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.

Dusky dolphins in Maori Bay

One Saturday in late October last year we went out to Maori Bay in the hope of a dive on either the SS Maori or BOS 400 wreck. Unfortunately the swell was huge and moving directly into Maori Bay, and the water was green from a developing algal bloom (but still freezing cold). We decided not to dive – the conditions just weren’t good enough.

Dolphins in Maori Bay
Dolphins in Maori Bay

While we were still in Maori Bay, discussing our options and checking out the conditions, a pod of dusky dolphins arrived from somewhere north of us, and surrounded the boat. The engines were off and all we could hear was the dolphins’ breath sounds, and the swell slapping on the sides of the boat and breaking slightly on the rocks at the edge of the bay. We sat watching the dolphins for some time. They were playful and very curious, coming close to the boat and filling the bay. There were at least 30 dolphins, perhaps as many as 50. They weren’t on their way anywhere, just milling around.

After quite a while, because the dolphins were so calm and curious, we slipped over the side of the boat to see if they’d like to take a look at us in the water. They did want to. The four of us (Tony was in his drysuit, which isn’t really suitable for snorkeling, so he stayed on the boat with skipper Mark) floated around the boat on snorkel, and the dolphins approached us repeatedly, often swimming in pairs or threes. The water wasn’t too clear so they approached as ghostly shapes in the gloom and then materialised a few metres from us. They’d look at us, and then swim by. We could hear them clicking under the water.

The conditions were far from ideal – you can see how large the swell was and how green the water in the video – but we loved spending time with these animals. They came very close, sometimes closer than arm’s length, but they didn’t touch us (and we didn’t touch them). This was a very unusual encounter. When the boys got out of the water, Odette and I stayed in for a bit, and the dolphins came even closer.

We have seen dolphins on both the False Bay and Atlantic sides of the peninsula. The pods of dolphins we’ve seen in False Bay are usually hunting or on their way somewhere (and are usually long beaked common dolphins). This was the first time I’ve seen dolphins who didn’t seem to have anything particular to do at that moment.

Newsletter: All aboard!

Hi divers

Summer winds are fading and winter winds are slowly starting to arrive. The visibility of the Atlantic sites drops off and the water in False bay gets cleaner and cleaner as if pumped through a filter. A whole new range of creatures start to make an appearance while other creatures hide somewhere warmer. There are still several giant short tail stingrays hanging around at Miller’s Point, where the fishing boats drop the fish guts overboard near the slipway.

Ray at the slipway
Ray at the slipway

Many people feel it’s too cold to dive in winter… It is cold for sure, but with the right gear and on the right days, winter diving in Cape Town beats anything summer can come up with. Currently False Bay is clean and the temperature is around  15-16 degrees. By adding a shorty, decent gloves and a thicker hoodie you are all set. Dry suits, or damp suits as I call them, do also work, when they work. I don’t sell gear but I am very happy to give advice on whether a deal is a deal or a rip off!

Sevengill cowshark
Sevengill cowshark

We had fair conditions last weekend and dived with the sevengill cowsharks (thanks to Tamsyn again for the awesome photo!) and the seals on Sunday. It was surgy and the viz wasn’t the best but Shark Alley was swarming with sharks. Unfortunately the seals didn’t want to come and play because of the swell. Fortunately the reef around Partridge Point is stunning! The wind has been north and west a few days this week and the visibility has improved.

Weekend plans

As for the weekend – tomorrow looks the best, but Saturday could work for one launch to Tivoli Pinnacles or an early double tank dive to Atlantis and Outer Castle.  The wind comes up very strongly around lunchtime so we want to be out of the water early. Sunday will be wetter on the surface than it will below so I guess it’s a stay at home and watch Formula 1 instead.

As usual text me if you want to dive tomorrow or on Saturday. We are really looking forward to our Durban trip on 17 June, which is getting closer. There is still space on this trip and our Red Sea liveaboard trip in October, so give it some thought and let me know if you want more information.

One of the divers on the boat two weeks ago took this video of the seal we saw at the slipway. Keep watching right to the end!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Dive sites: 13th Apostle

Sea cucumbers covering parts of the reef
Sea cucumbers covering parts of the reef

Positioned at the end of the Twelve Apostles mountain range (and thusly named), 13th Apostle reef is a distinct mass of granite boulders surrounded by a sandy bottom. Waves have long been observed to break here in bad weather, but the reef was only dived for the first time late in 2010. It’s quite a long (13.3km) boat ride from Hout Bay, near Llandudno.

Hydroids, urchins and soft corals
Hydroids, urchins and soft corals

We visited it on a day when surface conditions were somewhat choppy despite the lack of wind, and the boat ride there felt endless. And wet. Visibility, however, was stellar – when my buddy failed to arrive at the bottom I was forced to resurface, and on my way back down I could see Tony and Vanessa 15 metres below me. They, in turn, could see my legs and the boat while I was on the surface.

Tony & Vanessa, seen from near the surface
Tony & Vanessa, seen from near the surface

The top of the reef is between 6 and 10 metres deep, punctuated by deep cracks. There are in fact a couple of swimthroughs and overhangs, one of which forms a very large cavern. The reef itself has kelp growing on top and down to at least 15 metres which, as Peter Southwood points out, implies that light often penetrates to that depth, in turn implying frequent good visibility at the site. There is the usual covering of urchins, sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sponges, soft corals and hydroids.

Tony found me a beautiful basket star, and I discovered a brooding cushion star – an unusual sea star that makes me crave refined carbohydrates. We also saw large numbers of west coast rock lobster and schools of hottentot. Parts of the reef were covered by dense schools of baby fish – the Atlantic is very fecund.

Basket star
Basket star

This reef has a distinct edge, and while it’s quite large, if you land on it you probably won’t get lost. It feels quite far out to sea (it isn’t, really) and it’s essential (as with all Cape Town boat diving) to have an SMB to deploy before you surface. Tony in fact sent his up with me when I ascended early in the dive to look for my buddy. I descended on the line and found him and Vanessa at the bottom.

Tony in his drysuit
Tony in his drysuit

Dive date: 25 March 2012

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature: 10 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.8 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 30 minutes

Vanessa on her deep adventure dive
Vanessa on her deep adventure dive

Bookshelf: Polar Obsession

Polar Obsession – Paul Nicklen

Polar Obsession
Polar Obsession

Paul Nicklen is a National Geographic contributing photographer who grew up in the far northern reaches of Canada, living in tiny settlements mostly populated by Inuit people. From them he learned how to survive in the bitterly cold environment (summer is less than a month long), and a respect and admiration for the creatures that live in those conditions. His love for the hostile but fragile polar ecosystems led him to document them in order to raise awareness of the threat they face from global warming.

Polar Obsession is an enormous, glossy, coffee table book (too large to read comfortably in bed with one’s husband!) full of beautiful photographs of polar bears, sea birds, seals, whales, wolves, reindeer, penguins, krill, and the polar landscapes.

Nicklen ventures into the freezing (-1.5 degrees celcius) water, and swims under the ice to capture the activity of the creatures who spend time there. Many planktonic creatures – amphipods, copepods and krill – congregate under the ice, and are devoured by whales and various fish such as Arctic cod. His photographs bear out the fact that he has exercised profound patience in order to capture the particular moments and interactions – a lot of his job is waiting for everything to be in the right state: light, weather, and the animal itself.

Nicklen’s stories about how he took some of the photographs are wonderful and often hilarious. This little video describes one of the stories and photo series in the book: an interaction Nicklen had with a female leopard seal.

There are is another video on YouTube about the book here, and you can see some more of Nicklen’s polar photos here and here. For those who are interested in the technicalities of this kind of work, Nicklen lists his camera gear and the supplies he would require for a photographic expedition in the far north or south. He often wears a drysuit even when working on the ice, because he has fallen through the ice more than once, and a drysuit dramatically improves his chances of survival.

This is a magnificent book – one of my friends, who has a special fondness for polar bears, is getting it for Christmas! It made me want to visit South Georgia Island and the Antarctic particularly much.

You can purchase a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

Handy hints: Draining your drysuit

Draining a drysuit
Draining a drysuit

A drysuit is designed to ensure you remain dry whilst underwater. Personally I have had some experience with this but recently having had it repaired by Grant it is no longer refered to as a dampsuit but rather as the best piece of dive gear I have ever bought.

Anyway here is a handy hint for a drysuit that is wet inside after the first of a series of repetitive dives.  After dive one, prior to dive two, find a sloped surface, and lie with your head facing down the slope. Allow the water to pool at your neck and cuff seals and then stick a finger in there to release the water. Simple.

Here is Peter Southwood doing just that at Miller’s Point… Maximum allowed drain time here is 20 minutes, according to the sign!

One can only do this for 20 minutes at a time
One can only do this for 20 minutes at a time

(Be prepared for a few comments such as what happened? Is he okay? Is he nuts? Is he dead?)

Newsletter: Animals also have something to say

Hello everyone

For those with awesome gardens the rain has probably been welcomed. There has been plenty of rain, so for many, diving has been scarce, why I don’t know because you get wet anyway! The wind on the other hand does chase divers away, me included. Despite the wind we did have some good diving last weekend.

Joanne in the pool
Joanne in the pool

I spent Saturday in the pool because it was too windy for the ocean, but the pool is still diving for me. Sunday morning we woke up to this view from the beach and decided we would navigate out to the concrete wreck and pay a visit to the chained buoy.

Sunrise at Long Beach
Sunrise at Long Beach

How can you not dive when the morning starts like this?

Three spotted swimming crab at Long Beach
Three spotted swimming crab at Long Beach

This three spotted swimming crab was quite aggressive.

Clare on the surface after a Long Beach dive
Clare on the surface after a Long Beach dive

Some days, when there is no diving, but if the weather is good I just jump in my drysuit and turn on the hose…

Is there a body in that drysuit?
Is there a body in that drysuit?

Just kidding… This is me doing a leak test on my drysuit (which is commonly referred to as a dampsuit at home).

Testing the drysuit for leaks
Testing the drysuit for leaks

Weekend diving

This weekend Grant is away diving a wreck in East London. On Saturday I will be at Long Beach with students and Discover Scuba Candidates but Sunday we plan do do an early launch with a different boat charter, weather permitting.

I can keep my head above water
I can keep my head above water

OMSAC False Bay Treasure Hunt

On 9 July Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club (OMSAC) is running a False Bay Treasure Hunt based at the Cape Boat and Ski Club at Miller’s Point. Clare and I will be checking it out and doing some boat dives – the registration fee is R75 per person if you book in advance (this also entitles you to a goodie bag, a boerie roll and a cool drink). They are running boat dives every hour on the hour for R100, and a couple of treasure hunt dives, a beach clean-up, and some other interesting-sounding stuff with nice prizes on offer. If you’re keen to join in, mail info@omsac.co.za or check out their website.

WHAT an awesome dive!
WHAT an awesome dive!

Notifications of weekend dives

I’m not sure whether you prefer email or text message notification of weekend dive plans. If you’d like to get a text message, please either reply to this mail or text me to let me know that is what you’d like. Thanks!

I'd rather stick my head in the sand
I’d rather stick my head in the sand

regards

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

Leave me alone, I'm busy!
Leave me alone, I’m busy!

Diving is addictive!

A very scientific experiment

Thermometer
Thermometer

The idea for this experiment was born after a few dives Tony did last year, wearing his dodgy old wetsuit, in very cold water. He’d emerge from the water almost paralysed, unable to speak, shivering uncontrollably. His muscles would cramp, and he’d struggle to breathe for a time. It’d take him quite a long while afterwards to regain his comfort level.

We wondered just how much a lengthy submersion in cold water affects one’s body temperature when wearing a wetsuit (two 5 millimetre layers, plus a hoodie and gloves). I’ve been trying to remember to take a thermometer with me to dives for months, and finally – on the day of two planned dives in False Bay in early February – managed to remember to pack it into my bag.

Since Tony is now diving in a drysuit on deeper dives, the person whose temperature was to be measured was yours truly. I don’t get as cold as he does – I have more body fat, for one thing, and for another I learned to dive in the Cape and haven’t dived much anywhere else… So cold water is the norm for me. I’m also a hot sleeper, if that counts for anything – my body is quite good at warming itself!

Anyway, I took my temperature before and after both dives. My thermometer isn’t terribly reliable so I took a couple of readings each time and averaged them. Temperatures are in degrees celcius. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a warm breeze. The air temperature was about 26 degrees. Here are the results:

Time Description Temperature
0630 Leaving home for Miller’s Point 36.5
0800 Just before first launch to the SAS Transvaal 36.6
0937 Five minutes after surfacing, dive time 32 minutes, depth 32.4 metres, water temperature 8 degrees celcius 35.0
1040 Second launch to Partridge Point 36.1
1201 Five minutes after surfacing, dive time 38 minutes, depth 21.9 metres, water temperature 8 degrees celcius 34.8

For those of you (like me) who enjoy graphs, here’s one showing the same data.

Graph of body temperature before and after repeated dives
Graph of body temperature before and after repeated dives

We repeated this experiment on two dives of similar duration and similar temperature in the Atlantic ocean, and the results were also a 1.5 degree drop in body temperature which had almost fully reversed itself by an hour after the dive. We’re also going to repeat this experiment on my husband, in his drysuit, to see whether the temperature changes are as extreme. I know they’re not – this time on the boat ride back to the slipway it was me whose teeth were chattering so much I couldn’t eat my Bar One, while Tony displayed a complete lack of sympathy, all snug in his drysuit pyjamas!

Wetsuits and drysuits

Having done most of my diving in warm water I arrived in Cape Town armed with a 5 millimetre thick one piece wetsuit and a shorty to go over that, also in 5mm. This wetsuit had served me well and had done well over 700 dives. Being a custom-made suit it fits like a glove. The hoodie is attached to the shorty. I wanted it like that as I find a hood attached to the wetsuit makes my head feel spring loaded, and when turning your head it always feels like it wants to spring back.

It now has now done its time, has a few leaky holes and is fast becoming scruffy, as this photo Clare took on a dive we did on the BOS 400 demonstrates.

Glue on my knees in the Atlantic
Glue on my knees in the Atlantic

Neoprene also breaks down eventually, it becomes waterlogged and looses its density and insulation properties. It now feels like a 3mm wetsuit and I get cold.

So what next, a new wetsuit, or a dry suit? (Or both?!)

Drysuits

The idea of a drysuit is very appealing, aptly named, it keeps you dry and you could go for a dive dressed in your Sunday best. The right thing to wear under a drysuit is an undergarment designed for the job.

The drysuit undergarment
The drysuit undergarment

These garments are most often fleece-lined and keep you warm.

Inside the drysuit undergarment
Inside the drysuit undergarment

Neoprene or silicone rubber neck and wrist seals ensure no water enters the suit in these places and the boots are attached and part of the suit. A large watertight zipper opening allows you to step into the suit.

Full drysuit
Full drysuit

Drysuits have a few more tricks, an inflator on the chest (most often) allows you to trim your buoyancy by putting air into the suit. This also prevents the suit from squeezing you at depth.

Drysuit showing neck seal and air vents
Drysuit showing neck seal and air vents

An adjustable deflate button, sometimes several, allow you to vent air or, set correctly, will vent automatically. An extra hose is required for your first stage and a good idea is to do a course on drysuit diving before you head off to the ocean. Most drysuit suppliers will give you an orientation dive with the purchase.

We dived in the Atlantic the first time I tried a drysuit in Cape Town, a windy day with a long boat ride, 6 degrees celcius on the bottom and I was warm as toast.

Drysuit diving in the Atlantic
Drysuit diving in the Atlantic

Wetsuits

A decent wetsuit is also very good at keeping you warm and does not have the added buoyancy concerns of drysuits, nor does a small leak turn your dive into a freezing disaster.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5
Mares Flexa 8-6-5

Mares, a brand of dive gear, exceptional quality, not the cheapest, but most definitely one of the best, make this wetsuit. Called a Flexa 8-6-5 it has 8mm on the torso and on the upper legs and arms, 6mm on all the body joints, so your knees and elbows bend easily, and 5 mm on the rest. It has a built in back pad that give you extra padding where your BCD back plate sits against your body and very snug neck, wrist and ankle seals. I do like the front zip, but I don’t like the stiff velcro attachment on the neck and may have this removed.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5 showing neck seal
Mares Flexa 8-6-5 showing neck seal

The water on the first day I tested the suit was 14 degrees celcius and I did two dives back to back, spending just under an hour and a half in the water, without feeling cold at all. The subsequent dives I have done in it have been a pleasure.

Mares Flexa 8-6-5
Mares Flexa 8-6-5

I know there are a lot of very good wetsuits available and both Reef and Coral will custom make a suit perfectly, but personally I rate this suit as one of the best.

Dive sites: SS Cape Matapan

Desirous of doing a deep dive for three students busy with their Advanced course, Tony, the students, Tami, Goot and I set off on Saturday 22 January, bright and early from Oceana Powerboat Club near the Waterfront. The southeaster was strong, and the boat ride was a hoot – sitting on the plushy bench at the back of the boat, I was soundly drenched by the freezing waves as we hurtled down the coast. I had forgotten to eat any ginger snaps for seasickness, but the wind on my face and the splashing waves made the boat ride a pleasure, and even when we stopped, rocking, I think the wind helped a lot with nausea.

Tony (back to camera) doing deep skills with students
Tony (back to camera) doing deep skills with students

Our planned destination was North Paw, to explore a part of the site that hasn’t been mapped yet. Unfortunately when we got there the surface conditions were atrocious and it was decided to move further towards the shore to see if the sea was calmer there. An investigation of the rocks at the north end of Camps Bay beach revealed flatter seas, but visibility of not more than two metres. Personally, I will accept cold water, or poor visibility, but not both.

Mark doing his deep skills
Mark doing his deep skills

We were heading back to OPBC for breakfast, but as we passed the section of coast opposite Cape Town Stadium it was decided to dive the SS Cape Matapan, located thereabouts. The surface conditions were still pretty rubbish, but when Mauro got in to check the props of the boat after a small barney with a rock, he came back reporting that the props were fine and the visibility was stunning.

Warty pleurobranch with exposed gill
Warty pleurobranch with exposed gill

The Cape Matapan was a steam-powered fishing trawler that sank after a collision with another ship in dense fog in 1960. The location of the wreck was not known (apart from the information that it is about 30 minutes from Table Bay harbour under slow speed) until last year, when some False Bay Underwater Club veterans searched for it and located it off the Atlantic seaboard.

Flat ocean bottom around the wreck
Flat ocean bottom around the wreck

The wreck is very broken up on a flat bottom. I loved being within view of the Sea Point promenade, and then sinking beneath the waves to see what’s there. Goot compared it to the moon, and he was right – the visibility was good (15 metres or so) and we could see for ages around us. Nothing except the ship’s boiler stands up from the ocean floor.

Wreckage of the Cape Matapan
Wreckage of the Cape Matapan

There was a very strong current down there, the sort that you don’t want to even try to fight against, so we drifted with it. We didn’t get to the boiler (events intervened while most of us still had lots of air – boo!) but we saw bits of metal plating and twisted wreckage here and there as we motored along. Tami and I were delighted with an entire field of golden sea cucumbers sticking up from the sand (of which there isn’t much). We didn’t see any fish, but the ocean floor was echinoderm paradise. It was a beautiful dive.

Golden sea cucumbers near the Cape Matapan
Golden sea cucumbers near the Cape Matapan

The dive site is on the edge of the shipping lane serving the harbour in Cape Town, so we all had SMBs (didn’t get time to deploy those!) and Grant was on high alert when we surfaced. Seeing giant container ships in the distance reminded me that if we were to get in the path of one of them, with a draught of 10 metres or more, we’d be toast. We didn’t want to get separated as a group, either, because of the current.

Brittle stars and sea cucumbers next to a block of cheese (coraline algae on a rock!)
Brittle stars and sea cucumbers next to a block of cheese (coraline algae on a rock!)

Tony was doing his first Cape Town drysuit dive, trying it out. His initial report is good, and you’ll hear more from him on the subject. Here’s a dodgy photo of him in his snug getup. I was particularly jealous of the body-shaped sleeping bag/drysuit pyjamas (neither of those being the correct technical term) that one wears underneath. His had fetching purple stripes down the sides.

Drysuited Tony
Drysuited Tony

Dive date: 22 January 2011

Air temperature: 25 degrees

Water temperature: 7 degrees

Maximum depth: 24.4 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 20 minutes

Urchins and sea cucumber
Urchins and sea cucumber