Bookshelf: Scuba Professional

Scuba Professional: Insights into Sport Diver Training and Operations – Simon Pridmore

Have you ever wanted to run away and become a scuba instructor? Have you been intoxicated by promises of a lifestyle of tousled, barefoot, beach-based freedom from the rat race? Have you passed your instructor training course and are trying to decide what to do next? Or are you already a dive professional, perhaps looking to solidify your dive business, diversify your income streams, or branch out in the dive industry?

Scuba Professional
Scuba Professional

This is the final, and possibly most important, book in Simon Pridmore’s scuba trilogy (the other two are Scuba Fundamental and Scuba Confidential). Like the other two, it has much to offer – this time, to dive professionals and wannabe dive professionals.

Some of the topics Pridmore discusses are hard truths, such as the fact that becoming a scuba instructor is less about diving than about teaching. A person who doesn’t feel a vocation to teach should probably look for employment elsewhere in the dive industry rather than trying to attain instructor status. He devotes a whole section to teaching issues, many of which will be extremely useful to new instructors looking to move quickly up the learning curve.

An often overlooked feature of the dive industry is that there are many people who make a living from diving, but not by teaching students. Pridmore includes an incredibly helpful chapter in which he interviews several such dive professionals about their jobs, including a gear distributor, a photojournalist, a liveaboard cruise director, and a dive travel specialist. All of these professions include many of the positive aspects of the dive industry, and should provide inspiration for anyone who is keen on the underwater world but doesn’t necessarily feel the urge to teach.

For owners of dive businesses such as dive shops, charters or small training operations, Pridmore has much advice gleaned from running his own dive centre on the island of Guam. Many of his recommendations seem like common sense to anyone who has paid attention to the cycle of boom and bust that seems to characterise the dive industry in some locations, but they are hard-won insights that likely are only obvious after the fact. Unsurprisingly (perhaps?) several relate to safety considerations and gear maintenance. Many of the recommendations Pridmore provides are illustrates with anecdotes describing how he arrived at his viewpoint.

A whole section is devoted to developing a culture of safety in diving, something that featured in Scuba Confidential as well. It can be difficult to discuss dive safety and it seems to me that the industry doesn’t even try. None of the professional member forums I’ve attended, presented by training agency employees with access to incident reports, statistics and trends, has ever addressed dive safety directly. It would be tremendously helpful for instructors and divemasters to know that, for example (I’m making what follows up to make a point) most potential dive accidents happen on dive two of the Open Water course, during mask remove and replace, or during regulator recovery. Because instructors are obliged to report such incidents, training agencies know all about them.

Finally, the future of the dive industry comes under the spotlight, with a discussion of rebreathers (are they the future?) and the likely origin of the next wave of scuba diving students and tourists (Pridmore reckons, China). I was surprisingly moved (for a book about being a dive professional) by the chapter about dive tourism businesses, which concludes with the insistence that the only way a dive business in a remote, exotic location will flourish, is by involving the local community, training them to work in all levels of the business, and spreading a message of conservation that includes the people who live in the paradise in question. This kind of cultural sensitivity has not been the norm in many places, but where it is, the results are special.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.

Bookshelf: Scuba Confidential

Scuba Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver – Simon Pridmore

The natural sequel to Scuba Fundamental (though it was written later), this book is aimed at qualified divers who may have reached a plateau with the sport, and want to improve their skills and explore more of what diving has to offer. Author Simon Pridmore does not shy away from subjects such as solo diving, deep diving and technical diving, and offers valuable perspectives from a lifetime in the dive industry.

Scuba Confidential
Scuba Confidential

Pridmore begins with a subject that isn’t discussed enough (because it would supposedly scare away potential new divers): safety. He talks about why divers die, survival strategies, and the essential mental preparation that should come before diving.

Many divers who have passed the first, awkward stage of their careers on scuba seek to improve their skills. Pridmore discusses buoyancy, navigation, and the touchy subject of deco. The following section addresses some of the specialty options available to divers who wish to extend their qualifications: night diving, wreck diving, drift diving, cave diving, ice diving, and technical diving. While you may decide that some of these types of diving are definitely not for you, there is still much to learn from the techniques and thought processes required to do these types of dives safely.

Pridmore also deals extensively with equipment issues, returning to the subject of deploying an SMB, care and use of dive cylinders, mastering your BCD, and dive computers. In many instances, these items of gear are a matter of life and death, and well worth talking about. Narcosis, nitrox, rebreathers and other gas-related subjects round up the sections of the book that pertain to dive safety.

The final chapters deal with dive travel, with a section on liveaboards and a recap of some etiquette, which becomes increasingly important when one is diving with people one doesn’t know.

This book will satisfy a growing diver’s thirst for knowledge, draw attention to areas that need improvement or reflection, and prompt further exploration of dive-related subjects. It’s an excellent gift for the curious diver in your life.

Get a copy of the book here (SA), here (US) or here (UK).

Bookshelf: Scuba Fundamental

Scuba Fundamental: Start Diving the Right Way – Simon Pridmore

When I first learned how to dive, all I wanted was to find books about scuba diving that were relevant to my stage of knowledge and skill, so that I could learn more (my learning style is by reading). Unfortunately at that time the only books about scuba diving in South Africa that I could find were absolute rubbish (fortunately the situation has improved immeasurably – here’s a quality example). I wish I’d had this book to hand, but it was only published last year, so sorry for me.

Scuba Fundamental
Scuba Fundamental

I read it anyway, with my jaded old eyes. It isn’t specific to South Africa, but it’s written for people who are contemplating learning to dive, who are busy learning, or who are still early in their diving careers. Many of the topics that Simon Pridmore covers are ones that Tony and I tried to deal with in the early days of this blog. He is eminently sensible, and writes from a position of deep, international experience in the dive industry.

How does one choose a dive course? How does one choose a diving instructorWhen shouldn’t one dive? Which certification agency is best? Should a new diver buy their own equipment, and where does one even begin with that? Once qualified, what next? What about diving in cold water and cold weather? How can divers keep safe on the surface? Pridmore also discusses some important elements of dive etiquette such as peeing in your wetsuit, entry techniques (giant strides, backward rolls, and so on), seasickness, dive boat etiquette, behaviour around marine animals, and what to do if your dive buddy surfaces with a giant booger.

If you’re thinking of learning to dive, are busy with your course, have done fewer than 30 dives, or are just seeking some direction in the early stages of your love affair with scuba diving, consider this guide. If you have a friend or family member you’d like to start a conversation with about diving, or would like to buy a dive course for but can’t afford it, this book is an excellent starting point. I found myself agreeing out loud with the author’s observations more times than I can count.

Get it here (South Africa), here (US) or here (UK).

Diving in the I&J Ocean Exhibit at the Two Oceans Aquarium

The I&J Ocean Exhibit is the largest tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and has been open since mid-2016. It features a full 10 metre long tunnel, and is home to Yoshi the turtle, two green turtles, bonito, musselcracker, a guitarfish, some rays, and several other species. Watching the animals being fed at 12pm on a Sunday is a highlight of my monthly shift at the aquarium.

Yoshi the loggerhead turtle
Yoshi the loggerhead turtle

I needed to dive in the tank, and Tony and I were lucky to be escorted by the wonderful Angie, who has been a Divemaster at the aquarium for several years. The dive is easy: the tank is shallow, warm, and the visibility is to all intents and purposes limitless. Angie pointed out that in an out of air situation, we’d just do a CESA to the surface. (This makes the aquarium perhaps the only location you’d use this skill in its pure form…) The animals aren’t dangerous, but they need to be respected, and the soft acrylic windows pose a particular challenge as a careless bump with some dive gear would scratch them from the inside.

Angie and Bob the green turtle
Angie and Bob the green turtle

The green turtles are special. Bob was found in poor shape on the beach at De Hoop when he was the size of a dinner plate, and after several months in intensive care, regurgitated a quantity of plastic, including ribbons and balloons. Now, he is friendly and very attached to humans – he especially loves to have his shell tickled, and wriggles from side to side in appreciation. As a result of the amount of time he spent in veterinary care, he will stay at the aquarium for his own safety.

Tony and Sandy the green turtle
Tony and Sandy the green turtle

Sandy was most likely struck by a boat propellor near Witsand at the mouth of the Breede river. The scars are visible on her carapace in the photo above. She was recently discovered to be definitely female (turtles are tricky). She’s not quite as interested in humans as Bob is, but she was mesmerised by her tiny reflection in Tony’s camera lens, and approached closer and closer to examine it.

The giant guitarfish
The giant guitarfish

In addition to the turtles, Tony enjoyed the fantastic giant guitarfish, and spent much of the dive looking for it. The rays are like puppies, full of youthful exuberance and energy. The schooling fish mostly keep out of the way of the divers, near the surface of the tank, but are a treat to be close to.

We last dived in the aquarium a couple of years ago. The kelp forest, which was an enormously enjoyable dive, is currently closed for renovations but will be re-opening soon. The new shark exhibit will also be open for dives soon (it is already open for looking at, with nine ragged tooth sharks in residence). Meanwhile, the Ocean Exhibit provides more than enough diversion on a day that doesn’t offer good enough weather for a sea dive.

Dive date: 29 April 2017

Air temperature: 30 degrees

Water temperature:  24.8 degrees

Maximum depth: 6.1  metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 36 minutes

False Bay safety stop

Let the divers eat cake!
Let the divers eat cake!

We had beautiful conditions in False Bay early in September, and while some of the divers were safety stopping I filmed them from the boat. The visibility was that good! Here are Georgina and Arne doing their safety stop and ascent over the reef. Note their textbook use of an SMB to indicate their position to the boat.

Newsletter: Beach adjustments

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Friday: Shore dives at Long Beach

Sunday: Launching from Simon’s Town jetty for the SAS Pietermaritzburg at 8.00 / Outer Photographer’s Reef at 11.00

Grader at Long Beach
Grader at Long Beach

Conditions

Given the time of year, we can expect fair conditions in False Bay, but we will have to wait a month or two for conditions to improve significantly. For now we still need to contend with some swell and a fair bit of wind. For the weekend I reckon Sunday will be the better option, and we will launch from Simon’s Town jetty for the SAS Pietermaritzburg at 8.00 and then Outer Photographer’s Reef at 11.00. We’ll hope that the pod of nearly 20 orca spotted in the bay earlier this week is still around…

Tracks into the ocean
Tracks into the ocean

We were astonished to encounter a grader on Long Beach this morning, moving sand from inappropriate places back onto the beach. Unfortunately it had created a huge band of muddy water that interfered with our plans for a navigation dive for the Advanced course currently on the go! Better luck tomorrow.

Diarise

Tomorrow (Friday) evening Dr Tony Ribbink of Sustainable Seas Trust is giving a talk about the False Bay Hope Spot at Indigo Scuba in Gordon’s Bay. It will be very interesting and if you can, you should attend! More  information about the talk here.

regards

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

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Heating our pool with Project Pumps

We have a training pool that is just the right size for the small groups of students that Tony prefers to teach. It’s an ideal size to heat up, and in order to make it as comfortable as possible to spend extended periods of time on skills, we’ve taken a couple of measures to make the water as warm as we can. The first, which we fitted when we installed the pool, is a thermal cover that both warms the water and reduces algae growth. It looks like grey bubble wrap, and works like a bomb – it raises the water temperature up to four degrees higher than the air temperature (and if you don’t run the pump to mix the heated layers, you can get an impressive thermocline!). Of course, to get the benefit of the pool cover, it has to be on at least some of the time, which is a challenge during the summer months, when there’s always someone in the pool!

A fine network of pipes
A fine network of pipes

The second measure we took to warm the pool was to install solar heating panels on the roof. These panels consist of a fine network of tubes made of tough HDPE, through which the pool water is circulated and then returned to the pool. The existing pool pump is used (this is why we fitted a more powerful one than the size of the pool warranted when we did the initial installation) and the heat of the sun warms the panels directly, as well as warming the roof which warms the panels from below. We fitted them on the north-facing sloping area of our roof. As a rule of thumb the number of panels needed is one for every two square metres of pool surface. Our pool is 5×3=15 metres square, so we have 7 panels (which is 15 divided by two, and rounded down).

Putting the panels onto the roof
Putting the panels onto the roof

The pump has a manifold fitted, which allows us to decide when we pump water onto the roof, and when we don’t bother. During the winter, when it’s quiet, or raining, we can isolate the panels and just run the pool pump as normal. This also saves electricity during the time of the year when it’s most in demand inside the house.

The manifold for the roof panels
The manifold for the roof panels

The entire system was installed by our fellow diver Justin Gootman of Project Pumps, and we can highly recommend his and his team’s handiwork and professionalism. (At the same time and with great expertise they drilled us a well point, but that’s another story.)

Connected to the pool pump
Connected to the pool pump

I learned to dive in Cape Town in the month of July, and the training pool was 9 degrees and I was almost physically ill when I submerged myself. It was very unpleasant. For several years afterwards it was the coldest water I’d ever been in, until a freezing dive at Tafelberg Reef in the Atlantic took over pole position. I am happy to say that we at Learn to Dive Today are doing our bit to ensure that fewer Cape Town dive students have to suffer as I did!

Boating at Buffels Bay

We spent a sunny day at Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve, facilitating some boat dives to Batsata Maze and an unnamed reef to the south of Smitswinkel Bay for Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club (OMSAC). We met a whale on one of the dives – he was fascinated by the divers’ orange SMB that they were using while safety stopping, and circled back repeatedly to have a look. It also took quite a bit of doing (in the form of multiple phone calls, emails and an early morning meeting with a ranger) to get permission to drive a boat full of divers and gear through the exclusion zone around Cape Point… But those are other stories.

Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay
Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay

The slipway at Buffels Bay is a civilised place, with no jockeying for position or aggressive fishermen. It is in a very rocky part of the bay, however, and at low tide it’s a tricky proposition to avoid clipping your motors on the bottom. On approaching the slipway, I asked the divers to hop off the boat into the water, and we moved slowly towards the shore. The water was slightly deeper than some of them were expecting!

After bringing the divemobile down and putting the trailer into the water, we manoeuvered the boat onto the trailer and winched and pushed it on. It was too shallow to drive the boat on, as I would usually. This is a hyperlapse video so it’s joyfully speeded up to make me look like Superman.

Our protocol for scuba diving with cowsharks

Curious cowshark
Curious cowshark

Shark Alley is a special and unusual dive site just south of Millers Point. It is an aggregation site for broadnose sevengill cowsharks, predators who feed on seals and a variety of other animals. They can grow to three metres in length. These sharks seem to use this site as a resting area (though we aren’t sure – research is ongoing) and their behaviour is typically docile and relaxed. For this reason it is a great place to dive, as the sharks come close enough to get a good look at them but do not behave in a threatening manner.

There has never been a serious incident involving a diver and a shark at this site, but there have been a few incidents. Clare has had her pillar valve gnawed on by a feisty young male shark while on a dive here a few years back, and early in May a diver was bitten on the arm by one of the sharks. That latter bite made the newspaper (the shark drew blood and the NSRI was summoned), but I am sure that there have been other more minor incidents here that didn’t get reported.

Young cowshark
Young cowshark

This got me thinking about a protocol for diving with these animals. Shark dives all over the world are governed by safety protocols and guidelines, usually put in place by dive operators themselves (examples here and here). We do have a set of standards that we adhere to when visiting this site and mention in dive briefings, but I’ve never written them down all together before. I am a firm believer in self regulation, whereby the industry regulates itself so that we don’t end up with a bureaucrat in an office telling us we can’t dive with cowsharks without (for example) a special permit, or (heaven forbid) ever again!

Cowshark passing a diver
Cowshark passing a diver

So here’s our protocol – how we choose to regulate ourselves when diving this site. It’s not a set of hard and fast rules that everyone has to follow, but it’s how we choose to approach dives at Shark Alley, a little bit like Underwater Africa’s diver code of conduct, but for cowshark diving. You are welcome to use these principles yourself, and I’d like to hear any suggestions you have to improve them or for points I may not have thought of.

  1. Do a positive entry (i.e. with your BCD fully inflated) if you are diving off the boat, so you do not risk landing on a shark in mid water. If there is a thermocline, the sharks typically swim above it, and may be shallower than you expect.
  2. Descend slowly in a controlled manner, looking below you at all times. Ensure that you are carrying sufficient weight (you should be able to kneel on the sand if necessary).
  3. Do not make any physical contact with the sharks. Do not try and stroke them as they swim by, and do not hang on their tails or dorsal fins.
  4. Do not feed the sharks. Don’t carry anything edible (sardines, for example) in your BCD, and do not chum from the boat. This includes washing the deck off at the dive site if you’ve just been fishing or on a baited shark dive. Chumming is both illegal (you need a permit) and unsafe, especially if there are divers in the water.
  5. If you have students in the water, perform skills away from the sharks (if possible, avoid conducting skills at this site).
  6. Some sharks will show a keen interest in your camera and flash or strobes. Do not antagonise them by putting a camera directly in their face. If a shark is showing undue interest in your photographic equipment, hold off taking pictures for a moment while it swims away.
  7. Move out of the sharks’ way if they swim towards you. (Here’s a video of Tami doing just that.) Cowsharks are confident and curious, and often won’t give way to divers. Respect their space and move far enough away that they won’t rub against you or bump you as they swim by.
  8. Be alert for any strange behaviour by an individual shark or the sharks around you. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t become absorbed with fiddling with your camera or gear. If a shark does become overly familiar (bumping or biting), gather the divers together in a close group and abort the dive in a controlled manner.
  9. Do not dive at this site at night or in low light. This is probably when cowsharks feed (though we aren’t sure), and as ambush predators their behaviour is likely to be quite different in dark water when they’re in hunting mode.
  10. Do not dive at this site alone. When diving in a group, stay with the group and close to your buddy.

I am not writing this protocol down to make people afraid of diving with cowsharks in Cape Town. But I do think it’s important to remember that this is a dive that needs to be taken seriously, with safety as a priority. Because we can visit this site whenever we want to, it’s tempting to become blasé about what an amazing experience it is, and also about the fact that these are sharks that need to be respected.

In conclusion! Unlike great white sharks, cowsharks (and blue sharks, and mako sharks, and and and…) are not protected in South Africa, so it’s not illegal to fish for them in permitted fishing areas (i.e. outside no take zones, etc). One of the cage diving operators in Gansbaai even used to use cowshark livers in his chum… If you want to make a difference in the lives of cowsharks and ensure they’re still here for us to dive with in future decades, consider writing a letter to the relevant government minister (make sure it’s the current one, in the new cabinet) and also to the shadow minister from the opposition party, requesting protection for more shark species in South African waters.

Sodwana diving photos (April 2014) – part I

We’ve been back from our Sodwana trip for almost a month, and I’m starting to look forward to my next dive trip, which has not been planned yet. Alas. With this small problem in mind I had a rummage through the underwater photos I took while we were in Sodwana, to try and recreate the experience.

Under the boat
Under the boat

I haven’t done a lot of diving this year, and no underwater photography to speak of, so I viewed my camera as a strange, unfamiliar machine when we arrived in Sodwana, and spent most of the six dives figuring out how it all worked (again). Furthermore, my confidence in my buoyancy wasn’t great at the start of the trip, so I didn’t want to go too close to anything. I want to punch divers who crunch the coral, so I didn’t want to be that diver this time around!

Swimming across the sand gap at Stringer
Swimming across the sand gap at Stringer

As a result my underwater photos from the trip are mostly quite questionable. I include some here, more to show you how beautiful the reefs and clear water can be in Sodwana, rather than for you to marvel at my prowess in underwater photography. I took several videos, which I’ll share in the coming weeks – you can get an idea of how good the visibility is and how abundant the coral is from a bit of moving picture footage.

Angie photographing snappers
Angie photographing snappers

We struggled a little with the surge on one of our diving days in particular, but this is something that is a fact of life when diving on South Africa’s north coast. We mostly did shallow dives, and the reefs at Sodwana lie along a very exposed stretch of coast with few natural bays to protect divers from wind and swell. These factors combined to expose us to some near-washing machine conditions at times! Relaxing in the water and letting the surge move you about is the only way to deal with it, assuming you’ve got a handle on your buoyancy. Holding onto the reef or swimming against the surge are bad ideas.

You can see some photos from past Sodwana diving trips here.

Clownfish in their anemone
Clownfish in their anemone