Ponta do Ouro (Mozambique) 2015 trip report

Sunrise at Planet Scuba
Sunrise at Planet Scuba

Earlier this month we returned from our second ever dive trip to Ponta do Ouro. (It was my third time there – on my first trip, in 2009, I wasn’t qualified to dive yet, and met my future husband, where he was diving and skippering five times a day and living in a reed hut. I still sometimes feel guilty for having a part in him leaving this little piece of paradise.) We flew to Durban. A shuttle transported us to the Kosi Bay border post, where we were met by Mike of Blowing Bubbles Diving. Mike drove us and our luggage over the dunes into town, and dropped us at Planet Scuba, where we would stay for the week.

The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro
The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro

Planet Scuba is situated on top of the hill that overlooks Ponta’s central square. Since my last visit (I think), a pharmacy has opened on the corner (pictured above), and later in the trip we purchased a much needed decongestant there (for a fairly princely sum, but beggars can’t be choosers).

Every morning we would walk down the steps to the road that leads to the beach, and head towards the point to meet up with the boat for diving. After diving, we would either walk back or get a ride on the back of the Blowing Bubbles bakkie. We breakfasted between dives, and then returned to the beach. The dives in Ponta do Ouro are boat dives, and the skippers launch the boat off the beach through the waves. There was almost no swell while we were there, so the surf launches were quite tame!

Laurine and Esther descending
Laurine and Esther descending

We dived for five days, most of us doing ten dives in total. We contemplated a dolphin trip with Dolphin Encountours, but reports were that boats were only seeing one or two dolphins, if any, and the trips cost more than a dive so we carried on diving instead. We were so, so lucky to see a huge pod of dolphins at the end of our last dive, near Ponta Malongane. On our first dive that day we had seen big schools of baitfish near the surface, and the dolphins had probably come to the area for feeding. We weren’t allowed to get into the water with them, but they swam past the boat for ages, and we heard them breathing as they passed by. Tony and I stuck our cameras over the side of the boat, and it turned out there were many more dolphins underwater than we could see on the surface.

Batman takes the reel
Batman takes the reel

The pace of life was very mellow. We dived, ate, slept, and repeated various iterations of that sequence. We admired the community of friendly dogs down at the beach. We enjoyed hungry cats and condensed milk milkshakes at Neptune’s, with a view over the Motel do Mar (where we stayed on our last trip) to the beach. We had a healthy and delicious lunch at Mango above the Dolphin Centre, and got thoroughly soaked by a tropical rainstorm on the way back to Planet Scuba. Christo, Esther and Laurine sampled the “chemical s***storm in a glass” (I quote Esther) that is Ponta do Ouro’s famous R&R (rum and raspberry). Strangely, none of them wanted any more…

The diving was excellent. The water temperature was 23 degrees, and we had (apparently mediocre for Ponta) visibility of about 10 metres, sometimes more. This was very acceptable to us as Capetonians. The reefs are teeming with life, and all of us saw something new. Laurine was enchanted by a turtle, Tony spent most of his dives upside down with his head in crevices in the reef, Christo directed all of us to exciting discoveries with his torch and pigsticker (a metal kebab stick slash pointer that must have a different name but I don’t know it), and Esther maintained her sense of wonder and calm as she brought up the rear of our little group on most dives. On one of the dives a very strong current gave us opportunities to use our SMBs, which was an excellent learning experience and a reminder of how important a safety sausage is, no matter where you are diving.

The air temperature was warm, the wind hardly blew, and for a while we could forget that at home in Cape Town it was cold, frequently dark, and overflowing with commitments and obligations. We returned the way we had come, but feeling a little more ready to cope with the rest of the Cape winter. We’ll be back in a couple of years, Ponta!

(I’ll share some little videos and more photos from the trip over the next couple of weeks.)

Newsletter: My flaw has plans

Hi divers

Weekend dives

Sunday: Launching from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 for SAS Pietermaritzburg and Outer Photographer’s Reef at 11.30 am

Conditions

We had fantastic diving in freezing cold water in False Bay on Friday for the Advanced course currently on the go. It was a real shock to feel 11 degree water in False Bay at the height of summer – by the time we got to the top of the beach we were hot again! By Saturday morning, a spectacular green plankton bloom reduced the visibility back to low single digits.

Hout Bay today
Hout Bay today

This week, despite there having been so much south east wind that our cats have struggled to stand upright, the Atlantic is not as clean as you might expect. I took these photos from the top of Chapman’s Peak around midday and you can see the patchy brown spots. More south easter tomorrow may improve the conditions in the Atlantic, however a 3 metre, 15 second swell rolls in tomorrow evening, so I think there will be too much surge for comfortable diving. The wind goes westerly at midday on Saturday and the swell drops so I reckon Sunday will be the best day for a dive, and we will launch from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 and 11.30.

We will dive the wreck of the SAS Pietermaritzburg at 9.00 am, and do a deep dive at Outer Photographer’s Reef at 11.30 am. If you want to be on the boat, email or text me.

DIY

Fudge and Junior on the squirrel feeder
Fudge and Junior on the squirrel feeder

Finally, here is a picture of the squirrel feeder I built in our garden this week. I think the design and placement may need work…

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Book recommendations, strongly worded

Junior napping on the bookshelf
Junior napping on the bookshelf

We read a lot (the royal we, and refer to yesterday’s post for more on that). Sometimes I finish reading a book, and immediately want to buy five thousand copies and air drop them all over the city. Here’s a list of those, with reasons why I feel so strongly about them:

Raising the Dead: I was obsessed with the story of Dave Shaw’s dive into Boesmansgat, to recover the body of Deon Dreyer, a diver who had died there, long before it crossed my mind that diving was something I could do myself. My obsession at that time was with the contrast between the attitudes of Shaw – who told his wife that if he died diving, she should leave his body where it lay as he would have left it – and the parents of Deon Dreyer, who were unable to gain closure around their son’s death until his body was recovered. Apart from providing much spiritual food for thought, the book is suspensfully written and gives an excellent introduction to deep technical diving. The fact that it recounts events that took place in South Africa is a bonus.

Deep Descent: This book gave me nightmares, and introduced me – a naive and ignorant newly minted recreational diver – to a kind of diving that both horrified and fascinated me. Kevin F. McMurray’s account of the spell cast by the 70 metre deep wreck of the Andrea Doria, and the cachet attached to bringing back treasure (crockery, cutlery, etc.) from this isolated wreck in the north Atlantic Ocean, is completely absorbing.

EnduranceAlfred Lansing’s account of a 1914 attempt to cross the Antarctic continent by a group of British adventurers, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, is gripping. Apart from the wholly surprising quality of individual that the expedition (and other polar explorations of the time) attracted, what actually took place – and how it was resolved – is one of the truly remarkable examples of survival and ingenuity, and sheer persistence in the face of an implacably hostile environment. The book draws heavily on the diaries and accounts of the crew of Endurance, giving it a journalistic, immediate feel. I think my father would enjoy this.

Mapping the Deep: Robert Kunzig won awards for this account of the state of ocean science, and rightly so. It is essentially a translation of the pivotal scientific discoveries related to the ocean over the last several decades – into language that I can understand. He introduces the individuals who shaped our knowledge of the oceans today, and provides a historical context, too – in some ways similar to Stars Beneath the Seabut with more concern for the science and less for the quirks of the individual (although these are also in evidence).

Neutral Buoyancy: Divemasters in training should read this book, if only for Tim Ecott’s highly accessible account of decompression theory. But this is far more than a translation of dive science into layman’s terms. Ecott turned to diving as a way to recover from the death of his mother, finding it transformative and therapeutic, and from a very personal perspective explores the history of the sport, the life of the oceans, and some of the many and varied underwater locations worthy of exploration.

The Sea Around Us: Rachel Carson’s book can be seen as a precursor to Mapping the Deep (above), but even though some of the ocean science she describes is now dated, her writing is resoundingly beautiful. The first chapter reads like a science-infused creation myth, with the same linguistic grandeur as the book of Genesis. Much of what Carson writes about is still current, and the book should be read as a classic of nature writing. It has the power to inspire even people who don’t care much about the sea. Carson herself was a pioneering woman and I wish I could have met her. Read the commemorative edition with images, if you do get hold of it.

The Unnatural History of the Sea: The experience of reading this book is somewhat akin to being punched in the gut, repeatedly. Callum Roberts meticulously traces one thousand years of human exploitation of the marine environment, using catch records, logbooks, diaries, letters, and – later – scientific studies. In so doing he introduced me to the idea of “baseline creep” (an idea attributable to fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly). In short: our idea of the natural abundance levels of all marine species (except maybe urchins) is completely off base, informed by an inability to think back further than 60-70 years.

The Outlaw Sea: Let William Langewiesche school you on  just how wild and unregulated the high seas are. You’ll learn about piracy, flags of convenience, terrorism, shipping disasters, and shipbreaking. This deceptively short volume is one of the most fascinating, enlightening books I’ve ever read about man’s activities at sea. Everything in it was unfamiliar to me, written in a compulsively engaging style.

Surf Science: In this book Tony Butt taught me just about everything I need to know about tides and wave formations. He builds up, step by step, a model of how waves work on planet earth. Mind expanding! The book is written for surfers, but since good diving and good surfing on the same day are generally mutually exclusive, this is a very useful book for divers, too.

FlotsametricsCurtis Ebbesmeyer’s book is a blend of oceanography and memoir, and is a fascinating and beautiful primer on ocean circulation. His recollections of a long and fruitful career are expertly interwoven with the science, and I enjoyed every aspect of this book very much indeed. It has wonderful maps – get it in hard copy.

Everything by Thomas Peschak – particularly Sharks and PeopleCurrents of Contrast, and Wild Seas Secret Shores of Africa – is good. He is a photographer with an extremely well-formed theory of how photography can assist conservation efforts (hint: he appears in basically none of his own photographs). His work is original and extremely beautiful, and he has travelled to some of the most visually arresting parts of the planet to bring back stories of the threats and hopeful possibilities facing the marine environment. He is also thoughtful, scientifically literate, and able to string sentences together quite wonderfully. His books are the complete package and I cannot recommend them highly enough. For aspiring photographers, he always includes a brief section at the end describing how he got each picture, his aim, and some technical details of the gear and settings he used.

Carl Safina is another author whose entire oeuvre can be recommended almost without reservation. In particular, Song for the Blue OceanEye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, and The View from Lazy PointThe latter book provides an intimate account of the seasonal changes at his home on Long Island Sound, and combines it with a global perspective informed by visits to marine locations from Alaska to Belize, threatened by climate change and pollution. He always writes from a position of profound humanity, with reference to the people who depend on the ocean for economic and nutritional benefit, and is practical but uncompromising in his calls to action.

We can’t always travel as much as we’d like to (and I think we are very fortunate in being able to travel at all), but being able to read has a similar effect of broadening one’s horizons – without leaving the comfort of the couch!

Where to find a book

Dixie naps in front of the bookshelf
Dixie naps in front of the bookshelf

We talk a lot about books on this blog (in our house, apart from a gadget problem, we also have a book problem…) and I thought maybe it’d be helpful to provide a bit of structure around that. I have some old posts that I update periodically with a loose classification system that’ll help you to find a book about sharks, or diving history, or something for children, if you want to. At this time of year, if you’re starting to look for gifts for friends and family, this might be helpful:

Oceanography and ocean history books – not as dry as it sounds; some excellent overviews of ocean science here

Marine biology books – popular science mostly, including issues of keeping dolphins and orcas captive

Fish identification books – both South Africa-specific and for other, warmer waters

Books about sharks – from popular science through photography all the way into some quite technical information

Conservation books – images and words to inspire us to protect the ocean

Ships and shipwrecks – finding them, diving them, cataloguing them

Books about extreme diving – cave diving, deep diving, technical diving, commercial diving, freediving…

Diving adventures – travelling divers, and individuals who pioneered

Dive travel books – books about Malta, the Red Sea, and other must-see diving destinations

Diving science and physiology – the stuff you have to learn for your Divemaster course, but some good reads despite that!

Surfing books – not just for surfers

Diving history – the early days of the aqualung, and the history of ocean exploration

Photography and art books – eye candy and material to dream over

Novels and children’s books – some good ideas for the younger generation

A look of disapproval

Disapproving Fudge is disapproving
Disapproving Fudge is disapproving

Looking at all the paraphernalia on the boat around him – wetsuits, BCDs, and other gear – I am guessing that the expression of opprobrium on Fudge’s face is related to the lack of direct attention he is receiving from the boat’s owner. Attention (and adulation) is like jet fuel to Fudge.

Oh buoy

Our cats (of which we have many, many) find our cars irresistibly appealing, and at the first opportunity will climb inside for an investigation. Tony once got out the gate and into the road with a car full of cylinders for filling, and a very wide-eyed Mini cat, who had climbed into the back of the vehicle while Tony was loading the tins.

Blue inspects the buoy
Blue inspects the buoy

Here’s Blue, still a little kitten, checking out (something next to) the buoy that the Divemaster (on our boat and shore dives) takes along with him on a reel and line, floating on the surface to mark the divers’ presence to boaters. She’s in the back of the divemobile. Everything gets a bit salty, and this seems to fascinate the cats – perhaps it’s one step away from bringing an actual fish home for them.