Trumpetfish in Sodwana

Trumpetfish in Sodwana
Trumpetfish in Sodwana

We saw this lovely trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis) at Pinnacles in Sodwana. He probably sees divers every day, and swam through us with no cares in the world. An old woman angelfish tried to photo bomb early in the video, and I have more to share of that friendly creature in a separate post coming up.

The Reef Guide is a good place to learn more about, and identify, the fish you see on dives off South Africa’s south and east coasts.

Bookshelf: Into a Raging Sea

Into a Raging Sea: Great South African Rescues – Tony Weaver & Andrew Ingram

I insensitively packed this book for Tony to read while we were aboard MSC Sinfonia for the BirdLife cruise we took in April. It’s a rip-roaring read about various rescues that the NSRI has been involved with over the years, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – Tony wasn’t keen to read about maritime disasters (even ones that ended well) while we were at sea.

Into a Raging Sea
Into a Raging Sea

The book was produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the NSRI. There is an element of history – describing the origins of the organisation, and some “sea rescues of yesteryear”. But the bulk of the book describes rescues that took place in the last 15 years. Some of them, such as the sinking of the whale watching boat Miroshga off Hout Bay’s Duiker Island, will be all too familiar from the ensuing press coverage. Others were less familiar, but no less interesting to read about.

One of the things I loved about this book was that it reveals the men and women behind the daring, often dangerous rescues. The rescuers are allowed to recount the events they experienced, using their own words, and this is revealing. These rescuers are not usually lionised by the general public or, as a rule, afforded prolonged media attention, and neither does this book glamorise them or romanticise their achievements. The challenge of the rescues – and occasional raw fear felt by the rescuers –  are vividly portrayed. The writing is beautifully matter of fact, without downplaying the seamanship, strength of character and perseverance required to do this (unpaid) work.

It reminded me fondly of the “drama in real life” stories that I used to devour from the pages of the Readers Digest magazines my grandmother used to bring whenever she came to visit. There are many, short chapters, each one offering its own little catharsis. The rescues span South Africa’s coastline, as well as a few other locations, and not all of them are maritime disasters.

Proceeds of this book support the NSRI. Get a copy for yourself, and all your friends. It will entertain anyone who loves a good story of heroism and adventure, and it will encourage anyone who’s feeling jaded about humanity’s capacity for good. It’s an excellent read.

You can find a copy on Loot if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Newsletter: Two bays

Hi divers

We had an early start last weekend and launched from Simon’s Town at 7.30 am to get in and out before the wind arrived. Conditions were good and we dived the Atlantis area.

False Bay on Sunday
False Bay on Sunday

On Tuesday we launched from Hout Bay and despite a few days of south easterly winds the visibility was around 6 metres, but the swell created quite considerable surge. Both dives were around deep Tafelberg Reef and the surge could be felt below 30 metres.

Hout Bay on Tuesday
Hout Bay on Tuesday

The forecast for the weekend looks a little bleak. Much wind and much swell means slim odds of finding nice diving conditions anywhere. However should conditions change we will keep you posted by text and Whatsapp, and go diving.

Diversnight

Don’t forget Diversnight, happening at Long Beach on Saturday 7th November. Read more about this venerable Norwegian night diving tradition on the Diversnight website. (We like the cake aspect.) There’s a facebook event for your diary here!

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!

Panorama of Checkers, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Plate coral at Checkers
Plate coral at Checkers

The dive site Checkers, that I visited for the first time on our most recent trip to Ponta do Ouro in southern Mozambique, is notable for the amount of plate coral that can be seen there. Unlike many of the other sites in the area, Checkers has quite dramatic topography, changing depth over relatively short areas. Here’s a short panorama video I shot at one point during the dive. There weren’t many fish around at this point, but you can see the plate coral and the slope of the reef.

You can also see, right at the end, one way of diving with your main squeeze!

Dive sites (Southern Mozambique): Checkers

There are a lot of reefs around Ponta do Ouro and Ponta Malongane, and it was great to dive two new ones (Checkers and Steve’s Ledge) on our visit there in June-July. I did this dive with Christo and Laurine. Esther and Tony were feeling a bit under the weather with mild colds, so they sat out the first dive of the day on the Thursday of our trip. Checkers is a short boat ride from the launch site at Ponta.

Giant cushion star
Giant cushion star

The first thing I noticed at Checkers was the abundance of plate coral, which is beautiful but requires divers’ buoyancy to be impeccable to avoid crunching it. (It is surprisingly strong, though – on two separate Sodwana trips, owing to poor buoyancy control and body awareness, I have witnessed divers reclining on huge plate corals like overdressed burlesque dancers in giant martini glasses, and the plate corals survived without breaking. The divers almost didn’t, though! Grr!) There are plate (or table) corals of all sizes, some of them growing across gaps in the reef. This provides excellent habitat for marine life.

Soldiers hiding under plate coral
Soldiers hiding under plate coral

The reef has more interesting topography than a place like Doodles, even though it is relatively close to Doodles with no other reef in between. It slopes quite dramatically in some places. Christo suggested swimming back and forth across it in both directions so as to be able to have maximum opportunity to see into all the crevices and under the overhangs. The reef is relatively small and round rather than long, meaning that it’s probably not ideal to dive in a strong current, because doubling back will be tricky.

A porcupinefish on the move
A porcupinefish on the move

There are sand channels running through the reef in places, and as we swam over one of these we were passed by a beautiful porcupinefish with sad eyes, making his way somewhere. He swam right between us without batting an eyelid. I spent quite a lot of time trying to photograph this juvenile batfish, but he was far too busy demarcating his personal space among clouds of other fish under an overhang to turn sideways to the camera.

A juvenile batfish under an overhang
A juvenile batfish under an overhang

This is a great dive site for spotting hidden, interesting animals. There is enough life in the form of schooling fish over the reef to keep divers who don’t like sticking their heads under overhangs busy too! Photographic opportunities abound (despite the evidence I have presented here), but it isn’t possible to get to everything in an ethical manner (i.e. without lying on the reef like a plonker) because of the delicate structure of the coral.

Dive date: 2 July 2015

Air temperature: 21 degrees

Water temperature:  23 degrees

Maximum depth:  16.8 metres

Visibility: 12-15 metres

Dive duration: 57 minutes

Potato bass at Doodles, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Potato bass at Doodles
Potato bass at Doodles

We had amazing experiences with potato bass last time we dived in Ponta do Ouro, encountering them most notably at reefs called Texas and Doodles. This time, Doodles did not disappoint us. There is a one-eyed potato bass (his eye was caught on a fishing hook) who is very comfortable around divers, and when we met him this time he calmly swam through the group. Check how large he is compared to Laurine!

He was accompanied by a school of juvenile kingfish – the yellow and black ones – that will grow into amazing silver swimming machines similar to these queenfish. He also had a remora in his entourage (visible in the picture above), which could not seem to get a grip on him but was sticking around anyway and doing a lot of swimming in the process.

After the other divers moved on, I stuck around and watched him for a bit. He swam towards me slowly, like a cowshark, and I regretfully and respectfully made tracks.

Snappers at Creche, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Above the coral reef at Creche, a dive site in southern Mozambique, hang huge and colourful schools of fish. A quiet, calm diver may approach them quite closely. Here’s Tony filming some yellow snapper:

I love this close up of snappers:

And here’s another school of snappers making shapes in the water:

I find them quite hypnotic!

Swimming with the fish at Creche, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

The reef called Creche, which we dived twice during our June-July trip to Ponta do Ouro in southern Mozambique, is full of fish life. The water above and around the reef is usually so dense with fish that divers drift among schools of snapper, fusiliers, goatfish and other fry of species I can’t recognise because they’re still too small.

Here are some fusiliers with us at Creche:

And here’s a mixed school of mostly yellow snappers:

Being this close to wildlife (which is how you should think about fish) is an almost miraculous experience.

Suunto D6 in full panic mode (part II)

Yesterday I told you about a dive on Doodles, a reef in southern Mozambique, during our trip to Ponta do Ouro last month. Doodles has a maximum depth of about 14 metres. After forty five minutes’ dive time, my Suunto D6 began to register extreme depths (89 metres maximum), and to give various instructions about decompression ceilings and times, accompanied by strident warnings about exceeding my PPO2.

Suunto D6 after missed decompression
Suunto D6 after missed decompression

While annoying and potentially dangerous to lose the services of my dive computer mid-dive, it was also an excellent learning opportunity. Because I usually try quite hard to be safe and not to upset my computer, and dive within the conservative, recreational limits that I am trained for, I never get to see any of this behaviour from the instrument. (Fortunately the dive was shallow and I still had plenty of no-decompression time left so it was far from an emergency situation.)

After the dive, I soaked the computer in warm fresh water, and it gradually came out of dive mode over a period of about ninety minutes. During the course of this simulated ascent, the required decompression times and depths calculated by the algorithm were not adhered to, so the computer entered an error mode, which, according to the manual, indicates that “the risk of DCI has greatly increased.” (In fact, from all the beeping and flashing, I suspect the computer thought I was dead or close to it.) This error mode does two things: it disables the dive planning capabilities of the computer, and it locks you out of dive mode for 48 hours.

The D6 in gauge mode
The D6 in gauge mode

I had never gotten the computer into this state before, so I was keen to see how it behaved when I took it on a dive in error mode. You can see in the photo above that I am wearing Tony’s Mares Nemo Wide (aka the flatscreen TV) to give me actual information about my no-decompression time, depth and dive time, but I took my D6 along for the ride. It is in gauge mode; this means it gives you only measurements, and is the setting a free diver might use.

The measurements available in gauge mode are: depth (18.4 metres in the photo above), the maximum depth you’ve been to on this dive (19.9 metres), an elapsed dive time (17 minutes), and water temperature (not shown) but it refuses to calculate a no-decompression limit for you. This would usually appear where the Er appears in the picture above.

Depth profile (with warnings)
Depth profile (with warnings)

For your enjoyment, here’s another screen shot of the dive profile from MacDive, with the warnings expanded. Click on the image to see it full size. It is clear that the first warning beeps I heard during the dive were because of elevated PPO2 levels. At 89 metres the device immediately put me in deco, and then as it “ascended” fairly rapidly, it gave a warning about oxygen toxicity (OLF or oxygen limit fraction as used in the Suunto algorithm) and an ascent rate warning. On the right, at about 10 metres, a warning is given that the depth is still below the required level to complete the decompression.

All the green circular icons appearing around the middle of my dive, where the computer thought I was at 35 metres, indicate that the computer registered that I surfaced, but not for long enough to show on the dive profile. Weird!

My D6 remained angry for 48 hours after the dive at Doodles; by this time, we had finished our diving for the week. I’m not sure whether the problem with the pressure sensor is a permanent one (requiring repairs, a service or a new dive computer), or whether it was just dirty or stuck and will have resolved itself next time I dive with the instrument. I’ll be wearing a spare dive computer when I do, just in case.

Twinstripe fusiliers at Creche, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Twinstripe fusiliers over the reef at Creche
Twinstripe fusiliers over the reef at Creche

Unlike the large, distinctive schools of mostly yellow-coloured snappers that we saw on several of the reefs that we dived while in Ponta do Ouro, twinstripe fusiliers tended not to hang around as long, or as densely grouped. These beautiful blue fish with yellow stripes tended to stream past us in huge, spread out schools, passing for minutes at a time like passenger pigeons, and then disappearing.

I found the experience captured  in this video, filmed at the reef called Creche, to be almost transcendental – I felt as though I was in a blue cathedral, with the fish streaming past me towards the light of a distant stained-glass window. Or something – it was quite moving, anyway.