Newsletters you should be subscribed to

As a veteran newsletter subscriber, and someone who actually ENJOYS getting them in my inbox (not everyone does) – probably a sad reflection on my self esteem, that I need to request people to email me! – I can offer you the following hints for signing up:

  • Some websites have a Subscribe box on their front page. Use it!
  • The other place to look for a subscription option is on the Contact page.
  • If there’s no explicit newsletter link, it’s often worth dropping the site owner an email asking to be subscribed to their newsletter if they have one. If they don’t, perhaps they’ll take the hint and start something up…

You can get subscribed to Tony’s newsletter by emailing him. It tells you about planned dives and courses, as well as report backs on recent underwater activity.

If that’s not enough, check out the following newsletter writers:

Cape Town

Keep up with what’s going on at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront by signing up for their newsletter. They have regular concerts, conservation activities, and other special events at the aquarium.

Chris and Monique Fallows at Apex Predators run shark cage diving and photography trips to Seal Island. We haven’t done a trip yet – wanted to go in high shark season but this year it corresponded with high World Cup tourist season, so we’ll do it next year – but their detailed updates on the marine activity in False Bay are awesome… Sightings of of orcas, dolphins, whales and sharks abound, and Chris’s photos are amazing.

Diving

PADI sends out newsletters periodically, describing diving destinations, certification options, and other bits and bobs related to scuba diving. Depending on which box you ticked when you registered for your course, you may already be on their mailing list.

Magazines

The Dive Site is South Africa’s best diving magazine. By a LONG way. And that’s after only one issue! They send out a weekly newsletter by email filled with photos, blogs, competitions and event notifications, and if you haven’t managed to get a print subscription to the magazine, it’s available on their website in digital format.

African Diver Magazine is an online-only magazine published once a quarter. If you join their mailing list, you’ll get a notification when the new edition is released.

Conservation & Volunteering

South African

If you’re using the ocean at all, whether as a diver, surfer, beachgoer or sailor, you should be supporting the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). They are staffed entirely by volunteers and do amazing work. It costs R100 per year to be a member, and you get a cool magazine every quarter. They also have a newsletter.

SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) is in the news every time an oil spill gets on the feathers of our cormorants and penguins. They are a non-profit seabird conservation and protection organisation based in Cape Town. There is a volunteer program if you want to get your hands dirty (and get nipped!). They have a newsletter.

Conservation and shark specialty diver training body SharkLife has a newsletter – look for the link in the left column of their site.

Underwater Africa is an advocacy group that liaises with government regarding Marine Protected Areas and the permits we require to dive in them. Register with them to receive updates – this should concern all South African divers.

The South African branch of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has an e-newsletter. They’re the people who run the SASSI initiative – if you don’t know about it, you should!

International

National Geographic has a range of newsletters you can pick and choose from. Their photography in particular is spectacular.

The National Ocean Service is part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and sends out a periodic newsletter. Their educational Ocean Explorer program also has a newsletter.

Project AWARE is all about divers conserving marine environments. They’re an international organisation and it’s well worth getting on their mailing list to stay informed. There’s a Project AWARE specialty course that divers can do.

Ocean Conservancy is the non-profit organisation behind International Coastal Cleanup Day and several other conservation initiatives. Worth keeping up to date with their news.

The Save Our Seas Foundation has a newsletter, but it seems to get sent out VERY irregularly… like once a year. May be worth signing up for, as they do really good work.

The Smithsonian Ocean Portal sends out a newsletter advertising events, updates to their blogs, and covering ocean news. The Smithsonian is a venerable institution that encapsulates almost everything that is interesting about America… Check it out!

OMSAC Cleanup Dive on Robben Island

On Saturday last week we participated in the OMSAC underwater coastal clean up in Murray’s Bay Harbour on Robben Island. The weather was magnificent – we had awesome boat rides there and back on the old Robben Island ferry, crusing in between moored container ships and spotting seals.

The Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club organisers had done a fantastic job, and the Metro Rescue team was on hand in their rubber duck. They laid a line down in the harbour demarcating the area in which we were to start the dive (since the regular ferry was still going to be in and out, we had to take care). Entry was via a giant stride off the bottom of some steps in the pier… As it was low tide, the stride was pretty giant. My first time, and lots of fun!

Entry point in Robben Island Harbour
This is our entry point... Duck waddle down the steps, and giant stride off the edge!

Once we were in the water, however, it was a different story. Armed with kitchen scissors (the biggest adventure my lowly pair has ever had), knives and mesh bags to collect rubbish, we were to scour the harbour bottom for debris. Visibility, however, was appalling. So appalling that I spent much of the dive in a state of abject terror – at times it went down to zero, and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I held onto Tony most of the time, and couldn’t even see the far side of his body. We surfaced once or twice for fear of crashing into the harbour wall without seeing it, and descending again was frightening because I didn’t know what was beneath me and had no sense of depth.

Murray's Bay Harbour at Robben Island
Murray's Bay Harbour at Robben Island, with our entry point to the right of the jetty, and our exit point to the left between the ships.

The bottom of the harbour is mainly covered with very fine white sand, and the water is permeated with it. There’s also a disturbing suction effect in parts of the harbour – one feels as though you could sink quite deep into the sand if you put your mind to it. In the part of the harbour where the new ferry docks, there’s quite a lot of ridged, smooth rock on the bottom, overgrown with sea plants.

We didn’t see much life – I am sure it’s there, but the visibility precluded much underwater naturalism. On the surface I spotted a night light sea jelly, and Tony saw a puffadder shyshark. Bank and Cape cormorant nest on the breakwater at the entrance to the harbour – we were cautioned against disturbing them.

Cormorants nesting on the breakwater at Murray's Bay Harbour
Cormorants nesting on the breakwater at Murray's Bay Harbour

Tony had decided against bringing his underwater camera because we thought were supposed to be cleaning up, not shooting photos, and at first he was kicking himself because every second diver had brought theirs… However, after seeing the water conditions, we realised he was not missing out on anything!

The harbour was built in 1939 along with an airstrip and gun batteries for military purposes. It’s not a very busy place nowadays – the only real traffic is the Robben Island ferry a few times a day. Tourists don’t hang about there much either – they get whisked away on tours – so there’s not that much opportunity for them to drop litter into the water or let their chip packets blow away. Despite that, I was expecting a lot more rubbish than we found. Part of it was the poor visibility, but we didn’t see a lot of junk at all. Some awesome old cooldrink bottles were found, some net, plastic bags and bottles, and a few other bits of bric a brac.

Dive date: 18 September 2010

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature: 14 degrees

Maximum depth: 5.5 metres

Visibility: 0.3 metres (not kidding – an optimistic estimate)

Dive duration: 33 minutes (that’s time underwater)

 

Leaving Robben Island
That's Tony and me toting our gear down the jetty after the dive

There’s a gallery of more photos up on the OMSAC website.

Sunday’s DSDs

Sediqua was the winner of the Discover Scuba experience in the competition run by Chris at iMod.co.za. Congratulations!

Sediqa and Chris have posted a couple of the photos from the Discover Scuba Diving experience that took place on Sunday at the False Bay Yacht Club. The sea conditions were seriously dodgy but we still managed to get into the water and play!

Documentary: Nature’s Great Events (BBC)

This is another BBC production, beautifully produced and made in the same format as The Blue Planet (no visible “presenters” or other fame-hungry wombats getting in the way of the actual spectacle of the natural events).

Nature's Great Events
Nature's Great Events - a BBC production

This series covers six spectacular natural events. As a diver, the most thrilling one for me was the sardine run off South Africa’s south coast. The camera work is unbelievable. It was filmed over a few years – ordinarily one wouldn’t be so lucky as to see this much all in one season. Tony and I recently attended a slideshow of photographs taken at this year’s sardine run, followed by the showing of a short (seven minute) film clip by Mark van Coller of Earth Photos. The photographs were spectacular, but that little film clip totally stole the show, and gave a glimpse of the speed and the drama of the event. Film definitely seems to be the best medium to capture the dynamism of this spectacle.

The salmon spawning in Alaska and the ice melt in the Arctic are beautiful, but it’s the plankton bloom in Alaska that also really captured my imagination. You see groups of whales feeding on the organisms, as well as sea lions and killer whales attracted to the feast.

Also included is the flooding of the Okovango Delta, and the animal migration in the Serengeti. As one has come to expect from the BBC, the camera work is impeccable, it’s seamlessly edited, and the narration is professional, non-intrusive, and adds to the overall production.

The official BBC site for this show is here. You can buy the DVD set at Loot.co.za or Amazon.com.

Bookshelf: Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay

Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay – Guido Zsilavecz

Coastal Fishes - SURG
Published by the Southern Underwater Research Group (SURG)

This slim volume is another SURG publication, and is of the same high quality as Georgina Jones’s Marine Animals production. It’s only about fish – no invertebrates, no plants and no birds.

Like Georgina’s book, it only covers a very particular geographic area, which makes it a super reference for local divers. Given a big thick book on the whole of the South African coast, I am liable to identify ten species found only in KZN that I think I’ve seen on a False Bay dive… and then be sorely disappointed to realise how statistically improbable (but not necessarily impossible) that is!

The book is laid out nicely – the text is at the front, and all the photographs are at the back. So you can flip through the photos all in one go, figure out what you saw, and then read all about the species in the front of the book. The information is comprehensive and useful for divers – after a recent night dive, I used this book to confirm that we’d been surrounded by a shoal of juvenile maasbanker, based on the photographs and behavioural information included in the book.

There is information about which species have been seen at which Cape dive site, and where they are most common, which is fabulous. A dedicated reader could even figure out which species they are most likely to see on a dive at a particular location, with reference only to this book and Peter Southwood’s Wikivoyage site. This information, combined with knowledge of where the fish like to hide out, can enhance a dive a great deal. Instead of searching aimlessly, one can be more directed in where one looks for marine life.

Guido Zsilavecz, the author, has a particular interest in klipfish (last I heard he’s working on a book only about them, but I could be wrong), and devotes a number of pages to the different varieties. For someone like me, who sees hundreds of multicoloured klipfish but can never decide what kind they are, this is a godsend.

You can purchase this book from SURG – there are order details on their website and they will post it to you directly. Otherwise it’s available in good dive shops in Cape Town.

Life in a dive camp

Depending on the type of accommodation you have chosen, if you are in a packed camp then have some respect for other divers in the camp or cabins next to you. You may be on a party trip but they might be on a peaceful break from a hectic work environment.

These are a few of the camp rules I have used in some of the camps I have worked…

Noise

Please respect the fact that some people in the camp are on an early dive and need to sleep. No noise after 10 pm. Go to the beach or a pub if you want to be noisy.

Dive planning

Dive planning takes place in the dining area every day at a specific time. Please be there, if you are not there we cannot book a dive for you.

Dive planning
Dive planning noticeboard

Kit up and launch times

Kit up time and launch times are on the board, please be ready to kit up at the designated time. Please sign the launch sheet, produce your dive card and complete an indemnity before you go diving.

Boat rules

Please ensure your kit, mask, fins and weight belt are on the boat you are on.

Try and sit opposite your gear from the launch as it is not safe to move kit around on a full dive boat.

Please ensure you are opposite your kit before you put your weight belt on.

Rinse your mask before you kit up as you are less likely to fall in the water.

Ready your kit by loosening the straps clips etc., so when someone gets to you to help, you are ready. This reduces the time spent bobbing on the ocean which causes seasickness in some divers.

At the end of the dive please hand your weights up before you remove your kit.

Once you are on the beach please take you mask and fins off the boat, and the staff will often bring the rest. A good habit is to remove your regulators and BCD and wear them back to you base as some operators can be hard on gear. (Remember to dry and replace the dust cap.)

Some more boat etiquette can be found in this post!

FAQ: How do I shop for a dive course?

Learning to dive is expensive, and for most people it simply cannot be a spur of the moment decision. Problem is, if you’ve never dived before, or hung out with divers, it’s kind of daunting to try and figure out what course to take, where to go, and what seems reasonable in terms of cost.

Costs

Some things to ask the dive centre or Instructor before you part with your hard-earned bucks:

  • What exactly does the course qualify me to do (how deep can I dive, accompanied by whom, and can I rent kit with my certification)?
  • Does the course fee include the registration fee with the certifying authority (PADI, NAUI, etc.)? If not, how much will that cost?
  • Does the course fee include full kit rental for the duration of the course? If not, how much extra will it cost to rent kit (including air fills)?
  • Does the course fee include extra costs like the MPA permits required for diving in Marine Protected Areas in South Africa?
  • If you’re doing a course such as Discover Scuba Diving or Scuba Diver, is there a discount if you decide that diving is the bomb, and want to upgrade to Open Water?
  • Is there an option to pay for the course in more than one installment? This isn’t at all common, but it’s actually quite safe for a dive operator to do this – legally they are allowed to withhold certification (so you won’t get your personal identification card and won’t be able to rent gear or dive anywhere else) if you don’t complete paying for the course.

Course presentation

Some more questions, not related to the financial aspect, but still important:

  • If I’m slow to catch on with the skills, can I have more than one or an extended confined water session, or is there going to be time pressure (direct or implied)?
  • How many other people will be doing the course with me? What happens if I fall behind, or if they fall behind?
  • I can only dive on weekends/Monday afternoons/whatever… Can you structure the course to suit my timetable?
  • Can you accommodate any specific medical issues I have that don’t make me unfit to dive but will mean I need a bit of special assistance now and then?

The Instructor

  • Will the same person teach me the entire course? (This isn’t important to everyone, but to some people it may be.)
  • Can I meet the Instructor before I sign up for the course?
  • Has the Instructor ever had any disciplinary proceedings against him or been the subject of a QA review?
  • Can I get the Instructor’s certification number so that I can check his teaching status with PADI Pro Chek (or the equivalent for other certifying authorities)?

The whole caboodle

I actually did this when I signed up for my Open Water course, but generally it’s NOT wise to take the package that many dive centres offer that includes a dive course plus full soft gear (wetsuit, booties, fins, mask, snorkel). There are a variety of reasons to hold back when this package is presented as an option:

  • As Tony has said repeatedly, you won’t have an idea of what kind of gear configuration suits you until you’ve done quite a few dives.
  • You may not even enjoy diving after you’ve tried it, and then you’ll be posting one of those “wetsuit worn once” advertisements!
  • You may end up with a lot of cheap junk instead of quality gear that will last you a long time.
  • It might not be cheaper than buying the gear piece by piece, yourself.

Certification agencies

This is a decision as to whether you’re going to do a PADI, SDI,¬†NAUI, CMAS, SSI, IANTD or other course. It’s is a whole separate question but one which shouldn’t give you too much cause for concern… More to follow!

Hope this helps! As always, drop Tony an email if you have any more questions that need answering.

Scuba Diver vs Open Water

I’ve been bugging Tony to write this post because we often see advertisements related to this subject, to no avail, so I thought I’d just go ahead and do it. It’s about the distinction between two PADI courses – one of which is downright bizarre, if you ask me… but I guess suits some people otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

The course I think is bizarre is called Scuba Diver. The official PADI webpage for it is here. It qualifies you to do the following:

Dive under the direct supervision of a PADI Divemaster, Assistant Instructor or Instructor to a maximum depth of 12 metres

The other course, with which you are probably very familiar, is called Open Water. Here’s the PADI page about it. It involves a bit more theory and more sea dives than the Scuba Diver course, and qualifies you to do the following:

Dive independently (with a certified diving buddy) to a maximum depth of 18 metres

Here’s the catch: because the Scuba Diver course is a lesser qualification, and takes less time to teach, it costs less – often about half what an Open Water course costs. Of course, you can upgrade it to an Open Water course at any time, but that involves more theory, more skills and more dives. And of course, a small cash payment!

If you’re shopping for a dive course, be very sure that you understand what you’re getting and how it stacks up against what’s available. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the dive centre advertising that they’ll “turn you into a scuba diver” for a fraction of the price of the other operators is offering the same product… They’re probably not! The Scuba Diver course is great if you plan on doing lots of shallow dives with an Instructor by your side, but you may want to plan your own dives one day, and for most dive sites, 12 metres is going to limit your options!

Dos and don’ts for boat dives

Don’t talk about soup sandwiches, cheesy garlic rolls and other such topics on the boat while someone is throwing up… Be nice!

Don’t walk around the boat once you have your weight belt on. If you fall in the water we all laugh first and then try to rescue you, and by then you may be on the bottom… Not nice!

Don’t rinse your mask, fully kitted up or while the boat is moving… You will lose it (or fall overboard) and we will all laugh again… You then get to sit on the boat while we dive… Not nice!

Don’t shout “yee haa!” when the skipper gets the boat airborne on a huge wave… Its embarrassing enough with just you lot watching him fluff things, so when you shout everyone on the beach looks as well… Not nice!

Don’t all rush to one side of the boat when someone shouts “dolphins!” The boat becomes unbalanced and the skipper (or a diver) sometimes falls off… Not nice.

Don’t call your mask¬† goggles, your fins flippers, your weights sinkers and your cylinder a tin of oxygen… Your Instructor gets embarrassed and gets a beer fine.

Tim and Grace on the boat in Ponta do Ouro
Tim and Grace on the boat in Ponta do Ouro

Do check that your buddy is on the boat after a dive as most skippers and some DM’s went to night school and can’t count during the day. Plus it’s a waste of fuel to drive all the way back to the dive site to fetch him if you forget.

Do make sure your air is on before you fall into the water… Look at your gauge, take a few deep breaths, and if the needle fluctuates you air is not on. If you can’t breathe at all, it is also not on…

Do remember to shout “man overboard!” if your male buddy falls in the water, but please shout “girl overboard!” if your buddy is not male… Girls are sensitive about these things… Besides if a girl falls overboard all the guys do too… to help… This makes the boat fast and the skipper falls off…

Movie: Into the Blue

There aren’t many movies about or featuring diving, so perhaps my tolerance for poor quality is higher than it would otherwise be. This is an undemanding thriller set in the Bahamas.

Into the Blue
Into the Blue

A regular-featured cast, sunshine, clear water and an uncomplicated plot make this a crowd pleaser. The main character is a diving instructor and his girlfriend is a shark handler, and there’s a fair amount of scuba and free diving (which I find tremendously impressive… I can hold my breath for about ten seconds at a stretch). The film does demonstrate how quickly things can go wrong on a dive, as well as the use of lift bags, buddy breathing and a scene in which one of the characters takes breaths directly from the pillar valve of a cylinder while swimming into an aeroplane carcass ten metres below the surface of the ocean. All skills that it’s useful to have.

The Bahamas are riddled with shipwrecks, and you see a range of nifty gadgets for finding and recovering material on the ocean floor. The cast dive in board shorts and bikinis most of the time, testament to the balmy water temperatures in the region.

One doesn’t actually see that much marine life apart from some sharks – including an unfortunate shark attack which did not seem to be a factual representation of shark behaviour. Ah well. There’s not a lot to be seen in the way of coral, fish or sea plants. Most of the underwater shots are over a fine white sand bottom.

This isn’t high quality film making, but it’s reasonably entertaining. If anything, this movie will make you want to run away to warmer waters and become a treasure hunter.

Kalahari.net stocks the DVD, as do Amazon.com.