Shark cage diving in False Bay

The opportunity to see great white sharks safely, on your own terms (that is, not by surprise while diving!), and in a way that isn’t harming the sharks or affecting their behaviour on a large scale, is amazing and unusual one. Living in Cape Town, South Africa, we are more fortunate than most people in having three excellent cage diving operations (Apex Predators, African Shark Eco-Charters, and Shark Explorers) on our doorstep in False Bay, and – for the summer months, when the False Bay season closes down – Gansbaai just a two hour drive away.

I have visited Seal Island on board the Shark Spotters research boat, but that wasn’t for getting in the water with the sharks – the scienfic data is collected from the surface (I watched – more here, here and here), but Tony has never been. Tony and I have tried to go together to visit the sharks at Seal Island on two occasions before. Once, the conditions were too poor so we ended up in Gansbaai (more on that here), and the second time we planned an overseas trip and had to cancel our cage diving booking. The operators can get booked up very far in advance during peak season, which is when we wanted to go, which is why the overseas travel ended up overlapping with the cage diving trip.

Third time lucky! Two of Tony’s former students, Tamsyn and Gary, work for African Shark Eco-Charters, Tamsyn taking bookings and Gary as Divemaster on the boat. We booked a trip with them for late July, which is during the best period to see white sharks at Seal Island. We were excited to be able to breathe off scuba regulators while in the cage, and this turned out to be a wonderful thing because it was a very rough day (big swell, wind – and rain!) when we ventured out. The Stugeron that Bernita and I had ingested did its wonderful work.

Here’s a video clip of some of what we saw while in the cage. I’ve slowed this video down to 35% of the actual speed, because it’s really bumpy – the cage was like a washing machine! Trying to snorkel would have been unpleasant.

The shark in the video is a female white shark (she has no claspers – she obligingly shows us her big belly), and she was huge. It was lovely to have Bernita with us, and absolutely amazing to see our False Bay sharks up close. They are magnificent, remarkable animals worthy of our protection.

Newsletter: Wet, windy and whales

Hi divers

Wet, wild and windy is the only way to describe the last few weeks’ weather. An odd sunny day in between is hardly enough to keep the cold out. I had a minor repair job done recently and have had to stay out of the water for 14 days. These days are almost up and thankfully the weather for next week looks far better than we have had of late.

Southern right whales in False Bay
Southern right whales in False Bay

Last weekend, taking advantage of my planned time out of the water (and, to be honest, the poor underwater conditions!) we went whale watching with Simon’s Town Boat Company. It was wonderful to be so close to these majestic animals.  It was lovely to be out on the water, and apart from the whales just to see how beautiful False Bay and the surrounding landscape are.

If you can’t get out to see the whales, follow Simon’s Town Boat Company on facebook – they post amazing photos almost every day during whale season (July-November). Also, the whales are apparently more active when the conditions are stormy and rough – so watching them from land during these wintery weeks is a definite option.

Yachts near Roman Rock lighthouse
Yachts near Roman Rock lighthouse

Weekend plans

The weekend conditions are not as good as I had hoped they would be.Despite the strong north and westerly winds the bay is not as clean as I had hoped, partly due to all the dirty run-off from the rain that has been blown into the bay. The swell direction is better on Saturday, but I know that filling a boat in the rain is a difficult task.

Sunday looks dry and almost windless so I think its an option, however the swell turns southerly with some east, and that cruises straight into the bay. The only way to be sure is to make a last minute call. If you want to be on the list for possible Sunday diving, text me and I will make the call late Saturday or really early on Sunday morning.

regards

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

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Newsletter: Flippers and goggles

Hi divers

Last weekend we dived Sunday at Alpha Reef and it was really surgy and the viz not so great. It is odd that the visibility is so low given the amount of westerly wind we have had, but I suspect the very large swells that have accompanied the storms may have something to do with it. We then dived the wreck of the Brunswick where the visibility was a bit better, and finished off some Divemaster training.

Craig and Dinho treading water
Craig and Dinho treading water

Weekend diving

This weekend I am staying out of the water due to some scheduled maintenance but the glue should be dry by the end of next week… Luckily for you, if you want to dive, OMSAC are holding a Treasure Hunt, and you can join one of the boats going out on that day. There are also a few shore dives. We went two years ago and it was great fun. The event details are here. You need to book in advance if possible and it’s filled up quickly, so get to it.

And finally…

If you learned to dive with me and do find yourself on another dive boat, please do not use the words flippers or goggles. Too embarrassing. I would never be able to look that skipper and Divemaster in the eye again!

regards

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

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Bookshelf: The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm
The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger

Until I read The Penguin Book of the Ocean, all I knew about The Perfect Storm was that it’s a movie with George Clooney in it. This is the second book after The Outlaw Sea that I’ve tracked down after reading an excerpt of it in that anthology.

The perfect storm in question occurred between 28 October and 4 November 1991. Three weather systems converged and battered the east coast of the United States. Wave heights of 30 metres were recorded on offshore buoys. Several ships foundered, an Air National Guard helicopter ran out of fuel and had to be ditched, and several lives were lost. There’s a technical explanation of the event, with satellite images, here.

Junger’s book follows several threads in order to present as complete a picture of the storm’s formation and devastation as possible. My expectation was that the story of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat that disappeared without a trace, was the central theme of the book, and it was only when I was three quarters of the way through that I realised that the author’s interest was in the storm, rather than in the fate of this particular ship.

I enjoyed the sections dealing with the storm itself, weather and wave mechanics, the practice of swordfishing, and the various rescue attempts the most. I was confused and irritated by the scene-setting chapters dealing with Massachusetts night life and fishing culture; all the characters were called Bobby or Billy. The decision to feature the Andrea Gail so prominently seems an odd one to me, as almost nothing is known regarding her disappearance. Junger speculates as to what happened, but is largely confined to descriptions of what it feels like to drown, and how ships sink.

My enjoyment of the book was significantly impaired by the fact that the Harper Collins ebook imprint I read (obtained from the Amazon Kindle store) was riddled with typographical errors, having been produced by running a hard copy of the book through OCR software (my guess) without subsequent proofreading. Numbers were rendered as letters, hyphens appeared almost at random, text was bold and italic for pages on end without purpose, and a very poor overall impression was made. I’d probably have followed the flow of the book better if I’d read a hard copy. I’d suggest you avoid the Kindle version, unless you have the patience of a saint.

If you enjoy weather writing, and have an interest in how spectacular and devastating weather events occur (and we all should, since we’re going to see many more strong storms as the earth warms up), Junger’s book is an interesting source of information. Susan Casey’s The Wave and Bruce Parker’s The Power of the Sea are also recommended reading on this subject. The human interest aspect may also appeal to some – there’s a definite Deadliest Catch feel to life on a swordfishing boat, and that series also seems to closely approximate life on shore in a fishing town.

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Newsletter: Night night

Hi divers

Last Saturday we did a night dive at Long Beach. Four of the eight divers were doing their first night dives ever: Craig, Tamsyn, Dinho and Liam. Conditions were excellent and we had a great time. Photos in this newsletter are from that dive.

Liam on the night dive
Liam on the night dive

Weekend plans

As the days grow longer and summer beckons (it’s called positive thinking) we do still need to get through August, which according to the weather sites is the stormy month. There has been little sign of winter during the week and most days have been fairly pleasant. False Bay is quite clean and blue.

That all changes starting late tomorrow as a long period 6.5 metre swell rolls into the bay. That coupled with some rain will make diving a bit surgy and unpleasant, and my feeling is that it best be left alone for this weekend. If you’re at a loose end please pop down to Glencairn Beach or the far end of Long Beach to support the OMSAC Finathon, or take part if you feel up to it! Sponsorship of the divers/swimmers/paddlers can be directed towards Shark Spotters, a cause close to our hearts!

Perlemoen at Long Beach
Perlemoen at Long Beach

DAN Day

Last Saturday we attended the DAN Day at the Simon’s Town navy base. We had a tour of their dive training facility (this is most likely where you’ll end up if you need to use a recompression chamber after a dive accident), and then a series of very informative talks.

Pyjama catsharks asleep in the pipeline
Pyjama catsharks asleep in the pipeline

DAN or Divers’ Alert Network is an international organisation that provides a form of insurance whereby they will pay for any expenses related to diving accidents that your medical aid and travel insurance don’t cover. They will also pay for you to be evacuated if necessary, and these costs can be severe. However, if you choose not to take out DAN cover, they are still the people to call if you or your buddy has a suspected case of decompression illness. They have doctors on call who will guide you as to what to do, and they will arrange a chamber and evacuation if necessary (however the costs will be for your account). You don’t have to know where your nearest chamber is and whether it’s operational, because DAN keeps that information for you.

Please visit the DAN SA website, check them out, put their number into your phone (0800 020 111 in SA or +27 (0) 82 810 6010 if dialling from outside SA), and let me know if you have any questions (I might be able to help, or I can refer you to someone at DAN who can). Clare and I have cover, and it costs us about R175 per month for both of us. You can also take out cover specifically for a dive trip, if you don’t feel you dive enough to justify year-round membership. For an interesting story about someone who really needed their DAN membership, read this.

Diving and exercise

One talk at the DAN Day that was particularly interesting was about diving and exercise. Studies have found that light exercise a few hours both before and after a dive can be beneficial in reducing gas bubble formation, which is a good thing (too many bubbles cause the bends). The speaker also reminded us that one must keep fit to divediving isn’t going to make you fit, but being fit before coming diving will keep you safe and healthy.

regards

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

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SDI Online Training

Dusky dolphins in Maori Bay

One Saturday in late October last year we went out to Maori Bay in the hope of a dive on either the SS Maori or BOS 400 wreck. Unfortunately the swell was huge and moving directly into Maori Bay, and the water was green from a developing algal bloom (but still freezing cold). We decided not to dive – the conditions just weren’t good enough.

Dolphins in Maori Bay
Dolphins in Maori Bay

While we were still in Maori Bay, discussing our options and checking out the conditions, a pod of dusky dolphins arrived from somewhere north of us, and surrounded the boat. The engines were off and all we could hear was the dolphins’ breath sounds, and the swell slapping on the sides of the boat and breaking slightly on the rocks at the edge of the bay. We sat watching the dolphins for some time. They were playful and very curious, coming close to the boat and filling the bay. There were at least 30 dolphins, perhaps as many as 50. They weren’t on their way anywhere, just milling around.

After quite a while, because the dolphins were so calm and curious, we slipped over the side of the boat to see if they’d like to take a look at us in the water. They did want to. The four of us (Tony was in his drysuit, which isn’t really suitable for snorkeling, so he stayed on the boat with skipper Mark) floated around the boat on snorkel, and the dolphins approached us repeatedly, often swimming in pairs or threes. The water wasn’t too clear so they approached as ghostly shapes in the gloom and then materialised a few metres from us. They’d look at us, and then swim by. We could hear them clicking under the water.

The conditions were far from ideal – you can see how large the swell was and how green the water in the video – but we loved spending time with these animals. They came very close, sometimes closer than arm’s length, but they didn’t touch us (and we didn’t touch them). This was a very unusual encounter. When the boys got out of the water, Odette and I stayed in for a bit, and the dolphins came even closer.

We have seen dolphins on both the False Bay and Atlantic sides of the peninsula. The pods of dolphins we’ve seen in False Bay are usually hunting or on their way somewhere (and are usually long beaked common dolphins). This was the first time I’ve seen dolphins who didn’t seem to have anything particular to do at that moment.

Bookshelf: The Power of the Sea

The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters – Bruce Parker

The Power of the Sea
The Power of the Sea

The Power of the Sea by Bruce Parker is a highly readable introduction to freakishly large ocean phenomena, most notably tsunamis and rogue waves (which have particularly interested me since reading Susan Casey’s The Wave). Parker is an oceanographer who has worked at NOAA.

I was grateful that the author spent some time explaining tides – the most basic oceanographic feature, universally familiar. How can some places have two high tides every day, some places have one, and some have none at all? What about the differences in tidal range around the world? I think I’ll need it to be explained to me a few more times before I’m comfortable with it, but between him and Rachel Carson we’re off to a good start.

In the early sections of the book there is a good deal of historical background provided as Parker fills in the background of modern oceanography, and I enjoyed the accounts of how understanding of tidal phenomena has assisted generals, rebels and others in achieving their goals (or thwarted them). The success of the D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II were critically dependent on predictions of the tide on five French beaches. Tidal data did not exist for those particular locations, and some intelligent guesswork and interpolation was required to determine which days would be suitable for an invasion.

Parker also discusses the expensive and difficult task of defending our coastlines – particularly urbanised, developed locations – from storm surges such as the one caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Dutch are particularly forward-thinking in this regard.

The latter half of the book is mainly devoted to tsunamis, their causes and effects, and the problem of giving advance warning of their approach. In order to understand how tsunamis and storm surges function, it’s necessary to have a basic grasp of how energy is imparted to the ocean. Most of the time the energy is from the wind, and a combination of factors may give rise to waves of unbelievable dimensions, or just to common and garden wind waves and swell. In the case of a tsunami, it is usually an undersea earthquake that gives rise to the wave. A significant portion of the book is devoted to the timeline of the 2004 Thailand/Banda Aceh Tsunami that killed nearly 300,000 people, and the afterword deals with the Japanese tsunami of March 2011 that has led to one of the largest nuclear disasters of all time at Fukushima.

Predicting tsunamis is difficult; in order to do the best job possible, one would need to be able to predict earthquakes, which is in itself very, very difficult. Not every undersea earthquake causes a tsunami. The next best approach – if we can’t predict earthquakes – is to have high-powered mathematical models that can, based on when a tremor occurs, give an indication of whether the resulting waves will be tsunami waves, or not. For this kind of predictive power a huge network of ocean observation buoys and sensors is required. Tsunami warnings are generated and quickly sent to nations whose coastlines are at risk. The notice period is potentially very short, so countries at risk from tsunamis need to have evacuation procedures and good public awareness for these systems to work properly.

All the phenomena Parker describes (except perhaps for tsunamis) will be exacerbated by climate change, which leads to more regular, fiercer storms, higher winds, and rising sea levels. This makes it all the more important to be able to predict what conditions will give rise to the conditions that are conducive to storm surges, large waves, and phenomena such as El Niño. Worldwide initiatives such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS for short), which encompasses a wide range of observational projects, will make it easier to pick up tsunami waves before they reach land, and to provide real time data on developing weather and wave patterns across the globe.

You can buy The Power of the Sea here (if you’re in South Africa), otherwise here or here. For a kindle copy go here.

Newspaper man

For the last couple of months Tony has been writing a short diving conditions forecast for the Saturday Cape Argus newspaper.

Diving conditions forecast in the Saturday Argus
Diving conditions forecast in the Saturday Argus

He has to write his piece on a Wednesday evening, which is tricky – most of the weather sites seem to do a big update on Thursday evenings around 6pm. (This, by the way, explains why our newsletter always arrives after 6pm on a Thursday!)

Junior shows what he thinks of newspapers
Junior shows what he thinks of newspapers

Newsletter: Dive on the fourth of July

Hi divers

Despite being July already winter diving has yet to set in good and proper and we have had very few days of good viz so far. The wind this week has not helped much either other than to clean the Atlantic up and make the option of a dive or two from  Hout Bay tomorrow a real option. The viz in False bay has been mediocre at best. I have been in and on the water a couple of times since last week in mixed conditions, but have used the last few windy days to do student exams and maintenance work on the boat and gear.

(Clockwise) Long Beach, A Frame, Partridge Point and Shark Alley
(Clockwise) Long Beach, A Frame, Partridge Point and Shark Alley

I took a drive along the coast today and from the pictures you can see the SE has blown all the dirty water up into the coastal area and the water from Muizenburg to Fish Hoek is really dirty. It cleans up as you go further south and is a kind of blue green colour around Partridge Point. If the forecast is correct then the wind starts to blow north north west from late afternoon tomorrow and blows at around 40 kilometres per hour throughout Saturday. These conditions are not particularly enjoyable for human scuba divers.

Sadly I think the bulk of the dirty water will move down the coast with that wind making diving on Sunday a possible option. If anything the best diving will be south of Miller’s Point so Batsata Maze and surrounds will be where we go if we go. If the wind does not blow as predicted that dirty water won’t get too far. We will plan to launch on Sunday but I will make the call early Sunday morning once I have had a look at the sea. If you want to dive, let me know.

Dirty water outside Kalk Bay harbour
Dirty water outside Kalk Bay harbour

Please remember your permits – get them up to date if they’ve expired, and bring them with you when we dive. Also, remember the DAN information day on 20 July (two weeks’ time) – we’ll be attending and it looks as though it’ll be very interesting. You need to RSVP, and more information can be found here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: More or less

Hi divers

Last weekend we took a tour of the SA Agulhas II, an extremely impressive ship! We were all ready to run away and become polar explorers until we stepped outside on deck (and the ship hadn’t even left Cape Town harbour yet). This week I have gotten in the water a few times, with mixed visibility and mixed conditions. Things seem to be cleaning up though.

SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town
SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town

Another weekend of odd and difficult to predict conditions looms and it’s a toss up between less wind and more swell, or more wind and less swell. The water has cleaned up a lot this week and I am sure the viz will head for the 10 plus metre range by the weekend.

A 5 metre swell arrives tonight and lingers through Saturday, but it’s westerly so it won’t decimate the bay, but will make it a bit surgy. Sunday there is less swell but some south easterly wind. I am more inclined to go for the less swell option so we will launch on Sunday, and I reckon the SAS Pietermaritzburg and Caravan Reef area will be more sheltered than anywhere else.

It’s a bit cooler in the mornings now with the odd fog bank so we will launch at 10am and 12.30pm. As usual, text me if you want to dive.

View from the bridge of the SA Agulhas II
View from the bridge of the SA Agulhas II

Travel

Monday will as usual be a day of fantastic conditions (Mondays usually are) but we are off to Durban for some diving in warmer water and what Patrick at Calypso describes as “cracker” conditions. Our Red Sea trip in October still has space available – let me know if you want more information.

Rainbow over Table Bay harbour
Rainbow over Table Bay

Other stuff

Remember the DAN day on 20 July – see last week’s newsletter for details. Please also make sure your MPA permit is up to date before you next come diving.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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