City of Cape Town’s new protocol for cleaning tidal pools

Early in November I attended an information session at the Kalk Bay Community Centre, where the City of Cape Town announced that they will be trialling an environmentally friendly cleaning process on five of the 19 tidal pools on the 260 kilometres of Cape Town’s coastline managed by the City. This coast stretches from Silwerstroom on the West Coast to Kogel Bay on the eastern shores of False Bay.

St James tidal pool
St James tidal pool

The presentation was made by team members from the City’s Recreation and Parks department, which – among other things – is responsible for beaches, outdoor signage, ablutions, lifesaving, environmental education, and administration of Blue Flag status for the beaches and marinas that earn it. This department is also responsible for the tidal pools. (Incidentally the City’s assortment of safe seawater bathing facilities includes two of the largest tidal pools in the southern hemisphere, at Monwabisi and Strand.)

Until now, the City would use chlorine to clean the walls (top and sides) and steps in the tidal pools. The cleaning would be done after draining the pool completely. This year, a supply chain management issue meant that there was no cleaning of the tidal pools between July and November. During this time, regular swimmers (some of them members of the Sea-Change project) noticed that marine life flourished in the pools, and engaged with the City to try to find a way to keep the tidal pools safe but also to preserve the diversity of marine species that had been thriving in the pools during the cleaning hiatus. Safety, of course, is why they are cleaned: slippery, algae-covered steps are dangerous.

The tidal pool at Millers Point
The tidal pool at Millers Point

It was agreed that five of the pools – St James, Dalebrook, Wooley’s Pool, and the two pools at Kalk Bay station – would be subject to a trial of a new, environmentally friendly cleaning regimen. These pools are relatively close together in the north western corner of False Bay. The aim is still to ensure that the tops of the pool’s walls and steps are not slippery, and thus safe for bathers. But a second aim has been added by the City, which is to ensure the environmental integrity of the pools.

Under the new cleaning protocol, the following will be done:

  • the pools will be drained only when necessary, and only as far as is required to reach areas that are covered by water and in need of cleaning (for example, the steps at Dalebrook)
  • animals in harm’s way will be relocated
  • excess kelp and sea urchins will be removed from the pools
  • the tops of the walls and steps will be scraped to remove algae (the sides of the walls used to be scraped too, but this will no longer take place)
  • environmentally friendly chemicals will be used to remove the algal residue after scraping – no more chlorine and no more whitewashing!

All of the above means that the pools will be ready for use by the public immediately after cleaning, in contrast to the old protocol, which renders the pool unusable for a period after the cleaning crew has chlorined it.

I’ve asked the City for more information about the drainage procedure, and for more information about the earth-friendly chemicals that the cleaning contractor will use, but with no response so far. (If I get one I’ll obviously update this post.)

Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park
Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park

Many of the City of Cape Town’s tidal pools fall within the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, and it therefore makes perfect sense to aim to protect the animals living in them while maintaining public safety. Dr Maya Pfaff, another speaker at the information session, even suggested that some of the animals that may now thrive in the pools may actually help to keep the water clean. Mussels and feather duster worms filter the water and improve the clarity, algae take up nutrients, and limpets clean algae off the rocks.

Particularly over the festive season, the beaches and tidal pools around Cape Town are extremely busy. This is a wonderful opportunity for thousands of beach-goers to experience both safe swimming and a little bit more of what the ocean has to offer, instead of a sterile, salt-water pool devoid of healthy marine life. Bringing a snorkel and mask with you when next you go swimming will be well rewarded. To see some pictures of the amazing animals – from nudibranchs to a cuttlefish with eggs – in the St James tidal pool, check out Lisa’s instagram profile.

Do you swim regularly in any of the five pools in which the new cleaning regimen is being tested? What do you think about it? If you think that environmentally gentle cleaning of tidal pools is a good idea, what about letting the city know that you appreciate having tidal pools that are both safe and biodiverse. A short message on the City of Cape Town facebook page to say thank you and keep up the good work (and a request to extend it to the other tidal pools) is a good place to start!

You can read a news article about the new cleaning protocol here.

Bookshelf: Other Minds

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness – Peter Godfrey-Smith

THIS is the octopus book you have been waiting for all your life. Philosopher of science (and, importantly, scuba diver) Peter Godfrey-Smith traces the origins of intelligence through the tree of life, pausing at length on the cephalopods. These animals – cuttlefish, octopus, squid – stand out as exceptionally intelligent among animals, but only live for a year or two, the females expiring after they finish nurturing their first and only clutch of eggs (this is called semelparity). Both they and the males undergo a brief and catastrophic period of senescence, during which time they lose limbs, lose pigmentation, and their cognitive functions appear to be in sharp decline. (As an aside, I think that this cuttlefish may have been experiencing this very late-life decline.) Why, speaking evolutionarily, invest the energy required to develop such a complex brain, if its owner is going to live for such a short time?

Other Minds
Other Minds

This is the ultimate question that Godfrey-Smith grapples with. Prior to arriving here, he leads us on wonderful explorations of octopus physiology, the origins of life, and the nature of intelligence. Refreshingly, he takes a nuanced view of intelligence in cephalopods and resists the ever-present temptation to anthropomorphise these fascinating creatures. He points out, for example, that it is easy to mistake dexterity – eight arms and all – for smarts. I read this book while recuperating from a head injury whose degree of seriousness was not yet clear at the time of reading (it was mild, and I’m fine now). This uncertainty as to the state of my own brain made my reading of the sections on intelligence and the nature of minds somewhat poignant. The octopus brain is distributed throughout its body, with neurons in its legs as well as in places you’d be more likely to look for them.

Godfrey-Smith commences this book with a description of giant cuttlefish (the same corgi-sized beings we read about here), and this cements my desire to one day meet such a creature. My favourite chapter, however, deals with how cephalopods change colour. The complexity of this process is incredible, and not yet fully understood. In particular, it seems that they cannot see in colour, and yet they perform feats of camouflage that would seem to be impossible without knowing what colour and pattern to aim for.

The book is beautifully, lyrically written with a gentleness and compassion that I think comes from Godfrey-Smith’s own extensive observation of cephalopods in their natural habitat. He returns compulsively to Octopolis, the first octopus “city” discovered off the coast of Australia. I’ll leave you with this quote:

The chemistry of life is an aquatic chemistry. We can get by on land only by carrying a huge amount of salt water around with us.

You can find a comprehensive list of reviews and interviews on the author’s website. There’s a fetching giant cuttlefish picture in this article from The Guardian. If you are in South Africa, get a copy of the book here. If in the US, here, and for the UK go here.

For an equally awe-struck but completely different take on octopus, written largely from the perspective of an aquarium volunteer, you could also check out Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.

Article: The Atlantic on booming cephalopod populations

Let’s not quit our contemplation of the remarkable octopus just yet. For The Atlantic, the wonderful Ed Yong reports on a long-term (since the 1960s) trend of increasing cephalopod populations in the world’s oceans. Cephalopods are octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. The first paragraph of Yong’s article describes cuttlefish in Australian waters that are “the size and weight of a corgi”. I’m hooked (and slightly alarmed).

Octopus at Long Beach
Octopus at Long Beach

Scientists have found that, while there are short-term fluctuations, the overall trend in all kinds of cephalopod populations is up. The populations for which data was collected – largely from fisheries – live in all parts of the ocean, in both hemispheres, suggesting that a global phenomenon is affecting their breeding and survival success rates. Climate change and our overfishing of the ocean’s other inhabitants, as Yong points out, are obvious potential candidates here.

This issue is particularly relevant given the presence of an octopus fishery in False Bay, but unfortunately no one knows how successful that fishery has been (and I don’t buy anecdotal evidence on this – give me data).

Read the full article here.

100th anniversary of the wreck of the Clan Stuart

Clan Stuart sticking out of a glossy sea
Clan Stuart sticking out of a glossy sea

Yesterday, 21 November 2014, marked 100 years since the SS Clan Stuart, a British turret steamer of 3 594 tons, ran aground in a south easterly gale off Glencairn at two o’clock in the morning. She was on her way from St Helena island with a cargo of coal, and dragged her anchor in the gale. Fittingly, the anniversary of her foundering was also marked by a strong south easterly wind!

The entire crew was rescued, but returned to the ship during efforts to refloat her. She was pumped out and pulled off the rocks by a tug from Table Bay, but permission for her to enter the dry dock at Simon’s Town was refused for fear that she sink and block the entrance to the harbour. Her captain was thus compelled to run her aground at Mackerel Bay, where she now lies, in order to prevent her from sinking.

The Clan Stuart today

She is now a well known landmark to drivers on their way along the coastal road between Simon’s Town and Glencairn, as well as being a popular shore dive site. We’ve had some great dives there, and here’s a round up of some of the material we’ve published about the wreck since starting this blog:

How to find the SS Clan Stuart by road (hint: it is not hard)

What does the Clan Stuart look like underwater?

Getting close to the engine block of the Clan Stuart

On the beach at Mackerel Bay

Marine life on the wreck of the Clan Stuart

The wreck is quite heavily encrusted and there’s usually a lot to see. We’ve seen cuttlefish, small schools of two tone fingerfin, and for some reason I always see a wide variety of worms there! There is kelp growing on and around the wreck, but not so much that it’s hard to move around. On the beach we sometimes see African oystercatchers with their striking red legs and bills, and black bodies. Cormorants and gulls often perch on top of the engine block, too, giving them a convenient platform from which to go fishing.

On our first night dive together (Tony’s first in Cape Town, and my first night dive ever) Tony took a video (grainy) of some seals that joned us on the dive – you can find it in our post about Cape fur seals.

We also spotted a onefin electric ray on a dive on the wreck, whose electric personality seemed to interfere interestingly with Tony’s video camera.

On one memorable dive on the Clan Stuart (I think it was on 1 January one year, in the height of summer), we were surrounded by an agitated school of large white steenbras, who seemed to be trying to take cover behind us and on the wreck, repeatedly changing direction and swirling around us. Tony and I concluded independently that something large and toothy was chasing them, and exited the water by practically tunneling our way to the beach, trying to appear relaxed for the sake of the students accompanying us.

A few years later a group of Russian divers accompanied by two locals – diving off the boat this time – actually came face to face with a great white shark on the Clan Stuart – here is Tony’s story, Christo’s story, Craig’s story, and a short video of the shark taken by one of the Russian visitors. Undaunted by their experience they ended the dive on the beach, where I picked them up, drove them back to the jetty to get back on the boat, and they set out for another dive!

Diving the Clan Stuart

The best time to dive the wreck, in light of the above information and the typical movements of sharks in False Bay’s waters, is in winter. The visibility is likely to be better then, though it’s rarely exceptional (I would be ecstatic with 10 metres, and expect closer to six in the winter months). In summer you can expect 2-5 metre visibility. Don’t underestimate the waves on the beach, and keep your regulator in your mouth until you’re through. Save the chit chat for when you’re back on dry land!

Find out more

A team of film makers has been working on a project about the Clan Stuart for some time. Here’s some of their work so far:

You can read more about the Clan Stuart in Hard Aground, Shipwrecks of the Western Cape, and Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa.

Newsletter: Easter eggs

Hi divers

This being Easter I have a sneaky suspicion that the weather man is going to ensure you eat all your Easter eggs. The conditions in False Bay are currently poor with reports of 1 metre visibility from those who usually give estimates of double what it really is. So you must know it’s really bad. The wind twists and turns all weekend plus Sunday sees the arrival of a huge swell. Our plans to go diving on Monday are out of the window unfortunately. Should the conditions miraculously improve I will text everyone that was planning to dive.

Puffer fish at Long Beach
Puffer fish at Long Beach

As some of you are aware we have added a boat (and two kittens) to the list of things to wash, take care of and feed. There is much to do to get the boat ready for diving and this is being dealt with on the days when I’m not in the water. It’s a 6.5 metre rubber duck and we plan to use it for a bunch of things, not just diving, but we are looking forward to some good dives when all is ship shape.

Cuttlefish at Long Beach
Cuttlefish at Long Beach

Clare and Corne have just completed their Divemaster courses. Luckily Clare is sticking around in Cape Town but Corne has left for the Mediterranean and some warmer conditions where he will work on superyachts. We wish him all the best on his travels! While we’re at it, congratulations to Gerard and Mariaan on the birth of their daughter Mieke. She’s being measured for a wetsuit as we speak.

Don’t forget about the Cape Town Dive Festival which is happening in August and promises to be lots of fun. Some of the dives will fill up quickly – particularly the SAS Fleur – so if you feel like and are qualified for a really special deep wreck dive (or a shallow wreck, or a reef, or seals… there are many options), check out the dive festival website and get booking.

Wishing all of you who celebrate Easter and Pesach a special weekend with family and friends!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: Where’s winter?

Hi divers

This time of year we all seem to be waiting for the weather to switch to “winter” so we can all enjoy improved visibility and more predictable conditions. Last Sunday’s boat dives were cancelled late Saturday afternoon as Grant had been out in the bay on a charter and had looked at the sites we planned to dive, too dirty was the decision. Believe me, you don’t want to waste a boat dive on rubbish visibility!

During the week we have had mild wind with some swell so there has not been too much cleaning up of the water. The bay has consistently been 19-20 degrees on the surface with around 5 metres visibility at most of the dive sites. We have booked for boat dives on Sunday but Grant will again only make the call late Saturday.

Long Beach is seldom if ever “that bad” so we did manage to complete the planned dives on Saturday with a few unplanned there dives on Sunday. I am planning to continue Open Water training on Saturday at Long Beach and Advanced dives from the boat on Sunday. However should the boat again not launch I want to have a better Sunday plan than I had last weekend. For those of you doing an Advanced course we will dive at Long Beach on Sunday and do navigation if the boat plan falls through. There are twelve little doublesash butterflyfish gathered in one spot as well as 40 -50 steentjies guarding nests, not to mention many large short tail sting rays at Long Beach right now so there is a lot to see. There is a swell arriving on Sunday so I don’t feel the Clan Stuart or A Frame will be very good. Windmill on a weekend is very cramped as the parking is so limited.

Octopus at Long Beach
Octopus at Long Beach

Mozambique

Clare and I have booked our flights for this trip. Mail me for the details if you are joining us. We have found a shuttle bus that seats minimum 8 that will do the return trip from Durban to Mozambique border for R800 per person which is much cheaper than renting cars, so we may use this option. We are all taking gear (excluding tanks and weights) so if you are coming along and need gear from me let me know as soon as possible as I only have 12 sets.

Training

Rescue course starting in the next few weeks. Tami, Maurice, Goot, Cecil and Gerard are mandatory candidates so if you want to join them text me.

Maurice, Corne, Lukas, Tony and JP after our night dive
Maurice, Corne, Lukas, Tony and JP after our night dive

Excitement

The pelagic trips are still happening and the white shark cage diving season in False Bay is in full swing. These trips are almost always full on weekends and often need to be booked weeks or even months in advance. The best way to do either of these trips is to do a weekday trip as the boats are not always full and therefore you get more time in the water. I have a short list of people that can take a day off at short notice, text me to get on this list. We will do the cage diving trip in winter when the visibility is a bit better. This and the pelagic trip is two dives you just must do in your life!!

Getting a day off work is easy… Just google “how to fake an illness for your boss” (not from your work computer). I am sure you will find something useful.

Cuttlefish at Long Beach on a night dive
Cuttlefish at Long Beach on a night dive

Shark nets

The city is in the process of investigating a barrier net for a section of the beach in Fish Hoek. Many many people are against this and if you visit Shark Spotters facebook page you can comment and voice your approval or disapproval. The nets are not the same as the nets deployed in KZN and should not be harmful if deployed as they propose or if the net is in fact the type they describe. Read all the for and against arguments before you decide where you are on this issue. Personally I do believe there is a strong possibility this could work, if researched correctly, however the City of Cape Town have in my opinion not been all that open about information on the area in the past so I am still skeptical – what do you think? You can also comment on our facebook page.

Next weekend

Joy of joys, next Sunday is the Argus Cycle Tour. This means that any diving on the Cape Peninsula is out of the question unfortunately, no matter how amazing conditions are. If we do dive on Sunday, we’ll head out to Gordon’s Bay and ask Elmi to take us shore diving!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

P.S. The photos in this newsletter are from the night dive we did last week. Clare was away on the weekend so I have no documentary proof of the dives we did!

Newsletter: The luck of the draw

Hi divers

This weekend

Saturday will be filled with Open Water training somewhere in False Bay and most likely in Simon’s Town at Long Beach.

Sunday is Advanced training and fun dives, and we will boat out of either Hout Bay or Miller’s Point depending on the conditions.

Anemone on the top of the mast of the MV Aster
Anemone on the top of the mast of the MV Aster

Last week’s diving

The past few weeks have delivered some days of stunning dive conditions with a sprinkling of dodgy days. Last weekend we planned to do Open Water training on Saturday but the weather did not oblige, and when we arrived at the beach the conditions were less than optimal. Sunday we did Advanced training and launched out of Hout Bay, and it was a terrific day with really good conditions. That’s the luck of the draw with weather related activities.

Fortunately for me and divers free during the week we have had a lot of week day courses and there have been some really good days in the ocean. The water temperature during the week has plummeted from 21 degrees on Monday to a coolish 13 degrees last night. Seven of us braved the slightly cooler water last night and enjoyed a really good night dive with a display of tentacles from an octopus, small cuttlefish being all “scary” and a host of other sights. With all the torches, cyalumes and flashing strobes it is amazing to see just how big a pool of light seven people can make. Sitting in a circle at the start of the dive we all turned off or buried our lights briefly and it is quite unreal how much light there still is below the surface despite the late hour.

Mozambique

Clare and I are booking plane tickets to Durban tomorrow. I’ll let those of you who are coming or who have expressed interest know which flights we are on so you can get on the same flights or ones with similar departure and arrival times.

Soapbox

If you’re wondering why I sometimes cancel diving in conditions that I deem poor, you can read an explanation here!

Divers ascending in Hout Bay
Divers ascending in Hout Bay

Winter diving

The winter season has not yet arrived and I am not planning to rush it in but it does usually signify a slowing down of new divers to the sport – isn’t it too cold, they ask. During the winter months we run fewer Open Water courses but there is an increase in Specialty courses such as Deep diver, Wreck diver, Nitrox etc, and this also heralds the “boat season” as most of these specialties are boat dives. Winter diving is in fact some of the best diving the Cape has to offer as we have the best visibility in False Bay during these months.

We did a deep dive last winter on the wreck of the SAS Fleur that lies in the middle of False Bay in 42 metres of water and at 25 metres we could see the wreck clearly below as well as the boat’s hull and shiny propellers on the surface.

Sunburst soft coral on the MV Aster
Sunburst soft coral on the MV Aster

Boat dives – the way forward

All dive planning generally happens on a Thursday afternoon or thereabouts. Once the boat charter newsletters go out the boats sometime fill very fast and there is not always time for me to text 20-30 people and wait for responses. I want to try something a little different and it will work like this:

I will text or email you by Wednesday each week about which days we will be on the boat. The text will not have specific info on dive sites but will ask whether you’re available for the boat on the weekend, which days, and what launches. If you then respond with a text it will give me far more lead time to plan and organise a good day of diving. At this point you will only be tentatively committing to diving and once we have Grant’s newsletter I will finalise the details with you and you will then still have a chance to back out.

This way we stand a far better chance of all getting on the boat on the days we wish and if we fill a boat we will hopefully be able to choose the site we dive from the options Grant gives us, dependent on where he launches from. Last winter we had many, many stunning days out on the water – one highlight was a detour we made after a dive to view a pod of a few hundred dolphins off Kalk Bay harbour one sunny winter Sunday.

There are more divers than boats in Cape Town so something to remember for this coming season is that if you book to dive and don’t arrive you are still liable for payment as it is not possible to fill that spot at the last minute.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: Spring diving

Hi divers

The spring conditions have been living up to expectations with some really good diving. We explored a new dive site last weekend and many people are calling this the best dive site in Cape Town. Personally I think the title of best dive site in Cape Town will always be tightly contested as there are just too many stunning sites to choose from. This new site, Atlantis, most certainly has more fish than I have ever seen in Cape Town, but the Fleur – when dived in clean water – still tops the leader board in my mind. Atlantis is however a stunning site with pinnacles, small swim-throughs and overhangs, nice walls and the tops of the pinnacles are at 5-6 metres so a safety stop can be done while cruising around the top of the reef where there is lots to see. The site also drops off to 29 metres on the sand so it is suitable for both Open Water divers and Advanced divers.

One of the pinnacles of Atlantis Reef rises to near the surface
One of the pinnacles of Atlantis Reef rises to near the surface

Very few would rate Long Beach very high but I have yet to dive a site that has surprised me as often as Long Beach has, with wonderful and weird creatures. I have seen devil rays, sharks, a John Dory, giant short tail stingrays, a snakelet, pipefish, cuttlefish, bobtail squid, toadfish, horsefish, seals, whales and dolphins to name but a few and sure I have seen many of these creatures elsewhere, but never all of them in one place. Then again I do dive there more often than other sites…

A knobbly anemone among sea fans, sea cucumbers and other invertebrate bounty
A knobbly anemone among sea fans, sea cucumbers and other invertebrate bounty

Last weekend we dived at Windmill Beach and had really good conditions, so we want to return there this weekend if the conditions hold. After the Atlantis and Windmill dives we went to Long Beach to complete Marc’s first ocean dive – well done Marc on a good dive exploring the barge wreck and fishing boat wreck! Congratulations are also due to Cecil, who successfully completed his Cavern and Introduction to Cave Diving courses with Buks Potgieter at Komati Springs.

Massive school of hottentot, fransmadam and other fish
Massive school of hottentot, fransmadam and other fish

Weekend diving

A cold front cruises in this weekend, late Saturday, bringing with it some swell. Saturday will be better for shore dives as the wind is more a northwester but too strong for boating. Sunday looks better for the boat and Grant plans to explore two new sites he has found. Please let me know if you’d like to join any of the dives.

Box sea jellies at Windmill Beach
Box sea jellies at Windmill Beach

Talks and stuff

Clare and I attended two talks last week at the Save Our Seas Shark Centre. One was by Sarah Fowler, on the challenges of shark conservation, and the other was by Mark Meekan and was about whale sharks. Both talks were fascinating and we are so enjoying expanding our minds this way. Tonight we are attending a talk at OMSAC about the WWF South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) program. The SASSI program empowers consumers to make responsible choices about the seafood they eat – there’s a bit more information here.

Setting off in good visibility at Windmill
Setting off in good visibility at Windmill

We all like to know what dive conditions are like when planning to go in the water – sometimes it’s a no-brainer, based on the weather, but other times it helps if someone actually gets in the water to have a look! With this in mind, two divers from the Somerset West/Gordon’s Bay area established a facebook group called Scuba Diving the Cape Peninsula, to promote diving in the Cape and provide a forum for sharing news and updates on current dive conditions. Clare is now helping them administer the group, and they’d appreciate some help getting off the ground! A moment’s thought (or, even less spent time reading facebook updates from dive operators!) will convince you that claims about dive conditions from someone who has a financial interest in you getting in the water should be taken with a pinch of salt. Please go and visit the group on facebook, click “Like”, and, when you’ve been diving, let everyone know where and what it was like! This can benefit all local divers and hopefully squeeze out some of the fairy tales about 10 metre visibility after a raging southeaster and 5 metre swell that get circulated daily!

Kelp forest at Windmill Beach
Kelp forest at Windmill Beach

See you in the water!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive sites: SAS Pietermaritzburg

Mast of the SAS Pietermaritzburg
Mast of the SAS Pietermaritzburg

I’ve dived the SAS Pietermaritzburg once before, as part of the Wreck Specialty course I did along with Tami and Kate. The water then was distinctly green, and I was armed with a slate trying to draw a plan of the vessel. My other hand was trying to take photographs of nudibranchs. I didn’t perform either task particularly well.

Tony and I dived the Pietermaritzburg again on 9 July, as part of the OMSAC Treasure Hunt. We were on the Dive Action boat, and they dropped anchor on the wreck so the boat was over us throughout the dive. While I’m not sure about dropping shotlines and anchoring directly on wrecks, it’s universally practiced in Cape Town and does give a sense of security when one surfaces (assuming you’ve managed to stay on the dive site!).

Tilted at a vertiginous angle
Tilted at a vertiginous angle

The Pietermaritzburg was scuttled in 1994. She’s an old minesweeper, and actually participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy as the lead minesweeping vessel. Having this little piece of history right in False Bay is quite awe-inspiring, particularly to someone like me who gets quite weepy (literally) if you mention the war. She was sold to the SA Navy in 1947, and was used as a training vessel and minesweeper until the mid-1960’s.

One of the cuttlefish we found next to the wreck
One of the cuttlefish we found next to the wreck

Located a very short distance (less than 1 kilometre) from the slipway at Miller’s Point, the SAS Pietermaritzburg is in quite an exposed position in the bay and as a result looks as bad or worse than the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks. The vessel is resting on its keel with a very pronounced tilt to one side (it was originally sitting upright, but storm damage has caused large portions of the vessel to collapse). The decks have mostly buckled and tilted, making for some vertiginous angles and possible head-bumping scenarios for the unwary photographer (i.e. me). The wreck used to be suitable for penetration, but it’s far too unstable and fallen in on itself now.

The kitchen sinks
The kitchen sinks

The hawse-holes are clearly visible, as well as several hatches. Tony found a toilet, and I located three very respectable looking kitchen sinks. Some kind of pressure vessel (looks like a boiler, but I don’t think it is and for once Tony isn’t sure either!) pushed up through the deck when the decking subsided. There’s also a very large anchor winch on the foredeck which is a cool shape – I kept coming back to look at it.

Pressure vessel belowdecks
Pressure vessel belowdecks
Orange gas flame nudibranch
Orange gas flame nudibranch

Last time I dived this wreck I was knee deep in gas-flame nudibranchs; this time I saw only one, but spotted a large number of shy little klipfish, curled up unobtrusively among the encrustations on the wreck (lots and lots of urchins and sea cucumbers). Tony found three cuttlefish, all napping together – what beautiful creatures! There are some interesting bits of the wreck that have fallen off onto the sand on the port side, and I found these to be more colourful than much of the rest of the vessel.

Beautiful resting cuttlefish next to the wreck
Beautiful resting cuttlefish next to the wreck

Visibility on this site is rarely much to write home about because of its exposed position, and we were extremely fortunate to have about 10 metres horizontal visiblity when we dived it – even after a week of southeasterly breezes.

Looking across the top of the SAS Pietermaritzburg's deck
Looking across the top of the SAS Pietermaritzburg's deck

Dive date: 9 July 2011

Air temperature: 21 degrees

Water temperature: 14 degrees

Maximum depth: 21.2 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 43 minutes

Walking anemone engaged in eating its favourite food (multicoloured sea fan)
Walking anemone engaged in eating its favourite food (multicoloured sea fan)