Guest post: Craig on encountering a great white shark

A boatload of happy divers
A boatload of happy divers

Here’s Craig Killops’s account of the dive at the Clan Stuart last Saturday. Craig (on the far left in the photo above) is just about to qualify as a Divemaster, and has just passed one of the most stressful tests any DM will have to face!

3, 2, 1…. Backward roll! Four divers perform a negative entry whilst I and a diver with drysuit remain at the surface after a positive entry. Diver with drysuit starts drifting slowly away from me, about 4 metres, whilst trying to organise himself. We give each other the okay signal and go down. I see the all too familiar silhouette , as seen on documentaries, glide between myself and the diver wearing the drysuit. I keep an eye on drysuit diver and try signal but diver too busy with equipment.

I head off to the rest of the group to signal that a shark has been spotted. Before the message has even been conveyed I see all eyes enlarged and focused behind me, the now clearly visible shark circled back showing its true inquisitive nature. Now with the group I notice that the drysuit diver is not with us and Christo also discovers this whilst we carry out a head count. We lay low on the sandy bottom at 10 metres and make our way quickly and calmly to the wreck.

As we are seeking cover in the kelp on the wreck a sillouette approaches again – it is not the shark but the drysuit diver, mid water. We signal him to stay low and to quickly come join the group as he is still oblivious to the presence of the shark. About ten seconds after he joins us the now very curious shark makes a full frontal approach towards Christo and myself ,we are up front to the left hand side of the group. When we blow bubbles (tactically or nervously…?) the shark makes a sudden turn at most two metres away from us into the green haze.

We calmed ourselves and ensured everybody was okay and accounted for. After brief comms Christo and I agree to stay low and take the group back for a shore exit roughly 150 metres away, which was probably the longest swim I have experienced mentally. Staying low on the wreck caused myself and another diver to drop our weight belts due to snagging. Big thank you to Christo for his prompt assistance in getting my weight belt back on. Not exactly the time you want to be floating to the surface.

Tucked up in a huddle formation we headed off , Christo keeping a left lookout whilst I keep a right lookout and both of ensuring the group is in close pursuit . With a 3 metre swell running into the bay there were fair sized shorebreakers on the beach which made shore exit interesting. Once we were all safely ashore we signaled the boat to say we were okay. Tony needed no explanation of what had happened – he had a front row seat to watch the dark shadow circling the group. Big thank you to shore support Clare Lindeque who arrived to transport some excited divers back to the harbour for a repetitive dive at Roman Rock, I think the Clan Stuart had provided its entertainment and blissful memories for the day.

Will definitely be keeping an extra wary eye out when diving the Clan Stuart from now on.

Releasing a pair of ragged tooth sharks

Waiting at Gordon's Bay harbour
Waiting at Gordon’s Bay harbour

One beautiful morning in early April I hitched Seahorse to the divemobile, and headed across to Gordon’s Bay for a special project. The boat had been chartered to assist the Two Oceans Aquarium with the release of two ragged tooth sharks: Kay, a large female who’d been in the predator exhibit since 2009, and a juvenile male that had been on display in Pretoria for the last two years (the aquarium does not keep male raggies). The project was supported by Shark Spotters and by Gemini (who, coincidentally, built Seahorse).

Checking out the little boy shark
Checking out the little boy shark

The sharks were brought to Gordon’s Bay  harbour in special tanks on the back of a truck. They’d been given a sedative that was timed to wear off just around the time that they’d be released. The care and attention of the aquarium staff was amazing. Everyone had a specific task, and they all did it. No one was standing around basking in the spotlight or getting in the way. The teamwork was very impressive and they made sure the sharks were very well cared for. Clare volunteers at the aquarium once a month and speaks highly of the staff there; now I had a chance to see them in action.

The sharks were lifted out of their tanks on the truck in a sling, and moved to a tank on the aquarium rubber duck. While the first shark was transported to the release site, the other shark waited on the truck. Aquarists made sure they were upright and comfortable and then the rubber duck set out very slowly from the harbour. As it travelled water was pumped into the shark’s tank, and the temperature was slowly adjusted to match that of the surrounding sea water. Every aspect was monitored.

Kay is settled in her tank on the boat
Kay is settled in her tank on the boat

My job was to transport some aquarium staff and Steve Benjamin, a local underwater photographer who would capture the release on film, at a short distance from the aquarium rubber duck carrying the sharks. One shark was taken out to sea at a time, and lowered over the side of the rubber duck in a blue sling. The release site was a couple of kilometres outside of Gordon’s Bay.

Aquarium divers prepare to guide Kay to freedom
Aquarium divers prepare to guide Kay to freedom

The sharks were initially slightly hesitant, and swam slowly for a couple of seconds with aquarium divers on either side of them to make sure they were all right. Then they smelled the open water and headed off at high speed. Can you imagine how it must have felt? Do you think the memories of what it was like to live in the ocean came back all at once, or like hazy, distant recollections? The aquarium staff also must have had very mixed feelings about the release. After caring for an animal for years, watching it grow in size and strength, there must be a big emotional investment.

The Two Oceans Aquarium does not keep sharks on display indefinitely; there is a rotation program and after a few years on display the sharks are released. Since 2004, eight ragged tooth sharks have been released from the aquarium. Kay, the large female who was released this time, weighed about 50 kilograms when she arrived at the aquarium. She weighed over 200 kilograms on release. Ragged tooth sharks are placid and well suited to performing a public education role. Their fearsome looking teeth belie their quite lazy demeanours. They are also able to breathe while stationary, something that not all sharks can do.

In other countries ragged tooth sharks are known as grey nurse sharks or sand tiger sharks.

There are two blog posts on the TOA website that give some behind the scenes shots and detail of how Kay was removed from the exhibit. Check them out here and here. There are some of the underwater photos taken on the day in this News24 slideshow. You can scuba dive in the I&J Predator Exhibit at the aquarium. I’d recommend it!

Newsletter: Very little newsletter

Hi divers

Not a very wet week on the diving front. We did a few shore dives earlier in the week (at Long Beach) and had 3 metre viz. I did launch yesterday from Hout Bay and must admit the water was much cleaner than I expected.

Launching in the rain at Hout Bay
Launching in the rain at Hout Bay

Weekend plans

The weekend is again a hit and miss one with (in my opinion) too much wind and too much swell today, and too many people running around the streets on Saturday. Monday has a howling wind forecast. This leaves only Sunday for diving. It will be a windless (almost) day and the swell will have hopefully subsided somewhat. I am inclined to try Hout Bay on Sunday as it will be sunny and warm, and the southeaster has been cleaning it up nicely. Text me if you’re interested in taking a break from eating marshmallow eggs and want a dip in some salt water.

Travel

Red sea dates: 17-26 October

Durban dates: 17-21 June

Training

Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, and Divemaster are currently on the go. The arrival of our dining room table is IMMINENT, and with it will come the SDI Equipment Specialty that I’ve been dangling like a carrot for months…

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Google maps dives underwater

A feature on BoingBoing late in the third quarter of 2012 drew my attention to the fact that Google Street View, a feature of Google Maps which we used extensively when house hunting (sparing many interactions with estate agents, for which one can mostly be very grateful), has released underwater “street views” of six coral reef locations around the world. Google originally announced the news on its official blog.

Allowing people to look under the ocean at what’s there (and I mean what actually lives there, not an attention seeker in a bikini holding onto a shark’s fin) is one of the most powerful methods available for spurring an interest in marine conservation. It is easy not to care about something one has never seen. Tony has had some startlingly intense reactions to the photographs he applied to the side of the divemobile, sometimes attracting a small crowd of onlookers who exclaim “I didn’t know it looked like that underwater!”

The BoingBoing article explains some of the technicalities of the Google project, including the specially adapted video cameras used. It also features an interview with a project director of Catlin Seaview Survey, the company that partnered with Google to produce the content. You can read it here.

Find the underwater Google “street views” here. They are wonderfully soothing and a boon to the office-bound. I hope we get some cold water “street views” next…

Plate coral at Three Sisters
Plate coral at Three Sisters

The divemobile gets a facelift

Tony’s beloved Mitsubishi Delica got a bit of a facelift about a month ago. She’s feeling like a new bus. Look out for her!

The divemobile looking spiffy
The divemobile looking spiffy

She’s had to work extra hard lately towing the boat, but the Japanese engineers who built her knew what they were doing.

Newsletter: The Cape Doctor

Hi divers

When I first arrived in Cape Town a few years back I was told the southeaster is called the Cape Doctor. “Why?” I wondered… The local explanation was it clears the air and makes it fresh and healthy. Well, almost everyone I know who spends their days on or in the ocean are all feeling rather ill at the moment from this so-called doctor!

I pimped the divemobile while it was too windy to dive
I pimped the divemobile while it was too windy to dive

I have lost count of the days of wind but with nothing else to do but watch for gaps we have dived the days when the wind has been 25 km/h or less. That’s my threshold of what is manageable on the surface. The Atlantic has been the place to dive and we have had some semi good visibility on Monday and really good visibility at Die Josie yesterday. There were patches of deep blue crystal clear water and in some areas a bit of surge and maybe 10-15 metre visibility. The temperature was 9 degrees.

Shane, Dercio, Odette, me, Gary and Fabienne in Hout Bay (picture by Mark!)
Shane, Dercio, Odette, me, Gary and Fabienne in Hout Bay (picture by Mark!)

We are back in Hout Bay tomorrow to do dives for Advanced students so cold clean water is what we are expecting.

What does the weekend hold? Well some wind and swell that switches from SE to SW and back again will make the choices difficult. I am sure it will be Atlantic but not sure whether we will launch from Hout Bay or Granger Bay (OPBC). That will be decide the day before so if you have booked a dive with us we will text you. We will do two dives each on Sunday and Monday – let me know if you want in. On Saturday we’ll be cleaning the house!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Scuba diving and fitness

A recent article from Shape magazine that has been breathlessly circulating in some of the scuba news circles I follow claims that scuba diving is the “new celebrity fitness trend” that “burns tons of calories while tightening and toning your body”. The rest of the article is a thinly-disguised marketing advertorial for PADI, but we’ll overlook that in favour of its ostensible main point: scuba diving will make you fit (and as hot as a Hollywood star).

I’m not a fitness expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I dive quite a lot (a few dives every weekend, weather permitting) and Tony dives even more (a few dives every day, weather permitting). I’d like to make the following observations:

  • One of the things I love about diving is that it can be done by people of almost any body shape and level of physical ability, provided you’re able to help yourself, put together and carry your kit to the water, and display a certain level of watermanship and stamina. As long as this base level of strength and fitness is there and you have none of the medical conditions that are incompatible with diving, nothing precludes you from being a scuba diver. The very regular scuba divers I know – those of whom it could be said that diving is their primary form of exercise – are by no means a uniformly lean and toned group of individuals. Clearly I’m missing something.
  • Diving – the underwater part, at least – is actually mostly about expending as little energy as possible. If you’re using your arms or kicking frantically, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! The whole idea is not to get out of breath or to elevate your heart rate (leading to panic). This doesn’t sound like fat-burning exercise to me.
  • Your body does expend energy keeping you warm on a dive – specially in the Atlantic in a wetsuit! The toasted sandwich, chocolate bar, bag of nuts or hot chocolate you consume after the dive, however, replaces all the calories you just burned, plus some. If being cold assisted with weight loss and made you fit, there’d be fewer treadmills and more industrial-sized refrigerators at your local Virgin Active.

Tony and I both had almost a month off diving in January, because he’d had surgery. He returned to work at the end of January, doing three shore dives that weekend. Afterwards, we were both quite stiff and more tired than we usually are after diving, because clearly regular diving does involve some level of conditioning. But what sort of exercise had we experienced? Could two and a half hours underwater really make our muscles feel this way?

The key, however, was that our muscles were stiff. One of the dives was at Sandy Cove, involving a bit of mountaineering. The other two were at Long Beach, and all three were with students. In each case, twelve cylinders and six boxes of dive gear had to be unpacked out of Tony’s divemobile, and at the end of the day packed away again (Tony insists on doing this – he has a “system” and I get in the way!). We had to lift our kit onto our backs, walk to the water, and – in my case – wrestle with a fellow diver’s new BCD and ill-fitting weight belt for 20 minutes while standing in thigh deep water in full kit. After the dive we had to return the way we came. All the exertion took place before and after the dives – the time underwater was extremely slow and relaxing.

If you’re going to get any conditioning from your scuba diving, I think it’ll primarily be in toting 20-30 kilograms of gear around on your back and around your waist, before and after you get in the water. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that diving will fulfill all your exercise requirements unless you’re actually working (e.g. as a commercial diver, a very active archaeologist or a fast-swimming map maker) underwater.

If, like me, you’re a weekend diver, rather than relying on diving to get you fit, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are fit to dive. Keeping yourself fit to dive would involve doing other forms of exercise during the week to improve your strength and cardiovascular fitness. I’m not saying you won’t get some physical benefit from scuba diving, but it won’t make you look like Jessica Alba or Matthew McConaughey unless it’s your full time job (and even then, perhaps not!).

Accidental photos of cars

As an accidental photographer, I am free to turn my inadvertent attentions to whatever takes the fancy of my camera and knee – working in tandem – on that particular day. When we do shore dives at Long Beach, we walk out of the water, across the beach and to the Divemobile in the parking area. Here are some pictures that got taken along the way:

Parking area at Long Beach
Parking area at Long Beach
Long Beach parking area on a quiet day
Long Beach parking area on a quiet day
Grey day
Grey day
Looks imposing
Looks imposing

This next photo is of my car, Bubbles the Citroen C3, who has since been replaced. She went like a bomb (1.4 HDi). But I wouldn’t recommend you buy one.

My Citroen C3
My Citroen C3

This is Tony’s car, the Divemobile (an imported Mitsubishi Delica). He’s very fond of it, and manages to transport masses of dive gear with ease. Also great for camping in!

The Divemobile
The Divemobile

FAQ: What’s the difference between an Independent and a Freelance instructor?

It is important to establish the credentials of your diving instructor and it is equally important to establish whether he/she is an independent or freelance instructor.

An independent is just that, an instructor who can take you right through the course without being dependent on a dive centre for equipment, training material or training aids.

A freelance instructor will need to rely on the availability of gear and training aids from a dive centre. A freelance Instructor will not be able to guarantee the same gear, wetsuit, mask etc. that you have used in the pool when you do your sea dives as they are rented and may therefore be out with another diver when you need them.

The divemobile taking in the sights in Gansbaai
The divemobile taking in the sights in Gansbaai

To be an independent instructor you need to be able to operate independently of any dive centre. This means you will need:

  • to have your own rental gear: regulators, BCDs , wetsuits, cylinders, fins, masks, and possibly even a compressor; and
  • to be able to find students, discuss and plan their course schedule entirely independent of a dive centre schedule and without relying on someone else’s training aids. For example if you are going to sign up for an Enriched Air/Nitrox course will there be a Nitrox analyser? If you plan to do night diving you will there be torches available, glow sticks, and strobes? Search and Recovery dives will require slates, reels and a lift bag. Being an independent instructor requires a certain degree of self-sufficiency.

(Often, independent instructors or freelance instructors open dive centres themselves. This transition usually comes with having a retail outlet and often the main focus is then diverted from teaching diving to paying the rent. Sales become more of a focus and they then arm themselves with freelance instructor contact details so anyone wanting to do a course can be accommodated.)

When you’re signing up for a dive course, this is a useful distinction to be aware of, and you should ask your instructor about whose kit he uses, and whether he’s dependent on a dive centre in any way.