Sea life: Crabs

Fish identification books for Cape Town and Southern Africa as a whole are filled with exotic species of crabs, many of which are supposed to be found in the Cape. Until recently, however I thought that the only kind of crab I would ever see in Cape Town would be the fairly common Cape rock crabs.  They have similar colouring to West Coast rock lobster, and are often found in similar locations. I’ve had the good fortune of swimming through some kelp (which these crabs like) and having one land on my head and crawl over my face. Not knowing what it was, I got quite a fright!

Cape rock crab
Cape rock crab - unusual to see them on the sand

In the last few weeks, however, we have had a total crab bonanza, mainly at Long Beach. Part of the reason is that we have been swimming very carefully over the sand, north of the very well-travelled pipeline and smaller wrecks. There we have found some fascinating new friends.

Embracing button crabs in the sand
Embracing button crabs in the sand

These two button crabs seem to be in a rather coercive relationship. I found them during the day, but apparently they are more commonly spotted at night. They look like futuristic robots, if you ask me!

Three spot swimming crab
Three spot swimming crab

Three spot swimming crabs have mournful faces on their shells, and modified back legs with paddles instead of feet. They are very feisty and will often stand their ground when encountered in the shallows. We often see a large female accompanied by her tiny male partner.

Feisty three spot swimming crab
Feisty three spot swimming crab

There are also thousands of beautiful little crown crabs all over the sand at Long Beach. They are so well camouflaged that unless you keep still and look closely, most of the time you swim right over them.

Crown crabs on the sand
Crown crabs on the sand

On the deeper reefs, where sea fans are found, you can spot sponge crabs clinging onto the fronds of the sea fans. We found this guy at Boat Rock in False Bay. Often all you can see is the little claws sticking out of the sponge, holding onto the reef.

Sponge crab on coral
Sponge crab on coral

There are many crab species that are only found in the Atlantic. As soon as Tony has a warmer wetsuit, we will be able to explore that side of the peninsula more often, and hopefully report back with pictures of sumo crabs and the like!

Of course, there are also the hermit crabs, the soft-bodied crabs that live in borrowed shells – but they are the subject of another post.

Dive sites: SS Maori

I have done one prior dive on the SS Maori, about a year ago. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, one I am not keen to repeat. The boat ride was harrowing – we took the narrow channel between Duiker Island and the mainland, and I had my eyes closed for most of it. I am not a good sailor, but Tony is, and even he was seeing his life flash before his eyes. Huge waves were coming from all directions and we later learned that the skipper had been so terrified negotiating the channel that he’d called the owner of the dive shop as soon as he’d dropped the divers into the water, and practically sobbed.

Klipfish on the Maori
Klipfish on the Maori

We were actually intending to visit the BOS 400, but when we got there the surge through the wreck was incredibly strong and the entire superstructure was creaking ominously.  A call was made to go to the SS Maori instead – it’s a couple of hundred metres from the crane and the wreck is scattered on the seabed rather than being still mostly intact. The dive itself was extremely stressful – maybe 3 metres visibility, temperatures so cold that I sucked my tank dry in about 20 minutes (ended up on Tony’s octo), strong surge on the bottom that made it impossible to control where one was going, and I honestly didn’t see anything that I could describe as a wreck.

Tami zoning in on something interesting
Tami zoning in on something interesting

The experience we had diving the Maori on Reconcilation Day could not have been more different. Tami and I were finishing our Wreck Specialty course, Cecil was finishing his Open Water course, and Tony had a group of casual divers with him. The boat ride was a pleasure, apart from the smell (or rather, taste!) of the seals on Duiker Island as we sped past. The water was so blue that Grant could see the wreck below us while he dropped the shot line.

Iron water pipes on the Maori
Iron water pipes on the Maori

The SS Maori ran aground in Maori Bay (named after it) in 1909 in thick fog. The ship lies perpendicular to the mainland, depth ranging from about 6 metres down to about 22 metres towards the centre of the bay. The ship was carrying a cargo of railway lines, cast iron pipes (visible in great stacks that are very tempting to try and swim through – common sense won out), explosives, and crockery. A fair amount of beautiful porcelain is still visible on the site, but apparently it’s been well worked and looted over the years.

Looking through a pipe
Looking through a pipe

The visiblity on this dive was sufficient (20 metres or so) for us to be able to see far down the ship as we explored. Parts of the wreckage are very broken up, but there are large parts of the wreck that are relatively intact. We descended on the engine block, at the shallow end of the wreck, and into beautiful kelp forests that glistened green in the clear water. It was cold, very cold, but having something amazing to look at tends to distract one from the inconvenience of chilly fingers.

Rock lobsters on the Maori
Rock lobsters on the Maori

As far as sea life goes, there’s a fair amount of kelp and other sea plants. Oscar found me a huge cuttlefish to photograph, just posing nicely on a rock, and there were some molluscs, the odd nudibranch, lots and lots of rock lobsters and crabs. We also saw a nice school of hottentot. Like the BOS 400, though, you visit this site first to look at the wreckage. Anything else you see is a bonus.

Cuttlefish on the Maori
Cuttlefish on the Maori

I can see why the Maori is such a popular dive site – we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and Tami and I were heartbroken when we had to ascend, as our air reached 70 bar. It’s a very large site and several dives are required to appreciate its full scope. I plan to do those several dives, and then some!

Wreckage of the Maori
Wreckage of the Maori

Dive date: 16 December 2010

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 4 degrees (that’s what my computer said!)

Maximum depth: 19.9 metres

Visibility: 20 metres

Dive duration: 32  minutes

Belonging to a dive club

Tony and I recently attended the annual Christmas party of False Bay Underwater Club (FBUC), of which we are members. Tony was a member of the Durban Undersea Club while he stayed up north, but it’s my first experience of belonging to any sort of club (except, of course, for the Cape Town Girls Club, of which I was a founder member at the age of ten) – let alone a diving club.

There are numerous benefits – among them, cheap gear hire, free air fills on club days (Wednesday evenings), and access to courses at reduced rates. FBUC offers CMAS courses to its members and other interested parties, and Tony, Kate and I recently completed a compressor operator course there. The club periodically performs ocean cleanups (Simon’s Town yacht basin was their last one), and is involved in several social responsibility projects – for example, the gifts and baby supplies that we brought to the Christmas party are to be donated to the Beautiful Gate in Crossroads, which cares for babies, children and families in the community, many affected by HIV/AIDS.

FBUC Christmas tree
FBUC Christmas tree

FBUC also holds weekly club dives – there’s a mailing list that informs members where to meet, what day (usually Sunday), and what time. Tony and I have not had a chance to explore any of the Oudekraal shore entry sites yet, and that’s been on hold while we sort out a wetsuit for him that isn’t quite as highly ventilated as his current one, but we look forward to tagging along on some club dives to learn the shore entry dive sites we don’t know in Cape Town.

The thing we have been enjoying most, however, is the access that club membership gives us to the accumulated knowledge and experience of the other members. There are members who are photography gurus, those who manufacture their own gear and accessories, those who repair and service dive kit, mapping and dive site gurus, and experts on marine life. It’s here that we got to check out Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs) first hand. (Tony immediately added one to his Christmas list… high hopes!)

Monty checking on the progress of the snoek on the braai
Monty checking on the progress of the snoek on the braai

We’ve learned a huge amount just chatting to other members over a drink (or a fish braai) on a Wednesday evening at the club. It’s been lovely to meet interesting, like-minded people who love the ocean and exploration and are happy to discuss it.

Everything I’ve described regarding False Bay Underwater Club also applies – one way or another – to the other main diving club in Cape Town, Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club (OMSAC). We accompanied some of their members on a cleanup dive on Robben Island earlier this year.

It’s not particularly cheap to be a member of a dive club, but I think it’s been well worth it so far. Not so much for the gear hire and air fills – Tony has his own gear and requires air fills FAR more often than once a week – but for the other reasons I’ve mentioned.

Friday Poem: Christmas at Sea

Wishing all of you who celebrate Christmas a very special and blessed day, on which you celebrate with your families and friends the Light that came into the world two millenia ago.

Christmas at Sea – Robert Louis Stevenson

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Wreck specialty course… Part 3

Luke reads the Wreck Specialty manual
Luke reads the Wreck Specialty manual

Tami and I finished our Wreck Specialty course independently of Kate, because she was on a deadline and had to get back to Mud Island (which is so deep in snow at the moment that it should be renamed!). We finished the course in spectacular fashion with a dive of surpassing magnificence on the SS Maori just outside Hout Bay.

Dive 4: SS Maori

Like the dive we did on the SAS Pietermaritzburg for the second dive of our Wreck Specialty, the Maori is at a moderate depth and none of the stupidity that comes with deep diving (at least for me) or rapid air depletion is an issue. It’s a large, spectacular wreck but more broken up than the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks. It was carrying an interesting cargo, much of which is still visible at the site. The large amount of metal lying around means that a compass is next to useless.

Here’s a picture to whet your appetite, but more information can be found in a detailed post about the Maori, to follow!

Tami descends on the Maori
Tami descends on the Maori

Much to Tony’s relief (probably), the three of us – Kate, Tami and me – are now certified Wreck specialists. Tami and I did not do any penetrations as part of the course – the wrecks we ended up diving on didn’t permit it – but when we get a chance to visit the MV Aster in Hout Bay with Tony, we hope he’ll show us how!

Update on the artificial reef: 10 days

Kate and I visiting the reef after ten days
Kate and I visiting the reef after ten days

Ten days after installing our artificial reef at Long Beach, we paid it a visit to see how it had held up. The southeaster had been blowing very strongly since we put it in the water, so we were concerned about its effects on the reef.

Visiting the reef
Visiting the reef

There was no need to worry. Gobies, starfish, and perhaps even an octopus (check out the shells and other debris at the entrance to the white pot) have moved in.

Starfish on the reef
Starfish on the reef

Feather stars have started to attach themselves. Because of the reef’s triangular shape, several pieces of kelp and sea lettuce got caught inside the triangle, providing shelter to small fish.

Sponges, starfish and a goby
Sponges, starfish and a goby

The five sponges have lost their colour (except for the green one), and plant life and algae is already colonising the PVC pipes that make up the superstructure. The sea doesn’t waste any time!

Algae on the PVC pipe
Algae on the PVC pipe
Something's growing...
Something's growing...

Newsletter: Boat dives & new year’s eve dive

Hi everyone

I hope you have been diving, I have and the water has been great. I will send a newsletter off tomorrow night but just want to mention two quick things.

Boat dives

26 December:

It’s holiday time so book soon if you want to dive.

A night dive with a difference

Few people can claim to have started a dive in one year and ended it the following year, so on new year’s eve we will do a night dive, starting at 2330 and ending sometime after midnight… That will look really cool in your log book, you will get to see an underwater illuminated Christmas tree and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the ocean as opposed to the vuvuzela and hooter noise at midnight. We are aiming for 40 plus people so start spreading the word.

Be good and have fun!

Learn to Dive Today logoTony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog
Diving is addictive!

<strong><a href=”https://www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/small-colour-e1284626229322.jpg”><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-486″ title=”Learn to Dive Today logo” src=”https://www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/small-colour-e1284626229322.jpg” alt=”Learn to Dive Today logo” width=”73″ height=”67″ /></a>Tony Lindeque</strong>
076 817 1099
<a href=”http://www.learntodivetoday.co.za” target=”_blank”>www.learntodivetoday.co.za</a>
<a href=”https://www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog” target=”_self”>www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog</a>
<em>Diving is addictive!</em>

Bookshelf: Diving Adventure

Diving Adventure – Willard Price

Diving Adventure
Diving Adventure

It’s hard to convey the deadly earnestness that infuses this book. As with the other Willard Price childrens’ adventures I’ve reviewed, the wild animals and marine creatures that feature here are viewed as sinister, savage and brutish. Almost all of them have a lust for human blood, and the only means of escape is to pit them against each other.

Instead of rambling on, I reproduce here a section from early in the novel. Hal and Roger Hunt are spending time in an underwater city, that is supposed to be a harbinger of future marine development and experimentation.

Now they were passing over the roofs of Undersea City. All the roofs were flat – they did not need to be gabled since they never had to shed rain or snow. Both the roofs and the walls were covered by seaweed and molluscs, food for the thousands of fish. Clouds of fish parted before the bow of the glass jeep.

Columns of bubbles rose from the buildings and from the aqualungs of swimmers and pedestrians. A building marked AIR was evidently the point from which pressurised helium breathing gas was distributed by underground conduit.

There, with a small spire, was the church of which the rascally Rev. Merlin Kaggs was pastor. Roger could hardly resist the temptation to nip off the spire. He high-jumped over it.

The jeep skimmed over what appeared to be a power plant turning out electricity to supply the town with light and heat.

There was a building that Hal guessed might be a desalting plant to turn salt water into fresh and distribute it round the town.

There were streets of residences, green with tropical growth. The houses were set in pleasant gardens with the most fantastic and beautiful plants – and animals that looked like plants – sea fans, coral trees, sea anemones, gorgeous gorgonias, waxy little animal flowers like tulips.

The principal shopping street appeared to be Main where shops had windows but no doors. Stilts anchored them to the ground and the entrances were underneath. People floated up into them and came out with plastic bags of groceries and household articles.

There was a dairly that advertised whale milk, a book store announcing “Books on the Underworld”, a restaurant, barber’s shop, a shop that offered “Deep-down Souvenirs”, a hospital, a pharmacy, a bank and a shop where one could buy “Jewels from the Sea-bed.”

A man came out of a hardware store with a piece of machinery as big as himself.

“Golly,” exclaimed Roger. “That thing must weight half a ton.”

“Up above, it would,” Hal said. “Down here, he can carry it easily because the dense water helps hold it up.”

There was even a pet shop – but the pets were not dogs, cats and canaries. They were dolphins, porpoises and ornamental fish.

And there were several shops specialising in diving gear, scuba tanks patterned after Cousteau’s aqualung, fins, masks, snorkels and everything else the well-dressed underwater man would wear.

Rather leave the futurism to Arthur C. Clarke. At least Willard Price has learned not to say goggles and flippers instead of mask and fins…

The book is available here (bundled with another Willard Price thriller) if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Sea life: Fanworms

Fanworms are hard to photograph. They live in little tubes, either little leathery ones that they bury in the sand, or in ones made from sand, bits of shell, and a gummy mucous excreted to hold the tube together. Fanworms are sessile, which means they don’t move around.

Fanworms at Long Beach
Fanworms at Long Beach

They protrude their magnificent feather-duster cascading tentacles called lophophores into the water column to collect food. Each “tentacle” is called a radiole, and is covered with tiny hairs that filter the water for nutrients. The fanworm’s mouth is located in the centre of the crown of tentacles.

Fanworms
Fanworms

The small ones are shy, and can feel you moving the water near them, so they don’t usually stick around for a picture. The larger ones tend to wave about, making them equally hard to photograph. But they are oh so pretty!

Fun with fanworms
Fun with fanworms

Here’s a big white fanworm on one of the wrecks at Long Beach, in the process of unfolding its tentacles.

Step one
Step one
Step two
Step two
Step three
Step three
Step four
Step four
Step five
Step five
Step six - almost done
Step six - almost done (and then I swam away)