and dived in some very remote places, miles from a dive shop. Over the years I have collected an array of gadgets. Dive shops are full of shiny things you had no idea you needed until you saw them for the first time. There are some very important basic add-ons to your standard battle dress, things that no self respecting diver would dive without, and then there is a range of nice to have items, and then the usual ”not required but I have it anyway” list.

Must have items

DAN medical insurance

DAN tag and spare O ring
DAN tag and spare O ring hidden on the hose protector

Attach the red DAN tag to your BCD or regulator so that in an emergency your rescuer can get you the help you need. DAN will cover you for the expensive possibility that you need recompression in a chamber if you have a suspected case of the bends, as well as for any other diving-related medical emergency treatment that your medical aid refuses to cover. An ordinary medical aid will probably not pay for recompression treatment. Visit the DAN (Divers’ Alert Network) website for details.

A surface marker buoy (SMB)

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

Reels come in all shapes and sizes, with thumb reels, small reels and large reels. I use a small reel on shallow dives and a large reel on deeper dives.

In a rough sea or poor conditions an SMB makes you far easier to see than a head and shoulders dressed in black bobbing on the surface. You should not dive without one in Cape Town.

Dive Knife

This should be big enough to cut fishing line in case you or your buddy get tangled up (or need to rescue something or someone). Not to be used for stabbing sharks, or your dive buddy! You can buy huge dagger-type knife, but it may be an overkill, unless you have aspirations to be a pirate. Small cutting tools that you can wear on your gear are more practical.

Dive torches and a handy-sized knife
Dive torches and a handy-sized knife


This should ideally be small enough to keep in a pocket, unless you’re doing a night dive and need some serious light.

You don’t necessarily need a torch only on night dives – you may want to see something that’s hiding in a dark environment, or it might be an overcast day. On a deep dive, a torch is essential because the colours can look so washed out.


Knowing where you are going or where you came from is quite useful at the bottom, as on land. Enough said.

Dive compass styles
Dive compass styles

Dive computer

There are many different styles. Some can be worn as everyday watches, and others are only for diving.  Here are three variations:

Dive computers
Dive computers in three styles. The two on the left can be worn as dress watches.

Signalling devices

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle.

A whistle is required for the surface (many BCDs come with one attached – you may not have noticed it as it might be helpfully coloured black to match the inflator hose). An air horn works above and below the surface and a shaker works best underwater but can be used on the surface.

You can also use a hard object like a dive knife to rap on your cylinder, which will be audible to your buddy underwater, but don’t necessarily rely on having something suitable to hand – or having the presence of mind to look for it – in an emergency.


Dive slates
Dive slates: the one on the left is useful for compass navigation. The one on the right is a wrist slate (note the mysterious arm it’s mounted on).

Underwater slates come in all shapes and sizes. A wrist slate can be pleasant as it’s always close by but easily accessible. Flat slates must be clipped to a D ring – and don’t forget to secure your pencil!

DIN adaptor and O rings

DIN adaptor and O rings
DIN adaptor and O rings. The little blue cylinder clips to your keychain and can be used to store spare O rings.

Some resorts only have old style aluminum cylinders and if you have a DIN regulator they don’t fit as there is no removable insert. Here you will require a DIN adaptor so make sure you enquire as to type of cylinders available when you book your vacation, if you intend using your personal regulator.

It’s also handy to have an allen key to remove the inserts if you routinely dive with your own regulator.

Nice to have items

Clipping things to your BCD is a surefire way to ensure they do not become lost property. There are many different types of clips available. No matter what I take underwater, it will always have a clip attached that will enable me to clip it to my BCD if I suddenly need both hands for something.

Cyalumes, mouthpiece and spare finstrap
Cyalumes, mouthpiece, clip and spare finstrap

Spare mask and fin straps are nice to have particularly if you have a odd type of fin or mask.

Spare octo clips are handy as well as a few cyalumes in the event of an impromptu night dive.

If you travel to remote locations in your own 4WD you may find yourself with a puncture, so a tyre inflator is a handy addition to the dive bag. Deep divers know the benefits of Nitrox and the risks involved in diving with the wrong mix so a Nitrox analyser helps you to double check the reading reached by the dive store. If you find your reg breathes with difficulty, or you second stages constantly leak, checking the system pressure with your own handy pressure gauge will give you an indication as to the root of the problem.

Nitrox analyser and pressure gauge
Nitrox analyser (top) and pressure gauge