Giant short tailed sting rays at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point
Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting rays reliably appear in the warm, shallow waters of False Bay during the summer months. They are seen frequently at inshore dive sites such as Long Beach, but mostly during the warmest months of the year.

They can be seen fairly reliably year-round, however, near the Millers Point slipway. As with Parrie the ray at Struisbaai harbour, the rays at Millers Point have figured out that the discarded fish guts thrown overboard by the fishermen returning from a day on the bay are a steady source of snacks.

Here’s some fly by traffic coming past the boat one November day near the slipway, where we paused between double tank dives to change cylinders and de-gas.

It is illegal to feed these rays or to bait the water to attract them (or anything, if you don’t have a permit), but a short cruise in amongst the fishing boats queuing for the slipway will cause them to come and investigate. Snorkeling or diving this area is very risky because of the boat traffic, so take care.

The stingrays at Struisbaai harbour

Struisbaai the town is a picturesque little settlement, with deep historical roots, on the way to Cape Agulhas. The town is situated at the western end of Struisbaai the bay. (Struispunt marine beacon is situated at the eastern extremity of the same bay.)

Struisbaai harbour
Struisbaai harbour

Struisbaai harbour is home to at least two resident giant short-tail stingrays (Dasyatis brevicaudata). The rays are habituated to the sound of the returning fishing boats’ engines, and come out to investigate whether there are any scraps to be had. We were at the harbour long after the fishing boats had left (and perhaps returned already), and it was quiet, but a sport fishing boat returned while we were there and we saw two large, tell-tale black spots moving across the sandy harbour bottom towards the slip.

Tony stuck his pole camera into the water and got this footage, which is quite lovely. The rays will approach humans on the slipway, but I think some kind of fishy treat (tinned sardines?) is required to get them to come this close. We didn’t give them anything, so they checked out the camera and were on their way.

An information signboard in the harbour
An information signboard in the harbour

One of the rays that lives at the harbour – the largest one – is called Parrie (possibly short for Paris?). Parrie was, according to legend (I cannot verify this with a reliable source), once captured by the Two Oceans Aquarium team and lived in one of their exhibits for a short while. Intense pressure from the Struisbaai community led to his return to the wilds of Struisbaai harbour.

A private fishing boat enters Struisbaai harbour
A private fishing boat enters Struisbaai harbour

You can see a picture of Tony filming the rays from the jetty in the newsletter he sent out when we got home from the trip.

Genius gear: the Wetsac

Using the WetSac
Using the WetSac

Several years ago the wonderful Tami gave me a WETSAC for my birthday. It sounds like something squishy and perhaps offensive, but in fact it is a marvel of ingenuity and designed to improve the lives of divers and surfers and outdoorsmen everywhere. She bought it at a craft market in Hout Bay, and both of us have been hunting for a retailer of this product since then. Recently, I struck it lucky with a well phrased google search (something like “wet bag”).

How many times have you struggled out of your wetsuit on a rough surface (Miller’s Point parking area and Hout Bay harbour, I’m looking at you), hurting your feet, standing on the neoprene and pressing it into the tar? You’re damaging yourself and your gear! Then you toss the dripping, smelly wetsuit into the back of your car – into a box, if you’re organised – and hope it doesn’t spray seawater and bits of grit from the parking area everywhere while you drive home.

WETSAC is here to help. Essentially a mat that converts into a waterproof bag, it comprises a circular piece of tough fabric with a drawstring around the edge. You stand on it to get out of your suit, throw in your gloves, hoodie and booties, then step off and pull the drawstring tight. Toss the bag into your divemobile and don’t worry about remnants of your diving and changing adventures ending up all over the boot. It is beyond convenient. Plus, you can buy it online. Make a note for next Christmas!

(I was not compensated in any way for this post… The thing is just geninuely nifty!)

Slipway shenanigans at Skuitbaai

Tony checking out the fishing boat
Tony checking out the fishing boat1

One windy weekend recently (pick one) Tony and I found ourselves searching for the lighthouse at Cape Hangklip. We ended up at Skuitbaai, which is a large bay just on the west side of the eastern entrance to False Bay. There we met three gentlemen who were going fishing for kabeljou/cob (Argyrosomus inodorus).

Their boat launching procedure was remarkably efficient and one they’ve clearly performed many times before. There wasn’t any discussion; each man simply did his part. They assured us they weren’t going too far offshore in the stiff south easterly breeze.

The illegal abalone trade in the Western Cape

The words “organised crime” don’t typically intrude into our privileged Capetonian lives (if you can afford to scuba dive recreationally, you’re privileged), but in reality there are networks operating on our doorstep, and many of our activities as scuba divers actually cause us to cross paths with these syndicates. Sometimes it is a very literal crossing of paths, and other times it’s simply sharing the same space as individuals who are advancing the interests of a criminal organisation.

Khalil Goga, a researcher who has been focused on organised crime since 2009, published a report on the Western Cape’s illegal abalone trade  for the Institute of Security Studies in August 2014. This paper can be seen as a companion to Jonny Steinberg’s 2005 ISS report on the illicit abalone trade in South Africa. While Steinberg’s paper deals with poaching’s socioeconomic and political origins and has a broad geographic focus within South Africa, Goga lays out the structure of poaching operations from harvesting the resource to its arrival in Asia, with special reference to the Hangberg community of Hout Bay.

Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour
Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour

The state of Hout Bay harbour – with corrupt or no access control, no checking of catches by Marine and Coastal Management or monitoring whether vessels are compliant with SAMSA regulations, and sunken ships at their berths – visually demonstrates how easy it is to base a poaching operation out of this location. The individuals who do the hard work of diving, driving, and carrying abalone over the mountain are drawn from the communities surrounding the harbour. Despite the involvement of these impoverished and sidelined communities, however,

The abalone trade has moved from largely being in the hands of a marginalised population to one that is ‘dominated by outside opportunists’. It has evolved from an informal activity by fishers into ‘a highly organised commercial fishery run by organised criminal syndicates’.

Read the complete ISS report here (PDF). It’s clear, easy to understand without glossing over the complexity of the issue, and absolutely fascinating. If you would rather read a shorter article on the abalone trade emanating from Hout Bay, you can try this M&G piece.

Friday photo: Building shed

Yacht construction shed at FBYC
Yacht construction shed at FBYC

This mysterious, flimsy green boat shed is being used (according to rumour) for the construction of an “eco-friendly catamaran”. It has, remarkably, survived some very stormy weather, so it is more strongly built than it looks. On the other side of the roof is the URL of the Twin Dragons Yachts website, which is singularly uninformative at this stage but which will probably be the best place for more information as it becomes available. The boat shed is right on the edge of the slipway we use to launch the boat at False Bay Yacht Club.

Newsletter: Back to business

Hi divers

Weekend dives

Saturday: 9.00 and 12.00 from Hout Bay to the Romeliathe Maori and/or the BOS 400

Sunday: 9.00 am double tank dive from OPBC to North and South Paw and/or the Cape Matapan

The week(end) that was

We had a dry weekend last week as we spent three days at the CTICC participating in the Cape Town International Boat Show. We met a lot of new people, some old friends and a few really cool dogs. Many of the visitors to our stand expressed an interest in diving and asked to be added to the newsletter. To new readers we say welcome and hopefully we see you all soon in the water!

The special offers on Open Water, Advanced, Refreshers and Nitrox Specialty will hold for another few weeks, so if you missed the show you can still be part of the summer diving bunch.

Clare at the boat show
Clare at the boat show

Conditions report

The south easterly wind has been hectic all week so theoretically the Atlantic should be crystal clear. I drove home along the coastline today and there are huge patches of clean water and huge patches of darker water. It looked very clean around Llandudno so I think the Romelia is on the cards for the weekend. I doubt False Bay will be good as apart from the wind, the swell is in a southerly direction which does not improve conditions at all.

Saturday looks like the best option for diving, and Sunday a maybe. If you want to dive, reply to this mail or text me. Sunday’s launches will be confirmed late on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday: launching from Hout Bay at 9.00 and 12.00. I have mostly students so we will look for clean water around the wrecks of Maori Bay and the Romelia wreck area.

Sunday: conditions permitting, we will be launching from OPBC at 9.00 for a double tank dive. We will look at the viz around the wreck of the Cape Matapan, and if it’s not clean there we will dive the pinnacles at North and South Paw.

Safety stopping in Maori Bay
Safety stopping in Maori Bay

Congratulations are in order

for Shane and Odette, who got engaged this week. Wishing you all the happiness! Also congrats to Brian, who has just completed his Divemaster course in… wait for it… Hawaii! Brian is starting an Instructor Development Course this week. Good job!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Boating at Buffels Bay

We spent a sunny day at Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve, facilitating some boat dives to Batsata Maze and an unnamed reef to the south of Smitswinkel Bay for Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club (OMSAC). We met a whale on one of the dives – he was fascinated by the divers’ orange SMB that they were using while safety stopping, and circled back repeatedly to have a look. It also took quite a bit of doing (in the form of multiple phone calls, emails and an early morning meeting with a ranger) to get permission to drive a boat full of divers and gear through the exclusion zone around Cape Point… But those are other stories.

Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay
Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay

The slipway at Buffels Bay is a civilised place, with no jockeying for position or aggressive fishermen. It is in a very rocky part of the bay, however, and at low tide it’s a tricky proposition to avoid clipping your motors on the bottom. On approaching the slipway, I asked the divers to hop off the boat into the water, and we moved slowly towards the shore. The water was slightly deeper than some of them were expecting!

After bringing the divemobile down and putting the trailer into the water, we manoeuvered the boat onto the trailer and winched and pushed it on. It was too shallow to drive the boat on, as I would usually. This is a hyperlapse video so it’s joyfully speeded up to make me look like Superman.

Newsletter: Paws for thought

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: No diving planned – why not join the coastal cleanup at Hout Bay harbour?

Sunday: 10.30 am and 1.00 pm to North/South Paw and Justin’s Caves, from Oceana Powerboat Club (very much dependent on wind strength on Saturday)

Monday: Seal rock at Partridge PointShark Alley, double tank dive launching at 10.00 am from Simon’s Town jetty

Recent dives

Last weekend we took the boat down to Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to join OMSAC for a day of snorkeling, diving and braai-ing.. The conditions were terrific and both the shore divers and those on the boat had great viz. We took the boat to Batsata Maze and to an unnamed site just on the outside of the exclusion zone around the reserve. We were very fortunate to have a whale cruising by during the safety stop, fascinated by the divers’ SMB, and then hanging around as the divers surfaced.  It is a stunning setting for a day out and even the tidal pool was filled with interesting creatures.

There are some photos on facebook, and a nifty little time lapse video of us putting the boat onto the trailer at the slipway. I usually wind the winch much faster than in the video, though – I must have been having an off day on Saturday…

Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay
Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay

On Monday we enjoyed fantastic visibility at Partridge Point, where we snorkeled with seals, and at Shark Alley. There are still a lot of cowsharks around – the time of year when they usually disappear is approaching, so we are watching with interest.

This weekend

A southerly swell rolls into False Bay in time for the weekend. The Kalk Bay Shootout surf competition participants are all excited. When surfers are excited, divers are not. We share the ocean… Just not always at the same time. There is also the False Bay Yacht Club spring regatta taking place on Saturday and Sunday – more info here.

I doubt there will be anywhere pleasant to dive in False Bay. The south easter only starts blowing on Saturday so I doubt that the viz out of Hout Bay will improve enough for good diving. That leaves the Atlantic seaboard. Twenty four hours of strong south easter might clean the water close inshore enough for good diving.

I reckon the best options will be North and South Paw or Justin’s Caves and surroundings, so that’s the plan for Sunday. If the south easter makes it over the top of Table Mountain, and cleans the water sufficiently, we will launching from OPBC at 10.30 am and 1.00 pm. If you’re keen to dive let me know and I’ll contact you on Saturday afternoon to let you know if conditions are good enough.

Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve
Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve

If you are at a loose end on Saturday, an excellent way to spend your time is at the coastal cleanup dive in Hout Bay harbour. We attended a few years ago, and it is great fun and good for the environment. Just wear a kilogram or two extra of weight if your weighting is usually marginal – the water is not very deep!

Cape Town International Boat Show

In three weeks’ time the CTICC comes alive with the Cape Town International Boat Show. This year there will be a new addition in the form of a “dive village”. Collectively a bunch of local dive centres and operators have come together to make this happen with the goal of showcasing the incredible diversity of diving we have to offer in Cape Town. The village will have a pool in the centre and we will offer non-divers an opportunity to breathe underwater and hopefully come to enjoy the ocean as much as we all do.

The show is on from 10-12 October at the Convention Centre. Come down and visit the representatives of your local dive operator and bring a friend who needs convincing that diving is the best thing ever, and amongst everyone in the dive village we will do our best to get them in the water. SURG will also be there showcasing some of the best photos taken in and around Cape Town’s waters. There are also bound to be a bunch of interesting course options, gear sales, camera displays and the like. Plus the rest of the boat show, which is well worth a look!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Directions to Simon’s Town jetty

View down the jetty
View down the jetty

When we dive in False Bay, we’ll usually assemble in the parking area of False Bay Yacht Club, or (more likely) on the jetty in Simon’s Town just opposite the yacht club slipway. In case you’re a local, it might help to know that the jetty lies between the Salty Sea Dog and Bertha’s restaurant. If you’re not, the following directions may be handy.

Jetty behind the aloe
Jetty behind the aloe

You need to get to Simon’s Town from wherever you’re staying. This could entail a train ride on the southern suburbs line to Simon’s Town station (the last stop on the line), or a drive down the M3 or M5, or along Chapmans Peak Drive. However you do it, place yourself on the Main Road (the M4) that runs along the coast, through Glencairn towards Simon’s Town, where it becomes St George’s Street.

Upon entering Simon’s Town, look out for the station on the left. Keep going into the town. Further on on your left you will see the clock tower on top of the SA Naval Museum. On your right will be Paddlers kayak shop. You’ll be cresting and descending a small hill.

The first proper road to your left after the long, featureless wall surrounding the navy grounds is Wharf Street; you need to turn left here. The jetty is directly in front of you, with parking in front and to your right.

Look out for the divemobile in the parking area, otherwise take a stroll down the jetty to find Seahorse tied up (often on the left hand side near the stairs, but not with certainty)!

Tying up at the jetty
Tying up at the jetty