Dive sites (Southern Mozambique): Texas

Tony and a potato bass (checking out his camera) at Texas
Tony and a potato bass (checking out his camera) at Texas

Texas is named because of its size (it’s big), and dives there may incur a small surcharge because the boat ride is longish. It’s in the next bay on from Ponta do Ouro, called Malongane bay, which where the small town of Ponta Malongane can be found (unsurprisingly). It’s quite close to shore, so we dived it on a day when the swell was almost nonexistent. The inshore side of the reef is made up of massive rectangular boulders that form channels and overhangs that shelter countless fish. The regular structure of the reef is very striking, and there are many, many places to explore under and between the rocks. There’s a huge channel down the centre of the reef, almost dividing it in two.

A female ember parrotfish rests
A female ember parrotfish rests

We spent most of the dive on the inshore side of the reef, which is quite steep and rocky. We were distracted for some time by a large, friendly potato bass who approached our group of divers and then lay blissfully while our divemaster, and then Tony, tickled his chin with air from their octos. He also stared into Tony’s camera for some time, perhaps admiring his noble reflection. I was very sad to leave him (is he lonely?) and turned back a few times to see him following us at a small distance.

FIsh schooling over the reef
FIsh schooling over the reef

Texas has beautiful corals and provides abundant habitat for reef fish, which we found in hotspots all over the reef, interspersed with sand. There are larger creatures too – including the potato bass I’ve already told you about. We saw a honeycomb moray eel under an overhang on the seaward side of the reef, and this beautiful honeycomb stingray (his tail is incredibly long – there’s another picture of him here) lying on the sand.

Honeycomb stingray on the sand
Honeycomb stingray on the sand

See if you can find Texas on this very nifty map of the Ponta reefs.

A male ember parrotfish
A male ember parrotfish

Dive date: 10 May 2012

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature: 24 degrees

Maximum depth: 13.8 metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 64 minutes

No mask breathing

Just thought I’d share this photo of Kate taken early last year when she was in Cape Town preparing for her Instructor exams. Firstly, the way she has all her gear tucked in and organised around her body is something that new divers should try to emulate. Dragging octos and pressure gauges mean expensive repairs and servicing, not to mention the damage that this equipment does to marine life and reefs.

Kate has a zen moment
Kate has a zen moment

Secondly she’s practising no-mask breathing, a skill which might make you want to panic, but is actually not that difficult once you relax and realise that water isn’t going to flood up your nose when you take your mask off. Think of swimming in the pool before you learned scuba – water doesn’t go into your nose unless you actually use your nose to inhale. Which in this case is obviously a no-no!

Guess the dive gear

I often take pictures by accident. This is no mystery – the construction of my camera housing and the fact that I sometimes forget to turn it off on exiting the ocean conspire here to produce curious results. What is a mystery, however, is what some of the photos depict. As a fun (haha) activity for our loyal reader(s), here’s a game of Guess the Dive Gear. Answers at the end of the post…

1. Very easy

We start with something easy
We start with something easy

2. Easy

Also quite straightforward
Also quite straightforward

3. Also easy

What's this?
What's this?

But can you guess what brand it is?

Can you guess the brand?
Can you guess the brand?

4. Slightly less easy

Looks very tropical
Looks very tropical

5. This should be a piece of cake

What's this?
What's this?

Just identifying the piece of gear isn’t enough – do you know the make and model?

Can you guess the brand?
Can you guess the brand?
Still no idea?
Still no idea?

6. A bit tricky

Similar to (4) above, but with an additional item to complicate matters…

Quite challenging
Quite challenging

7. A total mystery

Even I'm not sure what this is
Even I'm not sure what this is

Answers

  1. Dangling octo (alternate air source)
  2. Glove
  3. Wetsuit (ScubaPro)
  4. Cylinder
  5. ScubaPro Seawing Nova fins
  6. Cylinder with BCD dump valve next to it
  7. Think I might have been lowering my gear to the ground. There’s a compass visible at the top of the picture, and the black mass at the bottom might be an inflated BCD. Any better ideas?

Dive gear maintenance: Gauges

The depth gauge is most often prone to sand build up on the sensor. Scubapro are really bad for this because the sensor is covered by a flimsy sticker, which lasts all of about 10 dives, and the gauge will often show 3-4 metres’ depth out of the water.

Leaking high pressure hose
Leaking high pressure hose

Remove the gauge from its rubber holder and rinse the sand off around the sensor and in the molded rubber housing. Avoid pressure on the sensor as it is extremely sensitive.

Smacker monitors the testing of a leaky gauge
Smacker monitors the testing of a leaky gauge

The source of many minor leaks is often the swivel pin. These seals will be changed when your gear is serviced.

Not everyone will agree with this but I take a sponge with liquid silicone on it and wipe my hoses, regulators, and gauges. I leave it on for a minute or so and wipe it again with a clean dry cloth. I also wipe the thread of the A-clamp screw or yoke threads with the silicone sponge. I find this prevents corrosion and salt build up on the gear and I have a Mares regulator with well over 1000 dives that looks and works well.

Skills: Inflating an SMB

Clare's SMB going south
Clare’s SMB going south

I have often watched divers having difficulty inflating their SMBs. Usually when you haul out the SMB it sinks, you have one hand on the SMB trying to get it to be higher than your octo and the other hand on your octo. Somehow it just won’t float like you want it to and by the time you get some some semblance of control it’s full and hauling you to the surface. I too have experienced this and this might help.

SMB (with smiley face), D ring and pool noodle
SMB (with smiley face), D ring and pool noodle

Next dive try this: attach a small piece of pool noodle to the D-ring on the top of the SMB. If you don’t have a decent SMB that will allow this, put the piece of pool noodle inside the SMB. This will ensure the SMB has the correct profile for inflation. Deflate your BCD a little to make you negatively buoyant so the SMB doesnt haul you to the surface.

Clare inflating an SMB
Clare inflating an SMB

Instead of using your octo, hold the SMB open and exhale into it (hold the SMB above you and let it capture your exhalation bubbles). This will inflate it enough for its trip to the surface. Do NOT remove your regulator and use it to inflate an SMB!

Dive gear maintenance: Regulators

People often say this is the most important part of your dive gear. It’s not – they are all equally important: take any one item out of the equation and see how lousy your dive is.

One of my regulators
One of my regulators

It is however a sensitive part of dive gear and needs more meticulous care.

Cleaning

If possible rinse and purge your second stages in water whilst connected to a cylinder. If you don’t have a cylinder handy, purge the regulators thoroughly before turning your air off. This helps to blow out sand and water. Remember to dry and fit the dust cap the minute you remove the regulator from the cylinder.

Do not submerge the first stage in water, hold it just above the bath and splash water on it to rinse off any salt or sand. Do not depress the purge buttons on your regulators while you are washing it, as this will allow water to enter the system.

I like to soak the regulators in warm water and rinse the inside of the mouth piece thoroughly whilst connected to a cylinder. Try and rub the inside of your mouth piece with your little finger and feel if its slimy: if it is it needs to be stripped and cleaned.

Water in the system

If for some reason your first stage is submerged without the dust cap, or if you run out of air at depth and water gets into it, it should go for a service as soon as possible as it will be possible for a service technician to strip, clean and re-assemble it. If you leave it for a while it will need a service kit and occasionally some parts will require replacement if they have become corroded.

Many people believe that a quick fix for a submerged first stage is to connect it to a cylinder, turn on the air and depress both purge buttons for several minutes. This is utter rubbish: while it may remove some of the moisture, the high volume of air will drop the temperature inside the pillar valve and first stage resulting in more moisture content than you started with. The big issue is that the second you open the cylinder the system is charged with the high pressure port then opened and all the water will go directly to your pressure gauge capillary tube and this will be the beginning of the end for your pressure gauge.

Diving with seals

Seals on the way down to Tafelberg Reef
Seals on the way down to Tafelberg Reef

There are a couple of dive sites in Cape Town that you can visit specifically to dive with the local Cape fur seals. There’s Seal Rock at Partridge Point in False Bay, and Duiker Island outside Hout Bay. These are both shallow, easy dives around large rocks, where the main attraction is the interaction you will have with hordes of curious seals. You will probably see seals if you go to Seal Island, too, but that won’t be to scuba – it’ll be to cage dive with the great white sharks there.

Tony checking out a seal above Tafelberg Reef
Tony checking out a seal above Tafelberg Reef

The dive sites near these seal colonies are often visited by these furry creatures, and it’s an absolute pleasure as a diver to have happy seals around while you’re exploring. We’ve had seals visit us on the SAS Fleur near Seal Island, at Partridge Point, and at the Tafelberg Reef complex. Sometimes you’ll see them at Long Beach, and often on the Clan Stuart.

Seal decides Tony's head looks tasty
Seal decides Tony's head looks tasty

These pictures were taken at Tafelberg Reef during a long safety stop we did there as part of Cecil’s Deep Specialty training. They mouthed Tony’s head and fins, Cecil’s pillar valve (while he was practising alternate air source use), and the bubbles rising from our regulators. They have large, scary looking teeth, but they don’t bite hard and as long as you keep your hands to yourself there’s nothing to worry about.

Seal munching on Cecil's pillar valve
Seal munching on Cecil's pillar valve

In manner and sometimes appearance, seals are like dogs. Bearing that in mind when you interact with them in the water, and being as cautious with them as you’d be with a large, strange but friendly dog, will serve you well. Have fun!

Confined water skills

When I worked at Calypso in Durban, we’d do students’ confined water skills in the Avis Snorkel Lagoon at uShaka Marine World. It’s a beautiful setting. Here’s a short clip of me doing skills with Open Water students. At the start, I had to reprimand one of the group because he kept blowing bubbles at the batfish. No fish were harmed in the making of this video!

The students are practising buddy breathing (it was still in the Open Water course at that stage). Notice how they each take two breaths off the regulator, indicating one… two… with their fingers so their buddy knows how long he has to wait to get his turn. Notice also how I encourage them to exhale while they don’t have a regulator in their mouths. Towards the end of the clip they practise breathing off one another’s alternate air source (octo).

FAQ: Don’t you feel claustrophobic underwater?

Many people seem to think that they’ll experience claustrophobia when they put their faces in the water, with their breathing restricted to their regulator, wearing a wetsuit, and having all that water around them.

Here are some facts…

Breathing from a regulator

A regulator or demand valve is a brilliantly designed piece of equipment that attaches to a hose linked to a cylinder of compressed air. It’s constructed so that it’s easy to breathe from – no more effort is required than breathing without one, it gives you as much air as you need, and you can even cough or (I know this from sad experience) vomit with it in your mouth and you won’t have ANY trouble at all with the consequences… If you get my drift. In the unlikely event that it fails, it won’t fail in the “off” position and stop your air supply; it will free flow (deliver a continuous stream of air). One of the skills you do in your Open Water course is breathing off a free-flowing regulator, so you are fully equipped to handle this situation.

Your regulator delivers more than enough air, NOT less than you get breathing on land. If you do at some point feel as though you’re not getting enough, it’s because you’re breathing too shallowly. When you dive, your breathing must be deep and slow. Extracting the full goodness out of each breath maximises your enjoyment: your air will last longer, and you’ll feel more relaxed.

Bubbles rising in the Atlantic
Bubbles rising in the Atlantic

Having to breathe out of your regulator – as opposed to being able to go take one breath in each corner of the room, or open your mouth as wide as it can go – is not restrictive at all. If you think about it, when you breathe on land, you’re drawing in the air that is in front of your face. There’s no hardship in not being able to take in the air from down the passageway – that’s not where you are.

What’s more, having the regulator in your mouth only feels funny for the first few minutes. It’s made with soft rubbery flanges that fit in your mouth (mouthpieces come in different sizes, too) and once it’s seated properly you won’t even know it’s there. If you’ve snorkeled, you know what it feels like to have a mouthpiece between your teeth. Breathing from a regulator is easier than breathing from a snorkel, and what’s more you don’t have to worry about rogue waves splashing water into your breathing apparatus! So if you can snorkel, you can definitely scuba dive.

All that equipment

Some people worry about wearing a mask, and think they might feel closed in with one covering their eyes and nose. Firstly, it’s important to note that it’s essential for the mask to cover your nose so that you can equalise your ears . If you wore swimmers’ goggles, they would get compressed onto your face at depth (which would hurt, and might look funny). This way, you can exhale through your nose into the mask to equalise (one of many techniques).

To be honest, a mask is no more claustrophobic to wear than a pair of wrap around sunglasses, and it’s probably going to be a lot more comfortable once you’ve found the one that suits your face shape.

Oscar enjoying all that space
Oscar enjoying all that space

Others worry about wearing a wetsuit, that they won’t feel free to move. They’re right about that: wearing a wetsuit on land is one of the least comfortable things you can do. They’re hot, restrictive, and tight. In the water, however, you won’t even notice it’s there. Wetsuits keep you warm (important in the Cape) and protect you from marine creatures that might sting or scratch you as you pass through their domain. Deciding you won’t like or try diving because wetsuits make you feel cramped is like deciding you aren’t going to eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream because you don’t like the font they write their product labels in.

All that water

Finally, some people worry that they’ll feel trapped under the weight of all the water above them, and that it’s impossibly far to get to the surface. There are a few answers to this:

Firstly, you’ll learn a skill called a CESA, or Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent, on your Open Water course. This enables you to swim for the surface in a controlled, non-panicky manner if you need to. This is not something you’ll just do if you’re feeling uncomfortable one day – it’s for when you run out of air and have no buddy nearby to borrow an octo from.

Second, when you learn to dive you’re not suddenly going to start spending all your time at 30 metres. The PADI Open Water course qualifies you to dive to 18 metres, and you have to do an Advanced course to get to 30 metres, and a Deep specialty to get to 40 metres. So these things come with time. Some divers have no interest in deep diving, and there’s nothing wrong with that – Tony and I spend most of our time in less than 10 metres of water because the best and easiest photographic opportunities are there, and we can stay down a looooong time because our air lasts forever! Your first diving experiences will be in relatively shallow water, and only as you get used to being underwater will your instructor gradually increase the depth you go to.

Looking up in the clear Atlantic
Looking up in the clear Atlantic

I will admit that when visibility is poor, one loses the feeling of having three beautiful dimensions around one to play in. But this is infrequent, and if you’re diving for fun, then you hopefully won’t have to get in the water when conditions aren’t great (unless you’re desperate to get wet, in which case you won’t care!). But the feeling of space when one drops into the gin-clear water of the Atlantic on a summer’s day is so extreme as to make one almost dizzy. Being underwater is the closest I get to flying, and I love it.

In conclusion, diving involves a fair amount of unfamiliar equipment, and is quite different to our day-to-day experiences as human beings on planet earth. You may not like it; but you probably will. If you’re not sure, sign up for a Discover Scuba Diving experience (DSD). Tony even sometimes does these in people’s swimming pools – just to give you a taste of the freedom that comes with breathing underwater. You can make an educated decision about diving after that.

Movie: Thunderball

Thunderball
Thunderball

There is much to love in a quality James Bond movie, particularly one which starts with Bond having an extravagant fight with a man in a black dress, totally trashing a large regency-style drawing room in the process. This is one of Sean Connery’s early Bond films – released in 1965.

Two nuclear warheads have been stolen, and must be recovered. Bond travels to Nassau in the Bahamas where he does a lot of diving – some to find the warheads, some to flirt with the ladies, and some to fight with criminals underwater. One free diving episode features a lady diver holding onto the back of a clearly distressed turtle. As soon as she releases the turtle, it ascends for air. Poor dude!

Thunderball heavily inspired the Austin Powers movies, which adds an inadvertent element of humour when viewing them in retrospect. The villain, one Emile Largo, has an eye patch and a white fluffy pet cat, and throws failures and enemies into his pool of reef sharks, who obligingly eat them alive.

The aqualung had only been around for about 15 years when this movie was made, but it has some awesome underwater fight sequences (knives cutting air hoses, masks ripped off…), and features a huge orange sled/DPV capable of transporting up to six divers at once. The divers use harnesses rather than BCDs, the exhausts on their regulators are behind their heads, and they have no octos, but other than that look as good – or perhaps better, because their gear is a uniform basic black (including their cylinders) without bits hanging off – than divers today. Of course, they are a team of crooks, so they have to dress in matching togs.

When Bond eventually locates the sunken plane – incidentally containing his lady love’s completely undecomposed brother – he instructs his pilot to shoot one of the sharks milling around the site “to keep the others busy”. Nice.

The film concludes with an EPIC underwater fight scene – goodies in orange, baddies in black – involving perhaps 30 divers. There is hand to hand combat, lots of spear guns, knife fighting, and a lot of frantic finning. Nearly a quarter of this two hour movie was filmed underwater.

There is so much goodness here… The standard Bond misogyny – women swooning over him and being used and discarded in short order, very short shorts on unashamedly hairy men, a young Sean Connery… and a boat called the Disco Volante. The underwater scenes are very well done, and plentiful. What’s not to love?

The DVD is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.