Sodwana backward roll

Here’s a backward roll. We were at Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef in Sodwana Bay, diving with Coral Divers. This backward roll was well executed: everyone rolled on the skipper’s cue, all together.

Clare and Laurine are wearing buffs, pink and blue respectively. Clare says it helps to keep hair out of one’s face and mask, in the absence of a hoodie, and I say the bright colours make it very easy to account for them underwater!

Christmas gift guide 2017

I wondered when I’d need a picture of a glass of champagne next to some dive gear; this post feels like as good a time as any to use it. I feel obligated to explain that the champagne was being consumed on our pool deck during the course of a late afternoon fool around in and next to the pool with some of my friends. The dive gear was still lying there from a class Tony had led that morning. The juxtaposition was too much to resist.

Don't drink and dive
Don’t drink and dive

That said, it’s time to think about Christmas, Hanukkah, and time off with the family. Some may even celebrate Festivus. I salute you. Regardless, it’s a good time to give gifts to the people you care about. Some suggestions follow below.

First, here are the obligatory links to previous years’ editions of this guide: 20102011201220132014, 2015. Unfortunately, 2016 was an annus horribilis best left undiscussed. As usual, this year’s guide owes much to previous versions. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful, consider a donation on behalf of your friend or loved one:

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:

As usual our Wild Card was an absolute blessing this year. It has been used for multiple park visits and also gets us a discount on our toll fee on Chapmans Peak Drive‘s frequent user program. The full card is a bit pricey, but there’s a great alternative called My Green Card, that costs R145 and gives twelve entries to any of the paid sections of Table Mountain National Park (so, Cape Point, Boulders, Silvermine, Oudekraal, and a few braai areas). Read the fine print carefully though – if you use it up quickly, you have to wait for the 12 months to pass before you can purchase another one. But I think you can also share the 12 clips with friends, whereas a regular Wild Card is tied to your identity. You will have to go to the SANParks office in Tokai to get a My Green Card.

SanParks is introducing differential pricing for Table Mountain National Park, with significantly lower prices for locals, starting next November, so some mathematics will be required this time next year to determine whether a Wild Card is still worth the expense.

Something to read

Everything you need to know about finding a book related to the ocean can be discovered in our list of most recommended books, and our guide to finding the book you need (on this blog, at least!). There are a couple of children’s books there, too.

A magazine subscription is also a fairly reasonably-priced gift idea. I can’t tell you which of the dive magazines are worth reading these days – our current subscriptions are Maritime Review (which is free, so that’s perhaps cheating) and CAR magazine…

Something beautiful

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 or Noordhoek Farm Village (just browse the shops there, one of them has the tide charts right at the door).

You could also print and frame a photo, or create a photo book. Most camera stores can assist with a range of printing media.

Dive gear and water-related stuff

Some excellent water-related gifts I’ve received over the years include:

 

  • WetSac (seriously, check it out) – order online
  • A hooded towel – surf shops often stock them, try the strip at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg
  • A stand up paddle boarding lesson
  • A reel and/or a surface marker buoy – make sure it’s one of the ones that isn’t negatively buoyant

Otherwise, just think a little bit about what might be useful before or after a dive…

  • Sunscreen, conditioner, cleansing shampoo, detangling spray
  • A reusable metal water bottle (glass is a bad idea for the boat)
  • A mini dry bag to keep phones and keys safe
  • A beanie for cold days on the boat or a cap for the sun, or a buff for hair management or neck protection (the Aquarium sometimes sells turtle ones to fundraise for their turtle rehab)
Be safe, be kind, be lekker. Thank you for your friendship and for the dives!

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:

Dive sites (Durban): Coopers light wreck

Exploring the bow
Exploring the bow

I’ve tried to dive the Coopers light wreck before. It didn’t end well. This time, I was determined to see the wreck, and see it I did, on the third and final day of diving that we did on our Durban trip. The visibility was at least 25 metres – in the range where it almost doesn’t matter what the number is, it’s so fantastic. The water was warm, even at the bottom, and the wreck is something special to see.

Maurice swimming the length of the Coopers light wreck
Maurice swimming the length of the Coopers light wreck

No one knows what the name of the ship that lies wrecked opposite the Cooper lighthouse on the Bluff (hence it being commonly referred to as the Coopers light wreck). There is speculation that it’s an old whaler because of a curious structure on the aft deck that looks like a harpoon gun. It is in fact part of the ship’s steering mechanism – whaling ships had guns on their bows, not at the back of the ship.

Craig explores the bow of the Coopers light wreck
Craig explores the bow of the Coopers light wreck

According to Patrick at Calypso, here is a possibility that this wreck is the Terrier IV, an old whaler chartered by Peter Gimbel and Ron and Valerie Taylor for the filming of their shark documentary Blue Water White DeathThe Terrier sailed from Durban to Sri Lanka to Australia, as recounted by Peter Matthiessen in his book about the trip, entitled Blue Meridian.

I digress. The wreck is about 76 metres long and a bit over 10 metres wide, with a single propellor. There are two huge boilers near the middle of the wreck, and the bow and stern are fairly intact. The wreck and its vicinity teem with harlequin goldies, lionfish, and baitfish. We saw a large ray swimming languidly past behind a curtain of piggies, and a large scorpionfish resting at the bow. The size of the wreck makes it quite suitable to explore in its entirety on a single dive, although it is the kind of place that will bear many repeat visits.

We dived the wreck on 32% Nitrox, which gave us decent bottom time, the wreck lying at a maximum depth of 30 metres on the sand. I was having mask (actually, probably hair) trouble again, however, and used up a fifth of my air just clearing my mask. So I didn’t have as long a dive as I’d have liked.

There’s a nice African Diver article about the wreck here, with some more photos.

Soft corals on the wreck
Soft corals on the wreck

Dive date: 20 June 2013

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature:  23 degrees

Maximum depth: 29.6 metres

Visibility: 25 metres

Dive duration: 37  minutes

Christo approaching on the wreck
Christo approaching on the wreck

Dive sites (Durban): Bikini

A raggy scorpionfish
A raggy scorpionfish

Unfortunately my dive on Bikini – the second one I did in Durban – was really horrible, as my mask kept flooding (I think I had hair caught under the skirt). After a while fighting off the feeling of imminent drowning became too exhausting, and I surfaced early. I didn’t take many photographs, but what I remember of the creatures on view is that they were many and varied – geometric moray eels, lionfish, scorpionfish, nudibranchs, a frogfish and the other usual suspects found on South Africa’s east coast. I took so few photos that I’ve borrowed a lovely one that Maurice took of said eel. Here it is:

Geometric moray eel saying hello
Geometric moray eel saying hello

The reef structure was much like we see at Sodwana, made of sandstone with potholes and little overhangs. I saw mostly soft corals – none of the big plate corals that are common in southern Mozambique and beyond. This reef is part of the Blood Reef system that stretches along parallel to the Bluff. The reef system got its name because the old whaling station used to pump out blood and offal from slaughtered whales into the ocean, causing the reef to thrive and supporting an impressive population of oceanic white tip sharks. We didn’t see any sharks – I’m sure they were all too busy being killed in the gill nets off the Durban beaches to come and visit divers.

Blackspotted (I think) blaasop
Blackspotted (I think) blaasop

Bikini Reef is small, and covers the good bits (this is allegedly the origin of its name). It’s a regular haunt of pineapplefish, but the current was going in the wrong direction for us to comfortably visit the overhang that many of these fish frequent. We had a pleasant drift dive (mask issues aside) and an easy introduction to the Blood Reef complex.

I should mention that my Durban photos are mostly questionably lit and poorly executed because I am using a new camera, and prior to the Durban trip had only done two dives with it! Hopefully matters will improve so I don’t have to revert back to my trusty Sony DSC-TX5. I’m still using the Ikelite AF-35 strobe, though (not that it’s much in evidence here).

Dive date: 19 June 2013

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 23.5 metres

Visibility: 20 metres

Dive duration: 28 minutes

Article: Daniel Pauly in The New Republic on the end of fish

Well-known marine ecologist Daniel Pauly wrote (in 2009 – but I’ve only just discovered it!) a chilling, fascinating article for The New Republic, entitled “Aquacalypse Now”. In it he describes the “fishing-industrial complex” that hold our oceans hostage, devastating one fish population and then moving on to the next species, renaming it (“slimehead” become orange roughy) or processing it into fish fingers (the ugly hoki suffers this fate) to make it unrecognisable to diners and shoppers.

He compares the process by which fisheries have obtained government subsidies to a giant Ponzi scheme, and points out that the amount of money given to fisheries and the political influence they command is disproportionately large given that, for example, US fisheries contribute as much to GDP as the hair styling industry does.

Some of what Pauly says will be familiar to readers of The End of the Line (and he appears in the documentary – he is the one who says something like “You want to know where all the have fish gone? We have eaten them.”), but he expresses himself with cutting clarity. He points out that the issue is not that we as divers will have no more fishies to look at, or that wealthy Americans will have to eat steak instead of fish, but that billions of people in the world’s poorer countries actually depend on marine animals as their sole source of protein. For them, as well as for the fish, it is a matter of life and death. With this in view, he states that

… eating a tuna roll at a sushi restaurant should be considered no more environmentally benign than driving a Hummer or harpooning a manatee.

Read the article here. Pauly himself is a fascinating character with an important voice and message – there’s an interview with him here.

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:

The joys of a good mask: ScubaPro Scout

The ScubaPro scout mask
The ScubaPro scout mask

When I started diving with Tony, I was wearing a mask that looked like this:

This is the definition of a high volume mask
This is the definition of a high volume mask

It was not pretty, particularly when I needed to clear it. That took several minutes and several breaths. In this picture, it also seems to be misted up, but that’s probably a salivary issue more than anything else.

I didn’t know that there was anything different or better out there, but Tony did. He patiently had me dive with each mask in his large collection, and when I’d found one that fitted, he presented me with it as a Christmas present. The mask that fitted was the ScubaPro Scout, pictured above. I’m onto my second one (the first one lasted about two years and 200-odd dives) and when I get my hair in order and hoodie out of the way, I don’t even have to think about my mask during the dive. When I do have to clear it, it’s a cinch – the mask holds so little water that it takes but a second.

This isn’t so much a paean of praise to the Scout mask in particular – it’s for narrow faces, and won’t suit everyone. What I would like to say is what a big difference a well-fitting mask makes to your diving. As Tony points out here, don’t buy a mask based on its colour – seriously – this is not important. The key thing is the fit, and this can be determined by the test you probably did just before the first time you ever stuck your face underwater on your Open Water course. Hold the mask to your face, breathe in, and let go of the mask. It should stay on your face while you inhale.

Other factors to make sure the mask fits well include positioning the strap on your head so it’s more or less in a straight line above your ears. If it’s too high, you’ll get a sore nose as it’s pulled up by the mask, and if it’s too low the mask may fall off and will definitely leak.

Don’t rush into a mask purchase. Try and test a few (ask friends or your instructor) before you settle on one you like. It’ll make a world of difference to your comfort levels underwater.

Mask remove and replace

Kirsten taking off her mask in the pool
Kirsten taking off her mask in the pool

Mask remove and replace is a skill that some find quite tricky, but once you’ve relaxed, adjusted your mind to the fact that you probably aren’t going to see much when the mask is off, and told yourself that water isn’t going to go up your nose, it’s not too difficult to master.

It’s not something you’ll have to do in the course of a routine dive, but it’s to prepare you for the event when your mask strap breaks, a fellow diver kicks your mask off, or your mask floods for some other reason (such has excessive hair inside the seal). Wearing a hoodie definitely helps with the “replace” part of the equation, as the strap goes on easily.

Handy hints: Designer stubble

I’ve mentioned how a stray hair in one’s mask can turn a dive from pleasant to a simulated near-drowning experience… For girls, it’s usually just a matter of putting one’s hair out of the way. For guys, it can be more complicated.

The problem is designer stubble: not all gentlemen like the clean-shaven look. A full-scale moustache really precludes a career as a scuba diver, but there’s no reason why Andre Agassi or his ilk can’t don a mask and hit the ocean.

Marinus gets a personalised application of Vaseline
Marinus gets a personalised application of Vaseline

The solution to the problem – assuming you don’t fancy a pass with a razor – is Vaseline. The generous application prior to a dive of petroleum jelly to the top lip, and any other stubbled portions of the male face that fall beneath the skirt of a mask, will solve the problem ONE TIME.

Of course, if you can get someone to wade into the sea and actually apply it for you, that’s a bonus!