Family business

Ready for action at the pool
Ready for action at the pool

Our pool is five by three metres, and just under two metres deep at the deep end. We’ve had a number of students that have come to do their confined water skills, but in December we had two firsts: four students at the same time, and all of them were related. The three Carstens children were doing a PADI Open Water course, and their old man was doing a Refresher.

Exam time!
Exam time!

Not only did all of us fit in the pool at the same time for the basic skills (with me towards the shallow end and the family in the deep end), but we had an awesome time of it. It’s been great having the pool on site. The pool we used to use sometimes had water clarity issues, and there certainly wasn’t the option of popping inside for a cup of coffee and some theory work.

Group photo after successful completion of confined water skills
Group photo after successful completion of confined water skills

Skills: Deploying an SMB

Carrying an SMB (surface marker buoy) and knowing how to inflate it are vital skills for any diver, and particularly for divers who dive in demanding conditions that may include cold water, currents, and sites that are either far offshore or in areas where there may be a lot of boat traffic. Does that sound like Cape Town? Good, I mean it to.

We’ve posted before about how to inflate an SMB, and videos are ten a penny on youtube, but here’s one filmed in fairly common Cape Town conditions. It’s of Tony inflating an SMB that is so large he calls it his sea anchor, in murky green visibility in the Atlantic ocean. This particular SMB is also slightly negatively buoyant, which is slightly annoying as it droops downwards when you unroll it. It does the job, though, and when fully inflated can probably be seen from the moon.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQCSYtCA-LY&w=540″]

Bookshelf: The Rapture of the Deep

Rapture of the Deep: And Other Dive Stories You Probably Shouldn’t Know – Michael Zinsley

Rapture of the Deep
Rapture of the Deep

I shouldn’t have read this book after The Face of the Deep by Thomas Farber. The comparison is unfavourable. While Farber is lyrical and thoughtful, Zinsley describes alcohol-fueled romps through the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean while working as a diving industry professional.

While most of the observations about the cultures that the author encounters are quite prosaic, this is the first book I’ve read that frankly deals with the commercial side of recreational scuba diving. Perhaps it is necessary to be prosaic in order to discuss this; the reality is far from the romantic vision sold by some of the dive certification agencies. Zinsley describes greedy dive shop owners who send their staff out to dive in appalling conditions, and does not mince words about the paltry pay one can expect as a Divemaster. He observes that Instructors get paid slightly more, but that they tend to spend most of their time in swimming pools, and that a number of them end up as shopkeepers, hardly diving at all.

There are some highly amusing but very politically incorrect descriptions of Zinsley’s former students and clients who dived with him at the various operations where he worked as Divemaster. It seems that a lot of the time, your Divemaster can tell within a few minutes whether you’re going to be trouble on a dive or not. (Try not to be trouble! It’ll keep you healthy – or alive – and make the dive a lot more enjoyable for everyone.) Zinsley describes his experiences with nitrogen narcosis and a scare with decompression sickness.

Zinsley has visited and dived in some of the world’s most exotic destinations, and it’s probably more accurate to classify Rapture of the Deep as a travelogue with diving. This is a light, riotous, unapologetically misogynistic read with no literary pretensions whatsoever. I’d specially recommend it for professionals in the dive industry, who will empathise with much of what Zinsley describes.

You can buy the book here if you are in South Africa, and here if you’re not. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

Newsletter: Shooting animals

Hi divers

Surprised by an early newsletter? Well its going to be short and sweet. We will not be diving this weekend at all, however, the forecast looks good for some really clean water in False Bay so if you can dive, do it.

Navigating slightly off course
Navigating slightly off course

We have had a mixed bag this week and had some early morning good viz in Hout Bay on Wednesday and ended off with some low viz in the afternoon as the wind died and the water warmed up. It was amazing to watch the bay go dark in a matter of hours.

Our Divemaster candidates had a really challenging course to navigate with a huge amount of task loading to prepare them for the role of Divemaster. We set up a course close to Die Josie that was angled across the current, the wind and the swell to demonstrate the difficulty in finding someone or something in low viz and with a current running.

Rescue skills
Rescue skills

Yesterday we spent some time at Long Beach and had pretty good conditions. The visibility was perhaps 4 metres, but it was calm and sunny which was perfect for Discover Scuba students.

So far we have thirteen enthusiastic divers heading off to Sodwana on 26 April. If you’re keen to join us, let me know and we’ll do our best to slot you in!

Clare and I are off early this morning, heading north to a game reserve to shoot a few pictures of the wildlife above the water. We are back on Monday and it will be diving as usual next week.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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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…

Newsletter: Something to look forward to

Hi divers

Weekend diving

On Friday we are shore diving A Frame as the Divemaster candidates are working on a mapping project. On Saturday the boat will be in False Bay but is already full as we have a bunch of Open Water students to qualify. That leaves Sunday open for two launches to somewhere that we can dive without a white stick. If you want to be notified on Sunday morning as to whether conditions will permit us to dive, reply to this mail or send me a text message.

Last week’s diving

This weekend signals the end of most of the up country visitors’ vacation time, and life slowly goes back to normal. You can once again find parking at most of the beaches and and go back to swearing quietly at the idiots on the road because they could be your neighbour.

It’s been a week of really poor diving with swell, surge and low visibility. The Atlantic is not very clean, and nor is False Bay. The storm that hit the Cape2Rio Fleet did its best to fill the bay with kelp, silt and garbage. Today we have had some westerly winds which has helped to clean this up a little, and the forecast for the weekend is a southerly wind. That’s good in some places in the bay, and not so good in others. Today I was in the pool doing skills and equipment exchange with two Divemaster candidates. At least the visibility there was excellent…

Nick may have trouble equalising
Nick may have trouble equalising

Most of you will be aware that last weekend there was a serious diving accident on the wreck of the MV Rockeater in Smitswinkel Bay. The dive community is a small one, and even though we did not know the diver concerned, we have felt the loss keenly and Clare and I have spent a lot of time discussing it. The full details of what happened have not been released, but there is always something to learn when things go wrong, even from partial information.

When incidents like this occur there is a tendency for them to be swept under the carpet, as people tend to believe that it will cause harm to the dive industry. I don’t share this view. Finding someone to point a finger at has no value (and often there isn’t anyone who can be blamed), but a lesson learned has huge value to a diver who is still on the learning curve. Hopefully we are all still on that curve. Not everyone has a person in their life who understands scuba diving and with whom they can work through an incident like this. If you’d like to discuss it at all, please give me a call or drop me an email.

Remains of a large swell on Fish Hoek beach this evening
Remains of a large swell on Fish Hoek beach this evening

Sodwana trip in April

On a much happier note, we are planning a dive trip to Sodwana from 26 April to 30 April. We will stay at Coral Divers and do six dives (at least) over three days, with one day for travel on each side (fly to Durban, drive approximately 400km to Sodwana). This will be a busy time at Sodwana because of the public holidays and the fact that schools will be mostly closed that week, so we need to get into gear quickly on this one.

We’ve done this trip a couple of times before – read about one of those occasions here, and see what kind of diving you can expect here. A hint: it’s warm and colourful! You will need to be a confident boat diver, but an Open Water qualification is sufficient. If you’re interested let me know and I’ll send you more details – you only need to pay a 10% deposit to secure your booking, with full payment due 14 days before our arrival. The Coral Divers price list for 2014 can be found here.

Everyone needs something to look forward to at the start of the year… Think about it!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Dive sites (Red Sea): Shark Reef (Ras Mohammed National Park)

Divers below us on the wall at Shark Reef
Divers below us on the wall at Shark Reef

Shark Reef is inside the Ras Mohammed National Park, an area which provided (I thought) the most spectacular dives of our Red Sea liveaboard trip. It is a magnificent advertisement for marine protected areas. The visibility was so good as to be impossible to estimate – I’ve said it was 40 metres in my dive summary below, but really, who can say? I could see as far as I wanted to see.

Coral garden at Shark Reef
Coral garden at Shark Reef

Shark Reef is part of the top of a pinnacle that drops to about 800 metres’ depth. As it approaches the surface, it splits into two smaller pinnacles which are called Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef, which we actually ended up visiting on the same dive (but I’ll write about Yolanda Reef separately). The water here is blue, like ink, and we enjoyed a nice little current that pushed us along from one pinnacle to the next with the reef on our right hand side. On the seaward side we first had deep blue water, and then a coral garden (shown in the photo above) on the plateau between Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef  that sloped gently upwards.

Divers using twinsets in the distance
Divers using twinsets in the distance

We didn’t see a lot of large fish, but I admit to being so awed by the topography and visibility that with all the head swivelling I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a whale unless it had swum right into my BCD. Because the reef drops off into such deep water, and there are such powerful currents in the region, there is always a good possibility of seeing some large pelagic creatures.

Cardinal fish around a coral head
Cardinal fish around a coral head

We did see huge, swirling schools of smaller fish – cardinal fish, fusiliers, damselfish, and others whose names I didn’t know. At the end of the dive we arrived at Yolanda Reef, where a ship carrying bathroom supplies ran aground in 1980. There was an incredibly powerful current rushing down this part of the reef from the shallows towards the deeper water, and this ended our dive!

We liked Yolanda Reef and its scattered bathroom fittings so much that we returned to dive it again a couple of hours later. The wreck of the ship is actually 200 metres below Yolanda Reef, but it made a big mess as it went down! We surfaced close to the reef in order to avoid a haircut from one of the many large dive boats tooling around the area. Kate and Veronica almost got run down by one of them, and had to ditch their SMB and descend at speed to avoid an accident. Not cool!

Dive date: 20 October 2013

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature:  27 degrees

Maximum depth: 20.9 metres

Visibility: 40 metres

Dive duration:  41 minutes

The surface is visible against the top of the reef
The surface is visible against the top of the reef

Surviving underwater in an air bubble

A news story in June resonated uncomfortably with me: a Nigerian sailor survived for two days in a pocket of air trapped beneath the tugboat he was in, which capsized in heavy seas. The tug was servicing an oil platform off the Nigerian coast.

I was immediately reminded of the Miroshga, an unseaworthy whale watching vessel that capsized in appalling conditions off Hout Bay in October 2012. The boat had its bilge pump installed UPSIDE DOWN, and was rated for over 40 passengers when it’s only five metres longer than our boat – which can take seven passengers (and when Seahorse is fully loaded, she feels full). Furthermore, the Miroshga hadn’t had a SAMSA inspection since fundamental changes were made to the vessel and its engines. The money-hungry decision to head out in a 25 knot south easterly wind and high seas was incredibly irresponsible.

Most people who go on seal cruises, whale watching or cage diving don’t spend half their lives on or near the sea, and simply don’t have the tools to assess whether conditions are safe and whether the boat is seaworthy. The passengers trusted the charter operator and SAMSA, and were badly let down. One man drowned, and three women were trapped under the boat in pockets of air for several hours, their limbs dangling in the freezing water, until rescue divers brought them out. I cannot imagine how traumatic the experience was for them. The rest of the passengers were rescued by a boat full of poachers, and by some incredible NSRI volunteers. It was a shameful day for the boat charter operators, and for those responsible for legislating and enacting maritime safety provisions in South Africa.

I digress. What happened in Nigeria? Out of the twelve crew on board the tugboat, ten bodies were recovered, one was lost, and the twelfth crewmember, Harrison Okene, was discovered alive, under the boat in 30 metres of water, surviving by breathing from an air pocket. Upon being rescued by divers sent to retrieve the crew’s bodies (can you imagine their shock at being greeted by a living person when they were expecting only corpses?), Okene had to undergo sixty hours of decompression in order to avoid being bent. He’d been breathing air at four atmospheres for two and a half days!

The incident prompted a fascinating discussion on StackExchange, a discussion forum for a variety of disciplines (I lurk in the statistics and quantitative finance forums). A user posed the question:

How large does the bubble have to be so that a person in it can have indefinite supply of breathable air?

The reason it’s even possible to have an “indefinite” supply of air is that if the bubble is large enough, oxygen will diffuse out of the surrounding water back into the bubble, and carbon dioxide won’t build up to fatal concentrations. You can read through the discussion if you want to (fun to see physicists arguing, nice if you like formulas!) or there’s a news article here about the theoretical bubble size that would be required for survival. Turns out the actual air bubble was close to the size calculated by the physicists that would allow survival for at least the time that Okene was submerged. Lucky, lucky man!

Update: Here’s the helmet cam video from one of the rescue divers who brought Mr Okene to the surface. The text at the beginning is wonky – persist. Note the South African accents! The diver’s voice is squeaky – I think because he’s breathing a gas mix with helium in it. It gets good at about 5:30 but it’s extremely interesting to watch in its entirety to see what sort of conditions these divers work in, and how the surface support talks them through their tasks and keeps them calm.

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.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjTzo-q943Q&w=540″]

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!

Red Sea 2013 trip report

Me, Christo, Kate and Veronica on the sundeck
Me, Christo, Kate and Veronica on the sundeck

We returned from our Red Sea liveaboard trip on Sunday, and have been slowly returning to normal life (essentially doing things other than eating, sleeping, diving in warm water with magnificent visibility, and lounging around on deck like millionaires). It’s been tough.

Two of the blue o two liveaboards at the jetty
Two of the blue o two liveaboards at the jetty

The itinerary we followed was the Northern Wrecks and Reefs one offered by blue o two. Our vessel was M/Y blue Melody, on the right in the photo above. We dived wrecks like the ThistlegormGiannis D, and Chrisoula K, and a number of reefs. We did a couple of spectacular drift dives, and on most of the wrecks there was the opportunity to go inside for the suitably qualified. It was compulsory to dive with an SMB. The most memorable reef dives were done inside the Ras Mohammed National Park.

Captain Mohammed and Tony on the fly deck
Captain Mohammed and Tony on the fly deck

Life on board the boat had a simple rhythm: dive, eat, sleep, repeat. During surface intervals the crew moved to new sites, and we either dived directly from the liveaboard or were transported short distances (in full kit) on Zodiacs – rubber ducks like the ones we use in Cape Town. During the time we were away, we had the opportunity to do 21 dives of which four were night dives. The diving was spread over six days. We skipped a couple of dives for various reasons including tiredness and illness, but overall managed to do a lot of diving in a short space of time. The warm water and helpfulness of the crew meant that it wasn’t nearly as physically taxing as you’d imagine. We used Nitrox throughout, not so much because we were doing particularly deep dives and needed the extra time (though it certainly helped), but for overall health reasons and to minimise fatigue.

Bluff Point
Bluff Point

Most of the time we were within sight of land. The landscape is mainly desert, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The reefs rise to within a few feet of the surface, and are clearly visible from the boat when it isn’t moving. Navigation in the Red Sea must be very tricky for the inexperienced, however. The number of spectacular wrecks is testament to this!

Sunset over the Red Sea
Sunset over the Red Sea

The day we arrived in Egypt and the day of our departure were mostly spent at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada, waiting to board our vessel (the first day) and the plane (the last day). We lounged by the pool and checked out the private beach there, and felt very relaxed.

Prior to the trip we had some (understandable) concerns regarding the safety of travelling through Egypt to get to the liveaboard, but we kept tabs on the travel advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK. Since we would merely be in transit through Cairo airport, and would not actually be sleeping a single night on land, we were happy to go ahead with the trip. The Red Sea coastal area has been extremely calm throughout the recent unrest, and, as it derives 95% of its revenue from tourism, the locals have been keen to keep it that way.

The beach at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada
The beach at the Marriott Hotel in Hurghada

We took a lot of photo and video on the trip, and will be sorting through it and sharing it over the next couple of months. Watch this space!