Newsletter: Sodwana trip and diving this weekend

Hi everyone,

Sodwana Bay

The trip to Sodwana is on for the weekend of 8th, 9th and 10th of October. I have attached a breakdown of the costs with as much detail as possible (courtesy of Clare) [Note to blog readers: email me for this]. To secure the booking I need you to think quick and respond as soon as possible as I need to know the numbers. It is open to anyone that dives, students and friends of mine as well as any of your friends. The idea group size will be 8 -10 as this way we will fill a boat and therefore get to decide on the dive site. All the dives go to 2 Mile Reef, and almost every dive on this reef is suitable for Open Water divers. Sodwana claims to be the best dive site in southern Africa and rightly so, it is also the town where they have T-shirts labeled: a small drinking town with a diving problem…

Diving this weekend

I ran a competition with a Discover Scuba Diving experience for two and the winners will possibly venture into the water on Saturday. The Rescue course starts this weekend and in between we will have a fun dive to the Clan Stuart or cowsharks. Swell dependent. Saturday night, I will feed my addiction to night diving, meet at Long Beach at 6.00pm.

Sunday I am hoping to do a deep wreck dive for the Advanced students and will confirm this with the charter during the course of the day (the wind may factor this out). If you do wish to do boat dives I need to know by Wednesday as the boat launch schedule comes out on Thursday morning and the boats often fill very quickly.

I have ventured into the blog world, see link below, the idea being to post diving related info and create a forum for questions, so feel free to read, post, comment, correct me and ask away, if I do not have the answer I will find it for you and add my theories and opinions… risky I know…

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

iMod competition winner

Following up from our earlier post, the winner of the Discover Scuba Diving experience for two has been announced on iMod.

Tony is looking forward to taking Sediqa and a friend to experience life beneath the waves… Sediqa is quite excited… Can you tell? Can you? Awesome! We will be sure to post a follow-up.

Many thanks to Chris for running the competition!

The perfect diver

One of the first concerns many qualified divers have is buoyancy and their air consumption. As an Instructor, skipper and Divemaster I am often reminded of my own concerns when I started diving. Don’t envy the diver on the boat staying down the longest on the smallest cylinder. Dive often, enhance your training, hone your skills and soon you will be that diver,  first in and last out, with air to spare.

It makes no difference who your Instructor was, which certification agency you obtained your qualification from or where you are diving. All divers are taught the basics of diving during their initial training. However, the duration of your qualifying dives has a huge impact on your level of competency at the end of your training.

If you have done four, or five in some instances, short twenty minute dives (the minimum for PADI) and – let’ s presume – you spent two hours in the water during your confined water training then your total bottom time will be less than four hours. However if your qualifying dives were 50 minutes each it will be the case that your total bottom time when you’re newly qualified is a lot more.

Some people take to diving instantly and do not find any aspect of the training intimidating and within two hours of getting into the water they are relaxed, have good buoyancy and controlled breathing. For others it is a little harder coming to terms with the heavy gear, good buoyancy control seems to be a distant dream and managing to get 30 minutes on a 12 litre cylinder in shallow water is out of the question.

With bottom time comes perfection. This involves becoming comfortable with your gear so you instinctively find your pressure gauge, being correctly weighted (a huge factor in air consumption), being warm, and moving slowly with the correct profile. All of this improves air consumption dramatically.

Another important factor is confidence. Diving beyond your ability and training, doing a dive you feel you should rather not be doing are huge ”gas guzzling” factors so don’t do that deep dive to a wreck because you feel you can or think you should, do it when you know you can and really want to.

The learning curve for a diver is steep and for me the most rewarding aspect of teaching diving is to watch and be a part of a students initial flapping around in the water like a fish out of the water, to becoming relaxed, calm and confident, and watching them grow into a competent diver in such a short period of time.

Shark tale follow-up

After his shark sighting at Long Beach last week, Tony emailed local guru Georgina Jones of SURG – more on SURG (Southern Underwater Research Group), and Georgina’s work in particular, will follow in another post (probably a book review). Tony wanted to find out whether his observation that there was no visible marine life, no fish and no movement at Long Beach on the day he saw the shark had anything to do with the presence of the creature, or whether it was uncorrelated. Georgina passed Tony’s email on to Alison Kock at Save Our Seas, a veteran white shark researcher based in Cape Town.

Alison’s reply – which is filled with fascinating nuggets of information about shark monitoring in Cape Town and great whites in general – is reproduced below:

Thank-you very much for forwarding this encounter. I keep a database of all white shark-human encounters in Cape waters and with your permission would like to add this encounter and your name, Tony and contact numbers to this database. Interestingly another sighting in the same area was recorded on the 23 August, and there were two white shark sightings at Fish Hoek on the 25 Aug, and one on the 24 and one on the 20th (sharkspotters.org.za has sightings recorded at shark spotter beaches).

Tony, regards your observation one would certainly expect that larger fish and seals would be absent from an area temporarily where a white shark is patrolling. However, it’s also conceivable that smaller marine animals could perceive the shark as a threat. A huge misconception is that white sharks only eat these larger animals, but various smaller fish and invertebrates (bivalves, cuttlefish, squids, octopus, pilchards etc) have also been recorded in white shark stomach contents, particularly smaller sharks (Geremy Cliff data). Thus, these animals may also respond to an immediate presence of a white shark if perceived as a threat. However, I wouldn’t expect this behaviour to persist for long periods of time.

We have deployed small animal-borne cameras on white sharks over the years and have been able to get a sharks POV of what happens on a reef when the shark swims over it. Some smaller fish which you wouldn’t think to be on the menu do react by swimming out of harms way. However, the behaviour is usually instantaneous with ‘normal’ behaviour by the fish resuming almost as soon as the shark’s head has moved past. When we observe white sharks around the research boat, we record similar behaviour, the chumming often attracts large groups of various species of ‘bait fish’, these fish almost always respond to the approaching shark by moving out the way temporarily.

Thanks Alison!

What’s in my dive bag

I have travelled around a bit and dived in some very remote places, miles from a dive shop. Over the years I have collected an array of gadgets. Dive shops are full of shiny things you had no idea you needed until you saw them for the first time. There are some very important basic add-ons to your standard battle dress, things that no self respecting diver would dive without, and then there is a range of nice to have items, and then the usual ”not required but I have it anyway” list.

Must have items

DAN medical insurance

DAN tag and spare O ring
DAN tag and spare O ring hidden on the hose protector

Attach the red DAN tag to your BCD or regulator so that in an emergency your rescuer can get you the help you need. DAN will cover you for the expensive possibility that you need recompression in a chamber if you have a suspected case of the bends, as well as for any other diving-related medical emergency treatment that your medical aid refuses to cover. An ordinary medical aid will probably not pay for recompression treatment. Visit the DAN (Divers’ Alert Network) website for details.

A surface marker buoy (SMB)

Reels and surface marker buoy (SMB)
Different sized reels and surface marker buoys (SMB)

Reels come in all shapes and sizes, with thumb reels, small reels and large reels. I use a small reel on shallow dives and a large reel on deeper dives.

In a rough sea or poor conditions an SMB makes you far easier to see than a head and shoulders dressed in black bobbing on the surface. You should not dive without one in Cape Town.

Dive Knife

This should be big enough to cut fishing line in case you or your buddy get tangled up (or need to rescue something or someone). Not to be used for stabbing sharks, or your dive buddy! You can buy huge dagger-type knife, but it may be an overkill, unless you have aspirations to be a pirate. Small cutting tools that you can wear on your gear are more practical.

Dive torches and a handy-sized knife
Dive torches and a handy-sized knife

Torch

This should ideally be small enough to keep in a pocket, unless you’re doing a night dive and need some serious light.

You don’t necessarily need a torch only on night dives – you may want to see something that’s hiding in a dark environment, or it might be an overcast day. On a deep dive, a torch is essential because the colours can look so washed out.

Compass

Knowing where you are going or where you came from is quite useful at the bottom, as on land. Enough said.

Dive compass styles
Dive compass styles

Dive computer

There are many different styles. Some can be worn as everyday watches, and others are only for diving.  Here are three variations:

Dive computers
Dive computers in three styles. The two on the left can be worn as dress watches.

Signalling devices

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle.

A whistle is required for the surface (many BCDs come with one attached – you may not have noticed it as it might be helpfully coloured black to match the inflator hose). An air horn works above and below the surface and a shaker works best underwater but can be used on the surface.

You can also use a hard object like a dive knife to rap on your cylinder, which will be audible to your buddy underwater, but don’t necessarily rely on having something suitable to hand – or having the presence of mind to look for it – in an emergency.

Slates

Dive slates
Dive slates: the one on the left is useful for compass navigation. The one on the right is a wrist slate (note the mysterious arm it’s mounted on).

Underwater slates come in all shapes and sizes. A wrist slate can be pleasant as it’s always close by but easily accessible. Flat slates must be clipped to a D ring – and don’t forget to secure your pencil!

DIN adaptor and O rings

DIN adaptor and O rings
DIN adaptor and O rings. The little blue cylinder clips to your keychain and can be used to store spare O rings.

Some resorts only have old style aluminum cylinders and if you have a DIN regulator they don’t fit as there is no removable insert. Here you will require a DIN adaptor so make sure you enquire as to type of cylinders available when you book your vacation, if you intend using your personal regulator.

It’s also handy to have an allen key to remove the inserts if you routinely dive with your own regulator.

Nice to have items

Clipping things to your BCD is a surefire way to ensure they do not become lost property. There are many different types of clips available. No matter what I take underwater, it will always have a clip attached that will enable me to clip it to my BCD if I suddenly need both hands for something.

Cyalumes, mouthpiece and spare finstrap
Cyalumes, mouthpiece, clip and spare finstrap

Spare mask and fin straps are nice to have particularly if you have a odd type of fin or mask.

Spare octo clips are handy as well as a few cyalumes in the event of an impromptu night dive.

If you travel to remote locations in your own 4WD you may find yourself with a puncture, so a tyre inflator is a handy addition to the dive bag. Deep divers know the benefits of Nitrox and the risks involved in diving with the wrong mix so a Nitrox analyser helps you to double check the reading reached by the dive store. If you find your reg breathes with difficulty, or you second stages constantly leak, checking the system pressure with your own handy pressure gauge will give you an indication as to the root of the problem.

Nitrox analyser and pressure gauge
Nitrox analyser (top) and pressure gauge

Scuba gear: to buy, or not to buy?

Imagine this scenario

You are in the middle of your Open Water course. There is possibly some pressure from your instructor/dive centre to make a scuba gear purchase. It is time to stop and think.

This will not make me very popular in the dive industry…  But I do not recommend you buy your first set of dive gear without a fair amount of research. Sure, this can easily be done on the web or in one day by visiting a few dive centers, but the reality of the matter is you are new to the sport, you have yet to build a vast data bank in your head of the multitude of options available, you are impressed by your instructor’s opinion, and are swayed into buying the gear. A month later you decide diving is not for you, sky diving is the next option and you try and offload the gear with a ”hardly used dive gear” advert… You are going to lose money.

Wetsuit only worn once
Don't let this be you!

But let’s be positive and say that you have decided that diving is the best thing you can do clothed. Some time has passed. You are done with the Adventures in Diving, have at least 10 dives in your dive log and want to dive the world.

You have booked your flights to the Red Sea and are starting to pack, thrilled with the idea of arriving at the dive centre with all of your own gear looking like a hard core diver. You even have your own heavy duty dive bag with wheels,  handles and pockets galore.

You are now faced with a dilemma…

That fancy dive bag, the wheeled one with pockets, weighs 6 kgs empty. That won’t work, so you haul out the old lightweight bag you used on your previous travels.

The water temperature where you are going is 30 degrees, ouch, that 7mm two piece wetsuit won’t work there, so you decide to leave it at home and rent one.  You discover your fins weigh a ton and are so long they wont fit in the old travel bag you are now using for weight saving, your very expensive BCD with 6 pockets, a back plate and 8 D-rings is also far too heavy… and to top it all your top of the range regulator is way too expensive for check in luggage and way too heavy for hand luggage. You decide to leave the whole lot at home and rent the hard and soft gear at your destination.

Ah, that ”brightest dive light in the world” that you bought, weighing in at 3kgs, is a bit too heavy so you decide to leave it at home too, and rent a light.

Dive lights
You can get dive lights in a wide variety of strengths, shapes, weights and profiles. Do your research!

So you arrive at your destination, rent everything you need and have a wonderful trip. You cram as many dives possible into every day and head home feeling wonderful. On the way home you reminisce on the dives, replaying them in your mind over and over again (this always happens when you are a dive junkie, trust me).

  • ”That lightweight BCD I used with rear inflation is much more comfortable than my side inflation one… Hmm…”
  • ”The rental dive torch was small, light and compact, and fitted easily into the one tiny pocket on the BCD, I wonder why I thought I need a BCD with 6 pockets? Hmm…”
  • ”It was real easy getting into the rental wetsuit with a zip in front, why does my wetsuit not have that? Hmm…”
  • “Those short fins were so light and never made my legs tired – why do my fins feel so heavy?… Hmm!”
  • ”That tiny mask they gave me was a breeze to clear, but mine is so big it takes several breaths to empty. Hmm…”

When you arrive home you re-evaluate you dive gear. It’s not junk, by no means, but not quite what you have found to be the best option. So you embark on a long, slow, deliberate road to replace these items with items in the style you have found to be ”your comfort zone”.

What to do?

This point – of having well-formed preferences for different types of gear – is only reached once you have dived for a while, once you have done 10-20 dives. There is no way you are able to reach this point half way into your Open Water course.

Many people will advocate that in the interest of health and hygiene you purchase your own soft gear, wetsuit, booties, fins, mask and snorkel, and some dive centres will only conduct your training if you make this purchase.

In all fairness to the dive centre, sales person, or your instructor, they will give you sound advice, and no manufacturer makes ”junk” in this industry. But the advice will be based on their own style, based on what they have available in their store and they will seldom recommend you shop around. It would be foolish to do so, but before you rush out and buy, try different configurations, rent different gear and decide what works for you.

For some general advice about buying gear, you can visit my follow-up posts on hard (BCD, regulator, cylinder) and soft (wetsuit, mask, fins, booties) gear.

Buying soft gear

Booties

Buying booties is a safe bet as (unless you’re still growing) your feet won’t change size nor will they overheat in warm climates. If you plan to dive in Cape Town (or any other cold water location), rather go for a thick pair of at least 5mm – believe me, it makes a huge difference!

Mask

Buy an entry level mask so if it needs replacement a few months later it is not a huge financial loss. Besides, a spare mask is always a bonus. Before you decide on a mask try a black skirted mask (the skirt is the soft rubbery material around the glass) and focus on the angle of vision, then try a clear skirted mask and see how different the angle of vision is. Remember that the bigger the mask the greater the volume of water it will hold, so if you despised the mask clearing skill during your training avoid a huge volume mask if possible. Nothing spoils a perfect dive more than a leaky, uncomfortable mask.

Underwater
Choose your mask carefully...
Masks
The black mask holds 180ml of water, while the blue mask on the right holds 370ml - that's more than a full can of cooldrink!

Wetsuit

If your body shape is not “average” (and very few of us are) then an off the shelf wetsuit will most likely not fit as well as a custom made one. Don’t be fooled into believing that a custom made suit is way more expensive – it seldom is – and most wetsuit manufacturers will adjust, re-shape and modify the suit later to ensure a perfect fit. It’s also fairly easy to adjust a wetsuit after the fact if your body shape or composition changes drastically. Ask a lot of questions before buying a wetsuit and try them all on. Too often the effort of getting in and out of a wetsuit in a dive centre makes the second or third one feel comfortable by default… you’re too tired to keep going.

Some things to think about: where do you want the zips – front or back, straight or on the diagonal? How long should they be? Two piece or one piece? Do you want a separate hoodie, or do you want it attached to the suit? How thick should the suit be? What should the neckline be like?

Fins

Fin styles and size are varied and depending on your level of fitness, swimming skills and diving style, the difference between a huge heavy fin and a lightweight shorter fin will make a huge difference to the incidence of cramp whilst diving. Fins also affect your buoyancy and your profile underwater.

Fins
Fins come in a range of size and shapes. Don't call them flippers!

Buying hard gear

Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)

Buying a BCD is a huge decision. The difference between a rear inflation and a side inflation is significant. Do you want integrated weights or not? What about twin dump valves on the rear of the bladder? Lever inflation or button inflation? Back plate or not? If you don’t know what all these terms describe then it is safe to say you are not ready to part with your hard earned cash just yet.

Regulator

If you plan to dive tropical holiday destinations for the rest of your life, then buy a light weight travel easy regulator without a huge three gauge console. But if you want to dive wrecks around the world, do some ice diving and go on to deep technical diving, you will have different priorities. The choices need to be carefully investigated.

Cylinder

A cylinder is a big part of your diving, so do you buy your own or just rent one each time you go diving? It is always nice to have your own of everything, but sometimes if you weigh up the cost of an item against the usage you will have it becomes a grey area. The same can be said for the purchase of any item classed as hard gear.

A 10 or a 12 litre steel cylinder costs around R3000 – R3600 depending on where you shop. Cylinders are also manufactured in aluminum but they are not nearly as popular as steel has become in recent years.

Cylinders
If you decide to purchase your own cylinder, it's critical to maintain it

Rentals cost between R50 and R75 for a cylinder and some places will only charge for the second fill if you do two dives, so you can expect to pay R75 for a full cylinder and a further R30 to fill it for the second dive. At R50 a dive it would take 60 dives to pay for itself excluding fills, but had you dived with your own cylinder after 60 dives you will have spent R4800 if you add the R30 per fill.

Bear in mind a cylinder needs to have a visual inspection annually (about R70) and a hydro test every five years (R140 including a visual at the same time). Dive centers maintain their cylinders to this norm and you will need to do so for your cylinder if you own it. Most reputable dive centers will refuse to fill an out of date cylinder so you will need to have it done.

The decision to buy needs to be based on how often you dive. If you dive once or twice every other month then you will most likely be better off renting, but if you dive every weekend or several times a month, it will pay you to have your own as you will recoup this outlay within two years

Safety stop at Ponta do Ouro
There is a multitude of possible dive gear configurations - take your time deciding what's right for you

The last word

In my honest opinion the best gear to buy is the gear with the best back up service in your area. At some point, and once a year at least, your gear will need a service. Having bought a particular brand because the ”service kits are cheap” is going to be of no value if the servicing agent has no stock, or does not have the correct tools. It is also important to know that the technician doing the work is competent and qualified in your brand of gear. Don’t be fooled by the words ” I have serviced hundreds of these”. Discovering that the technician was perhaps not that good when your regulator fails at 30 meters may spoil your dive.

Night Diving as a Specialty or a fun dive

Tony and I do night dives quite often. We love it – there are creatures that only come out at night, and there’s something very exciting about going somewhere familiar and seeing how different it looks at night. We’ve seen something new on every night dive we’ve done (latest: white sea catfish at Long Beach). Besides, I LOVE cyalumes (for the uninitiated, those are the awesome little light sticks that you snap to release a chemical and then they start glowing) and all things glow in the dark.

I admit that I found my first night dive a little bit scary, and I still find I have to be more deliberate about relaxing in the water and not letting my imagination run wild. But it’s a very good discipline, forcing yourself to breathe deeply and be calm, and very quickly you get distracted by all the creatures that are either attracted to or hypnotised by your torch.

A lot of fish will swim right up to your torch, giving excellent photographic opportunities and time to examine them in detail. I specially like the beaked sandfish – they only come out at night (when I dive Long Beach during the day, I always wonder where they are). They’re long, thin, shiny, cream-coloured fish with translucent fins like dragon fly wings, and they use their pointy noses to dig themselves into the sand when they get a fright. But most of the time they gather together in little groups, milling about langurously on the sand. They love to check out torches and are not shy unless you make sudden moves or try to touch one.

I’m busy doing the PADI Night Diver Specialty – since we do so many night dives, and since I’m hungry to learn more at the moment, it seemed like a good idea. It’s not a demanding course at all, but I’m enjoying it. The manual covers night diving techniques in a lot of detail, and has a very useful section on choosing a dive light, and the relative advantages of different types of light and batteries. Most of it seems to be common sense, like remembering not to shine your light in people’s eyes, not going into any overhead environments (because there’s no daylight for orienting yourself) and making sure you have a backup light. However, it’s the kind of common sense that one needs to be reminded of or have specifically pointed out – I would never have thought about the danger of going into caves or penetrating wrecks at night, and would probably have gotten myself into trouble without giving it a second thought.

The practical section of the course involves three dives. There are a couple of navigation tasks, and on one of the dives you have to sit on the bottom for three minutes with the lights off. It’s surprising how light it is underwater at night. We did a night dive at Long Beach on Saturday, and even though there was cloud covering the moon, the ambient light underwater from our cyalumes and from the city lights was not inconsiderable.

If you enjoy night diving, or want to challenge yourself with something new, different and unusual, this is a really cool specialty to try. You can also do a night dive as a fun dive with an Open Water Qualification, or as an Adventure dive towards your Advanced Open Water diver qualification.

Bookshelf: Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa

Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa – Phil & Elaine Heemstra

Coastal Fishes of Southern AfricaThis is a useful book with a lot of good information about the species described. As I’ve used the book I’ve gotten more and more familiar with the different shapes that characterise the different kinds of fish. The contents page usefully categorises the fish by physical attributes.

It’s tricky to use as a fish identification guide sometimes, because the colours of the fish are drawn and painted (no photos) as you’d see them on the surface, or in very little water – not as at 20 metres. So the reds are brighter than you’d expect. I’ve found this book invaluable, despite having to get used to not skipping over fish that look “too bright” in my quest to figure out what I’ve seen on a dive.

There’s a lot of good information about the behaviour of the different species, so it’s a very useful source of information after you’ve identified what you’ve seen. I tend to use Two Oceans or A Field Guide to the Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula (reviews to follow) for a first-pass idenfitication, and then this book to get a better idea of how the animal behaves, breeds and feeds.

Get your copy here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.