Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bird Island Diving Part 2

Doddington Rock
DOddington Rock is about 1.3 km south of Bird Island. Diving just inshore of Doddington Rock there is a fine wide sand gulley with a few caves and cracks that often attracted good quality fish including musselcracker, scotsman, poenskop, red stumpnose, large galjoen, yellowtail and englishmen.

Having completed a dive there and drifting toward East Shoal we were in about twelve to fifteen meters of water. A large iron shipwreck is located in this area and we were drifting toward it exploring the bottom.
I had surfaced and began a dive down and there in front of me was the telltale jagged line of contrasting grey-black and bright belly of a great white shark. At a length of about four meters this one was not frightfully large – but it still commanded considerable respect.
The shark was calm, which was more than I could say for myself at the time. I shouted for Eugene van Wyngaart to bring the boat over - he was next to me soon. While he approached me so did the shark, slow and relaxed.
I shouted for my camera to try get a pic; as I put my head back in the shark was approaching about five meters away and swimming a good bit faster. I chose to climb onto the boat rather than take pics, after which the shark turned toward one of the other divers 50 meters away. We sped over and got him out and moved off to another reef.

Sunset at sea - fireworks
One fine day, back in the late 1990’s we ran a trio of small inflatables to Bird Island. The fun part of such trips was that if we had to wait for the tides then we might as well dive till as late as sunlight allowed. This strategy almost always resulted in excellent catches late in the day as is normal – suppertime action.
This day saw us diving in splendid viz, for the Eastern Cape, of about 15 meters.
As the sun was sinking low on the horizon we got into some great yellowtail action – big shoals of large fish coming in on almost every dive at West Rock about 1.5 km South west of Bird Island. Naturally with all the excitement no one was paying close attention to the time of day. We stayed in the clear water until the viz dropped to almost nothing from a lack of light – “oops the bloody sun is crunching over the horizon and we must still drive back 10 kilometers to shore in our small and heavily laden inflatibles”.

Jock Ferreira and Ed Bennet were in no great rush and they claimed one last fish as the other two inflatables set off in a north westerly direction toward the approximate area where we had left the vehicles and trailers. Fortunately I had taken a landmark and line-up for our beaching so as to avoid a sandbank that had some cobblestone-sized rocks on it. The heavily laden boats did not make great speed and we strained our eyes to see the vehicles as we approached the beach. We saw none. Missing the vehicles could have put us in a pickle, we had no gps co-ordinate marking the vehicle’s location and we could easily have headed off in the wrong direction along the beautiful but monotonous beach. Fortunately we recognized the fading landmark and headed for the beach. We beached safely near the vehicles and it was already dark, almost pitch dark.
What of jock and Ed?
After getting out of the wetsuits we wondered as to the whereabouts of Jock and Ed – had they made it to the beach?
Had they driven in circle?
We listened in vain for the sound of shouts or their outboard motor – the surf drowned out most noise.

A few minutes later the answer came in the form of a 1000 foot flare whizzing up into the sky.
“All this and fireworks too!”
What fun it was! I turned on the hazard lights of my vehicle and in due course Jock came strolling out of the darkenss. Jock and Ed had beached a few hundred meters west.
That evening we still had to wait a while for the tide and had a braai (barbeque on real coals) on the beach and enjoyed the stargazing.
Talking around the fire we spoke of our success and even considered coming back the next day.
If we had sufficient ice on the beach and a place to preserve the fish we would have slept right there.
Spme time later; the fine evening, sunset at sea, solo firework, stargazing and braai was shattered by a buster west wind that arrived as a shockwave in weak disguise. It began sandblasting us and blowing sparkling coals downwind along the beach – no one appreciated the beauty of those "tell-gale" sparkles. Twenty minutes later three vehicles, each with an inflatable in tow, set off westward along the beach into the dark night.

Incidentally Tony Dicks also used to dive Bird Island from time to time and the story is related that he shot a great white with his CO2 gun and had to blow CO2 into it in the FIGHT that ensued.
Recently I posted data on my CO2 guns.
Here is Tony Dick's CO2 gun, and his legendary marlin taken at Plettenberg Bay.

Interestingly they used a hollow spear - extra CO2 drove it rocketlike through the water and the larger gas volme(including the space in the spear) must have given a more consistent push.

Exciting stuff hey!

We Will Dive - TIA!
On another BI trip my trusted old Nissan 720 bakkie suffered considerably. Maintenance was often delayed a bit longer than necessary. I had been very slack with services and the years of "sea service" had taken sufficient toll on the vehicle that I did not stress myself about the vehicle beyond keeping it running. On the way to BI as we were leaving the city I braked fairly hard and heard a crunching noise and felt a shudder.
Assuming I hit a brick or something that gave a bump and shattered I never gave the incident more thought until I braked again further on. The vehicle pulled severely to the right as I pressed the brake pedal.
My philosophy was: “Nothing will interfere with a divetrip!” so I decided to investigate when we stopped at the gas station 40 km further to fill the boat tanks with petrol. There I discovered that the whole disk brake had shattered and was absent.
“OK, that makes sense, and explains the veering to one side. I will not fuss too much until back on the tarred road when I will drive slow and carefully – not that there were other options besides slow with that loyal old Nissan.”
We went off for yet another successful dive at BI. We spent some time diving a wreck situated between Doddinton Rock and East shoal.
It was a memorable dive - Fanus Gerber, the “bastard”, broke my SA record for scotsman of 5.3 kgs with a splendid specimen of 8.3 kg.
Hmmmm! No chance of an appeal on that one! Incidentally Fanus also holds the SA record for Galjoen – our national fish (5.46kg).
Now, returning to our dive at BI; it was yet again a great dive ending with usual “sunset at sea” and beaching after sundown. On the trip back up the beach we were forced to stay fairly high on the sand and would typically drive at 20-40 kmpH.
Spray resulting from the breaking waves reduced vision considerably and we often drove with headlamps set dim. The salt water got in everywhere on such drives – rust is a must! Now, all tired, comfortable and warm we had a tendency to become a bit drowsy - I glanced over at Fanus nodding off to sleep. His somnolescence would not, however, be sustained for the rest of the trip along the beach.
Typically the driver would try to hug the hardest sand closest to the waves and considerable left and right swerving was required. The occasional wet patch would result in salt water spray permeating the chassis and underside of the vehicles body.
My Nissan was a convertible.
Converting from iron to iron oxide!
As I peered forward planning the route I swung gracefully landward avoiding getting into a wave that was sweeping up gentle sand slope.
A large tyre suddenly appeared just in front of the vehicle and there was no time to swerve. I gripped the steering wheel and braced.
Thump!, shake! and bounce, we were still going, then the weaker thump as the boat passed over the tyre.
Fanus had politely joined us eye open 120%.

Occasionally there were ridges of sand that were quite steep on this ever-changing sand highway. It was rather hard to estimate their steepness and if one’s speed was sufficient it was easy to become airborne. I passed over a large bed of cobblestone-sized rocks that I had never seen before on these trips – it was about three hundred meters long and made a distinctive sound of clattering punctuated with metallic thumps as the occasional stone was shrapnelistically flung onto the chassis – good thing we used inflatables off which these stone could bounce. Back on the sand I hit one of the ridges which looked pretty similar to the rest – wrong I was – the other side was steep and it sloped considerably. There was a calm spell as we were airborne. I was certain that this was an altitude record for my Nissan and the left side touched town first, without grace.
Some profanities followed. The bounce was rather unusual accompanied by a loud thump, and were moving along with a severe leftward list, like a torpedoed battleship. Amazingly the link arm that supports the left wheel had snapped! Torchlight showed why – cancerous rust, lots of it. The wheel was not contacting the wheel arch so at least we could still drive, but much more slowly now as the clearance between the tyre and the wheel arch was about 5 centimeters. At a greatly reduced pace we eventually reached the heavily rutted dirt road that would take us to the tarred road - it was about 5 km long.
Since these trips often necessitated running with a tyre pressure of about 0.7 bar we were able to negotiate this part too, rather smoothly. At the Colchester gas station I could see that the 40 km trip on the tarred road would take its toll on the tyre which was running noticeably inward, pigeon-toed-like. At a snail pace we eventually got home with the smell of hot, smoky rubber fairly constant for the last 25 km. When we arrived home the front left tyre hade worn all through the tread and beyond! I spent a good few hours the next day welding plates onto the broken linkarm, but decided to begin looking for a new 4x4 as this was getting too risky.
TIA This Is Africa! – anything goes and improvisation = survival.

Those days and trips sit well in my memory and will surely be related to my grandchildren one day.