On the reef in Sodwana

We wrap up the videos from Sodwana with a couple of clips showing everyday life on the reef. Both these videos were filmed on a beautiful dive on Pinnacles, Two Mile Reef, which was strangely not marred by an absolute circus of an Open Water course that was being conducted in the vicinity. (Pinnacles is a popular training site.) Despite antics which included two people’s weight belts coming loose at the same time, we were able to stay away from that chaos and to enjoy some incredible reef life. (Perhaps I will share some footage of the weight belt fiasco when a suitable amount of time has passed.)

Clown triggerfish having a munch
Clown triggerfish having a munch

First up, a clown triggerfish (Balistoides conspiccillum) going about his business on the reef. These fish are fantastic looking, and if you ask Sophie nicely, she will show you the hand signal for them, which requires both hands to be free.

Here’s pair of barred filefish (Cantherhines dumerilii) at Pinnacles:

Finishing a boat dive in Sodwana

This isn’t the most exciting video, but I hope it reminds you of how blue and clear the water is off the coast of KwaZulu Natal, and what it’s like to dive in Sodwana on a good day. It was filmed at the end of a dive on Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef, as the divers approached the boat and waited to hand up their gear. Watch out for Laurine, Esther and Christo!

If you aren’t familiar with diving off a RIB (rubber duck), I hope this is a helpful bit of information about how things work at the end of a dive. I’ll share a backward roll video from our most recent Sodwana trip soon, but in the mean time, check out this one to see what it’s like at the start of a dive!

Handy hints: How to be an awesome underwater cameraman

First, be completely unmoved by the curious looks from people nearby.

Craig and Mark wondering what Mark van Coller of Atlantic Edge Films is doing crouched on the slipway
Craig and Mark wondering what Mark van Coller of Atlantic Edge Films is doing crouched on the slipway

Make sure your fins are within easy reach and that your weight belt is secured. Then, lie on the slipway and wait for the tide to come in, of course!

Lying on the slipway
Lying on the slipway

The cameraman, Mark van Coller, is awesome, so you should follow his advice. You can look at some of his work here.

Mark with his camera gear in Hout Bay
Mark with his camera gear in Hout Bay

He was in Hout Bay to film the Jan Braai television insert about the world’s first underwater braai.

Guest post: Christo on encountering a great white shark

Yesterday we had Craig’s point of view… Here’s Christo van Schalkwyk’s account of the Clan Stuart dive on which he and his fellow divers encountered a white shark. Christo has been diving since March 2012, and in the time since then has logged over two hundred dives, most of them here in Cape Town.

About 30 seconds into the dive, just as I got to the bottom, a little to the north of the engine block, I saw the shark approach from the south. It swam past us towards the north. It turned and swam back down the wreck in a southerly direction, on the inshore side. For a while it was out of sight. We kept looking out for it, while motioning to the other divers to bunch together and stay low on the wreck. A few seconds later we saw it approaching from the south again. I could see both eyes as it swam straight at me. When it was about three metres away it veered off slightly to swim past us, parallel to the wreck. At this point it was only about two metres away from Craig and me. I remember choosing the spot where I was going to hit it if turned back towards us.

Fortunately it kept gliding past and as the pectoral fins came past, something seemed to disturb it. It flicked its tail once and shot away to the north. (Seeing the video taken by Vlad later, it seemed as if one of us exhaling was what disturbed the shark, but this is only speculation.) After a second or two, it was out of sight and we didn’t see it again.

We crouched down low on the wreck, looking around, and repeated the instructions to the other divers to keep close and low down. At this time we saw Sergey coming towards us from a rocky outcrop (or piece of wreckage) about 3-4 metres away from the main wreck, towards the deep side. We beckoned (with some urgency) to him to come closer. He swam quite slowly towards us, but when he got close enough, we pulled him down onto the wreck with us. As he was positioning himself, his weightbelt caught on a piece of the wreck and came off. I had to help him put it back on from underneath.

We stayed where we were (just north of the engine block of the wreck) for about another minute or so. I remember looking at my dive computer which read 2 minutes at that point. It didn’t seem a viable option to surface, even though I knew Tony would be close with the boat. I didn’t fancy the notion of hanging around on the surface, trying to get all 6 divers on the boat, all the while not knowing where the shark was. After another half a minute or so, Craig and I had a hand signal discussion on what to do next. He suggested heading south down the centre of the wreck, in the opposite direction to the shark’s last known heading. I thought we should go for the beach, to the north west. We agreed on the beach and started off in that direction, staying very low.

Just before leaving the wreck, Craig’s weight belt came loose as well. I took the reel from him and held on to his BCD with one hand and the wreck and reel with the other, while he tried to put the weight belt back on. This seemed to take forever – I remember seeing Vlad sliding in under a raised sheet of steel and hiding there (and feeling a bit jealous of his nice cover…). Eventually I gave the reel back to Craig and got him to hold on to the wreck and got in underneath him to try and see what the problem with the belt was. Once the belt was back on, we dropped down onto the sand on the shore side of the wreck.

Then we had to swim over the sand, without cover, towards the beach. It took a while to gather the group together to do this. We stayed very low, flat on the bottom. As we swam the group seemed to fan out, so we stopped once or twice to reassemble. Craig kept watch to the north, while I scanned the southern arc. Once we got into shallower water the surge took us along quite quickly and the group spread out even more, but it wasn’t possible to do anything about that any more. We got tumbled a bit in the breakers on the beach, but in the end managed to help each other to the beach unscathed with only the loss of one mask.

Total dive time: 13 minutes
Boat entry, shore exit.

Christo’s diagram of the dive site, with indications of what happened where, is below. Click on the image to enlarge it!

Christo's drawing of the scene
Christo’s drawing of the scene (click to enlarge)

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.

Skipper’s notes on a great white shark encounter

I would never consider myself an expert on wild animals, but I have been diving for a while and no matter how long you spend underwater or on the water, every day can bring something new to look at. We had a very interesting experience on Saturday 14 September at one of our local dive sites. The Clan Stuart, an inshore wreck in 10 metres of water about 100 metres offshore, can be dived as a shore entry as well as a boat dive. Our group were all very experienced and mostly in their forties and fifties. Diving the wreck from the beach requires a challenging climb over the train tracks as well as a rock embankment plus a trip through the shore break. It is not for everyone, so we offer this site as a boat dive.

I took this photo of the Clan Stuart engine block while the divers were kitting up on the boat
I took this photo of the Clan Stuart engine block while the divers were kitting up on the boat

The conditions were good. The water temperature was 15 degrees, visibility 6-8 metres and there was a manageable 2-3 metre swell (it wouldn’t have been manageable if we’d done it as a shore entry). The divers rolled into the water and head over the stern of the wreck. From our boat you dive with a buoy and a reel or you stay at home. There is far too much boat traffic in Cape Town to dive any other way. I always stay very close to the the divers in the first few minutes to ensure I can attend to problems quickly.

Five to seven minutes into the dive the buoy turned sharply and headed for shore at quite a pace. I moved in a little closer and a white shark surfaced perhaps 10 metres in front of the boat and about 10 metres behind the divers. It then disappeared briefly and came back heading for the divers. I started to head towards the shark to get between it and the divers, but it swam straight for them and simply swam through the group.

It then turned and came towards the boat and surfaced again, and I tossed a weight at it, not really knowing if it would help. The shark went below the boat and I never saw it again. By this time the group had reached the shallows and two of the group, Christo and Craig, were busy getting the others out of the water. I then went back to the jetty, left the boat there and drove to pick them up assisted by Clare as we were not getting six divers with kit into either of our cars.

As with any such interesting experience there are always a lot of helpful and insightful questions, comments and observations.

The first question posed to me was from the Divemaster, Craig. Did they do the right thing? Most definitely. I think he and Christo made an excellent decision in a very stressful situation. In our briefings I always touch lightly on the recommended course of action if you see a shark or any other large wild animal, and between Christo and Craig, both regular divers on our boat, they followed that plan to the letter. I tell the divers to get into a small group, stay close together, and – if possible – stay on the sea floor. They must wait until the shark has moved away before attempting to swim off in a calm manner. On no account should they surface while the shark is still in the area.

Interestingly, everyone agreed that the shark’s size was between 3-4 metres, and that it was very inquisitive but not overly aggressive. The shark had a fair amount of time to display any aggression as the swim from the wreck to the beach can take several minutes and in fact took a fair while as Christo and Craig kept the group tightly together despite the inclination from one diver to wander off. I asked if anyone had noticed if it was a male or female as I know our resident scientist and shark expert would like that info, and got this response from Christo: “It swam straight at me, I could see both its eyes, and when it was less than two metres away it turned so suddenly that I felt the wash from its tail.”

This comment from Christo impressed me the most. “I have had no interest in seeing a white shark underwater but having seen one I can understand why people find them to be beautiful and graceful.”

Handy hints: Weighting your new wetsuit

What is Christo doing?
What is Christo doing?

Are there better places than the end of the jetty in Hout Bay harbour to figure out how much additional weight you need on your weight belt when wearing your new shorty wetsuit? Yes, there might be.

Christo weighting his new wetsuit
Christo weighting his new wetsuit

But Christo deserves respect for resourcefulness, a quailty he has displayed on at least one other occasion.

Dive sites (inland): Marico Oog

I am sure National Geographic wants this shot too
I am sure National Geographic wants this shot too

Marico Oog is a natural spring, the source of the Marico River. It is located on a farm in the North West Province of South Africa, and we visited it on our way home from Botswana in March. It’s possible to dive in the spring, which is mostly why we took a detour off the N4, the boot of our tiny rental car loaded with a couple of rented cylinders and our dive gear.

Heading off for a dive
Heading off for a dive

The water in the Oog is crystal clear, and water lilies grow around the sides in the shallow (1-3 metre deep) water. The bottom is covered by lush green vegetation that looks like salad, and the bottom in the deeper areas is silty and causes great clouds to obscure the visibility when it is disturbed. Entry is via a ladder, and the initial swim is through shallow water filled with lilies, their long stalks curling towards the surface, where lily pads provide landing spots for dragon flies.

Water lilies
Water lilies

A small pool (less than 10 metres wide) that drops down to about five metres’ depth appears on the right; the very bottom here is muddy, but lilies line the edges. A small ridge separates this pool from the main pool, which is perhaps 20 metres across and has three distinct zones of vegetation. The top area surrounding the pool has a flat bottom and is covered with water lily plants. From 3-6 metres there is green foliage, and from 6 metres to the bottom of the pool is mud.

A platform is suspended from drums at about 6 metres, and is used for skills training by the Johannesburg dive schools who sometimes bring their students here (not much sea in Gauteng). At the very bottom of the pool, a pipe descends under a rock, from which the spring water is collected for bottling. The rock apparently forms part of a swim through, which I was not about to try. Willie, the owner of the farm, told us that a trained cave diver had reeled out 100 metres of line (resonably taut, I hope) in a dive beneath the rock, so there’s enough space to travel quite far below the Oog towards the very source of the spring.

Crab
Crab

The fauna inhabiting the Oog is not prolific, but we saw several crabs in the mud, and a number of fish. I’ve struggled mightily to identify the fish, some of which seem to feed from the silt at the bottom of the pools, and others of which look like bass or tilapia and were seen with a huge cloud of fry. There are also eels, but we didn’t see any. We did spot a giant monitor lizard clambering about at the edge of the reeds while we were watching birds returning to roost in the reeds and feed at the Oog in the evenings.

It was interesting to dive in a freshwater environment – in contrast to the usual 7 kilograms of weight I use to sink me and my 8 millimetre Cape Town wetsuit for a shallow dive, I wore 3 kilograms, and not even on a weight belt. Two kilograms were in my BCD pockets, and the 3rd kilo, added as an afterthought, moved from by sternum to behind my knee during the course of the dive. The migration of a square block of lead through my wetsuit was something of a distraction, it must be said.

Marico Oog is a popular night diving destination, and when the moon is full it must be magnificent. It is recommended that not more than eight divers use the Oog at one time, and even this would be quite cramped for my taste. We were fortunate enough to have it all to ourselves, and for my second dive of the day I was all alone. Tony observed the most of my second dive from the pontoon attached to a cable that can be pulled out over the Oog – it was novel to dive in water so clear that we could see each other in the different mediums.

Reeds above the surface, water lily stems below
Reeds above the surface, water lily stems below

I’ve been wanting to go to Marico Oog since Tony told me about it when I met him, but thought I’d never get there because it’s so remote. Actually, it fitted in quite well with flying to and from Lanseria airport and driving to Gaborone – we took a lot of dirt roads to get there, but there’s a tarred road running straight past the farm from Zeerust. If you’re in the vicinity and fancy some total relaxation and beautiful diving, a visit to Marico Oog is highly recommended.

Dive date: 22 March 2012

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature: 20 degrees

Maximum depth: 12.4 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 36 minutes

Clean water for miles
Clean water for miles

Newsletter: Ahoy there me hearties!

Hi divers

Marico Oog
Marico Oog

Clare and I were away last week and despite the modern world in which we live we stayed in a place called Marico Oog that had no cell phone reception. In order to download text messages it required a drive of some distance to a hilltop for signal, quick replies and then back down the valley. Despite (or because of) the lack of contact with the outside world we had some awesome diving in the source of the Marico River, crystal clear water, 21 degrees and the nice part was diving with no weight belt!

Clare among the water lilies at Marico Oog
Clare among the water lilies at Marico Oog

Prior to the trip up north I had a very busy stretch and it has been pretty much the same since we got back. The weather did not play along for Saturday’s dive planning but Clare and I did get a real early start and when for a boat trip at Zeekoevlei to test a boat. Very windy and very dark brown water but a very nice boat ride. Two hours later the boat stood outside in our driveway. Watch this space!

Recent dives

Sunday we had a very cold, clean deep dive in the Atlantic, chilly 10 degree water. I have been in or on the water all week. False Bay is still pleasant at 19 degrees and on my way to Simon’s Town this morning I counted no less that 30 fishing boats between Muizenberg and Simon’s Town. The bay is teeming with big schools of fish right now. The water is not all that clear and the last few days reports from Seal island and partridge point have been 2-4 metre visibility.

Basket star at 13th Apostle reef
Basket star at 13th Apostle reef

Weekend diving

Plans for this weekend are not cast in stone as yet as I want to wait and see what the water looks like tomorrow after today’s strong winds and rain. It was not all that great today as there was a fair amount of swell and the viz was a low 2-3 metres. Hopefully the wind will have cleaned the bay up somewhat.

I have a list of people that have all indicated a keenness to dive this weekend so I will text everyone on that list tomorrow evening. If you haven’t been in touch and might want to dive, you know what to do.

Cape Town Dive Festival

Cape Town Dive Festival
Cape Town Dive Festival

The very first Cape Town Dive Festival will take place at the Cape Boat and Ski Boat Club at Miller’s Point, on 10 and 11 August 2012. Visit the website, think about participating (boat dives are only R100), and let me know if you’d like to do some dives with us on either of the days. It’s going to be a super event and the aim is to promote diving in Cape Town, something that we are very enthusiastic about.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Tips on shopping for dive gear

I’ve been diving for a while, owned a lot of dive gear. Here are some tips on shopping for gear, some learned through painful experience!

General rules for buying gear

  • Try it on before you buy it. Wetsuits, booties, hoodie, you name it.
  • Try on your BCD and weight belt OVER your wetsuit – two layers of 5 millimetre neoprene adds a LOT of waistline!
  • Make sure you understand the returns policy of the shop you’re using.
  • Get acquainted with the Consumer Protection Act (if you’re in South Africa).
  • Shop around! Don’t let sales people sweet talk you. They are more interested (generally) in making a sale than in making you a happy diver.
  • Don’t cut the strap of your dive computer shorter unless you’re VERY sure you’re never going to dive in cold water (wearing lots of wetsuit and gloves to make your wrist thicker).

Second hand gear

  • When purchasing second hand cylinders: get them viz’d first (at the expense of the seller) before agreeing to purchase.
  • Try and get the seller to allow you to “test dive” expensive items such as dive computers before agreeing to purchase them.
  • It’s a good idea to check BCDs for leaks before purchasing, unless you plan to use the BCD only for shallow dives, and even then it’s iffy.

Gear to avoid

  • Don’t purchase based purely on colour (ladies, I know it can be very tempting).
  • Be realistic about what you will use the gear for. (Do you really plan to dive to 100 metres, under ice with that regulator?)
  • Don’t fall for wrap around face masks with 3 glass panels (here’s an example) without trying one first – they give rise to very confusing visual phenomena and distort things hugely as they pass across the join in the panes of glass!
  • Avoid BCDs with inflate/deflate handle handles (example here) – I have never yet seen a beginner diver (and even some divers who have done over 100 dives) using one who was in proper control of their buoyancy.
  • Neoprene covers on mask straps (example here) usually only work without a hoodie. They have a tendency to slip off your head during a backward roll off the boat when worn over a hoodie (although some people swear by them!).
  • Smaller volume masks are usually better for beginner divers than huge five litre models! They are much easier to clear.
  • Do you really need a three foot dive cutlass, as opposed to a small knife?

Repairs

  • Get a second opinion on extensive repairs.