Newsletter: Batten down the hatches

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

The weather forecast predicts that we are soon to be lashed with 50 km/h winds, a 7 metre swell, and no small amount of rain. It seldom is as bad as the forecasts claim, however the swell size and direction will hammer False Bay. Despite Sunday’s weather looking peachy, I don’t think the ocean will be, so we will plan for a dry weekend… It is winter after all.

Shark Spotting at Fish Hoek beach
Shark Spotting at Fish Hoek beach

Shark Spotters supporters program

We are proud to announce that we have signed on as official supporters of Shark Spotters. We are Silver partners, and for larger businesses there are higher levels of support on offer. (We are hoping to encourage some of the other dive centres to consider supporting Shark Spotters, too…) Individuals can also sign on to the supporters program, or donate in many different ways.

Shark Spotters is part-funded by the City of Cape Town and the Save Our Seas Foundation, and the rest comes from public donations. The Shark Spotters provide beach safety, a world-first environmentally friendly shark exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach, conduct educational programs at local schools, and conduct shark research in and around False Bay.

We’ll write a blog post with more information soon – but in the mean time, we’re very happy to be contributing to the important work of Shark Spotters. If you’d like to as well, visit their website to find out how to lend your support, or drop me an email and I’ll connect you with the right people.

regards

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

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Newsletter: Is that rain?

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

Whalebones on Sixteen Mile beach in the West Coast National Park
Whalebones on Sixteen Mile beach in the West Coast National Park
The weather forecasts that I watch the most have cycled through a series of odd updates that have shown alternately shown lots of rain on Saturday and Sunday, and none at all. I have students in the pool on Sunday so I won’t venture out into the ocean, but if you do, be aware they may or may not be surge, rain, or sunshine… Depends on your favourite forecast.
 

regards

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

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Newsletter: Signs of the times

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Shore dives at Windmill or A Frame

Sewage spill at Long Beach
Sewage spill at Long Beach

Wildly different forecasts for this weekend make me inclined to go with the safest option, namely Sunday, as the best dive day. I have students to dive so will be shore diving, most likely from Windmill or A Frame, as when I checked earlier this week, the “stay out of the water” sign remains at Long Beach.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Into the Raging Sea

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro – Rachel Slade

Into The Raging Sea
Into The Raging Sea

If the article I shared earlier this week made you want to learn more about the 2015 sinking of El Faro, an American cargo ship, this book is for you.

Using the 26 hours of voice recordings recovered from the ship’s deep water resting place after a prolonged search, Rachel Slade is able to reconstruct, in detail, the final voyage of El Faro. Slade also attended the hearings on the sinking held by the US Coast Guard, and interviewed the family and friends of El Faro‘s crew. The result is a detailed and illuminating investigative work that explains the disaster more comprehensively than simply to say that the ship sailed into a hurricane and sank. Slade also emphasises the humanity, connections and personalities of the captain and crew, who otherwise might be lost in the telling as statistics of loss.

The official explanations, and absence of any assumption of culpability for the tragedy, are enraging and frustrating, but illustrate the insidious pressure to take risks that commercial mariners may experience from ship owners and operators. This dynamic plays out at all scales. Even as a small business owner, Tony is sometimes asked to launch his boat in conditions that he deems unsafe. A client may put their own financial gain ahead of the safety of the divers, or of my husband. The risk of such a venture is entirely with the captain and others on the vessel, while the decision-maker (and financial beneficiary of the decision) sits ashore in safety like General Melchett sending his troops to their doom.

Slade’s book is a gripping read, accurately and comprehensively reported, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in maritime drama. It is also of particular interest given that warming oceans will give rise to more storms like Jaoquin, and our ability to forecast their movements with accuracy will, to an increasing degree, impact captains’ ability to keep themselves, their crew and their cargo out of harm’s way.

Do not confuse this book with Into a Raging Sea, the excellent book about South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute.

Get Into The Raging Sea here (US), here (UK) or here (South Africa).

Article: Vanity Fair on the sinking of El Faro

William Langewiesche, author of The Outlaw Sea (one of my favourite books) wrote an in-depth article for Vanity Fair, about the sinking of the American cargo ship El Faro, with the loss of all hands on board, in hurricane Jaoquin in 2015. Called the “worst U.S. maritime disaster in three decades”, the loss of El Faro should have been avoidable.

With access to the 26 hours of recordings from the El Faro‘s “black box”, found after an almost year-long search, Langewiesche is able to provide detailed reporting on the hours leading up to the disaster. I found two aspects of the incident incredibly instructive. The sequence of decisions made about where to sail relative to the hurricane, and the culture onboard, seemed worth pondering. Weather forecasting services (a personal obsession) were also key to the fate of the ship to a surprising degree.

It is unlikely that Davidson [the captain] ever fully understood that he had sailed into the eye wall of Joaquin, but he must have realized by now that he had come much too close. As is usually the case, the catastrophe was unfolding because of a combination of factors that had aligned, which included: Davidson’s caution with the home office; his decision to take a straight-line course; the subtle pressures to stick to the schedule; the systematic failure of the forecasts; the persuasiveness of the B.V.S. graphics; the lack of a functioning anemometer; the failure by some to challenge Davidson’s thinking more vigorously; the initial attribution of the ship’s list entirely to the winds; and finally a certain mental inertia that had overcome all of them. This is the stuff of tragedy that can never be completely explained.

Read the full article here. It’s a gripping read by a master storyteller.

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.

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: Sorry, kids

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

The weather forecast for the weekend is wild and windy, and definitely not diving weather.

Diversnight 2017 at Long Beach
Diversnight 2017 at Long Beach

We had a great night dive last Saturday evening at Long Beach. It was calm but crisp, and we spent a lot of time watching a vast array of fish and invertebrates marauding around on the sand, hunting for their dinner. Clouds of fish fry, so thick that at the beginning of the dive we couldn’t see our feet, provided food for an array of predators. There were a lot of divers in the water, and it was great to see the dive clubs take ownership of this community diving event. Watch out for Diversnight 2019!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: No weather available

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Nada! Stay safe!

The weather man has decided not to send any weather our way for diving this weekend. Instead, we get an 18 second, 6 metre swell with some wind speeds of around 40 km/h. The sane and safe thing to do is to stay out of the ocean; however for those that do brave it… Please post videos.

Storm clouds
Storm clouds

Diversnight

Curious about the origins of Diversnight? Read all about it here. Remember, it’s on Saturday 3 November.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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All about Diversnight (and the unifying power of cake)

November is around the corner, and with it one of the regular fixtures on our diving calendar: Diversnight. Diversnight is a community diving event, which aims to get as many divers underwater as possible for a night dive on the first Saturday of November, at a time corresponding to the current year. So last year we dived at 20:17, and this year, we’ll all try to be underwater at 20:18 (8.18 pm). Get it?

Night diving for Diversnight 2017
Night diving for Diversnight 2017

Diversnight is a Norwegian invention that has spread around the world. It’s a great way to meet and mingle with fellow divers. The event is for everybody and the aim is a collective one (which is very Scandinavian, now that I think about it) rather than a quest for individual glory. In the past we’ve been grateful to share the shallows with divers from various local clubs and origins. I’d encourage you to join in if there’s a Diversnight event near you, or start your own one, even if it’s small.

There is some information about the history of this mysterious Nordic scuba event on the Diversnight website, but (as usual) I had a lot more questions, so I contacted the Diversnight team to see if they’d be willing to submit to an interview.

Ludvig and the rest of the team were very kind to answer all of my questions, and the interview follows below. When Ludvig mentioned the Diversnight team’s belief in the unifying power of cake, I felt that we were kindred spirits. Hope to see you at one of the Diversnight events in Cape Town on Saturday 3 November at 20:18!

Traffic on the jetty for Diversnight 2017
Traffic on the jetty for Diversnight 2017

Who is the Diversnight team? Is Tone, who founded Diversnight (according to your website) still involved? Do you all live in the same town, or are you spread far and wide?

The Diversnight Team consists of three people:
Tone Svee Dahl – The founder of Diversnight. Still involved in keeping the rest of us in line with the Diversnight spirit.
Thomas Kalve – Designed and built the new Diversnight website, keeping all the technical doohickeys up and running making sure people can register both sites and numbers.
Ludvig F. Aarstad – Mainly running Diversnight communications on a semi-daily basis. Keeping the Diversnight Facebook page up to date with registrations from the Diversnight website, and generally trying to bring the word out to as many people as possible.

What kind of diving do you all usually do – are you recreational divers, or hardcore ice or cave divers?

The Diversnight Team is all recreational divers, though some of us has been known to dive under the ice on a couple of occasions.

How did you start to spread the word of Diversnight outside Norway?

According to the Diversnight History, Diversnight started off as a regional night dive through the website dykkesiden.com. Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish divers frequented this site. Most of the foreign users of the site were Swedish, and when they heard about Diversnight they wanted to participate and the Danes were also offered to join. When we saw that this was a great success, we actively contacted various diving websites on the internet.

How do you publicise Diversnight every year? It looks as though the number of divers participating each year changes quite a lot (up and down) – do you know why?

The date and time of Diversnight each year is published at both the diversnight.com website and the Diversnight page on facebook. We have also sent out this info via email to all registered contacts on the website, but we are now mainly focusing on using facebook as the communications channel.

Every year we see some sites dropping off and new ones joining due to various reasons. The weather has a huge impact in some areas, but it also boils down to how good we are in promoting the event.

Still we see that this has now become an important, yearly event for many divers, dive centers and diving clubs.

There was a very big increase in number of divers and number of countries from 2008-2009. Can you remember what caused that jump in numbers?

The reason for the huge jump in numbers from 2008 to 2009 is probably due to the massive use of facebook, and a real effort from all the Diversnight Team, when promoting the event. The Diversnight Team used to be bigger, and we then had more capacity then we have today. More people reach out to more people.

Can you tell me what a typical Diversnight dive is like for you in Norway? I am from Cape Town, so the sun sets at around 7.30pm in November. So it is not yet dark when we get into the water. The air temperature can be 15-20 degrees and the water 14-16 degrees. So it is a little cold, but not terrible. Most people wear wetsuits not drysuits. I imagine it is a bit different in Scandinavia?

In Norway, based on where you are located, the water temperature will range from 6 to 8 degrees. Surface temperature will be about 3 degrees, and it will be dark. Drysuit is a must :).

Speaking for my own club, the actual dive/event takes place like this:
People will gather maybe an hour before the actual dive time to ready their gear and register with the dive leader. We also usually have a treasure hunt during the dive, where sunken tokens can be exchanged for prizes, if found. If many prizes are left, the remaining will be in a raffle amongst all the registered divers.

Cake, coffee, mulled wine (non-alcoholic) etc. is served, and we have bonfires. Also, one year in Estonia they were more than 20 divers, diving between ice flakes. Still they were in the water with huge smiles after a fantastic night dive, even if most of them were using semi-dry suits!

On that subject, why did you choose November (originally December) and not June or July, when it is warmer weather? Or was it just by accident that it ended up being at that time of year?

The reason it was started in December is that the idea of a nationwide night dive was conceived by Tone at a place called Scuba Bar in Oslo, one November night in 2005. It took her/them roughly three weeks to get the concept together, with the idea of showing everyone that diving wasn’t just a summer activity and that even if the temperature shows -10 degrees celsius and it is pitch black it is still fantastic to dive and very social at the same time, being key.

The reason it was moved to November is because almost all of the Nordic dive sites were frozen over in December 2010, and the reason it was moved from being on a Thursday to being on a Saturday is simply by request of the Diversnight community.

Nigella's blondies for Diversnight 2017 - these were good (if I say so myself)
Nigella’s blondies for Diversnight 2017 – these were good (if I say so myself)

Is cake still a big part of Diversnight for you? What kind of cake did you have last year (if any)? We had blondies, which are chocolate brownies but made with white chocolate instead of dark chocolate.

Cake is still an essential part of Diversnight, and the Diversnight Team try to emphasize this as often as we can. On the first cake dive, Tone noticed how incredibly unifying a cake can be, so she kept inviting people to cake dives. The rest of Norway adopted this, and the tradition was born. By these cakes, people got to know one another, new friendships were established, and new buddy teams were formed. Cake proved to have a way more unifying effect than simply eating your food with others.

Again, speaking for my own club, last year we had a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting coloured ocean blue for the occasion and decorated with edible sea creature ornaments.

There is no special Diversnight cake, even though Tone has baked the same cake for years. The recipe was posted, by Tone, on the Diversnight facebook page, and on the diversnight.com website recently.

Is there anything that you want people to know about Diversnight, or any cool story you’d like to share?

Well, the story of Diversnight is cool by itself, and is covered by the article written by Tone herself on the website. We would like everyone to help us spread the word about Diversnight. We want Diversnight to keep living as a worldwide night dive, connecting people from the diving community all over the world through diversnight.com and the Diversnight facebook page.

Diversnight is a great way of showing the world that diving is a sport that can be enjoyed all hours of the day, all days of the week, all year round, even if you live in the cold north somewhere.

Through Diversnight, we all dive together, even if some are in Africa and others in Norway. The idea is to be together, have fun doing what you love, experience something together, and eat cake!

My husband’s children live in Denmark, so each time we visit them we try to explore a little more around Scandinavia. Last year we spent some time in Sweden, and Norway is definitely on the agenda for a future trip. What is the diving like where you are? Does it vary a lot around the coast? Do you dive in lakes too?

We dive in fjords and also out toward the open sea. The Norwegian coastline is very long, and offers a lot of excellent places to dive. To my knowledge, there is not much diving in lakes in Norway.

Getting into the water close to 20:17 for Diversnight 2017åç
Getting into the water close to 20:17 for Diversnight 2017

Many thanks to Ludvig for getting together answers to my many questions! We hope that Diversnight goes from strength to strength.