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).

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

New camera & underwater housing: Sony RX100

My Sony DSC-TX5 has served me remarkably well, but after three years I was starting to itch for something with a bit more scope for manual control. The TX5 has an underwater mode: you switch it on, turn on the flash, and you’re good to go. It also has a rugged Sony-built housing that is almost neutrally buoyant with the camera inside, can be held and operated with one hand, and supports the addition of an external strobe (which I did). All these things make it incredibly user friendly and eminently suitable for a busy diver who might be doing other things (like grabbing onto other divers who are being wayward, or being a good buddy) and need both hands now and then.

I did a lot of reading and asking, and ended up settling on another Sony camera (my third, and the fourth for our family), the Sony DSC-RX100. It’s a tiny, pocket-sized camera that has many manual control options (aperture and shutter priority modes, manual and program mode, and some built in automatic modes) but isn’t a DSLR. It has received the most effusive reviews that I’ve ever read for an electronic device. Here’s Wired, and here’s the New York Times. Digital Photography Review also said nice things. It has a giant 20.2 megapixel sensor and a  fast Carl Zeiss lens capable of a magnificent 3.6x zoom. You can read up about those things elsewhere. It takes HD video, and you can shoot stills at the same time. What sold me on the camera was its reported excellent performance in low light environments (a feature of several of the Sony models I’ve owned), which I figured would make it excellent for Cape Town diving.

The Ikelite housing for the Sony RX100
The Ikelite housing for the Sony RX100

There are a couple of options for an underwater housing for the DSC-RX100, but unfortunately nothing made by Sony. I settled on the Ikelite housing because there’s a local Ikelite presence, and because it wasn’t insanely expensive. The housing unfortunately has the hydrodynamics of a house brick and mine needed its clips replaced after less than thirty dives, but the camera is nice enough that I was willing to put up with having a perspex sea-anchor attached to myself in order to get it into the water. Toting the housing around has also thrown my buoyancy for a loop, so I’m having to consciously adjust some things to get my air consumption back where it was in the good old days. (I’ve decided that my next camera will probably have a manufacturer-built housing, or I won’t buy it.)

Anyway. After much debate I also splurged on the Ikelite W-30 wide angle lens, which cost more than the housing and which has been my only recent Ikelite purchase that has worked flawlessly and hasn’t needed replacement or repair, probably because it has no electronic or mechanical parts. It’s magnificent. It screws onto the outside of the housing, and is a wet lens, which means that upon getting into the water you have to make sure that all the air gets out and water fills the space between the lens and the housing, otherwise you get a line across the middle of your photos. Same goes for when you get out of the water – the lens has to drain before you can use it on land.

My most sustained use of the camera so far has been on our Red Sea trip last October – you can see all the underwater photos on flickr in my wreck dives set, reef dives set, and night dives set. I am still using it mostly on the automatic and very simple manual settings, but I expect that playing with the camera on land (which I haven’t had time to do much of) will make me more confident with it underwater. The buttons on the housing are very hard to use with gloves on or cold fingers, and they are extremely close together, which means you have to learn what each one does (or carry a cheat sheet on dives) in order to change settings underwater. Despite these complaints, you can access all the camera’s controls via the housing, which is more than can be said for other housings.

Your photographer
Your photographer

The camera flash is immensely powerful. The housing comes with a diffuser (for photography without an external strobe) and a shield to completely block the flash from the front when the strobe is on. I use the latter when I attach my AF-35 Autoflash, which works like a charm. I have tried using the flash on the camera while underwater, but you have to be quite far away from your subject to avoid blowing out the image.

Apart from the clip issue on the housing, I’ve been very happy with the camera so far and am looking forward to doing some more underwater macro photography, since the DSC-RX100 focuses much closer than the DSC-TX5 (and indeed any other camera we own). I’m also enjoying its very easy to use video function, as you may have noticed from the proliferation of videos on the blog since April 2013! I’ve added a video light that has come in handy for photography on night dives, but that’s another story…

Handy Hints: Hitching a ride

Do you get tired during long dives? Would you like to know how to conserve energy, use less air, and annoy your buddies all at the same time? Fear not. The inimitable Kate is here to show you how it’s done.

Kate was back in town during August, September and October, along with her squire Brian. The two of them dived a lot while they were here. Kate was up to her usual tricks: here, she rides on the unwitting Brian’s cylinder during a dive at Shark Alley in September (no cowsharks to be found). Notice her perfect buoyancy, allowing her to let go as Brian turns around, and then grab hold of his gear again as he turns his back to her.

She did this to me once for almost an entire dive on the Clan Stuart. I felt as though my own buoyancy was up the pole, but couldn’t figure out why. Also, I used up my air really quickly and felt quite fatigued after the dive. Kate, of course, emerged from the dive with a nearly full cylinder, bursting with energy!

An underwater braai with Jan Braai – part II

The braai at the slipway in Hout Bay
The braai at the slipway in Hout Bay

Yesterday I told you about the test run of Jan Braai’s underwater fireplace. Some repairs were necessary after that day, as the glass had cracked during the test run. The designer added a few improvements and upped the suggested amount of ballast for the final attempt. Weather days just were not playing along so we ended up in the harbour at the Hout Bay slipway on a very grey day. I had Seahorse for boat support, and Craig and Mark were there to assist in-water.

Sinking the braai in Hout Bay
Sinking the braai in Hout Bay

The water looked good. The viz was not amazing, but certainly a good few metres for decent underwater footage. With a cameraman from Atlantic Edge Films, a cameraman from Jan Braai and GoPro and a further three or four GoPro cameras, we were ready to hit the water. Jan packed the unit with wood, firelighters, a grill a lighter and some wors (for foreign readers: boerewors, wors for short, is a type of South African sausage that is typically cooked over a fire) and then shut the rear panel. This panel had glove holes with gloves attached inside, like a chemistry experiment or hazardous materials unit, so the activity in the box underwater could be managed from outside.

We wheeled the underwater braai into the water and swam it out to the buoy and anchors we had placed at the right depth beforehand. Sadly the required ballast had once again been miscalculated, and the centre would not sink to the correct depth. Back to the slipway we went, and the team added rocks and a few hundred kilograms of sand in plastic bags. We swam the braai back out to the required depth and this time it was a success.

The tide was so high that the jetty in Hout Bay was submerged
The tide was so high that the jetty in Hout Bay was submerged

Once the unit was submerged Jan, on scuba, with two safety divers in attendance, inserted his hands into the gloved openings, took the lighter, lit the firelighters and got the wood burning. The stack had an extractor fan to draw the smoke out and pipes to draw fresh air in, and once the flames took hold of the very dry well prepared wood the smoke was visible above the water.

The underwater braai in action
The underwater braai in action

Jan then surfaced and waited a while for the wood the burn to coals. He then descended again and started the world’s first ever underwater braai. It took around 20 minutes before he surfaced, claiming the wors was ready for consumption. The unit was winched up to above the water line, Jan then removed the rear cover and proceeded to eat the first piece of meat cooked underwater.

The cooked (and some uncooked) wors in the braai after the event
The cooked (and some uncooked) wors in the braai after the event

All in all the idea masterminded and executed by Jan Braai was a resounding success and was done to celebrate National Braai Day on the 24th September. The program showing the execution of the idea was broadcast on Kyknet on Friday 27 September 2013.

There’s been a bit of press coverage – no one has done this before, as far as we know – and there are a couple of videos on youtube documenting the event. Check out a round-up of media coverage here, if you missed it.

Swim throughs at Photographer’s Reef

Yesterday I posted a very short video showing divers at Photographer’s Reef in early August. The visibility was lovely – at least 15 metres. Here are three equally short videos showing a couple of the swim throughs at the site, and one almost swim through. While the reef itself is suitable for Open Water divers doing their qualifying dives, overhead environments definitely are not. This is not cave diving by any stretch of the imagination, but one wants to be qualified and in good control of buoyancy before venturing into an overhead environment.

I’m using the word “swim through” loosely here, as two of these videos don’t actually feature overhead environments.

This one is, however, and it is fantastic. I started recording when I was already inside the entrance. It’s a beautiful L-shaped cave created by stacked boulders. On the way out I had to practically belly crawl so as not to hit the sea fan sticking out from the wall, which – as you can see – has already suffered a little during the course of its lifetime!

Here, Craig swims ahead of me through a passage in the rocks. When visibility is poor, these passages are all but invisible, and you wouldn’t want to venture down them unless you’re very familiar with the reef and sure that there’s a way out.

This passage looks like it should be possible for a diver to fit through it (or quite far down it), but I judged it too narrow and likely to cause damage to the reef and possibly to myself, were I to persist in following it. I am sure someone has been down there before!

Newsletter: Your right to dive

Hi divers

The week has been good for diving, and we have completed a lot of courses, mostly SDI. We have had the boat out a few times and had some really good dives with the cowsharks. They seem to be back in full force and we have seldom seen less than 15 on a dive, within a few minutes of dropping into the water. While False Bay has been good, the Atlantic almost shut itself down with viz less than a metre on some days.

Despite the public holiday we made the call to stay home today expecting less than favourable conditions. Reports from those who dived were mixture between poor, good and awesome conditions. All are relative terms: the longer it has been since your last dive the more likely you are inclined to find 3-4 m viz “awesome”!

I took a drive down to Miller’s Point this afternoon as we have three launches tomorrow and was not surprised to see a huge number of boats waiting for a chance at using the slipway to get their boats out of the water. I am sure some of them waited more than an hour.

Craig doing some Peak Performance Buoyancy practice
Craig doing some Peak Performance Buoyancy practice

Diving this weekend and next week

The wind dies down somewhat tonight and should be at around 10-12 km/h tomorrow so we are diving cowsharks and seals in the morning, and then doing a deep dive in the afternoon.

Saturday and Sunday sadly look a little on the dry side with winds in the region of 30-40 km/h and a 3-4 metre swell due to arrive tomorrow evening. This does not bode well for a wet weekend. I am keen to dive the weekend should anything change, so let me know if there is something you have in mind and if it’s possible we’ll do it.

The southeaster is going to blow nicely for a few days and then stop on Tuesday, which may be a lovely day for a dive. I’ll probably take the boat to Hout Bay that day – let me know if you’re interested.

Next Saturday is the Two Oceans Marathon, which, delightfully, passes right in front of our driveway. So I don’t think we’ll manage to dive that day. We will endeavour to get out on Friday, Sunday (if you’re not all full of Easter eggs) and Monday, weather permitting.

Kate ensures that Craig needs to be rescued, by dumping him in the sea
Kate ensures that Craig needs to be rescued, by dumping him in the sea

Travel

Our travel plans are finalised – we will be going to the Red Sea from 17-25 October. If you’re keen to book yourself a spot, let me know soon and I’ll put you in touch with the booking agent. We are doing the Northern Wrecks and Reefs itinerary.

Those of you who have expressed interest in our Durban trip to check out some wrecks in June will receive information on flight details and accommodation in the course of the weekend.

Dinho drags Craig up the beach while Kate looks on helpfully
Dinho drags Craig up the beach while Kate looks on helpfully

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Diving with an alpha flag

The vast majority of new divers in Cape Town know where Long Beach in Simon’s Town is. Irrespective of the dive school you choose for Open Water training it is in most cases quite likely you will do at least one dive at Long Beach. There is a very good reason for this: it is diveable in most conditions as is usually the last place on the coastline to be blown out. It is a safe environment and a perfect place for training as it is by far one of the easiest shore entries around.

Divers enter the water as a rubberduck speeds past
Divers enter the water as a rubberduck speeds past

Although it is known to all dive trainers as a training site, very few visitors know this and not all water users (boaters, kayakers and paddle-skiers) are aware of your presence in the water. The average boater does not know the tell-tale signs of bubbles divers make, and why should he? But being struck by a paddle-ski, a propeller, or the keel of a sailboat is going to hurt you and it could easily kill you.

It is not too often that boats buzz by the beach, but on occasion the Navy boats as well as paddlers, and fishermen drive by as well as visitors to the coast with their recreational boats. Even the NSRI uses this beach for training of their boat crews on occasion. Part of a skipper’s training is to be aware of things floating on the surface: buoys could indicate nets, for example, that would snag the propeller, and thus boaters are trained to avoid or approach carefully any such flotation device.

There is no evidence of a surface marker buoy
There is no evidence of a surface marker buoy

So why do most divers dive without any form of warning to a boat that they are there, and why would they do so when part of what they are teaching new divers involves ascending in random spots all over the area? “We seldom ascend during a dive” is most often the answer as to why yet there are several surface skills, training ascents and the constant risk of an unplanned ascent by a new diver coming to terms with buoyancy (or in some cases having a mild panic attack and dashing to the surface).

The simple answer is that it is not required by law in South Africa to tow a buoy or alpha flag… But then it’s not law that as an Open Water diver you can’t go to 50 metres during a dive. You are taught not to exceed your training level, your logic will also most likely tell you it’s a risky plan, but if you are foolish enough to try who would stop you?

More divers entering the water without a buoy or flag
More divers entering the water without a buoy or flag

It is fortunate that the dive industry is largely self-regulated and as divers we are free to explore the ocean at will. Scuba diving is a very safe sport and provided you stay within the guidelines of you training agency you will have thousands of safe and enjoyable dives. When doing a boat dive, the skipper will typically erect an Alpha flag to indicate to other boats that he has divers in the water (if your skipper doesn’t do this, it’s time to switch dive charters to one that’s more safety conscious).

You could dive without a pressure gauge – but that would be foolish – you could dive without a mask, but then you would see very little, and you could also dive without an alpha flag, but none of the surface water users would see you or know you were there. Would that not be foolish?

Article: How stuff works on marine mammals and more

Here’s some more goodness from Howstuffworks.com… This time something on marine mammals:

And some other marine creatures:

Finally, some links on moving about in the ocean…

Newsletter: The rays are back

Hi there everyone

Tony, Eldale and Alwyn in the pool doing skills
Tony, Eldale and Alwyn in the pool doing skills

We have had a run of good diving of late, between the ocean and the pool I have been fortunate to be underwater almost every day for the last week and a half and it seems set to continue for the next few days. For this time of year the weather has been relatively mild and we have had half decent visibility and not too cold water. Today the visibility at Long Beach was 5-6 metres and the water 16 degrees. The ocean treated us to a display of the smallest short tailed stingray I have ever seen.

Linda and James meeting some klipfish
Linda and James meeting some klipfish

I consider myself very honoured right now having been requested to teach a young man who doesn’t have full use of his legs to dive. It is surprisingly easy to take what most of us have – full use of all our limbs – totally for granted. Be warned that the next diver to complain about the weight of their dive gear will be the lucky winner of a lecture from me!!

Two curious klipfish at Long Beach
Two curious klipfish at Long Beach

Most of you know Cecil, and well we wish him well as he starts his cave diving training today in a sinkhole somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Cecil started diving late last year and has to date done Open Water, Advanced, Deep, Nitrox and twin tank diving courses in preparation for his next step. His goal for the end of the year is a cave dive in Borneo!

Hottentot on the Admiral's Reef at Long Beach
Hottentot on the Admiral’s Reef at Long Beach

This weekend

Saturday we are on the boat for an early launch… well, early for some… and we will visit a new site called Atlantis. This is a newly discovered site and I dived there last week Monday for the first time. It comprises two stunning pinnacles that start at around 6 metres and drop of to almost 30 metres. I have never seen such big schools of fish or such a diversity of life on any other site in Cape Town as yet.

A box jelly (after a good meal)
A box jelly (after a good meal)

After the boat dive we plan to dive at A Frame and then move to Long Beach for a third dive.

Sunday is a little uncertain at this point as a southeaster is forecast but hopefully it will arrive later in the day so an early start will again be required… I hear Clare groaning…

Other stuff

The Dive Site magazine has just changed from being free to being on a paid subscription basis. If you subscribe within the next week you can get it at R120 for four issues, a special discounted price. Even if you have to give up one of your other magazines, diving or otherwise, do it! It’s the best diving magazine in South Africa.

SUIT UP!
SUIT UP!

Today was International Suit Up Day so I certainly hope you all suited up for work… I know I did.

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog
Diving is addictive!

Fin pivots in the pool
Fin pivots in the pool