Shark and kayak

Thomas Peschak is a wildlife photographer who spends just over 3 months of the year in Cape Town  and the rest of the time travelling and taking photos around the world. He’s the official photographer for Save Our Seas. He has published several books and his work often appears in magazines such as The Dive Site (our recommendation of the magazine is here).

I came across this incredible photo he took in False Bay in 2003.

 

White Shark and Kayak - picture by Thomas Peschak
White Shark and Kayak – picture by Thomas Peschak

It’s been much analysed and dissected – many people thought it was Photoshopped, but it isn’t. The story of how he took the picture can be found on his website.

Dive sites: Windmill Beach

Here’s the parking area at Windmill, courtesy of Google maps. Make sure you get a car guard if you go diving here. To get to the beach, walk down through the low gate and follow the path as it curves to the left. This is a popular picnic and wedding spot, too.

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Cape+Town,+Western+Cape,+South+Africa&layer=c&cbll=-34.200434,18.455354&panoid=ihnhRi_ZnfwlhGA3memwvw&cbp=12,135,,0,5&ll=-34.200448,18.455383&spn=0.001105,0.001749&t=h&z=19&source=embed&output=svembed&w=425&h=350]

Directions to Oceana Power Boat Club

Boat dives in Cape Town are either done from Miller’s Point, Hout Bay, or (less frequently) Oceana Power Boat Club near the Waterfront. Don’t expect to see a giant inflatable duck there.

Helga and a duck on the OPBC slipway
Helga and a duck on the OPBC slipway

Launches are done from the Power Boat Club when wind conditions necessitate being sheltered by the mountain (for example in a strong southerly wind during the summer). Here are directions from the entrance to the V&A Waterfront at the start/end of the N2:

  1. Drive into the Waterfont.
  2. At the circle, take the first exit to the left. Behind you on your right will be a Caltex garage, and in front on the right is the Clock Tower precinct.
  3. Follow Dock road through the Waterfront, past the Two Oceans Aquarium on your right.
  4. The road curves to the left, and at the top of the hill go straight through the circle. The Pavilion Conference Centre is on your left, and then Somerset Hospital steps.
  5. At the circle at the bottom of the hill, go straight through.
  6. At the next circle, take a left. You’ll reach Beach Road, which heads into Sea Point.
  7. You won’t go that far, though – take your first left off Beach Road into Jetty street.
  8. The Power Boat Club is in front of you just as the road starts to curve to the right. You can park in the parking area if there’s space, otherwise on the side of the road.

Here’s the Power Boat club from above. The launch site is that unassuming half moon in the centre of the map.

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=oceana+powerboat+club,+waterfront,+cape+town&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=34.861942,58.798828&ie=UTF8&oi=localspell&cd=1&hq=oceana+powerboat+club,+waterfront,&hnear=Cape+Town,+Western+Cape,+South+Africa&t=h&ll=-33.901036,18.415575&spn=0.003117,0.00456&z=17&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Sea life: Seals

This post is dedicated to Kate, who has a deep and abiding love for seals, and can think of nothing better than cuddling up to one – underwater or on land. (Actually, not – Kate hates seals, and is convinced that behind their puppy-dog features lurks evil intent. Apparently a woman in Cornwall was dragged off her body board and drowned by a playful seal, and this has led to Kate’s profound mistrust of these creatures.)

Seals at the Waterfront
Seals at the Waterfront

A good place to see seals is in harbours – Kalk Bay, the V&A Waterfront and Hout Bay harbour have large (and I mean that in the sense of numerically and also in terms of waistline) seal populations, no doubt attracted by the presence of the fishermen. A busy day at the slipway at Miller’s Point always includes a seal or two, as the fishermen gut their catch while they wait in the queue. The fish guts thrown over the side of the boats are perfect seal snacks.

Seal in Kalk Bay harbour
Seal in Kalk Bay harbour

There are a couple of places in Cape Town where you can go to dive with seals (and be guaranteed multiple sightings). Both these locations are also suitable for snorkeling, as long as there isn’t too big a swell (you’ll be swimming around a large rock in both cases).

  • Partridge Point contains a seal colony close to the western shore of False Bay. If seals aren’t your cup of tea, the reef extends to the east with numerous exciting sites such as Deep Partridge and Peter’s Pinnacles.
  • Duiker Island in Hout Bay also contains a seal colony, and is a short ride from Hout Bay slipway. The water is much colder than at Partridge Point, but the maximum depth is only about six metres which makes for fantastic light and photographic opportunities.
Seal at Miller's Point slipway
Seal at Miller's Point slipway

We’ve seen seals on many of our other dives. They’re frequent visitors at Long Beach and at the SS Clan Stuart, even on night dives (which can be a bit scary until you know what the dark shape tailing you is!). They like to hang upside down in front of divers, sometimes barking underwater (big teeth!) and often biting on bubbles. It’s lovely (yes, Kate) to have a friendly seal swimming next to you and checking you out with his big liquid black eyes.

Seal in Kalk Bay harbour
Seal in Kalk Bay harbour

On the surface, seals often lie with one flipper sticking out of the water. This is for temperature regulation – like whales, they’re well padded with blubber (this is why sharks like to eat them), but on their tails and flippers the veins are much closer to the surface. It’s a bit like sticking your leg out of the duvet at night to cool down, though I suspect for seals it’s often to warm up.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4uOHuefE-0&w=540]

Happy and playful seals also give us a great deal of comfort as divers, because it means there are no sharks in the vicinity. The absence of seals does not necessarily mean there ARE sharks around, but if you were at one of the seal colonies and not a single seal joined you in the water, or if they were all crawling along the bottom, I’d be a bit worried!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3RmBwXPyaY&w=540]

Keeping warm in the Cape

Cape Town water is not warm. The Atlantic ocean’s temperature ranges between 8 and 13 degrees, while False Bay can be anywhere between 10 degrees (very unusual) to 20 degrees (also rather unusual, and generally combined with visibility that can be measured in centimetres rather than metres), with an average somewhere around the 15 degree mark.

Being cold increases your risk of decompression sickness, and it makes you stupid and slow, and hence a danger to yourself and your buddy. It dimishes your enjoyment of the dive and can lead you to get out of the water when you still have plenty of air and time at your disposal.

Here are a couple of suggestions – tried and tested by Tony, a lifelong warm-water diver, and me, a boat-diving wussy…

Gear

Justin demonstrates the virtues of a good wetsuit
Justin demonstrates the virtues of a good wetsuit

Ah, you say, cold water means you need a drysuit, or at least a nice thick (5mm plus a 5mm shorty on top, or otherwise at least 7mm) wetsuit to keep out the chill. This is true, but there are three other essential components to a Cape diver’s gear that can make a HUGE difference.

Booties

Get thick booties – the thickest ones you can find, especially if you have poor circulation. If you can, wear them with the cuffs inside your wetsuit.

Thick booties on the boat
Thick booties on the boat

Gloves

Gloves, at least 3mm thick, are essential. Don’t try and dive without them – you won’t be able to operate your camera or inflator hose after a while. Your fingers are not well-insulated. Again, tuck gloves into your sleeves if you can.

Hoodie

The hoodie is actually the most essential part of your gear. While it appears to be a myth that the majority of body heat is lost through your head, if it’s the only part of you that’s exposed, it WILL be the primary source of heat loss. Heat loss through the head increases with exercise up to a point, and like the hands, your head is not well insulated for the most part.

When Tony moved to Cape Town from Mozambique a year ago, he was quite resistant to wearing a hoodie, and got very, very cold (almost paralysed after a dive… not good) for the first while. He found a loose hoodie (not attached to his wetsuit) that didn’t make him feel restricted, and we are now able to do one hour dives in 12 degree water with relative ease (as long as we don’t sit around TOO much). I think this has been the greatest assistance to him in adapting to the 10 degree lower temperatures here, compared to further north.

Other techniques

A couple of other techniques that have worked for us…

Move about

If you get cold, swim a bit. We tend to stay still for longish periods, interacting with fish or taking photos or just looking, and this tends to cause one to get cold quite fast. Go for a short swim when you start getting chilled – it makes a big difference.

Wear a jacket on the boat ride

One of those cheap and nasty anoraks with a white flannel lining can transform your boat ride – specially the ride back to the slipway, after you’re wet. Put it on straight over your wetsuit. This can make a huge difference as it almost eliminates wind chill on your torso.

Newsletter: Dive report and southeaster

Hi everyone

I hope you have had a great Christmas and hopefully a break from the office. Fortunately my ”office” has been busy and I don’t relish a break from it. I know there are many of you chomping at the bit to dive and finish your courses but the southeaster has been howling non-stop since Saturday and the sea looks a little like pea soup. I hope it dies down soon so we can all get back in the water. Sunday’s early boat dives were also cancelled due to an unforseen breakage on the boat.

Strawberry sea anemones and a pink urchin on the Romelia
Strawberry sea anemones and a pink urchin on the Romelia

I spent Friday in the Newlands swimming pool with a family of five, the youngest being 9 years old. Abby was doing a program called Seal Team. It is unbelievably rewarding teach such young kids to dive and her older sister and brother, mom and dad took longer to get comfortable than she did. I had hoops in the water and by the second session in the water her buoyancy was perfect and she swam through the hoops with a big smile on her face.

Gas flame nudibranch on the Romelia
Gas flame nudibranch on the Romelia

I am going to plan a day in the diving pool at Newlands, it’s five meters deep and a perfect place to hone bouyancy skills, trim your gear and cull some of the weight from your heavy weight belts. Its also a wonderful place to test and get acquainted with all the amazing dive gear you got for Christmas…

Divers explore a wall
Divers explore a wall

Early January I will be starting a Wreck specialty and plan to include penetration into the Aster, lying in Hout Bay on the sand at 25 metres. I am also going to run a Nitrox and Deep specialty so if going to 40 metres is on your to do list don’t miss this (I hope you got a torch for Christmas)!

We recently dived the wreck of the Romelia (pictures courtesy of Clare). The visibility was not great but the colours and sea life were stunning.

Sea life on the side of the Romelia (encrusted with orange coraline algae)
Sea life on the side of the Romelia (encrusted with orange coraline algae)

There is an amazing contrast between the life, colour and water temperature between the Atlantic sites and the False Bay sites. I tend to favor the False Bay coast as the water is warmer but every time I dive the Atlantic I am astounded by the clarity of the water. On our last wreck dives, the Maori and the BOS 400 we had 20 plus metres visibility.

Hottentot in the red bait zone above the Romelia
Hottentot in the red bait zone above the Romelia

regards

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>

Underwater camera follow-up

Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5 and MPK-THJ marine housing

I wrote a review of my Sony DSC-TX5 with its MPK-THJ marine housing in October, after our trip to Sodwana. At that stage I’d had an opportunity to take the camera on a number of dives, both deep and shallow, in various conditions, but it was still quite new.

Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5
Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5

I’ve had the camera for a bit longer now, and taken several thousand photographs on a large number of dives. It’s still giving me a great deal of enjoyment. I complained in my review that you can’t turn off the auto-preview after taking a photo, but I’ve adapted to that and gotten used to not being able to fire off a series of photos at high speed. It requires a bit more patience not to start shooting straight away but to wait until the shot is better composed before hitting the shutter release, but I think it’s good discipline.

Sony MPK-THJ Marine Housing
Sony MPK-THJ Marine Housing

I am still struggling a bit with the fact that the camera tends to let in too much light when I point it at a white subject in shallow water – I’ve taken a LOT of photos of orange clubbed nudibranchs at Long Beach, and there’s probably only one that’s satisfactory. I’ve tried angling the camera down, but no luck yet.

I don’t use the 4x optical zoom as much as I expected I would – I tend to zoom with my feet, because the camera focuses quicker that way. The 10MP capability is fantastic – Tony and I have been able to zoom into areas of the photos afterwards and see a huge amount of detail – the shyshark copepod parasite, for example.

I was charmed to realise on a very long, shallow dive we did (in Simon’s Town yacht basin) that the intensity of the flash is adjusted based on the amount of light in the water. The hour-long dive, on which I took about 200 photographs, only used one quarter of the camera battery. The battery indicator is misleading, however – the bars are at an angle, and it’s ill-advised to start a dive with only one bar available out of the four, because that last quarter goes very fast.

On deep dives I have struggled to get decent pictures, chiefly through inexperience and ignorance, and my biggest frustration has been being able to see the entire wreck in front of me but not being able to persuade my camera that there’s something there worth focusing on. On our last deep dive, to the SAS Good Hope, I finally managed to take a few photos worth writing home about, but they were all from close up while I was keeping very, very still.

The flash, like all camera flashes, is both a blessing and a curse. On low-visibility and deep dives, backscatter is a problem, but keeping very still and shooting from close-up, minimising the amount of gunk in the water between me and the subject, also seem to work wonders.

Tony has laughed uproariously as I’ve gone through a litany of newbie mistakes – forgetting to slide the lens cover down before putting the camera in the housing, and then only switching it on for the first time when I’m 20 metres underwater… Starting a dive on low battery when I have a spare battery in the car and it would be a cinch to change it… Not checking that I have battery life left before getting on the boat or into the water… You name it, I’ve done it. It’s made me a bit paranoid, which I suppose is necessary if one wants to be ready at all times!

I haven’t had any problems with the housing flooding, although sometimes I open it and there are droplets on the clip. It’s hard to tell if these are there because I was impatient and opened the camera when the housing was still wet (usually the case!) or whether they’re an actual leak. Whatever the case, the camera has never been wet when I’ve opened the housing. I also haven’t tested its capability to be used in shallow water without the housing, and have no intention of doing so – unless by accident.

Just a note: unless I mention otherwise, the still photos on the blog are taken by me with the DSC-TX5. The videos and stills from the videos are taken by Tony using his Bonica Snapper 1080P Dive HDDV.

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.