Newsletter: Diving this week

Hi everyone

The weekend’s diving was really good. We had a real early start on Saturday, leaving home at 6.00 am for the V&A Waterfront where we boarded a ferry for Robben Island. It was an OMSAC underwater clean up event and I believe the first ever recreational dive with such numbers in the harbour. We dived both sides of the centre jetty, 25 buddy pairs, each armed with a knife, scissors and mesh garbage bag, and there were some really interesting very old glass bottles found.

The weather was fantastic and the water was surprisingly 15 degrees. I was expecting 5 degree water. The bottom is very silty and at some points the visibility was reduced to zero, so bad you could barely make out your hand, but an interesting experience nonetheless. A similar size group dived in the Waterfront near the Table Bay Hotel and found a shopping trolley, bundles of rope and many other strange things.

Today we spent all day in the water in the Simon’s Town Yacht basin, doing Discover Scuba and Open Water dive courses. This is also an interesting dive as you swim along underneath some beautiful boats, boats that look like a million bucks on the surface, yet below the water line they are covered in algae, barnacles and all sorts of little fish scurrying around feeding. We were also joined by Charlie, an SSI Master Diver and job shadow participant, I think he worked harder than he imagined today (thanks Charlie)!

Kitting up
Charlie helping Sediqa put on her weight belt

This coming weekend has a public holiday, something we all love, and I am going to arrange a boat trip for Friday or Saturday, to dive either a wreck in Smitswinkel Bay, or a wreck in Hout Bay depending on the weather. To ensure we get the boat and have the right to choose the dive site requires that we are a minimum of six people. As an Open Water diver you can do a Deep Adventure dive with an Instructor, and anyone joining will receive a signed off deep dive in their log books. This can be used as a credit on the Advanced Course should you wish at some point in the future. So anyone keen to join, please let me know by Tuesday evening.

Full moon is getting close and either Friday or Saturday we plan to do a night dive at Fisherman’s Beach, the white sandy bottom, scattered reef and kelp forests are amazing in the dark, they are pretty awesome by day too!! The white sand reflects the light so it is an amazing place to be at night.

I am starting a new Open Water course this coming weekend and will most likely run this in the afternoons so we will do fun diving in the mornings. It has been a while since we have had conditions suitable for the seven gill cow sharks so this is high on my wish list.

Don’t forget to buy your dive permit at a post office, for the guys going to Sodwana this is very important as they are checked daily.

Yours in diving

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

Looking for seahorses in Knysna

Tony is obsessed – and I mean obsessed – with seahorses, and by all accounts has been hunting for them everywhere he’s ever dived. For this reason he was very keen to dive in Knysna, home of the Knysna seahorse, and to see if we could find some.

We go houseboating in Knysna every year (so far), and we’re able to dock the houseboat on Thesen Island at the jetty there. The first time we went, Tony’s friend Cameron showed us where to dive, and accompanied us in the water while his girlfriend Claire paddled her kayak around on the surface.

The magnificent Knysna Lagoon opens to the sea through a very narrow opening called the Heads. Because it’s so narrow, the tidal pull into and out of the lagoon is incredibly strong, and it’s not wise to dive while the tide is going in or out. The dive sites inside the Heads (and there are several, including a wreck called the Paquita which I’m dying to visit) should only be dived around the turn of the tide, from half an hour before to half an hour after, unless you have a hectic drift dive in mind (and some people do!).

The first time we dived the Sanparks Quay on Thesen Island was in August 2009, and we dived at high tide one afternoon. It’s a bit of a walk from the houseboats jetty to the Sanparks Quay, especially wearing full kit, but at high tide the entrance is reasonably easy. You just stride down some steps next to the quay and into the water. It’s a so-called junkyard dive, with lots of tyres, bottles and other bits of rubbish, but also very beautiful to see how the sea life has colonised the junk. At high tide the water is deep, clean, and still. The fishermen on the quay were profoundly amused by our antics, and one has to watch out for their lines and hooks while diving this site.

 

Junkyard dive
Beauty in the junkyard

The seahorses are really hard to spot – many of them are brown (we did find a bright yellow one), smallish, and well-camoflaged among the debris. They wrap their little tails around things and sway in the current. We saw three or four, and Tony was so excited when we spotted the first one that I could hear him shouting through his regulator.

 

Knysna seahorse in hiding
Knysna seahorse in hiding

Dive date: 18 August 2009

Air temperature: 22 degrees

Water temperature: 15 degrees

Maximum depth: 5 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 19 minutes

The second time Tony and I dived the Sanparks Quay was at low tide (high tides were at night while we were there) in June this year. We were alone, and it wasn’t as easy as the previous time. The bottom of the steps ended before the waterline, so we had to leap off instead of just walk into the water. The visibility was less than a metre – like swimming in ProNutro – so I held onto Tony’s arm for dear life for most of the dive because if he moved too far I lost him.  The tide going out stirs up a lot of silt and brings dirty water from higher in the lagoon, which makes it very hard to see anything.

Despite the conditions, we did spot one tiny little sea horse, which made it worthwhile. There was also a crowned and an orange-clubbed nudibranch nudibranch, but we didn’t stay long because the conditions were so poor. We swam under the pier a little, which we didn’t do the first time. We learned why it’s a good idea to dive at HIGH tide next time!

Dive date: 16 June 2010

Air temperature: 20 degrees

Water temperature: 12 degrees

Maximum depth: 4.9 metres

Visibility: 0.5 metres

Dive duration: 35 minutes

If you don’t spot any seahorses, or don’t fancy a dive, you can visit the Sanparks office at the far end of the quay (closest to the Heads). They have a beautiful tank FULL of seahorses, who are extremely obliging photographic subjects.

 

Knysna seahorse
Knysna seahorse in the Sanparks Building

 

Documentary: The Blue Planet (BBC)

The Blue Planet
The Blue Planet - a BBC production

This BBC documentary is an exploration of the world’s oceans, from tropical to beneath the ice. It provides insight into the fragile ecosystems, the tides and currents that influence and sustain them, and the unseen behaviour of the creatures and organisms inhabiting the seas. The camera work is incredible (Tony and I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out whether scuba divers or remote cameras were used at certain points) and there is a special feature on how they filmed the series.

There is footage of blue whales (I nearly fell out of my chair), breeding coral, bioluminescent creatures, and everything in between. If this series doesn’t make you want to be a scuba diver, I don’t know what will!

As with Sylvia Earle’s magnificent Ocean atlas, we were left amazed by how little of the ocean has been thoroughly explored, and totally impressed with the diversity of life in the parts we have managed to get to!

It’s wonderful viewing for when you’re sick in bed, want to dive but can’t, or just need something beautiful and soothing (mostly – the killer whale bits aren’t soothing) to feed your soul. The official BBC site for the documentary is here.

You can get the DVD box set here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Reef rules

Please remember, coral reefs are delicate, home to creatures we are privileged to visit and need to be respected. Control your buoyancy, tuck in your gauges, octos and torches.

Some of the corals have taken hundreds of years to grow to their current size. A careless fin kick could destroy decades of growth.

Don’t touch anything – coral reefs are a delicate ecosystem, and you can transport algae and other organisms on your hands from one coral to the other. This isn’t a good thing – it’s the equivalent of coughing on someone when you have a cold!

No touching! I am looking at you!
No touching! I am looking at you!

And finally…

Do not go deeper than the bottom!

Do not bite anything that bites you!

If your buddy is bitten by anything he should not be touching please take a picture for us to use in issuing beer fines!

Newsletter: Diving

Hi everyone

The Sodwana trip is done and dusted, 10 people, all booked confirmed and raring to go. For those still keen mail me and there is a chance we can accommodate you.

The weekend is going to be busy as we are doing a clean up dive on Robben Island on Saturday morning and I hope the swell has dropped off enough to do a dive with the cowsharks in the afternoon. There will also be a night dive on Saturday night again. We did a night dive on Monday night and had a shoal of hundreds of maasbankers swarming around us for most of the dive, clearly attracted to the many torches, strobes and camera flashes.

Next weekend we have a public holiday on the Friday. I would like to arrange a boat dive for the group, possibly to one of the wrecks in Smitswinkel Bay or a wreck in Hout Bay depending on the wind direction. I will need to book this early in the week to ensure the boat goes where we want it to so please let me know early if you want to dive. Boat dives are normally R250, but if we are a group of six or more I can squeeze them down to R180.

I am starting an Open Water course tomorrow in Danish… Its been a while since I have had a Danish student. Sunday morning I have Discover Scuba Divers in the morning and will start a new Open Water course on Sunday afternoon.

I will also start another Open Water course on Thursday evening with diving on the long weekend for anyone wanting to complete the course in one weekend. It involves theory on the Thursday night, confined water training on Friday after the boat dives and more theory in the afternoon, and then two dives Saturday and two dives Sunday. There are still spots left for this.

Remember, all divers need a permit, get yours at the post office for R85 valid for a year and keep it in your dive bag with your dive gear.

The blog has been updated again, there are lots of random diving information posts about gear, travel, etc. and Clare has done a few book reviews of some of the books we have and what makes them good or bad to own… So feel free to read them, and comment…

I will add a list of diving and ocean related DVDs that we have and how you can get to watch them…

If you dive soon remember the two most important rules, never hold your breath, and never go deeper than the bottom!

best regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive holidays

So… You have planned and booked your first dive trip away from home. What can you expect and what should you take with you? Most travel agents and travel websites detail all the required inoculations, currency, and clothing you require but very few dive centres will advise you on what to bring as they are willing and able to rent you everything you forgot.

Almost every dive centre will operate on a similar basis in that they will have dive planning at a specific time of day, or a dive board where you will add your name. They will almost all have a printout or drawing of the dive sites in the range of their boat, details on depth, current and common sightings.

Dive sites around Ponta do Ouro
Dive sites around Ponta do Ouro

All dive centres will have you sign a few indemnities depending on their operation, one for the gear, perhaps one for boat travel, or adventure dives etc., but when they request you sign them, read them first, and produce your dive card. Make sure you sign up for a dive that is within your qualifications as it won’t be of any use to blame the dive charter if you end up at 40 metres when you only have an Open Water qualification. Dive centres and Dive Masters, guides, or whatever name they go by, will as a rule check your qualification before the dive, but don’t test this by leaving your certification card at home!

If possible take your own gear, or rent from your trusted dive centre if you are unsure of the serviceability of the place you are going to. Remember that some remote locations have huge logistic issues in servicing gear so check first. Having said that I have been to some of the remotest dive sites in Mozambique and found the dive centre has a state of the art workshop with all the required special tools and service kits.

Make sure you have a spare mask or mask strap, a spare fin strap and a few O rings. Check your dive bag before you leave, several times if need be. An expensive dive trip to the most remote islands of the world will go horribly wrong when the special mask you have to suit your oblong head… is left at home.

Make sure you know the type of cylinders used where you are going. If they only have aluminium cylinders without removable inserts then your DIN regulator will be of no use. An adaptor like this is useful:

Adaptor
Adaptor for cylinders

Packing for a dive holiday

Make sure your very expensive roller dive bag is suitable. Some of these bags weigh 6 kilograms… empty. I was very proud of this bag when I bought it: huge volume, two detachable back packs, handle, wheels and strong lockable zips… But on my first trip I discovered it weighed 6.2 kilograms empty, was useless as a head rest while waiting for a train, and did not fit in the boot of the midget budget car I rented.

Dive bag
Wheelie dive bag for travelling... rather heavy!

I have lost a fair amount of equipment to baggage handlers in my time so what I do now is usually cable tie everything together. I have a little bag for everything, I then cable tie my Reg’s to the frame in my bag and then cable tie my toiletry bag to this and link all the small little bags to one another and so on. This just makes it harder for someone to slip something out of my bag and pocket it… Its no guarantee for the hardened criminal, but it does reduce the loss.

Cameras, dive computers and other expensive gadgets must go in your hand luggage. If you must check your camera in then attach everything together as you would underwater, cable tie your torch to the strobe arm kit and so on. Never separate the items as its hard for a criminal to hide a camera housing, arm and strobe as a unit, but easy for them to slip the camera into their pockets undetected. Many airlines will allow a camera or laptop bag in addition to your regular hand luggage, which makes things easier.

Diving in Cape Town – Wikivoyage

I’ve mentioned Peter Southwood a couple of times, in the context of a set of web pages that he’s largely responsible for. It’s on the Wikivoyage website, which (like Wikipedia) is a collaborative project where many contributors work together to create something useful. In this case, the something useful is a worldwide travel guide.

Peter’s project is to catalogue the dive sites of South Africa. The area that has received most attention thus far is the Cape Peninsula and False Bay – he has a list of the dive sites in each area, and most of the Cape Town have at least a skeleton article in place.

There is a detailed article on Diving in South Africa, and one for Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay. The introductory article lists dive operators, describes local climate, weather and sea conditions, lists reference books on the marine life in the area, describes the marine ecology, recommends equipment configurations, covers any legal requirements such as permits, details emergency services available, and provides safety and travel tips. The overview article also lists the dive sites in the area, with links to the detailed page on each site. This information is very useful for tourist divers coming to South Africa, but also contains a host of information useful to the local diver.

Peter Southwood maps the sites in a lot of detail. He has a small polystyrene boat, painted red, with a waterproof container containing a GPS mounted on it. This is towed behind him like a buoy as he dives (often solo) and maps the sites. Particular projects of his with very comprehensive reference pages and detailed maps are Long Beach in Simon’s Town (including a fantastic navigation route that covers a series of highlights of the site), and the Partridge Point area, where a location has been named Peter’s Pinnacles in his honour.

The dive site pages are very comprehensive, covering everything you could possibly wish to know about each area:

  • position (GPS co-ordinates are usually given)
  • naming convention and origins of the name of the location
  • depth
  • visibility – what the usual range is
  • bottom topography and composition
  • expected conditions, including tips on when it’s good to dive there
  • access information (boat or shore, with detail on the entry point if it’s a shore dive)
  • facilities on site (for shore dives) such as parking, restrooms and showers
  • marine life in the area
  • features of the site – caves, overhangs, pinnacles, air traps and so on
  • photography information – what equipment is recommended, and what subjects are promising
  • routes around the site
  • hazards
  • recommended equipment (e.g. an SMB, a light, etc.)
  • required skills to dive the site – sometimes relatively shallow sites are only suitable for more advanced or experienced divers… Shark Alley comes to mind!

The Cape Peninsula and False Bay wikivoyage page is Tony’s and my go-to guide whenever we want to dive a new site, as well as a good reference to familiar places. Even the articles on well-known sites give new insights or tips on what can be found there. The evolving nature of the online medium means that we check back often for updates and improvements to the articles. The Partridge Point article is a case in point – it’s undergone huge development in recent months.

This project deserves as much publicity as it can get – it’s incredibly impressive and useful, and reflects years of work on the part of Peter Southwood. The fact that he has made it freely available online is very generous. What’s more, the collaborative nature of the site it’s hosted on means that other divers can create accounts and contribute to the detailed information already there.

Bookshelf: A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa

A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa – Rudy van der Elst

A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa
A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa - Rudy van der Elst

Once I got over my initial shock of discovering that the pictures corresponding to each type of  fish were photographs of dead fish out of water, I found this book very useful. It’s no good for identifying fish as a scuba diver – unless you’re a very special (and illegal) scuba diver, you won’t be going through a pile of dead fish on land after a dive to find out what you saw! The fish don’t look anything like they do when they’re swimming about – the colours are all wrong, they’re limp, and their body shapes lose integrity out of the water. It was actually quite upsetting to me at first! The book is aimed at anglers, I think, and they’re a different breed to scuba divers.

What the book is very useful for are its detailed descriptions of the habitats of the fish (no doubt for anglers to hunt them down), their feeding preferences, reproductive behaviour, and very nice distribution maps. For the aquarists, there are even tips on keeping the fish in a tank, if that’s possible. It’s an excellent supplement to your knowledge of marine fish but should be used in conjunction with Two Oceans or A Field Guide to the Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula as your first port of call for identifying the fish you’ve just seen.

The book can be purchased here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Why it’s a good idea to carry an SMB

When I met Tony he was living in Mozambique, and when his visa ended he moved to Durban. Around that time we had decided we quite enjoyed each other’s company, so I flew up every second weekend to visit him. He was working at Calypso Dive and Adventure Centre at uShaka Marine World as an Instructor and Divemaster, so I tagged along on dives on the Saturday mornings I was in town. I was a fairly new diver at the time (it was September 2009).

It was the first time I’d come up to Durban to see him, and he had a student who had to do a deep dive on the Saturday morning. The boat was heading out to the Coopers Lighthouse wreck, a mysterious ship lying in 24-32 metres of water whose identity is not certain. Some people think it’s an old whaler, but there are several theories as to its origin. The wreck is thought to be about 100 years old and situated in line with the Cooper Lighthouse on the Bluff.

The rubber duck left the beach at 0700. The sea was looking quite bumpy, and the boat ride wasn’t great. I am not the best sailor, but as long as the boat is moving I’m fine. It’s about a 25 minute ride through shipping lanes, south of Durban harbour.

There was a howling current when we arrived at the site, and while we kitted up on the boat we drifted some way from the shot line hooked to the wreck. The sea was horrible – I alternated vomiting over the side (so embarrassing) with doing up clips on my BCD! Once we were ready, the skipper circled round and dropped us close to the shot line, but on the wrong side – so the current was taking us away from the line rather than towards it. I was with Tony, and his student – who was on the other side of the boat – had managed to get to the shot line and was holding on for dear life. In the current, his body was horizontal, like a flag in a strong wind.

Tony and I swam and swam, for what felt like an hour. We were swimming into the current at about 10 metres depth, but I think we were either standing still or moving backwards (it must have looked quite funny, if you were in that sort of mood). We could see Tony’s student, and we could see the shot line ahead of us, and then it just seemed to vanish. By that time the student had joined us, and the current had taken us out of sight of the line.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would do at that point, but Tony had a plan, which he explained to me later, on dry land. We descended to about 20 metres, and stayed there for about 20 minutes. The three of us were hanging in the blue ocean – no sign of the bottom – surrounded by shoals of fish. We could have surfaced immediately when we lost the shot line, but then we’d have had to spend the duration of the dive sitting on the boat, which was being tossed about like a cork. (I’d already demonstrated low tolerance for this kind of activity by chumming the local fish life while kitting up.) That’s if the boat had even found us – the skipper wouldn’t be expecting divers to surface after only ten minutes, and the conditions were not conducive to him spotting us as soon as we surfaced.

After about 20 minutes we began our ascent, doing a safety stop at 5 metres with an SMB deployed. When we reached the surface, the sea was mountainous. There was no sign of the boat, and even if it had been five metres away from us we’d have struggled to see it because of the size of the waves. Tony clipped our BCDs together so that we would drift more slowly (larger surface area to offer resistance to the current), and told me to keep my regulator in my mouth becuase the waves were so big. (It was on this dive that I discovered that you can vomit through a regulator… useful fact to keep in mind…)

Then we waited. The bright orange SMB stuck up between us, and in between gags I scanned the horizon (which was not very large, thanks to the waves) for the boat. The three of us floated there for 55 minutes before the boat found us. After being hauled aboard like a drowned rat I heaved over the side for good measure and then concentrated on my lollipop.

The skipper told Tony he’d been driving around looking for us, cursing Tony for not having an SMB deployed. We did – but the waves were so big that the boat was practically on top of us before it could be seen. If we hadn’t had an SMB, I very much doubt they would have found us without the aid of the NSRI.

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

For the uninitiated, SMB stands for Surface Marker Buoy. They’re generally tubes of orange, red or yellow plastic, that you inflate by inserting your octo or regulator at the bottom, and purging it. It’s generally considered good practice to deploy an SMB at the safety stop when you’re on a boat dive – it warns other boats of your presence, signals that you’re ok, and gives your skipper an indication of where to come and fetch you.

If you get lost on the surface, a SMB is essential. You’re not very visible dressed from head to toe in black, and that orange tube might be the only difference between a very long time drifting on the surface, and a quick rescue. They fold up really small, and with a little practice are very straightforward to deploy. If you’re diving off a boat, or in an unfamiliar location, make sure you pack your SMB.