Newsletter: Shooting animals

Hi divers

Surprised by an early newsletter? Well its going to be short and sweet. We will not be diving this weekend at all, however, the forecast looks good for some really clean water in False Bay so if you can dive, do it.

Navigating slightly off course
Navigating slightly off course

We have had a mixed bag this week and had some early morning good viz in Hout Bay on Wednesday and ended off with some low viz in the afternoon as the wind died and the water warmed up. It was amazing to watch the bay go dark in a matter of hours.

Our Divemaster candidates had a really challenging course to navigate with a huge amount of task loading to prepare them for the role of Divemaster. We set up a course close to Die Josie that was angled across the current, the wind and the swell to demonstrate the difficulty in finding someone or something in low viz and with a current running.

Rescue skills
Rescue skills

Yesterday we spent some time at Long Beach and had pretty good conditions. The visibility was perhaps 4 metres, but it was calm and sunny which was perfect for Discover Scuba students.

So far we have thirteen enthusiastic divers heading off to Sodwana on 26 April. If you’re keen to join us, let me know and we’ll do our best to slot you in!

Clare and I are off early this morning, heading north to a game reserve to shoot a few pictures of the wildlife above the water. We are back on Monday and it will be diving as usual next week.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Dive sites (Red Sea): Shark Reef (Ras Mohammed National Park)

Divers below us on the wall at Shark Reef
Divers below us on the wall at Shark Reef

Shark Reef is inside the Ras Mohammed National Park, an area which provided (I thought) the most spectacular dives of our Red Sea liveaboard trip. It is a magnificent advertisement for marine protected areas. The visibility was so good as to be impossible to estimate – I’ve said it was 40 metres in my dive summary below, but really, who can say? I could see as far as I wanted to see.

Coral garden at Shark Reef
Coral garden at Shark Reef

Shark Reef is part of the top of a pinnacle that drops to about 800 metres’ depth. As it approaches the surface, it splits into two smaller pinnacles which are called Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef, which we actually ended up visiting on the same dive (but I’ll write about Yolanda Reef separately). The water here is blue, like ink, and we enjoyed a nice little current that pushed us along from one pinnacle to the next with the reef on our right hand side. On the seaward side we first had deep blue water, and then a coral garden (shown in the photo above) on the plateau between Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef  that sloped gently upwards.

Divers using twinsets in the distance
Divers using twinsets in the distance

We didn’t see a lot of large fish, but I admit to being so awed by the topography and visibility that with all the head swivelling I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a whale unless it had swum right into my BCD. Because the reef drops off into such deep water, and there are such powerful currents in the region, there is always a good possibility of seeing some large pelagic creatures.

Cardinal fish around a coral head
Cardinal fish around a coral head

We did see huge, swirling schools of smaller fish – cardinal fish, fusiliers, damselfish, and others whose names I didn’t know. At the end of the dive we arrived at Yolanda Reef, where a ship carrying bathroom supplies ran aground in 1980. There was an incredibly powerful current rushing down this part of the reef from the shallows towards the deeper water, and this ended our dive!

We liked Yolanda Reef and its scattered bathroom fittings so much that we returned to dive it again a couple of hours later. The wreck of the ship is actually 200 metres below Yolanda Reef, but it made a big mess as it went down! We surfaced close to the reef in order to avoid a haircut from one of the many large dive boats tooling around the area. Kate and Veronica almost got run down by one of them, and had to ditch their SMB and descend at speed to avoid an accident. Not cool!

Dive date: 20 October 2013

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature:  27 degrees

Maximum depth: 20.9 metres

Visibility: 40 metres

Dive duration:  41 minutes

The surface is visible against the top of the reef
The surface is visible against the top of the reef

Christmas gift guide 2013

Ok so this is a bit late, and if you haven’t done your Christmas, Hannukah and Festivus shopping yet, shame on you. Or just shame. Most of these ideas don’t entail going to a mall and having your personal space invaded by ten thousand hormonal adolescents. You can order online, or make a phone call or two. Get going!

Christmas at Sandy Cove
Christmas at Sandy Cove

Books

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

I’m not going to suggest a magazine subscription – I’ve let most of ours lapse as we seem to have entered a long dark teatime of the soul when it comes to South African diving magazines. If the quality picks up, they’ll be back on the gift list at the end of 2014.

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. 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 the non diver, you could inspire a love for our oceans with one of these:

For those who need (or like) to relax

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 usually 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:

Red Sea 2013 trip report

Me, Christo, Kate and Veronica on the sundeck
Me, Christo, Kate and Veronica on the sundeck

We returned from our Red Sea liveaboard trip on Sunday, and have been slowly returning to normal life (essentially doing things other than eating, sleeping, diving in warm water with magnificent visibility, and lounging around on deck like millionaires). It’s been tough.

Two of the blue o two liveaboards at the jetty
Two of the blue o two liveaboards at the jetty

The itinerary we followed was the Northern Wrecks and Reefs one offered by blue o two. Our vessel was M/Y blue Melody, on the right in the photo above. We dived wrecks like the ThistlegormGiannis D, and Chrisoula K, and a number of reefs. We did a couple of spectacular drift dives, and on most of the wrecks there was the opportunity to go inside for the suitably qualified. It was compulsory to dive with an SMB. The most memorable reef dives were done inside the Ras Mohammed National Park.

Captain Mohammed and Tony on the fly deck
Captain Mohammed and Tony on the fly deck

Life on board the boat had a simple rhythm: dive, eat, sleep, repeat. During surface intervals the crew moved to new sites, and we either dived directly from the liveaboard or were transported short distances (in full kit) on Zodiacs – rubber ducks like the ones we use in Cape Town. During the time we were away, we had the opportunity to do 21 dives of which four were night dives. The diving was spread over six days. We skipped a couple of dives for various reasons including tiredness and illness, but overall managed to do a lot of diving in a short space of time. The warm water and helpfulness of the crew meant that it wasn’t nearly as physically taxing as you’d imagine. We used Nitrox throughout, not so much because we were doing particularly deep dives and needed the extra time (though it certainly helped), but for overall health reasons and to minimise fatigue.

Bluff Point
Bluff Point

Most of the time we were within sight of land. The landscape is mainly desert, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The reefs rise to within a few feet of the surface, and are clearly visible from the boat when it isn’t moving. Navigation in the Red Sea must be very tricky for the inexperienced, however. The number of spectacular wrecks is testament to this!

Sunset over the Red Sea
Sunset over the Red Sea

The day we arrived in Egypt and the day of our departure were mostly spent at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada, waiting to board our vessel (the first day) and the plane (the last day). We lounged by the pool and checked out the private beach there, and felt very relaxed.

Prior to the trip we had some (understandable) concerns regarding the safety of travelling through Egypt to get to the liveaboard, but we kept tabs on the travel advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK. Since we would merely be in transit through Cairo airport, and would not actually be sleeping a single night on land, we were happy to go ahead with the trip. The Red Sea coastal area has been extremely calm throughout the recent unrest, and, as it derives 95% of its revenue from tourism, the locals have been keen to keep it that way.

The beach at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada
The beach at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada

We took a lot of photo and video on the trip, and will be sorting through it and sharing it over the next couple of months. Watch this space!

The case of the dangling shot

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX1TDgNX-vY&w=540″]

I took this video on a dive to Alpha Reef on a day when the swell was supposed to have dropped off… but hadn’t. The swells were so large that the shot line not only walked, but floated out into deeper water. You can see from its motion up and down just how much the surface of the ocean was moving about that day. There’s a small SMB attached to the shot for use on deep dives, where a little extra buoyancy is welcome when pulling it off the bottom. At this dive site, where the maximum depth is less than 15 metres, we didn’t need to inflate it.

Eezycut emergency cutting tools

The thing about an emergency cutting tool is that one hopes not to have to use it. It’s a good thing to have, however, particularly if you are using reels and lines while diving. That applies to many Cape Town boat divers, all of whom should be in possession of an SMB and possibly a reel to deploy it while at depth. One might also encounter other, non-emergency situations, which would make one glad of a handy blade.

The Eezycut tool in its packaging
The Eezycut tool in its packaging

Monty of Scuba Culture supplied us with these fantastic Eezycut emergency blades around Christmas time. It’s nearly (but not completely) impossible to cut yourself by accident, and the blade comes in a pouch that mounts easily on webbing or on your wrist. I went for the webbing option, and mounted it on one of the vertical straps of my BCD where it’s out the way but easy to grasp if needed.

Christo had an incident with some line the other day while diving with Tony, and the Eezycut sorted the problem out “as easily as tearing wet paper”.

There are some videos on the Eezycut website showing the ways of using the blade, including how to hold it. It can also be used by climbers, paddlers, fishermen, and paragliders – in short, by anyone who encounters potential entanglement or rope problems. I think it’s an excellent investment in your safety.

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:

Dive sites: Steenbras Deep

On Sunday 11 March, since the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour was going to prohibit access to basically the entire peninsula, we decided to take an expedition out to the eastern side of False Bay to do a boat dive with Indigo Scuba, run by Kate and Deon Jonker. We’ve been meaning to do this for ages and ages, so we were very glad to finally get ourselves over there! The southeaster (which had blown strongly in the few days prior to the 11th) actually cleans up the eastern side of False Bay while it messes up the western side, or at least has some positive effect on visibility. So while we are diving in the Atlantic during the summer, Indigo launches out of Gordon’s Bay and explores local dive sites such as Pinnacles, Cow and Calf, and the Steenbras River Mouth.

Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat
Deon Jonker skippering the Indigo Scuba dive boat

We met at Indigo Scuba in the morning, loaded up the boat, and then drove the 5 minutes to Harbour Island in Gordon’s Bay, from where we launched. It’s an extremely civilised launch site and overall experience… The foul-mouthed snoek slinging fishermen crowding Miller’s Point seemed like a bad dream!

West coast rock lobster buddy pair
West coast rock lobster buddy pair

It’s about 11 kilometres from Harbour Island to Steenbras Deep, and one has the feeling of being quite far out to sea – although we could see the mountains surrounding False Bay on both sides of us. The wind was stronger than the weather man had predicted, giving rise to some quite serious wind chop and a bumpy and wet boat ride. When we arrived at the reef we could see that there was more wave action on top of the pinnacles than in the deeper water surrounding them. Deon dropped a shot on one of the two pinnacles that comprise the reef (the top of the pinnacle we dropped onto is at about 18 metres, with the sand at about 30 metres). A murky descent (standard for False Bay in summer!) down the shot line led us to the top of the pinnacle, where visibility was only about 2 metres and it was very green.

Bull klipfish
Bull klipfish

As we ventured slightly deeper we encountered some invigorating (ahem!) thermoclines (one of them was actually visible as a haze in the water) and improved visibility. There was quite a strong current in places, and lots of surge.

There are many similarities between the reefs we dive on the western side of False Bay, but the overall pattern of the sea life was subtly different. The fish seemed far less skittish than their compatriots to the west, and happily swam within a few tens of centimetres from my mask. Nudibranchs abound, and close inspection of the corals covering the rocks is well rewarded. There seemed to be fewer sea cucumbers, and feather stars were not quite as dominant as they are in some of the other parts of False Bay. The corals, sponges and sea fans are beautiful and very numerous.

The sand around the reef is very coarse and full of shells, and the reef itself abounds with cracks, gullies, small pointy pinnacles, and walls that can be traversed at a variety of depths. The gullies appear to be much beloved by west coast rock lobster, and shysharks were quite common too.

This reef is not in a marine protected area (MPA) – none of the eastern False Bay dive sites are. Kate, who regularly dives both sides of the bay, says she can see a distinct difference in the number of fish that they see on “their” side of the bay compared to the western side. So even if I am quite cynical about the competence of the administration and will to police the MPAs, clearly they are having some effect!

Dive date: 11 March 2012

Air temperature: 29 degrees

Water temperature: 12 degrees

Maximum depth: 24.8 metres

Visibility: 2-10 metres

Dive duration: 38 minutes

Dive sites: Sea Point Ridge Pinnacles

Fish and kelp atop the pinnacles
Fish and kelp atop the pinnacles

I thought I knew about plankton blooms, and was fairly sure that I had dived in the worst that they have to offer. I was wrong, however, and that is the reason that all the photos in this post that were taken horizontally are the colour of Appletiser. After a week of strong southeasterly winds, during which the water turned beautiful clear blue, we booked ourselves onto Grant’s boat to go and visit a granite pinnacle off Sea Point that has been named Sea Point Ridge Pinnacles. It’s marked on the hydrographic chart for Table Bay, with a maximum depth of 16 metres. The pinnacle is located close to the slipway at Oceana Power Boat Club and we think we were the first group of people to dive it.

It was a beautiful, windless day in contrast to the howling gale we’d experienced the day(s) before. As we approached the location of the pinnacle, the water had an odd tinge to it. Hoping it was localised, Grant took the boat further south towards North and South Paw, but the colour stayed the same. Since we were out there anyway and sweating in our wetsuits, it was decided to go ahead with the dive back at the Sea Point pinnacle, and hope that the water was cleaner further down.

It was cleaner further down: nearly 20 metres further down. We descended through thick, green, soupy plankton bloom for what seemed like an eternity, and then through a 7 degree thermocline (yes, the surface temperature was 17 degrees) which looked like a solid black barrier. Forcing myself to keep descending through the thermocline, when it looked like a solid object, was one of the hardest things I’ve done since I started diving. We reached the bottom at about 24 metres. Having breathed a quarter of my air already, it wasn’t going to be a long dive.

The bottom layer of water, 4-5 metres’ worth, was crystal clear and freezing cold. The dive had the quality of a night dive, since the massive plankton layer above us let very little light through. It didn’t look that way at the time, but when I took pictures through the water column the camera recorded everything in shades of green, filtered by the green water that was between me and the sun.

The rocky bottom immediately surrounding the pinnacles
The rocky bottom immediately surrounding the pinnacles

The pinnacle is part of a longish ridge that extends out to sea. It is home to some small kelp plants, lots of fish (mostly hottentot by the looks of things), and a very large number of mussels. In between the mussels, which cover almost every available surface, are beautiful anemones in all colours, many of them squeezed into very small spaces. We also saw a lot of West coast rock lobster, who had never seen a diver before and looked at us impassively. A seal visited us, his eyes glowing oddly in the dim light. There are a couple more pictures from this dive in Tony’s newsletter of that week.

We also saw lots of tubeworms, and the largest strawberry anemones I have ever seen. This site is one of the rare granite outcrops on an otherwise almost featureless ocean floor along this part of the coast (apart from wrecks – the SS Cape Matapan being a case in point). It’s a lovely location to dive, with a beautiful boat ride featuring views of the mountain and Cape Town Stadium. It’s far enough out of the shipping lanes that you can relax about being run over by a tanker, but you must dive with an SMB because small boats do ply this part of the coast.

Lesson learned: the sea can change in a day. All that beautiful clean, clear upwelled water from the deep ocean is teeming with life just waiting for the sun’s rays to give it enough energy to multiply prolifically. There’s a small window to enjoy the Atlantic visibility after – or during – a southeaster, and then plankton will probably spoil the party. Diving in that sort of muck is extremely challenging (we lost Maurice at the safety stop, for example, and my air consumption was horrible because I was not relaxed), and is best avoided, specially if you’re paying for the dive! For training in low visibility diving, however, this was better than a night dive. The picture of Tony at the safety stop, below, was taken while I was holding onto his cummerbund.

On the other hand, I was reminded how privileged we are to live on such a fecund stretch of coastline. The upwelling along South Africa’s west coast is among the strongest in the world, occuring at a rate of up to 30 metres per day (compared to 1-3 metres per day elsewhere). It supports incredibly productive fisheries as well as countless other marine organisms and seabirds (phytoplankton included) – all of which we are able to enjoy as scuba divers, consumers of seafood, and bird watchers.

Dive date: 19 November 2011

Air temperature: 28 degrees

Water temperature: 10 degrees

Maximum depth: 23.8 metres

Visibility: 1-12 metres

Dive duration: 30 minutes

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.