It was interesting to return to Bass Lake after a twenty year absence, a lot of my early training was done here and there was a time that I considered Bass Lake rather deep!
While I was teaching buoyancy to my students lakeside, I dropped a 1kg weight onto my big toe! I chose to keep talking as it hurt like hell, all my students knew I was hurting but they went with it. I was sure I'd lose the nail. Fortunately for me I was staying with my friend Francois van Schalkwyk, a serious rugby player in his day, he told me to take a needle and puncture the nail as that would release the trapped blood and relieve the pressure. What me and Francois did not bank on was the thickness of my nails. After sitting with an injection needle for 45minutes and getting nowhere I decided it was time for heavy duty machinery, did Francois have a drilling machine? He returned with a Bosch electric drill and the words "onthou, hierdie is jou idee!" Although it still hurt, at least I could wear my fins the next day, and my toe has made a complete recovery, with the nail intact.
The diving in Gauteng was fun and it was great to see that there are still a lot of very good divers in Joburg and Pretoria. Having come from that area myself I have always understood the inland divers mentality, and their limiting factors. There are more divers in Johannesburg and Pretoria alone than the rest of the country put together, and by a very long way.
The only difference between us at the coast and them is experience based on geography. In their hearts they feel exactly the same as any coastal diver about the ocean.
After Gauteng I travelled to Durban where I got to spend a memorable week with my friend and sponsor Gary Akal. We went out on his boat to test some equipment I had just received from Shane of Freedivers. Durban diving and I have a history, a complex relationship. I trained here with the Scorpion unit of the SA Navy in 1999 and it can be something of a nightmare rolled into a dream sprinkled with a little romance, infused with danger.
Rob Welman, our skipper dropped me on some unidentified marks somewhere near no. 1 fishing ground, we had about 8m visibility at the surface but from about 14m I could not see the end of my speargun. Now I don’t know how others feel, but when I am diving in areas known for sharks, deep diving in low visibility gives me the heebie-jeebies.
I was there to test a pair of Carbons and I needed to do at least 40m to get any real idea of them, so I tried really hard to get the depth, but after 3 or four attempts and only managing 26m before my nerves deserted me, I returned to the boat and asked Rob to head south towards the bluff so that we could look for cleaner water.
All the inshore spearing sites were brown, the visibility was minus 10m, but there was a very clear blue line about a kilometre offshore so we headed towards it, Rob cut the motors about 300m into the blue water, Gary and I got in. It was great to see Gary diving so free, we have dived in many places together, Greece, Egypt, Mozambique, Sodwana, Cape Town and Durban, this particular day I saw a free man, it was inspiring.
The water was cleaner here and I dropped easily down to 28m, but, from there it was another nerve wracker, the visibility was back down to the length of my speargun, I just knew there were sharks around. Nevertheless I went down to 40m to test the carbons. Back on the surface I had a long discussion with Gary about the fins before he returned to the boat so that Rob could join me in the water.
Rob had only been in for about 2 minutes before he yelled Zambi through his snorkel. It turned out to be 2 relatively small grey sharks which I have not yet identified, but the Zambi alert did make my next dive a little more interesting, nerves jangling. I don’t mind when I can see the sharks, it is in the dark water below that I don’t feel comfortable, especially while free-falling. After surfacing, sure enough, within about a minute, 6m below us, there she was, a bus of a Zambie, the spread across the top of her head looked like it was more than 50cm, that is wider than my body, not a nice thought!
We did a few dives down to her and it was really cool to be so close to one of the oceans tops predators, it’s been a while since I’ve dived with Bull sharks as we don’t have them in Cape waters. Up in the shallows it is a pleasure, but down in the dark deeper water it can be a totally different story and I have had some scary encounters with them below 40m. This dive in particular made me wonder how the hell I ever managed to free-fall for 37m through dark, murky water on my way to shoot a fish at 60m.
Right now I am preparing for a new mission and I am thankful to have been to Durban at this time, because while I was in that water I promised myself that I would not set myself up to dive deep in dirty water again.