Newsletter: Testing 123

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Two launches from False Bay Yacht Club, meeting at 8.00 am

A long period 3 metre swell arrives tomorrow, drops on Saturday and then builds again on Sunday. I am planning two launches early on Saturday morning as I have several students to certify. We will meet in the car park at False Bay Yacht Club at 8.00 am. Destination unknown and weather dependent. If you’re keen on a magical mystery tour, drop me an email, text or Whatsapp.

The boat from underwater
The boat from underwater

Keeping busy

In case you missed it on the blog this week, we tested one of our self-inflating life jackets in the pool, to see what would happen when it got wet. It works!

Maritime archaeologist John Gribble is speaking at the auditorium of the South African Astronomical Observatory on Wednesday 17 August, 4.30 for 5.00 pm. His talk is entitled “From Shipwrecks to Hand Axes: An Introduction to South Africa’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage” and is described as follows:

South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage is surprisingly diverse and extremely rich. Although shipwrecks are the most obvious elements of this rich heritage resource, there are a range of pre-colonial maritime heritage resources that are less well known. This talk will introduce South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage, highlight the archaeological importance of this resource, and touch on a few examples of interesting, local historical wrecks.

There is no need to book, the event is free to the public.


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Ice Blink

Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition – Scott Cookman

Ice Blink
Ice Blink

In Ice Blink, Scott Cookman provides another account of the much-reported final expedition of Sir John Franklin to the Canadian Arctic, in search of a Northwest Passage. The story has been told many times, in many ways, and Cookman’s rendition is gripping.

Several theories have been advanced to account for the failure of any members of Franklin’s expedition to return. A few bodies have been found, and eyewitness accounts from Inuits in the areas that the Erebus and Terror were trapped in the ice provide some clues as to what happened. A conclusive explanation, however, has not been found.

Cookman advances the idea the the men were killed by botulinium toxin, introduced into their diets from poorly prepared tinned food.  He is dogmatic about this theory to the exclusion of all others, and at times makes it sound misleadingly certain that this was the cause of the disaster. In fact, experts fail to agree on what killed the men; other theories include lead poisoning (from the canned food), or simply just the cold and poor preparation.

I would recommend you read this book after you’ve familiarised yourself with some of the other literature about Arctic exploration and Sir John Franklin in particular, and are equipped to separate fact from hypothesis. If you’re interested in the subject, may I strongly recommend The Man Who Ate His Boots and Frozen in Time.

You can read the first chapter of the book here and a New York Times review here.

Get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

Bookshelf: Sharks in Question

Sharks in Question – Victor G Springer & Joy P Gold

Sharks in Question
Sharks in Question

After an extremely enjoyable and informative experience with Whales and Dolphins in Question, another volume in the Smithsonian’s “in question” series, I sought out Sharks in Question.

Published in 1989, this book is chiefly enlightening as a primer in how shark science and attitudes towards sharks have progressed in the last quarter century. Like Ainley and Klimley’s Great White SharksSharks in Question is seriously dated. Far from making this a frustrating reading experience, I found it incredible how much more certain we are of so many things that the authors mention here in speculative terms.

If you’re looking for some current shark science, I would recommend Global Perspectives on the Biology and Life History of the White Shark or Sharks of the World. You could also check out the BBC’s wonderful Sharks series. If you are looking to complete your library of all things shark, however, you could find a place for this volume.

You might be able to get a copy here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Marine-related MOOCs from Open2Study

Let me continue to encourage you to use your spare time to pursue the subjects and ideas that interest you even if you have spectacularly missed your calling in life. It is a great time to be alive! I have heard about this thing called the Internet, that apparently contains almost all of human knowledge. Including a bunch of MOOCs.

Among the first MOOCs I did were these two from Open2Study, an Australian course provider.

If you enjoyed The Outlaw Sea, or are interested in piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, or general ocean governance issues, Contemporary Issues in Ocean Governance from the University of Wollongong will tickle your fancy.

If you’re interested in the Antarctic, have a look at Marine and Antarctic Science from the University of Tasmania for a quick tour of marine food webs, fisheries issues, and how the ocean regulates earth’s climate.

The final MOOC I want to mention is one I haven’t done, but Georgina and Kate have (and found it fascinating – I trust their judgment). The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has launched a MOOC on marine debris. You can find more information about it here. The MOOC ran until December 2015, but one hopes it will be repeated!

Marine-related MOOCs from Future Learn

Coursera is not the only provider of MOOCs. In fact, providers are legion. Future Learn is another provider, owned by the Open University, with an emphasis on European (mostly British) institutions as course providers. I have enjoyed a couple of their courses and can see a few more that interest me!

My favourite Future Learn MOOC is Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton. I’d like to think that it covers similar ground to the NAS course, but obviously without the practical aspect.

Also from the University of SouthamptonExploring our Oceans deals with ocean exploration and the variety of ecosystems found beneath the waves.

Introduction to Ecosystems from The Open University deals with the web of life and how organisms interact with their environment.

There are several climate-related Future Learn MOOCs on offer, including Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions, Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future and Causes of Climate Change.

Courses related to sustainable solutions to the world’s problems include Elements of Renewable Energy and Water for Liveable and Resilient Cities.

Don’t use these courses as a cudgel to beat yourself with. If you sign up for one and circumstances intrude and prevent you from finishing it within the allotted time, don’t be alarmed. The learning is meant to be for your own enjoyment, and the material will either remain accessible to you as a past student, or you can re-enroll for a future iteration of the course.

Marine-related MOOCs from Coursera

MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Course. These courses are available over the internet, allowing theoretically unlimited class sizes. Courses typically comprises a mix of short video lectures, supplemental reading material, assignments and/or quizzes. Many MOOCs are offered free of charge.

Coursera is one of the largest providers of MOOCs, offering top quality classes from a range of universities, including many excellent ones. Through Coursera I have learned about chicken husbandry, animal behaviour, R programming, maps and map making, statistics, machine learning and some marine-related topics. Here is a selection of Coursera offerings that you might enjoy if you are interested in the ocean and, more broadly, the environment:

Marine Megafauna from Duke University is about large ocean creatures – turtles, whales, sharks, seals, penguins – and what they reveal about the ocean. As part of the course we read scientific papers and extracted data and conclusions from them. This is an excellent skill to learn.

Paleontology: Ancient Marine Reptiles from the University of Alberta is about dinosaurs that lived in the ocean, and the evolutionary changes that took place in their bodies when they moved from land back to the sea. My five year old self is looking forward to this!

Ocean Solutions from the University of Western Australia is concerned with the resources of the ocean and how we can use them to mitigate water and food scarcity, cope with climate change, and use them to source sustainable energy.

Water: The Essential Resource from National Geographic is aimed at teachers (but is still interesting for the rest of us), and deals with ocean and freshwater ecosystems, water use and environmental stewardship.

Our Earth: Its Climate, History and Processes from the University of Manchester is about earth as a system, shaped by its natural processes. I am currently busy with it, and it seems to be providing a good grounding in basic geology, the water cycle, and life’s impact on the climate of earth.

Finally, because I am still completely obsessed:

Introduction to the Arctic: Climate from the University of Alberta is the first of a planned series of MOOCs about the Arctic. It deals with the various environments that make up the Arctic, how climate systems operate there, and the impacts of climate change on this sensitive region. If you do this one, I suggest playing the lecture videos at 1.5x speed to preserve sanity.

The Changing Arctic from Tomsk State University also deals largely with climate and climate change as it relates to the Arctic. The supplementary material is outstanding, and the course uses the work of scientists to tell stories that shed light on Arctic issues. This course comes highly recommended.

Some of these courses have set start dates; you can either enroll and wait for the date to roll around, or, if the next starting date is undetermined, sign up to be notified when it is announced. Other courses are self-paced, so you can sign up whenever you want to and work at your own pace. Coursera has a fantastic app that functions extremely well (at least on my iPad) for learning on the go.

Coursera is not the only provider of MOOCs – I’ll share some others in a later post.

The Cape Agulhas lighthouse museum

Cape Agulhas lighthouse
Cape Agulhas lighthouse

The ground floor of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse is devoted to a lighthouse museum and curio shop/tourist information centre. The museum is small, but well worth investigation if you’re a lighthouse buff.

Poster display about the Cape Agulhas lighthouse
Poster display about the Cape Agulhas lighthouse

There is a large number of posters on display, covering the history of the Agulhas light and the surrounding area, as well as lighthouses around the world. There is also a selection of lenses and other historical lighthouse and rescue equipment.

Display of historical lighthouse paraphernalia
Display of historical lighthouse paraphernalia

Entry to the museum is included in the lighthouse entrance fee.

Bookshelf: Frozen in Time

Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition -Owen Beattie & John Geiger

Frozen in Time
Frozen in Time

Depending on whether you’ve followed my advice (who am I kidding) and read Franklin’s Lost Ship or The Man Who Ate His Boots, this book could either be a spoiler or constitute a fairly neat wrapping up of the loose ends and methods used to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s vanished 1845 expedition to the Canadian Arctic to search for the Northwest Passage.

Owen Beattie is a Canadian forensic anthropologist (a real one) who exhumed the bodies of three members of Franklin’s expedition who died and were buried on King William Island in the Arctic. Beattie’s team visited the island in 1984 and 1986 to work on the exhumation, examination and reburial of the three men. Buried in the permafrost, the bodies were remarkably well preserved (that’s a picture of one of them on the book’s cover).

Frozen in Time describes Beattie’s search for evidence about what led to the death of the men on the expedition, as well as providing a historical context for their search. The rigors of working in the Arctic – even in summer – and the historical, biological and cultural insight that can be obtained from the examination of dead bodies makes this a gripping read. You can read it as a stand-alone account of the Franklin expedition and its grim ending – no prior knowledge is required. Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s introduction provides a beautiful interface between history, science and the deeper truths about ourselves that are revealed by the imperative to explore the Arctic.

Not everyone agrees with Beattie and Geiger’s thesis about what killed the men – if you’re still reading my Arctic ramblings, check out the argument put forward here.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.

Cape Agulhas lighthouse

View of Cape Agulhas lighthouse from the seaward side
View of Cape Agulhas lighthouse from the seaward side

The Cape Agulhas lighthouse is the most visually pleasing lighthouse that I’ve visited so far. Tony and I visited it while we were staying at De Hoop last September.

View of Cape Agulhas from the top of the lighthouse
View of Cape Agulhas from the top of the lighthouse

Cape Agulhas was named by the Portuguese from their word for needle. During the 1500s, when they were plying Southern Africa’s coastline, the magnetic declination in the area was approximately zero, meaning that there was no deviation between true and magnetic north, and the compass needle pointed to true north.

The door at the top of the tower
The door at the top of the tower

(Technical sidebar: Cape Agulhas lay on an agonic line during the 1500s. An agonic line is a line on the earth’s surface along which the magnetic declination or variation is zero. Earth’s magnetic field slowly changes, and with it the positions of the north and south magnetic poles. For this reason, the variation between true and magnetic north at a point on the earth changes slowly over time. You can examine a map of historic declination over the last 400-odd years here – if you scroll it back to 1590 you can see the green line through Cape Agulhas.)

The lighthouse is within walking distance of the southernmost tip of Africa inside the Agulhas National Park, and was built on land donated by Michiel van Breda, a local landowner (for whom Bredasdorp was named). Van Breda had experienced the trauma of shipwrecks along the stretch of coastline on his farm, with hundreds of dead bodies washing up after ships foundered on the rocky shores in rough seas. The shipwreck museum at Bredasdorp commemorates many of these wrecks.

The lens inside the lantern house
The lens inside the lantern house

The lighthouse was commissioned on 1 March 1849. It has a 7.5 million candela light that emits one flash every 5 seconds and has a range of 31 nautical miles. The lighthouse tower is 27 metres high, with a focal plane 31 metres above sea level. The tower is made of limestone with a white lantern house. By the 1960s the tower had deteriorated to such an extent that the lighthouse was temporarily decommissioned (its job performed in the interim by an aluminium tower), and restoration was undertaken. It was recommissioned in 1988.

View of L'Agulhas
View of L’Agulhas

The lighthouse is open to the public (also on weekends, which is unusual for a South African lighthouse) and contains a museum and a gift shop on the ground floor. The view from the top is well worth the climb.

If you love lighthouses, you need to get hold of Gerald Hoberman’s Lighthouses of South Africa.

Bookshelf: Franklin’s Lost Ship

Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus – John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell

Franklin's Lost Ship
Franklin’s Lost Ship

Since reading The Man Who Ate His Boots, my obsession with the history of the exploration of the Canadian Arctic has not abated. You can expect to be troubled by many more Arctic book reviews and related material from me.

This book is a well-illustrated account of the discovery of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus, in the waters north of Canada. You will (may?) recall that Franklin’s entire expedition – some 130 men and two ships – disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage, on a journey begun in 1845. Parts of the mystery of their disappearance, and what happened to them, have since been resolved, but until late 2014 ago no sign of either of the two ships had been found.

If you are interested in the story, this relatively short book both recounts what is known of Franklin’s expedition and the subsequent searches for him and his men, as well as detailing the recent discovery of HMS Erebus by a team of Parks Canada archaeologists. There are underwater photographs and side-scan sonar images showing the ship standing upright in about eleven metres of water. It’s an excellent complement to Anthony Brandt’s more detailed history, but can equally well be read on its own, as an account of history spanning 160 years, meeting technology from the present.

Some sections – such as the extensive and laudatory passages devoted to former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and his reflections on the discovery – were puzzling to me. I was pleased to see how much credit was given to the indigenous Canadian people and their maps and oral histories for their role in locating the ship. Their accounts of the fate of Franklin’s men, and clues as to the location of his ships, proved crucial in the discovery of HMS Erebus, despite being immediately disregarded by Franklin’s contemporaries.

You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.