Article: The Urban Times – Artificial Reefs

A mash-up of my post on artificial reefs, and Tony’s post on the one we created at Long Beach has appeared in The Urban Times. Check it out here.

Artificial Reefs in The Urban Times
Artificial Reefs in The Urban Times

Exploring: Simon’s Town Harbour

Tony and I have been itching to dive the jetty in front of Bertha’s for some time. We enjoy eating take away dinners on the steps there, and watching the fishermen trying to catch squid for bait in the evenings. We finally found time while on honeymoon, and went there with Kate to see what we could find.

Not a good place to surface carelessly
Not a good place to surface carelessly

Despite being told by an officious member of the public that what we were doing was HIGHLY ILLEGAL and that we would get RUN OVER BY A BOAT (which became a possiblity when we found ourselves in a metre of water in front of a slipway at one point) or worse, blasted out of the water with space lasers and locked up in lead-lined cells for the rest of our lives, the Navy Ops Room were totally chilled about it when we called them.

Under Simon's Town jetty
Under Simon's Town jetty

We did giant strides in from the steps on the left hand side of the jetty. The tide was out, so the bottom few steps were green and very slippery. A small crowd of onlookers gathered to observe us. We had hoped to spend much of the dive under the jetty, but when we got in a very strong current and mounds of sea lettuce – the most irritating plant in the world – caused us to ditch that plan and swim around the jetty and to the west, towards the exit of the yacht basin.

Sign in Simon's Town yacht basin
Sign in Simon's Town yacht basin

The visibility was good, and the sea lettuce was only intermittently annoying. We met lots of klipfish, some very friendly. Only one shyshark made an appearance, but large numbers of abalone colonise the rocks and tyres down there. It’s not as full of litter as I’d expect – I suppose I should have learned my lesson about how clean harbours can be with our Robben Island dive – and everything that is lying in the water has been heavily encrusted with coralline algae and sea plants.

Friendly klipfish coming in for a look
Friendly klipfish coming in for a look

We spent most of the dive at around 2 metres – it was low tide and it’s not deep there at all. Under the jetty we found enormous false plum anemones, fanworms, and some very interesting encrustations on the pillars.By the end of the dive the current had lessened, and the conditions there were much more suited to a leisurely exploration.

False plum anemone (and sea lettuce) under the jetty
False plum anemone (and sea lettuce) under the jetty

Getting out took a bit of thought and acrobatics (fortunately no audience except for the self-appointed policewoman of Simon’s Town) because the tide had gone so far out that we couldn’t get onto the bottom step of our entry point without taking our kit off, climbing a small ladder, walking along a crossbeam, and stepping from there onto the step, which was covered in green slime.

To get out, we climbed up the ladder...
To get out, we climbed up the ladder...
... walked along the crossbeam...
... walked along the crossbeam...
... and up the steps
... and up the steps

Verdict: This is definitely a site to be dived just before high tide, much like the Knysna lagoon, to facilitate entry and exit and to ensure that you aren’t fighting the current the whole time.

Dive date: 01 December 2010

Air temperature: 28 degrees

Water temperature: 16 degrees

Maximum depth: 3.4 metres

Visibility: 6 metres

Dive duration: 56 minutes

Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

This is my favourite movie – I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier in the category of “ocean movies”! It has an incredible cast – Bill Murry, Angelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum. The humour is not laugh out loud funny, but – in true Bill Murray style – the kind that makes you chuckle or smile to yourself.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Steve Zissou is an underwater researcher like Jacques Cousteau (even down to the Speedos and little red caps). The film traces his attempt to track down the jaguar shark that ate his partner, and his reunion with his illegitimate son. The sea life is rendered using computer graphics or giant puppets – most of the creatures shown are fictional, but beautiful nonetheless. My favourite part of the movie was the Belafonte, Steve’s ship. The actual ship used in the filming was a former South African minesweeper. but a huge cross-sectional model was also constructed.

I also loved the soundtrack – very quirky, with some tracks specially designed by Mark Mothersbaugh to sound like they were produced on a Casio electric keyboard.

There are many things about this movie that make me laugh when I think about it.

  • Steve getting covered in leeches while wearing his ridiculous shiny blue wetsuit
  • Willem Dafoe’s character’s gift for choosing TOTALLY random Bible readings for funerals
  • Alistair Hennessy’s (Jeff Goldblum) very gay crew, with impeccable fashion sense, when contrasted with Steve Zissou’s ragtag bunch
  • The female crewmember on the Belafonte who is gratuitously topless most of the time
  • The Adidas tracksuits and branded sneakers
  • The number of people squeezed into the submersible at the end, when they’ve found the jaguar shark (far more than it’s rated for)

Aside from the comic element, the film is very moving indeed. The final scene when the crew walks down the jetty over the credits is beautiful, as is the exit from the awards dinner with Steve Zissou carrying a little boy on his shoulders. The music at that point was perfect.

The DVD is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here. If you liked the soundtrack, including some David Bowie performed in Brazilian Portuguese on an acoustic guitar, you can get it here or here.

The coolest thing I have EVER seen

(Well, almost…)

I found a website run by the University of the Aegean that records live ship movements across much of the world’s oceans. The data is collected using Automatic Identification System (AIS), a transponder-based monitoring system mandated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for all ships over 299 tons. These transponders transmit the vessel’s speed, course, dimensions, name and current position.

The result is this map. Check it out – you can zoom in to specific areas. Click on the little ship icons to get details of the vessel and (often) a photograph. Totally awesome!!

If you explore the site a bit you can also find lists of which vessels using the AIS system are in port at the moment. Here’s Cape Town.

Movie: Master and Commander

Set in 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, Master and Commander chronicles the pursuit by a British vessel – the Surprise – captained by Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) of a French privateer. Most of the movie takes place on the high seas, as the magnificent sailing vessels race around South America.

The skill and teamwork required of the crew in order to sail these ships is incredible. The battle scenes – loading and firing cannons and manoeuvering the ships – are terrifying, and one is reminded how brutal war is. There is a peculiar dignity in these battles, however, as the combatants can see each other and are evenly matched. Since they’re fighting at sea, there are no civilian casualties. There’s also a harrowing episode during which the doctor (Paul Bettany) has to perform surgery on himself, and one is reminded how far medical care has progressed in the last 200 years!

The Surprise stops in the Galapagos Islands, and there’s a beautiful interlude during which the ship’s doctor is able to indulge his love for naturalism before the chase begins again.

Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe
Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe

This is an epic (literally – it’s’ long!) movie, meticulously made. Russell Crowe gives an excellent performance as Aubrey, and the tall ships are almost characters themselves as they dominate the action to such an extent. They are filmed from above and also from the viewpoint of the crew, so their full scale as well as the detail on board is apparent.

The soundtrack is magnificent (both the captain and ship’s doctor play string instruments and derive much pleasure from duets together) – you may remember the trailer to this movie featuring one of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (Suite No. 1 in G Major), which captures the spirit of the open sea to perfection.

The DVD is available at or

Bookshelf: Marine outposts and shipping

There’s a romance and fascination to the structures that we build to try to tame the ocean, and a sense of awe demanded by the scale and industry that modern harbours project. Learn about the development of modern shipping, about lighthouses, and more with this list of book recommendations for the shipping buff.


Harbours and shipping


  • The Complete Yachtmaster

Bookshelf: Photography and art

Do you want to look at pictures of marine life, learn how to take underwater photos, or make your coastal garden pretty (I admit, a bit of a leap)? Here’s a reading list to get you started.

Photographs of ocean-related subjects:

Photographs of marine life:

General underwater photography:

Art (this book is really unclassifiable!):

Making your surroundings beautiful:

Documentaries: By subject

Here’s a summary of the documentaries we’ve posted about, categorised loosely by subject.


Nature’s Great Events
South Pacific
The Blue Planet
Wreck Detectives


The End of the Line
March of the Penguins
Saving the Ocean

Discovery Channel

Underwater Universe

National Geographic

Blue Holes – Diving the Labyrinth

Reality shows

Deadliest Catch, Season 1
Deadliest Catch, Season 2
Deadliest Catch, Season 3
Deadliest Catch, Season 4
Deadliest Catch, Season 5
Deadliest Catch, Season 6
Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 8
Deadliest Catch, Season 9
Deadliest Catch, Season 10

Deadliest Catch – Tuna Wranglers
Deadliest Catch – Lobster Wars

Trawlermen, Season 1

Whale Wars, Season 1
Whale Wars, Season 2
Whale Wars, Season 3
Whale Wars, Season 4


Air Jaws
Blue Water White Death
Shark Week featuring Mythbusters – Jaws Special
Shark Men, Season 1
Shark Men, Season 2
Shark Men, Season 3


Wreck Detectives
Treasure Quest
Treasure Quest – HMS Victory Special
Ghosts of the Abyss