Movie: Master and Commander

Set in 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, Master and Commander chronicles the pursuit by a British vessel – the Surprise – captained by Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) of a French privateer. Most of the movie takes place on the high seas, as the magnificent sailing vessels race around South America.

The skill and teamwork required of the crew in order to sail these ships is incredible. The battle scenes – loading and firing cannons and manoeuvering the ships – are terrifying, and one is reminded how brutal war is. There is a peculiar dignity in these battles, however, as the combatants can see each other and are evenly matched. Since they’re fighting at sea, there are no civilian casualties. There’s also a harrowing episode during which the doctor (Paul Bettany) has to perform surgery on himself, and one is reminded how far medical care has progressed in the last 200 years!

The Surprise stops in the Galapagos Islands, and there’s a beautiful interlude during which the ship’s doctor is able to indulge his love for naturalism before the chase begins again.

Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe
Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe

This is an epic (literally – it’s’ long!) movie, meticulously made. Russell Crowe gives an excellent performance as Aubrey, and the tall ships are almost characters themselves as they dominate the action to such an extent. They are filmed from above and also from the viewpoint of the crew, so their full scale as well as the detail on board is apparent.

The soundtrack is magnificent (both the captain and ship’s doctor play string instruments and derive much pleasure from duets together) – you may remember the trailer to this movie featuring one of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (Suite No. 1 in G Major), which captures the spirit of the open sea to perfection.

The DVD is available at Loot.co.za or Amazon.com.

Dive at Long Beach (2010.09.12)

Here’s a rough edit of a lovely dive we did at Long Beach last year (Clare twisted my arm to put this up – I’m not happy with the state of polish of the final version), in 14 degree water with 7 metre visibility. The surface conditions were choppy, as you can see at the end of the video, but under the surface it was lovely.

There’s lots to see. Early on, look out for the common sandprawn (the large, white shrimpy thing). We see lots of their discarded carapaces at Long Beach but this is the only one we’ve seen with a sandprawn inside to date.

There’s also a huge cloud of fry – not sure which fish species, but clearly the imminent onset of spring was encouraging breeding! There’s a very brief shot of a chubby clingfish – the small orange chap clinging onto some sea lettuce, of which there is plenty. Watch out for the Cape topshell on the kelp, and a nudibranch egg ribbon on some green seaweed.

There’s an octopus, a super klipfish, a surprisingly tame puffadder shyshark and his relative the dark shyshark, and a fat longsnout pipefish. We saw a box sea jelly and a night light sea jelly, a peacock fanworm, and my favourite warty pleurobranch. And, of course, there are barehead gobies…

The video concludes with a shot of the inside of the barge wreck at Long Beach.

Sea life: Jellyfish

There’s a surprising variety of sea jellies to be seen in Cape Town, and one of the pleasures of a deep dive is hanging at the safety stop watching the passing jellyfish traffic. You’re almost guaranteed to see something cool… from a sea gooseberry, with its little disco lights pulsating along the ribbing on its sides, to a huge sea jelly (Tony has seen one half a metre across at Long Beach). They’re fun to photograph – though it’s always a bit of a lucky dip because you often can’t see the jelly in your viewfinder.

Tony filming a jellyfish
Tony filming a jellyfish at Long Beach

Their outer mantles are super fragile, so it’s not cool to poke at them (even though it is tempting) – you can damage their bodies with a careless finger. I’ve seen divers harrassing jellyfish at the safety stop, and while it may seem like fun, it’s mean and destructive.

Sea jelly at Fisherman's Beach
Sea jelly at Fisherman's Beach

We see a lot of box sea jellies at Long Beach. They have four long tentacles, one on each corner of their boxy bodies. Tony was delighted to discover recently that they can retract their tentacles at will. We often see individuals with what looks like missing or damaged tentacles, but these little guys can adjust the length of their tentacles if they bump into something. They do also shed tentacles if they are stressed or get caught in something.

Box sea jelly at Long Beach
Box sea jelly with tentacles of various lengths at Long Beach

I like the night light sea jellies – they’re quite extravagant looking and their pink colour is very pretty. This one was photographed in somewhat dodgy visibility at Boat Rock in False Bay.

Night light sea jelly at Boat Rock
Night light sea jelly at Boat Rock

At a safety stop above the SAS Good Hope two weekends ago we saw a compass sea jelly for the first time. The water was very green and I’d had such a stressful dive I really wasn’t in a condition to take beautiful pictures, so this is the best I managed (he is upside down, tentacles pointing upwards):

Compass sea jelly
Compass sea jelly in Smitswinkel Bay

Most of the varieties found here do have a nasty sting, but none of them will kill you. Fortunately we usually dive wearing so much neoprene that the only parts exposed are thin slivers of skin around the mouth and mask… But it is worth taking care anyway. First aid for jellyfish stings involves rinsing the area in vinegar or (if none is available) salt water. This stops the stinging cells from firing. Scrape off remaining tentacles gently with a blunt object. Alcohol or ammonia also works for the rinsing.

Crystal sea jelly on Tafelberg Reef
Crystal sea jelly on Tafelberg Reef in the Atlantic

On the subject of sea jellies, check out SA Jelly Watch at the University of the Western Cape if you’re a fan of these wobbly wonders. There’s information on different types, and an appeal for good photos of sea jellies to add to their census of what kinds can be found where.

Friday poem: Inland

Here’s some more Edna St Vincent Millay.

Inland – Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbour’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
One salt taste of the sea once more?

Underwater camera review: Bonica Snapper

Bonica Snapper 1080P Dive HDDV

I recently switched from my Sea&Sea 1G and underwater housing to a digital video camera manufactured by Bonica, specifically for underwater use. Finally the long awaited moment arrived and the Bonica underwater video camera arrived.

Tony and some fish playing with his camera
Tony and some fish playing with his camera

Specifications

The camera is compact to say the least, and has a tight fitting silicone skin that enables you to snorkel and play in the pool without the housing as the silicone skin is waterproof to 3 meters. I doubt I will ever test this as what’s the point of having a housing and not using it?

The camera housing looks sturdy and robust, has three clips and a wide, deep-set O ring. The camera has strong specs, resolution of 8MP (3200 X 2400) for stills and 1440 x 1080 HD video. It has a 3x optical zoom and can handle 60 fps in HD.

Storage is on an SD card and it is claimed to be able to handle up to a 32GB SDHC card. I have a 4GB card and a spare which is plenty. Besides, the battery is only able to give about an hour and a half so a battery change can coincide with a card change. The screen is a 2.4 inch and I found it a little difficult to see clearly without a shield of sorts to prevent glare on the window.

Accessories

The accessories I have are a wide angle lens, this must be unscrewed and tightened underwater otherwise an air pocket remains giving you a line across the centre of your movie.

Tony filming a jellyfish
Tony filming a jellyfish at Long Beach

The camera also came with an orange filter for the ocean and a yellow filter for fresh water, an arm for the light and a single 6 diode light. The light has two settings allowing you to either use full power or a setting where you can dial the brightness up or down. It takes 8 AA batteries and I chose Hahnel 2800 NiMH rechargables. I always test batteries before I use them and these babies had my light burning brightly for 3 and a half hours with no sign of letting up. This was test enough. (Remember to leave any underwater lights in water while testing as they may overheat.)

I have attached the wide angle lens cover to the lanyard with a short string. This keeps it from getting lost and keeps it out of the way while filming. I also made a small plastic shroud as a lens shade to reduce the glare and enable me to see the LCD screen a lot easier.

The controls are really easy to use and switching from video to still is one button press. The power button is away from all the others so it is almost impossible to turn it off by mistake. I was a little puzzled as to why the camera comes with two remotes, but hey, I am not complaining.

The quality is exceptional, keeping the camera steady and moving really slow is going to give you really good footage and the auto focus is fast.

Dislikes

The housing hinge pin is showing signs of rust after a short time; this has also happened with every other camera I have. The answer seems to be to remove the pin from time to time, clean it and slide it back in with some silicone.

The swivel on the light arm broke after a few days and I removed one of the two balls it swivels on, as this is adequate for the required angles you my want your light to be at.

The microphone records all the sounds of the zoom and this needs to be fixed during editing. All you do is add a pleasant tune to the movie clip and its all sorted.

Tony filming fish
Tony filming fish

Verdict

Overall the camera is exceptionally good value and the quality of the footage is amazing.

Footnote

Windows Vista does not handle the file size very well. My computer has 1GB of RAM and this is barely adequate – it is recommended you have at least 2GB… But hey, that’s a Windows issue and not the Bonica.

Save our toads

Learn to Dive Today is supporting the conservation efforts of the civilian scientists of Toad Nuts, who work every August to protect endangered western leopard toads as they migrate – often across busy highways – to their breeding ponds across the South Peninsula area.

Learn to Dive Today has donated a Discover Scuba Diving experience as a prize in a raffle that is currently on the go to raise funds. The funds will be used to purchase GPS equipment to tag the toads that are rescued during the breeding season. We assisted the Toad Nuts this year, patrolling in Noordhoek and Sun Valley on rainy August evenings looking for toads trying to cross the roads. They are awesome creatures!

Western leopard toad
Western leopard toad sitting on Clare's wrist

Raffle tickets are available for R10 from Chai-Yo in Mowbray and from Simply Asia in Lakeside, or direct from Suzy and Alison at Toad Nuts. Other prizes include:

40 minute scenic flight over the Cape Peninsula

2 night stay at Leopardstone Hill Country Cottages worth R1800

Business listing on Scenic South site worth R400

Rioja restaurant meal voucher

World of Birds tickets

Splattered Toad wine hampers

This is well worth supporting – you’ll be assisting with a very worthy conservation project (and the prizes are cool)!

FAQ: Which certification agency is best?

For those of you wondering which certification is better – PADI, SDI & TDINAUI, CMAS, SSI, IANTD, etc. – there are LOTS of them! – there are one or two things to bear in mind:

  • All the agencies teach you to dive. There may be minor differences in course duration and when you learn what skill, but at the end of the day you’re learning the same thing… So don’t stress about it too much!
  • The agency you learn to dive with must be a member of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC). This body sets minimum standards for dive training, and if your agency is recognised by the WRSTC you can be assured that you’ll get a certain level of training including a particular set of skills. WRSTC membership also ensures your qualification will be accepted worldwide.
  • The quality of your instructor is far more important than the agency (s)he teaches for. All the flashy course accessories in the world won’t make a difference if you do four twenty minute dives for your Open Water course – it’s just a waste of time.
  • Some agencies are very cheap to get certified with – the manuals are photocopied, and you don’t get as many free bits and pieces (like carry cases, stickers, SMBs, etc.) when you sign up for a course. Check that the lower course price is related to the lack of flashy accessories included in the course price, rather than to the fact that you’ll be in a class with seven other divers, or that the class will only be held every third Tuesday at 4 a.m.! (You should probably read this post, too.)
  • Some of the certification agencies specialise in particular areas of diving. IANTD is an example – they will teach you to use a rebreather, for example, if that’s your thing. I would select a specialist technical agency such as IANTD or TDI, rather than a recreational agency that has branched out into Tec. if you plan to go into technical diving. They have a long history and quality record of this kind of training, and their instructors have a solid grounding in the sport.

Tony teaches SDI and PADI, which together issue over 75% of diving qualifications worldwide. This combination gives him flexibility to offer affordable and quality courses that include online theory or hard copy materials. All students have the opportunity to do boat dives off our boat, Seahorse, conditions permitting. He’ll be the first to admit that the end goal of any diving qualification is the same… Learning to dive!

Newsletter: Wreck diving weekend

Hi there

The past week has been great for diving and other than Sunday we were in the water every day. The temperature on Friday was 18 degrees on the Clan Stuart wreck. We were lucky to see rays three days in a row at different locations. A truly remarkable creature, this one was a good metre and a half across. We found this beauty at Long Beach in 7 metres of water. We also saw one on Thursday at the upturned yacht wreck near the yellow harbour buoy as well as one sleeping in the wreck of the Clan Stuart on Friday.

Raymond the ray
Raymond the ray

The summer winds are here and most of the boat launching will move to Hout Bay. The wrecks of the Atlantic are awesome and the viz this last weekend was 25 metres on the Maori wreck.

Kate swims with a golf ball on a teaspoon
Kate swims with a golf ball on a teaspoon

Starting this weekend I will be running one of my favorite series of courses being Nitrox, Wreck and Deep specialties. I am also doing a Night diver specialty over the next week or so and have two Open Water courses starting a week apart. I also have three Rescue and Divemaster students and different levels so there are lots of opportunities to get in the water. All dives this weekend will be boat dives and if you just want to tag along as a fun diver please remeber I need to book by Thursday midday.

Enriched Air

Nitrox, or enriched air increases your bottom time. Diving to 30 metres on air you have a maximum dive time of 20 minutes but on Nitrox 32% you have 30 minutes.

Deep diving and wreck exploration go hand in hand with a Nitrox certification and this is how it works:

Nitrox R 1650 (course can be run in the evenings)
Wreck R 1950
Deep R 2050

If you sign up for either Wreck or Deep you will get the Nitrox course for R1250. Choose both specialties and Nitrox will only cost you R950.

Wreck and Deep both require four dives. All four dives will be boat dives and all will be Nitrox dives if you have done the Nitrox specialty.

Klipfish getting his chin tickled
Klipfish getting his chin tickled

Best regards

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

Sea life: Starfish

One of my favourite things to see when I’m lying on the sand during a dive (waiting for Tony’s students to finish skills, for example) is a starfish making its way from one point to another. They don’t look like speedy movers, but they are – in this effortless gliding way that belies the fact that hundreds of little tube feet are working hard to get them where they want to go.

Sand sea star
Sand sea star at Long Beach

Like anemones, starfish have hydrostatic (comprised of water) skeletons. Their mouth is underneath, where their legs meet up, and they expel waste from the top of their bodies. They have what’s called a sieve plate, next to the anus, that they use to draw water into their bodies.

Reticulated sea star at Fisherman's Beach
Reticulated sea star at Fisherman's Beach

I didn’t know this until I started diving, but starfish don’t just stay as small as the little cushion stars you see in rockpools. We’ve seen ones as large as dinner plates, often in huge congregations like a social meeting. Windmill Beach is a particularly good place to see piles (literally) of starfish.

Pile of starfish at Long Beach
Pile of starfish at Long Beach - picture by Tony
Cushion star at Long Beach
Cushion star at Long Beach

Starfish are pretty voracious eaters. For example, they like mussels, and will use constant steady pressure with their legs to force the mussel shell open a bit. Then they extrude their stomach (handy skill) into the mussel shell, and digest it in situ. Whenever you see a starfish hunched up over something, it’s eating. We have seen one trying to digest a tennis ball at Long Beach… Poor guy!

Munching star fish
Munching star fish at Long Beach... hope it's not eating a golf ball!
Starfish and whelk
Starfish and whelk locked in mortal combat at Long Beach

The rumours are true about starfish being able to survive if they lose legs. We’ve seen one with two legs lying in a gorgeous if slightly gruesome heart shape (our wedding starfish!), and one with six (I think sometimes the “regrow leg” gene goes a bit haywire and doesn’t know when to stop).

Our wedding starfish at Long Beach
Our wedding starfish at Long Beach

There are a few starfish varieties to see in Cape Town, and worth a look, even though they might seem boring and common…

The blaasop

There is a gorgeous star blaasop living in the Lagoon tank at uShaka Marine World where Tony and I dived last month. We saw him a year ago when we visited, and he’s grown a lot since then. Same as last year, we found him hanging out at the window looking into the Open Ocean tank – perhaps dreaming of growing up to be a shark one day.

The blaasop makes his appearance
The blaasop makes his appearance

He’s very friendly, and swam with me for quite a distance, occasionally making alarming forays towards my camera (which made for some great photo opportunities). I love his compact little body and the way his fins move back and forth at his sides – they seem far too small to propel his girth anywhere significant!

The blaasop emerges from the gloom
The blaasop emerges from the gloom
Passing by
Passing by
Coming in for a closer look
Coming in for a closer look
Oops! Too close!
Oops! Too close!

Here’s a short clip Tony took of the blaasop. Initially he was hiding in a packing pallette – during this part of the clip there’s an oil spot on the camera lens. Subsequently you see him investigating me. My hand is in a fist because I’d already been nibbled on by our cheeklined wrasse friend – looks like I am winding up for a punch but it was just a precautionary measure to protect my fingers.