Newsletter: From the heart

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from Hout Bay or shore dives at Long Beach Weekend conditions don’t look all that great. Saturday will most likely be best for launching from Hout Bay , or there may be a slight chance of shore dive from Long Beach for students. I will make this decision late tomorrow depending on sea conditions. Let me know if you’re keen to dive.
A heart for you on Valentines day
A heart for you on Valentines day
Sunday is the Cape Peninsula marathon, starting in Green Point and finishing in Simon’s Town, so expect some road closures.

Film screening on the beach

There’s a free screening of the documentary Tidal at St James beach on Thursday 7 March. Read about the film here, and RSVP on Quicket. There’s no charge. 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!

Newsletter: Seal the deal

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving This weekend’s wind is forecast to be between 30 and 50 km/h, which, in my book, renders the weekend not suitable for diving. Sorry, kids.

Elephant seal on Fish Hoek beach
Elephant seal on Fish Hoek beach

See a seal instead

If you feel like a natural exfoliation, the visiting elephant seal is still on Fish Hoek beach, just after the little yellow and white mini lighthouse half way down the beach. He’ll be leaving soonish, so don’t delay. Read more about elephant seals here.

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

Diving is addictive!

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Visible shipwrecks: the barge Margaret

One of the most spectacular shipwrecks I’ve ever seen was that of the 100 metre long unmanned barge Margaret, which ran aground at Jacobsbaai on the West Coast on 24 June 2009. Margaret was carrying two halves of a floating dry dock and twelve river barges (positioned atop each other in side by side pairs, with two rows of three at the bottom). She was under tow by the tug Salvaliant from the Chinese shipyard where everything was manufactured, to Rotterdam. The barges were destined to transport cargo up and down the navigable rivers in Europe. During a winter storm, the tow parted, and Margaret and her cargo ran hard aground on the rocky reef just outside Jacobsbaai.

The eight storey pile of barges in December 2009
The eight storey pile of barges in December 2009

Salvaging the barges proved to be an almost intractable problem, so Margaret was still sitting firmly a couple of hundred metres off the beach when Tony and I visited six months after her grounding, in late December 2009. The stack of barges and two halves of a floating dry dock (the blue parts of the structure in the images) was clearly visible from a great distance. The sight was even more incongruous than that of the Eihatsu Maru aground on Clifton beach, which was  a wreck-lover’s dream (but unfortunately not a permanent arrangement).

View of the barge Margaret from atop the sand dunes at Jacobsbaai
View of the barge Margaret from atop the sand dunes at Jacobsbaai

I wish I’d taken a picture of what the wreck looked like as we drove down the hill into Jacobsbaai, but you can see one here if you scroll around a bit. It looked like an office block rising out of the ocean. The wreck was so large that it was visible from almost every point in the sleepy town, and the brain struggled to make sense of the sight. It’s clear from the images what a challenge it must have been to tow the barge in the wind, as the forty to fifty metre high, perfectly flat sides of the stack must have provided tremendous resistance in a gale.

Portion of the barge wreck at Jacobsbaai
Portion of the barge wreck at Jacobsbaai

The owner ran out of money to continue salvage in February 2010, and Margaret was becoming increasingly damaged and unstable as time passed. The risk of the upper barges coming loose during another storm, and drifting away to cause a hazard to other ships or coming ashore on the beach, was great. It was decided by SAMSA to persist with an attempt to reduce the wreck, at taxpayers’ expense. Any money obtained by selling off the salvageable barges would go towards defraying costs.

During the salvage work on the barge Margaret
During the salvage work on the barge Margaret

Salvage

Tony and I visited the wreck again in April 2010, after the demolition that freed six of the topmost barges. The seaward wall of the upper piece of floating dry dock, weighing 91 tonnes, had been cut away to allow the barges to slide off freely.

The remains of the barge Margaret in April 2010
The remains of the barge Margaret in April 2010

Over two tons of explosives were used in total.  Small (125 kilogram) explosive charges were set off one after the other to create a ripple effect that dislodged the top six barges. These were towed to Saldanha, and then sold.

The wreckage of Margaret and her cargo in April 2010
The wreckage of Margaret and her cargo in April 2010

If you like reading court judgments, here’s one in which the owners of the barges attempt to claim damages (massive ones) from the owners of the tug Salvaliant. There’s also a great collection of photos of the wreck in her various incarnations here.

The wreckage of Margaret in late April 2010
The wreckage of Margaret in late April 2010

In late April 2012, Tony snapped this lucky shot of two of the barges leaving Simons Town harbour under tow. They’d been moored against the harbour wall for at least a month, to the consternation and fascination of the local paddling community.

Two of the salvaged barges leaving Simons Town harbour in April 2012
Two of the salvaged barges leaving Simons Town harbour in April 2012

The remains of Margaret and her cargo were further demolished down to sea level and below, and now comprise an artificial reef. Fortunately there was no fuel or other pollutants in the stack of barges, which made the process significantly less polluting than it might otherwise have been.

The barge Margaret today

Tony and I visited Jacobsbaai to check out what remains of Margaret and her cargo in September 2018. The path to the wreck, which was formerly blocked off by hazard tape and “salvage in progress” signs, is wide and easily walkable. One can go right up to the rocks and view the wreckage from reasonably close up. Watch your foothold here, as it can be slippery and the rocks aren’t all firmly packed.

The remains of the barge Margaret and her cargo
The remains of the barge Margaret and her cargo

Look out for a small memorial to one of the salvors, who passed away in an accident on the wreck during the course of the salvage operation.

Sharp wreckage sticking out of the sea
Sharp wreckage sticking out of the sea

Parts of the wreck look like shark fins in the water, and it is possible that even more of it is visible at low tide.

The remains of the barge Margaret in 2018
The remains of the barge Margaret in 2018

You can find the wreck by turning off the R399 towards Jacobsbaai, and continuing towards the coast until the road becomes gravel. Carry on this road, and when you reach a T junction take a right turn to circle around the tiny, sheltered bay in front of you. When you can’t drive any more – there will be a small housing development in front of you – park the car and either walk up the steps on the dune to get onto the beach, or, preferably, through the houses. The paved area will give way to a wide gravel path that the salvors used to access the wreck. Continue straight along it and you’ll soon spot the wreckage on the rocks ahead and to your right. Co-ordinates are approximately -32.964140, 17.881612.

Path to what remains of the barge Margaret
Path to what remains of the barge Margaret

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks, and this post.

Stompneuspunt beacon

View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point
View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point

During the course of a West Coast road trip late last year, we stopped at the unmanned Stompneuspunt beacon. This striking, squat structure sits at the southern end of St Helena Bay. To get there, we had to drive through the eerie, deserted, badly laid out Shelley Point golf estate development (tell the guard at the gate that you want to visit the lighthouse). Persistence through the maze of narrow roads turning in upon each other is well rewarded.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The green-painted lantern house atop the structure looks like a minaret, and the whole building looks like an exotic transplant from the Middle East. The beacon is situated on a beach of coarse sand covered with thousands of empty mussel shells and inhabited by flocks of cormorants. The mussel shells wash up after winter storms and red tides, and because of predation by rock lobsters and other shellfish.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The beacon was commissioned in 1934, at which time it was a pyramid-shaped wooden structure. The present building was completed in 2001. The tower is 8 metres high, and the focal plane of the light is 12 metres above sea level. The intensity of the light is a modest 1,403 candelas, but this beacon doesn’t have to compete with much in the way of onshore light pollution. It’s visible from 10 nautical miles away.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

Hit up Lighthouses of South Africa for more information on this charming light.

Cape Recife lighthouse

The road to Cape Recife lighthouse
The road to Cape Recife lighthouse

My favourite lighthouse in Port Elizabeth (the others are the Hill lighthouse and the Deal light) – and possibly anywhere in South Africa – is Cape Recife. It’s magnificently situated on a headland at the south end of Algoa Bay, surrounded by shifting sand dunes (which sometimes complicate road access after high winds) and rocky reefs. I visited it very early one morning, with only fishermen about.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

Cape Recife lighthouse was commissioned in 1851, the fourth lighthouse to be commissioned in South Africa. Of those still operational, it is the third oldest (after Green Point and Cape Agulhas). It comprises an octagonal masonry tower. It was originally painted with bands of white and red; today (as you can see from the eleventy million pictures I took) it’s painted black and white. This change was made in 1929.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

The tower is 24 metres high, with focal plane 28 metres above sea level. The light’s intensity is 4,000,000 candelas (compare the Deal light’s 592,000 candelas) and is visible from 29 nautical miles away.

Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse
Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse

The Cape Recife light has the only large lens in South Africa that rotates on a steel track, resting on brass and steel rollers. The other large lenses (for example at Slangkop) float on a bath of mercury, an arrangement which has the advantage of being virtually frictionless. This allows for much faster and smoother rotation, with no wear and tear on the component parts. Unfortunately frequent exposure to mercury entails serious health hazards.

Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse
Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse

The lighthouse is situated next to the Cape Recife nature reserve, which has excellent bird watching. A small fee to enter the area is required – permits obtainable at Pine Lodge Resort (or possibly at the gate). Check before visiting. No diving is allowed in the area, and you will be fined if you are found with dive gear in your vehicle. SANCCOB (formerly SAMREC) runs a seabird rescue centre on the way to the lighthouse. If you visit SANCCOB, and get your entry ticket stamped to prove it, the permit fee is waived.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

It’s possible to go inside the lighthouse on weekdays, by calling ahead to make an appointment. The number on the sign outside was (041) 507 2484. If dialling from outside South Africa, replace the (041) with +27 41.

Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse
Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse

Lighthouses of South Africa has a lot more information about this gorgeous lighthouse, along with extensive pictures of its interior.

You need this: the Shark Spotters smartphone app

The Shark Spotters app
The Shark Spotters app

After a successful Back a Buddy campaign, Shark Spotters launched their free shark safety smartphone app in the summer of 2016. The app has had excellent uptake by water users of all stripes, but I’d like to draw it to your attention in case you aren’t familiar with the ways in which it can make your beach life better and safer! Whether you’re a surfer, a diver, an ocean swimmer, a beach comber, or someone who looks forward to long summer days under an umbrella on the sand, the Shark Spotters app can make a difference to you.

The list of Shark Spotters beaches
The list of Shark Spotters beaches

Shark Spotters operate at eight beaches around the Cape Peninsula: four (Muizenberg, St James/Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek & Caves, Kogel Bay) year-round, and another four (Glencairn, Clovelly, Monwabisi and the Hoek, Noordhoek) from October to April, during the warmer months.

The app allows one to set a home beach – you can see from the image above that mine is Fish Hoek – and when you start the app, you’ll get information for your home beach immediately. Tapping on the home beach block at the top of the screen (where it says “Tap for more”) brings one to a series of screens that you can navigate through by swiping the bottom block on the screen.

The information provided is extensive. You can see information on the last three shark sightings at your home beach, the weather and sea conditions (temperature, wind direction, tides, moon phase, swell), and information on what marine life is in the area. This latter information is not a nice to have so you can look out for dolphins from shore, but an important indicator of the likelihood of a shark being in the area. Dolphins, rays and schools of fish can draw white sharks, while sunfish (and even seals) may be mistaken for a shark when viewed from a distance by an untrained observer.

There’s also information on what facilities are available at the beach, and a short video for each beach, usually taken each morning, showing the prevailing conditions.

All this information is available for all the Shark Spotters beaches, not just your home beach, and you can view a different beach by selecting it from the list that appears under your home beach on the home screen.

Digging into the app, you can find a detailed list of all the recorded shark sightings, and in the settings you can turn notifications of sightings on or off according to your preference. I have them switched on, because I like to be reminded of a world outside the office.

Shark Spotters app menu options
Shark Spotters app menu options

The further menu options, shown above, give you access to a large amount of data about the Shark Spotters program, the exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach, how the flag system works, great white sharks, and more. Most of the menu options also provide links to more detailed information online, if you want to know more.

You can download the app for iOS here, for Android here, or use the download links from the Shark Spotters website. The app is completely free of charge, but Shark Spotters is funded by the City of Cape Town, Save Our Seas Foundation, and other generous sponsors, including individuals. Shark Spotters welcomes donations. Click here to donate.

Newsletter: Up, up and away

Hi divers

This will be the last newsletter from us until Thursday 10 January. We’re off north to look for reindeer, the aurora borealis, snow, and maybe some orca.

Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach
Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach

The conditions in False Bay are remarkably good for this time of year, and the wind in the forecast is more modest than many a December we’ve experienced, so you should try to get some diving in if you can.

Stay safe, have a great festive season, and see you in 2019.

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!

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Commodore II finds a home

Commodore II by the Milnerton lagoon
Commodore II by the Milnerton lagoon

I am happy to report that the Commodore II has finally been paid the attention she deserves, and moved to a permanent position on the shore of Milnerton lagoon. SAHRA began a process in late 2016 (when the wreck still lay on the beach close to the lagoon mouth) that has finally concluded with the wreck being moved on Friday 23 November. There are some pictures of that endeavour here and here.

View towards Lagoon Beach hotel
View towards Lagoon Beach hotel

We first wrote about the Commodore II in 2015, and I was amazed that a wreck with such a fascinating and high-profile history could have practically disappeared into obscurity. There appeared to be no desire from the keepers of our maritime heritage to protect her, and when she washed up the Milnerton lagoon during a storm in late 2017, it seemed that she would be carted away piecemeal for firewood before anyone realised what was being lost.

View of the Commodore II
View of the Commodore II

Late last year, an enterprising local resident secured the wreck to the banks of the lagoon off Esplanade road, at his personal expense, to prevent it from washing around inside the lagoon and injuring paddlers or damaging the historic bridge further up. We wrote about his efforts here.

The Commodore II's sturdy construction
The Commodore II’s sturdy construction

The new, and hopefully final location of the wreck is just next to the small parking area outside the Lagoon Beach hotel and Wang Thai restaurant. It’s entirely accessible at all hours of the day and night, and there are promises of interpretive signage to share the wreck’s history with passers by.

Tube worms cover the lower portion of the wreck
Tube worms cover the lower portion of the wreck

I went to visit the wreck a week after she was moved. Dried pond weed still covers some of the planking, and thousands of tiny tube worms cover the lower part of the structure that was submerged (I can’t tell what kind – most likely Ficopomatus enigmatus, the estuarine tube worm that thrives in brackish water).

It’s great that the Commodore II is now firmly on the radar as one of Cape Town’s historic shipwrecks, worthy of preservation. I’ll be updating my ebook to reflect her new location before year-end. Meanwhile, read about her chequered history here.

Christmas gift guide 2018

Chaps, Festivus (for those of you who find tinsel distracting) is around the corner. This year, as a principle, the gifts that I’m giving to the people I care about are skewed towards experiences, and when they are things, I’m trying to make them beautiful things that will enable my chums to live more sustainable lives.

Before I get going, however, can I point you to this excellent, far more comprehensive, far more inspired gifting guide over at twyg? Their first suggestion is “don’t gift at all”, and this is probably something well worth considering, if it won’t cause a domestic diplomatic incident.

Tinsel from the sea (Champia compressa)
Tinsel from the sea (Champia compressa)

Here’s a quick list of ideas in case you’re struggling.

An experience

A dive course or boat dive with Tony, a family photo shoot, a day out at Cape Point or up Table Mountain in the cable car, a digital magazine or streaming television subscription – use your imagination!

Something water wise

It’s likely that most of us will never, in good conscience, be able to resume watering our gardens the way we used to. For this reason, water wise plants are high on my list of excellent gifts for keen gardeners. For ideas of what plants to choose, your local nursery will help, or you and the avid coastal gardener in your life can consult this excellent book.

Something to minimise waste

  • A set of stainless steel or glass straws (Sustainable.co.za is one stockist), glass or copper straws (check out EbonyMoon for these), or a pack of paper or other biodegradeable straws to keep at home and/or carry around like a dork for use at restaurants.
  • A reusable coffee cup – Seattle Coffee Company sells beautiful Keep Cups, as do Vida e Caffe and many supermarkets. ecoffee cup sells beautiful bamboo cups, with a range of designs to choose from.
  • A reusable shopping bag – most supermarkets stock bags of some description, as does Faithful to Nature. 3friends has beautiful Shweshwe printed bags that are very special. We should all have a reusable shopping bag in our handbags, as well as several in the car.
  • A bokashi bin, which you can find at Builders Warehouse or at many nurseries. Don’t be grossed out – we have significantly improved the soil quality in our garden, and don’t put out any food waste or scraps with our garbage any more, thanks to diligent use of this nifty indoor composter!

Something to lift up someone else

Some deserving, marine-related recipients of a donation on your friend’s behalf are:

There are many more excellent non profits than just these three, and so much need, but do your research carefully. My rule of thumb is, if the founder’s face is plastered everywhere and it looks more like a personality cult than an NPO, it’s not a cause that I want to give my bucks to.

A donation of time is a way to do something great, and spend time with someone you care about. Promising to join a friend for a beach cleanup followed by a coffee (in your reusable cup, your treat) gives a gift to the planet, and the gift of time to someone you value. To find a local clean up, follow the Beach Co-Op (facebook) and Cape Town Beach Clean Up (facebook). The Two Oceans Aquarium also arranges periodic beach cleans. (Non-Capetonians, facebook and google search are your friend.)

Looking back

Previous years’ gift guides, which contain some good ideas – if I say so myself:

  • 2017 – for info on Wild Cards or My Green Cards, small specific gifts for divers and water people
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013 – for info on gift ideas for readers
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010

Be safe, be kind, be frugal, be wise! Thanks for reading.

Newsletter: In the windy city

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

Summerstrand in Port Elizabeth
Summerstrand in Port Elizabeth

We’re in Port Elizabeth for a long weekend, so I won’t be running any dives. If you do go out, be safe and don’t go deeper than the bottom!

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!