A Day on the Bay: A Brydes whale for company

On a beautiful, calm day in early June this year, shortly after dropping my divers in the water, I was visited by a friendly Brydes whale. A Brydes whale – I suspect the same one – had been showing a strong interest in boats in western False Bay over the last couple of weeks.

The whale makes its presence known
The whale makes its presence known

I knew it was a Brydes whale because of the small, sickle-shaped dorsal fin far back on its spine. This one circled the boat a few times, and then headed straight for me like a submarine on the surface. It pushed a small wave of water ahead of it as it came.

The Brydes whale near the boat
The Brydes whale near the boat

It was a slightly intimidating sight as it ploughed through the water. It was an extremely calm day, so the boat’s motors were switched off. I waited with some anxiety to see what the whale would do.

The whale comes to investigate
The whale comes to investigate

After a close pass by the boat, the whale circled Seahorse several times, blowing lustily. It came back to the boat repeatedly over a period of at least half an hour. I kept the engines off, and made sure my life jacket was fastened. I hoped the divers might also be able to see what was happening! The whale was not hostile in the least, but an exuberant animal weighing between 12 and 20 tons, moving at speed, could accidentally tip me into the water in a heartbeat.

Brydes whale circling Seahorse
Brydes whale circling Seahorse

The whale lifted its head out of the water a few times, showing me the three rostral ridges on top of its head and the grooves under its throat, which also help with confirming its identification as a Brydes whale. Our whale book says that these whales often have small, circular cookie cutter shark scars, specially if they’ve been in tropical waters, but I couldn’t see any.

Brydes whale showing his head
Brydes whale showing his head

I find Brydes whales a little mysterious, because they can be seen year round in False Bay and somehow lack the predictability of the Southern right whales and humpbacks whose rowdy presence is apparent close to shore in False Bay between June and November. If you see a whale in the first half of the year in False Bay, it’s almost certainly a Brydes whale.

These whales calve year-round, because they don’t ever go into really cold water (False Bay is at the southern end of their range). This preference for warmer water is probably related to their relatively thin layer of blubber. They eat schooling fish and plankton.

Brydes whale off the bow
Brydes whale off the bow

Their blows are low and bushy, as you can see from my photos. They don’t aggregate in big groups like other whales seen along South Africa’s coastline, and you’ll see at most two animals together at a time, if that. These whales are still caught by the Japanese as part of their “scientific” whaling program.

After a while the whale seemed to lose interest, and left me to my thoughts as I waited for the divers (who were gloriously oblivious, it turns out) to surface. While it’s an incredible experience to have an animal like this approach you so close and with such confidence, I am glad it left. Ship and boat strikes are a very real danger to whales, and a whale that is so curious about boats could get itself into trouble in the busy boating areas close to shore in False Bay.

The whale disappears into the Bay
The whale disappears into the Bay

Regulations state that unless you’re in possession of a whale watching permit (and there’s only one operator in False Bay who has one of those), you are not to approach a whale closer than 300 metres, anywhere in South African waters. If a whale approaches you, move away if you can do so safely. If there are divers in the water, your responsibility is to stay close to the divers, so turn off your engines and enjoy the moment!

Responsible diving during a drought part 2: The boat

Boats are tough. The hull and pontoons are designed to spend their lives in salty environments, and other than harsh discolouration from caked on dust and dirt, Seahorse the boat weathers Cape Town’s water shortage really well. Each time we launch, the boat gets a good dousing with buckets of salt water to remove the worst of the dust and sand. The motors are a different story. They do need a fair amount of rinsing and special attention. Without any such attention the biggest risk is corrosion of the aluminum and steel parts.

Engine flushing is often touted as critical, however many boats spend their life moored and never get fresh water flushes. This only happens if they are hauled out for service and repair. The downside to not running the motors is that the salt builds up in the water pump housing and reduces the lifespan of the rubber impeller. What I do is to connect a fresh water supply from a bucket via a short hose to the flush port of the engine. This trickles some water into the pump housing and helps to reduce the salt build up. This helps a little, but the impellers are both replaced every 100 hours when service is due. They are good for several hundred hours if treated better.

We have a dedicated rainwater tank alongside the boat and if there is enough harvested water I run the motors briefly before a launch as a safety precaution. If the tank level is lower than the impeller, I leave a little earlier to run the motors in the sea prior to launch times.

The item that suffers the most is the trailer. There has been no option for hosing down the trailer after use with clean water for well over a year due to water restrictions. It takes over 100 litres to lightly rinse a trailer. This has taken its toll and you can see that despite the galvanising, without a good rinse the salt water gets to work eating everything up. I reckon that within the next six months sections of the trailer will need replacing and the entire trailer will need to be re-galvanised. This is not a cheap exercise. The wheel rims and axle are two years old. Despite galvanising, rust treating and coating the wheel nuts and hubs with Tectyl, they have not been spared the rust.

High pressure water sprayer
High pressure water sprayer

I have been using a high pressure spray bottle, typically used for gardening, to clean the boat and trailer. It uses a fraction of the water that a hosepipe would, and its focused high pressure output cleans well, even if it is far more labour-intensive.

Read my prior post about caring for dive gear during a drought, here.

Sodwana backward roll

Here’s a backward roll. We were at Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef in Sodwana Bay, diving with Coral Divers. This backward roll was well executed: everyone rolled on the skipper’s cue, all together.

Clare and Laurine are wearing buffs, pink and blue respectively. Clare says it helps to keep hair out of one’s face and mask, in the absence of a hoodie, and I say the bright colours make it very easy to account for them underwater!

Finishing a boat dive in Sodwana

This isn’t the most exciting video, but I hope it reminds you of how blue and clear the water is off the coast of KwaZulu Natal, and what it’s like to dive in Sodwana on a good day. It was filmed at the end of a dive on Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef, as the divers approached the boat and waited to hand up their gear. Watch out for Laurine, Esther and Christo!

If you aren’t familiar with diving off a RIB (rubber duck), I hope this is a helpful bit of information about how things work at the end of a dive. I’ll share a backward roll video from our most recent Sodwana trip soon, but in the mean time, check out this one to see what it’s like at the start of a dive!

Bookshelf: Into a Raging Sea

Into a Raging Sea: Great South African Rescues – Tony Weaver & Andrew Ingram

I insensitively packed this book for Tony to read while we were aboard MSC Sinfonia for the BirdLife cruise we took in April. It’s a rip-roaring read about various rescues that the NSRI has been involved with over the years, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – Tony wasn’t keen to read about maritime disasters (even ones that ended well) while we were at sea.

Into a Raging Sea
Into a Raging Sea

The book was produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the NSRI. There is an element of history – describing the origins of the organisation, and some “sea rescues of yesteryear”. But the bulk of the book describes rescues that took place in the last 15 years. Some of them, such as the sinking of the whale watching boat Miroshga off Hout Bay’s Duiker Island, will be all too familiar from the ensuing press coverage. Others were less familiar, but no less interesting to read about.

One of the things I loved about this book was that it reveals the men and women behind the daring, often dangerous rescues. The rescuers are allowed to recount the events they experienced, using their own words, and this is revealing. These rescuers are not usually lionised by the general public or, as a rule, afforded prolonged media attention, and neither does this book glamorise them or romanticise their achievements. The challenge of the rescues – and occasional raw fear felt by the rescuers –  are vividly portrayed. The writing is beautifully matter of fact, without downplaying the seamanship, strength of character and perseverance required to do this (unpaid) work.

It reminded me fondly of the “drama in real life” stories that I used to devour from the pages of the Readers Digest magazines my grandmother used to bring whenever she came to visit. There are many, short chapters, each one offering its own little catharsis. The rescues span South Africa’s coastline, as well as a few other locations, and not all of them are maritime disasters.

Proceeds of this book support the NSRI. Get a copy for yourself, and all your friends. It will entertain anyone who loves a good story of heroism and adventure, and it will encourage anyone who’s feeling jaded about humanity’s capacity for good. It’s an excellent read.

You can find a copy on Loot if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Testing a self-inflating life jacket

If you’ve been on our boat, you may have noticed that I always wear a life vest. It’s a slimline one that we purchased in Denmark a few years ago. The vest contains a small gas cannister with a pellet (looks like a headache pill) that releases the gas in the cannister and inflates the jacket when the pellet gets wet enough to dissolve.

Tony's "don't take my photo" face
Tony’s “don’t take my photo” face

When we went back to Copenhagen between Christmas and New Year, we purchased replacement cannisters, thinking that for safety’s sake it would be wise to service our life jackets to ensure that when we need them, they’re in tip top condition.

The question then arose as to what to do with the existing, unused cannisters in the life vests. Since you can repack the vest with a new gas cannister and dry pellet after deployment, and neither Clare nor I had seen one of these life jackets in action before, we decided to let it fire off in the swimming pool. Here are the results:

It definitely renewed my confidence in the life jacket, an important component of our safety gear, and (as you can hear in the video) provided some significant entertainment for my camera person Clare.

Newsletter: So you think you can swim

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday & Sunday: Boat or shore dives on both days

We spent Saturday morning shadowing a swimmer doing the Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay… Around 7 kilometres in 14 degree water that at times looked like brown onion soup filled with jellyfish. The swimmers are a brave and dedicated bunch and I admire them. Our swimmer did the crossing in just over two hours, but some of the swimsuit folks spent 5 hours in the water, bravely swimming into a humping current.

Swimming across Table Bay
Swimming across Table Bay

Dive conditions

The forecast looks like a piece of cake for the weekend… Light winds, not much swell and warm sunny skies. False Bay, however, looks a little off, colour-wise, and there are large colour fronts scattered across much of the bay. There is no certainty on where they will go with the light winds over the next couple of days so it is going to be a matter of making the “call to action” early each morning.

I have both shore dive and boat dive students ready to go, so will do either shore or boat based on what it looks like when we wake up, early, on both Saturday and Sunday.

Text, Whatsapp, email or carrier pigeon you desires for the weekend and I will add you to the early morning wake up call list…

Photo exhibition

If ever you had the urge to show a friend the beauty of the underwater world that you enjoy, now is your chance. Haul them off to the Two Oceans Aquarium and show them some of the stunning creatures captured on camera at a wide range of dive sites scattered along Cape Town’s shores. The photo exhibition runs for two months and is included in your entry fee to the aquarium. Read more about it here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Weaker weather

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Shore and boat dives on Saturday and Sunday

Last Friday while diving out of Hout Bay we were visited by what felt like an overwhelming number – but was approximately fifty – whales. Most of them seemed intent on staying close to the boat and in fact a few rubbed themselves on the boat’s keel strip, which was slightly alarming. I stood dead still, wearing my life jacket, with the engines off and the boat stopped right next to the divers, hoping that they wouldn’t get too rowdy (the whales, not the divers). The divers had the amazing experience of whales at the safety stop.

Cetacean visitor in Hout Bay
Cetacean visitor in Hout Bay

We have been experimenting with early (6.00 am) and late (3.00 pm) launches for quick double tank dives to slot in as part of a well-planned work day. We’ve had lovely conditions and we’ve enjoyed seeing familiar places in a different light!

Hout Bay at sunset
Hout Bay at sunset

Dive conditions

We are starting to have fewer days of howling south easterly winds and it is a sign of good things to come, especially for those who prefer diving in False Bay. There is nothing spectacular in the weekend forecast: no howling wind, no huge swell and maybe a spot of rain. I think False Bay will be the place as the temperature of the Atlantic hit 19 degrees celsius today.

I have a backlog of students currently so we will try to shore dive and boat dive on both days. Once I have confirmed numbers I will text those on the “ready to dive” list. You know what to do!

DAN Divers Day

If you aren’t diving this coming Saturday afternoon (13 February), consider the DAN Divers Day at False Bay Underwater Club in Wynberg. It’ll be an afternoon of talks about dive safety and research, with local and international speakers. Register here – if you want to see the full program drop me an email and I’ll forward it to you.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Surfers’ paradise

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No launches planned

Today we took a load of surfers out to Dungeons. Amongst them were a few first timers at Dungeons and the happy cheers and bear hugs when they caught their first serious Dungeons roller was a sight worth seeing.  Dungeons is a spectacular sight so if you haven’t been there do so at least once in your life.

A surfer at Dungeons
A surfer at Dungeons

Back to diving… We dived the Atlantic last weekend. Maori Bay was cold and clean-ish. Visibility was around 10 metres but then  the temperature was also in the single digits. Die Josie was a lot cleaner and just as cold.

Returning to the jetty in Simons Town
Returning to the jetty in Simons Town

On Sunday we dived in False Bay – doing Search and Recovery for an Advanced course in 2 m visibility makes it a little more realistic!

This weekend

Well… There is swell and wind in the forecast. The swell was not all that noticeable in False Bay today but was very surf-worthy at Dungeons and Muizenberg today. The wind is forecast at around 30 km/h for both days and for students doing their first boat dives I think it’s not that good an idea. So I have no launches planned for this weekend.

You can still visit the Titanic exhibition and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Waterfront, though!

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!

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.