Stings and things

Box sea jellies (Carybdea branchi) are common in Cape waters, and we sometimes see great swarms of them. They are characterised by a roughly cubic bell, with a single tentacle emanating from each lower corner. The tentacles may be retracted at will (if you touch one by accident, the tentacle shortens), and the jellies seem to extend them further at night – possibly for feeding purposes.

Box sea jelly at Long Beach
Box sea jelly with tentacles of various lengths at Long Beach

It is these trailing tentacles that can, it turns out, deliver a nasty sting. I have swum too close to a box jelly before, and where its tentacles touched my exposed face I felt as though I’d been splashed with hot water (actually not a wholly unpleasant experience on a cold dive). Within a few minutes the sensation was gone, and no marks remained when I came out of the water. On a night dive at Long Beach in July, however, I had a proper experience of how these jellies can sting.

I didn’t even notice the jellyfish as I swam around the wreck, but suddenly became aware of an intense stinging sensation around my neck where the top of my wetsuit meets the edge of my hoodie. We were only ten minutes into the dive, so I put it to the back of my mind and continued swimming. The pain was still there when I exited the water, and became more intense as my skin dried. I rinsed off in fresh water at the beach, and we headed home. The lower half of the front of my neck was an angry red colour with raised white welts. More rinsing in warm fresh water, and then an application of (not joking) some All Stings Considered gel that Tony bought in Durban ages ago did little to dull the pain.

Box jelly sting
Box jelly sting

It was a full three days before my neck stopped looking and feeling angry, red and lumpy. Tony reluctantly sent me off to the office – wearing a scarf, lest my colleagues think he strangles me in his spare time. As the sting healed it progressed to looking like a severe case of adult onset acne. We washed my hoodie, wetsuit and rash vest thoroughly to make sure that no stinging cells remained on them, because they can retain their stinging power for some time. Unfortunately not thoroughly enough, because the following weekend when I put on my wetsuit I was stung again, quite extensively – in the same spot on the front of my neck, and also around the back. Time to washing machine the wetsuit!

Round two of the jellyfish sting
Round two of the jellyfish sting

Fortunately our box jelly is nowhere near as venomous as some of the varieties found in Australia and Indonesia. I very much doubt that anyone has died from a South African box jelly sting. That said, if you’re the sort of person who reacts violently to things and often needs antihistamines, I’d take care to avoid exposure where possible.  The NSRI has a fascinating explanation of the stinging mechanism and a run down of some of the treatment options here.

We are actually very fortunate that there are very few ways to get stung in Cape waters. The odds of a sting when one wears so much exposure protection are very small. The other frequent stinging culprit is the bluebottle, which tends to affect swimmers and those strolling on the beach more than it does scuba divers. Don’t hate the jellyfish!

Article: The Atlantic on gale force kayaking

I realise that this blog may (does) frequently overstep its apparent mandate, and delve into subjects other than the narrow subject of scuba diving. I make no apology for this – our interest is in everything ocean related, and there is much to learn and absorb. Everything is interesting!

With that in mind… An article I found from The Atlantic, written in 1995 (as I was matriculating), describes the joy of kayaking in gale force winds and stormy conditions. The author introduces Steve Sinclair, founder of what he calls storm-sea skiing, and who willingly ventures out in his fibreglass surf ski in 100 kilometre per hour winds (and commensurately high seas).

This sport is not for sissies. Writes the author:

I recently spent some time with Sinclair acquiring the fundamentals of ocean kayaking in three-foot swells and winds of no more than twenty miles an hour. During his opening lecture Sinclair emphasized that ocean kayaking is an in-water sport, and that the kayaker must be prepared for complete immersion in surf or building seas. He considers even the warmest outdoor clothing — a common choice of sea kayakers — to be inappropriate, even unsafe: it becomes waterlogged, loses its insulating qualities, and hinders swimming. In his view, only a wet suit is appropriate. Sinclair prefers a “wash-deck” kayak: one is strapped to the top of it rather than inside. Such a vessel — unlike one with a cockpit — is in no danger of flooding, and is as easy to right and remount as a surfboard. Sinclair insists on a helmet regardless of conditions, citing the high ratio of deaths to injuries in all water sports, in which drownings frequently result from unconsciousness following a blow to the head.

But, as Sinclair points out,

Paddling in a hurricane is fun – and also an excellent workout. Storm-sea skiing has also resulted in an adaptation in techniques and equipment which, if they are properly applied, could greatly increase the safety of ordinary sea kayaking.

The techniques learned from kayaking in strong winds may possibly be one reason why local surf skiiers are exceptionally competitive on the world stage. The run from Fish Hoek beach to Miller’s Point (when a north westerly wind is blowing), or in the opposite direction (during a south easter) is a popular, testing route that, by all accounts, is completely exhilarating.

Read the article here.

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!


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

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Handy hints: Safe scootering

Gary heads off to the yacht club
Gary heads off to the yacht club

If you’re worried about scraping your limbs if you fall off your scooter, Gary the soon to be Divemaster has a good suggestion: forget teflon trousers and leather jackets. Neoprene is your friend. Here he is going for a drive at Long Beach. It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this…

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.

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?


  • Get a second opinion on extensive repairs.

Shark “research”

It is true to say sharks are in trouble worldwide. Almost any attention to their plight is a step in the right direction. Sadly all too often the attention the sharks receive in the media is of little value to their plight and is purely an attempt to boost the participants’ perception of themselves as “great shark experts”.

This article describes a show that is a perfect example of this. It describes the National Geographic Shark Attack Experiment Live. Does the name make you skeptical? It should. The “experiment” sets out to show little concern for the sharks – a perspex cage was placed in the ocean that a shark would quite likely swim into and risk injury (and I am sure there would be no reporting on this if it happened).

The National Geographic Shark Experiment starts from a premise that comes straight out of Jaws: sharks want to eat people. The only refinement is that the experimenters planned to figure out what garnish they prefer. What is shocking is that the participants are all people who present themselves as being very concerned about sharks. This kind of so-called research is exploitative, tacky, and in poor taste – but, more fundamentally, it does nothing to remove the stigma associated with sharks as mindless predators. It panders to the Shark Week mentality of sharks as ravenous beasts with blood dripping from their jaws, tantalises viewers – exactly as Jaws did – with views of bikini-clad women swimming with apex predators, and has no scientific content whatsoever.

An assortment of other “experiments” were performed, such as dangling a string of plastic beads in front of a shark to prove a bling theory (who thinks this up? no one swims with a pearl necklace on). Once the diver dropped it the sharks followed it down and possibly ate it. The swimming and splashing surfer test was not done near great whites as this would “perk the interest” of any predator… So now reef sharks are no longer predators?

The best for me was diving with a dictaphone and making it seem like this was an earth shattering discovery. Divers dive with all these sharks all the time with video cameras, still cameras, video lights and strobes. What does a dictaphone do differently to all that other electronic equipment? Who swims with a dictaphone, anyway?

Science has proven sharks to most likely be colour blind and use contrast as a visual tool. Dispelling the myth of “yum yum yellow” whilst in a pink bikini is hardly a myth buster. It makes one fairly sure that the “science” was not actually the main feature here.

Pretending that three or four tests done by a single individual can help us to draw any conclusions about sharks is disingenuous and misleading to an often ignorant public who only know what the media tells them about sharks. Real science involves multiple tests, control groups, and the scientific method.

What we already know (real facts by unscientific people): thousands of divers worldwide dive with shiny, dangling scuba gadgets, strobes, cameras, bright shiny regulators, a multitude of brightly coloured fins, masks and wetsuits. Some dive in swimwear with bright shiny silver cylinders strapped to their backs. These people have black skin, pale skin, or bright red sunburned skin. A vast majority of them urinate in the water, their wetsuits and their swimsuits… And you’re more likely to be involved in a car accident on your way to the beach than you are to be bitten by a shark.

And yet, a respected (I think) institution such as National Geographic chooses to associate itself with a television special that takes, as its starting point, the view that sharks are looking for (appropriately dressed) humans to bite. How classy and scientifically up to date.

Dive gear maintenance: Booties

Booties are hard to get dry and even after an entire day in the sun they can still feel damp inside. After a good day of diving I soak them for a few hours in detergent, rinse them with the hose and then pour in a good dose of Dettol or Savlon, swirl this around and then hang them out to dry. Because of the unknown origins of the feet that are put in rental booties I try and keep the inside healthy!

Booties drying on a rack in the garden
Booties drying on a rack in the garden

I find it best to leave them on a rack in the shade and in a draft and eventually they do dry. Once dry, I silicone the zips and work them up and down a few times to spread the silicone and dust them liberally with baby powder. They are now ready to be stored or used again.

Many of the same principles that I apply to smelly wetsuits in this post also apply to booties.