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Autumn Storms in False Bay

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I have definitely begun to notice that we are heading into autumn/winter here in Cape Town as I find myself craving the cosy warmth of casseroles after a day at sea, oatmeal in the mornings to wake me up at 5am and multiple layers of clothing to wear when the south east wind blows across us at Seal Island. I absolutely adore this time of year! Whilst it is chillier and the sun sits lower on the horizon, many of the mornings begin with spectacular sunrises as we head out to sea and the pre-dawn light is very beautiful. The shortening of the days reminds me that we are heading into peak shark season and I have the joy of welcoming return guests from last year and new guests for their adventures with the wildlife of False Bay. I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing old friends, new faces and sharing the peak season of 2014 with them. I particularly enjoy our specialty expeditions as I have an opportunity to get to know our long-stay guests well. These guests quickly turn into friends and the boat has a real family feel to it as we begin each new day together.

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I also track the changing seasons by my movement on the boat. As the winter months approach I become firmly aware of precisely what time the orange sun peeks above the horizon and where it will stream light upon the boat first. My internal heating system is a little lazy and I find myself moving around the boat with the sunshine during our decoy seal tows in the early mornings and towards the end of the day. I adore the moment the sun begins to warm my shoulders and face as we gaze excitedly at the decoy seal hoping for a breaching shark. The season for breaching sharks has begun and the sharks are becoming more active around the decoy seal.

I experienced my first real winter day of the season this week and it was fantastic! We had been blown off the water by a storm for two days and we headed out to sea after the wind had died down and left a very moody sky behind. That morning the clouds were thick and grey and hung low over Simons Town like a woollen blanket. The dawn light was nowhere to be seen and we headed out in what felt like darkness. It was perfect shark conditions as we rounded the break water and rode the swell and chop to Seal Island. The storm had certainly left behind a decent swell and I knew the island would look stormy and atmospheric. I found myself smiling as we approached the island and all of the seals were huddled down in small groups that day against the cold. We often find the seals are either spread out enjoying the sunshine or all swimming in the shallows to cool down. That morning they had formed small groups and were closely tucked in next to one another as the wind freshened from the north-west. We decided to anchor at the southern end of the island at our winter anchoring point, which is next to an area we call the ‘launch pad’. This is where groups of seals gather before heading out to sea to feed. The swell rolled past us all morning and crashed upon the reef just behind the launch pad. It was stunning watching the ice blue waves tumble down and we smiled as the seals rode the waves and played in the surf. Any excuse for some fun on a winter morning! It also caught our attention that the visibility that day was at least 9m and we could see the sharks and reef below us. Our divers had a wonderful trip and were visited by some of our well known and favourite sharks of this season so far; including the much loved females Deux Rossi and Scarlett. We also saw my own personal favourite shark Zamalek. I have such a soft spot for this male shark as he is so gentle in nature and just likes to potter around the boat on the same route every day. He always turns right, he always turns close to the cage, appears from the same point below the boat and he rarely goes off course. I watched as he investigated the bait away from the cage one morning and no sooner had he taken one left turn than he quickly went back to his old route around the boat.  He is a man of routine and I hope he stays with us for a long time to come.

Autumn Storms 1

The bird life that morning was also incredible. During stormy weather we find some species of oceanic bird are brought into the bay and we saw a white chin petrel and also a giant petrel. They have such character and are a pleasure to see close to the boat. I find the giant petrels particularly amusing with their noisy nature and how they like to investigate everything we place within the water. I have previously seen them nibbling at the bait, pecking the decoy seal and only moving lazily away when a shark came up to investigate what was occurring. My Dad recently visited Cape Town and went cage diving with us. His first experience of the giant petrels was when one nibbled his finger and sat close to him throughout his dive. What a close up experience. We were also very lucky to see over twenty tiny and delicate Wilsons storm petrels this week. I have never seen so many of them in all my time here and they danced above the water picking up scraps of fish. They are very delicate and beautiful and one of our guests commented that they would expect to find such a bird in a garden not on the open ocean. These tiny birds are one of the most abundant oceanic bird species and their size clearly doesn’t limit their capacity to cope with life on the southern seas.

It really was a wonderful trip that morning and I am eager to see what future storms bring our way. I for one will be keeping a close eye out for any albatross species and for the arrival of other sharks we know from previous years. For those of you that will be joining us in the months to come, I look forward to meeting you and welcoming you in the shop with some warming hot drinks and muffins.

To find out more about False Bay, visit www.apexpredators.com.

Photos: Nicholas Curzon 

Kathryn has a Masters in Environmental Biology and is a PADI scuba diving instructor. Her passion lies with raising awareness of and conserving the sharks within our oceans and also writing about her experiences under and on the water. She is currently a wildlife guide and crew member for Apex Shark Expeditions in South Africa.

Marine Life & Conservation

Scuba Diving Pen Llŷn, Wales 2020 (Watch Video)

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The Welsh coast is home to a biodiverse range of species and habitats which are found within the shallows along the coast out into the open seas. Much of the coastline is accessible and can be explored with basic snorkelling gear or you can adventure deeper using scuba gear.

The coast around Pen Llŷn is no exception and provides exciting encounters with a range of marine life. Take a journey around the Pen Llŷn coast to explore the range of species which can be found on the shallow sandy shores of south Pen Llŷn to the more rugged rocky shores of the North Pen Llŷn. As darkness falls taking a dive below the waves at night to reveal more species that are often hiding away in the day and always some surprises.

Now we are into the New Year, it’s time to start planning the year ahead which involves exploring new sites and locations which hopefully brings new exciting encounters with species not seen before.


You can find out more about Dan Dŵr Cymru (Under Water Wales) and their new series that we will be showcasing in 2021 at https://dandwrcymru.wordpress.com.

Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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Blogs

Where History and Diver Meet: Wreck Diving in Narvik

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Guest article by Petra Pruden

Cool, clear waters provide exceptional conditions for preserving shipwrecks, and a one-of-a-kind opportunity for divers seeking to explore them. There is one particular location in Norway, near the city and fjord of Ofotfjord, Narvik, that, due to its ideal conditions and historical significance, make it remarkable for diving. Not only are the landscapes spectacular, but during WW2, three significant navy engagements took place there resulting in 16 wrecks accessible to divers today. It’s no surprise that divers such as Australian diver and wreck enthusiast, Edd Stockdale, have been drawn to this location to discover and learn about the wrecks left behind.

Diving with a Story

Located just north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, the coastal city of Narvik offers ice-free access to the North Atlantic. Narvik was a particularly important location in years past as iron ore from Sweden could be shipped there by train, loaded onto ships, and distributed. The city’s strategic foothold caused tension between the British and Norwegian navies and German forces, and they eventually fought to control the transport of iron. From April to June in 1940, three major battles were waged in this fjord resulting in many lives lost and numerous sunken ships. Today, the Narvik fjord is a popular wreck diving site, as the pristine, yet chilly, waters of this protected harbor offer divers and tourists alike an unforgettable, historical experience.

Edd Stockdale and His Trip to Narvik

Edd Stockdale

One such diver who found himself drawn to the history and wonder of Narvik is Edd Stockdale. Edd first picked up diving as a boy, and his passion for the sport quickly turned into a lifelong career. Originally from Australia, Edd followed his love for cold dives and made Sweden his new home. With over 5,500 dives in his logbook, 20 years-worth of diving experience, and his name gracing the cover of several prominent training course manuals (RAID instruction manuals), Edd is the kind of guy to take you on a true adventure. Given that his home in Sweden is (relatively) close to Narvik, this last year he made the drive to the famous location to discover some of the wrecks for himself.

Once Edd reached the harbor, he was joined by a group of Swedish and Finnish wreck divers, explorers, and historians aboard an old Swedish minesweeper, the Galten. “Our days generally consisted of getting up at a reasonable time, having breakfast, and getting our rebreathers ready for the day’s diving,” described Edd, then further adding, “We dropped a shot-line at each wreck we visited, then staggered the entry teams to allow time for decompression. Each dive took between 2-3 hours, and after we were finished and the shot-lines recovered, we got to enjoy a relaxing evening on the ship, which, in true Norwegian form, even included a sauna.”

The Erich Giese

With as many as 16 wrecks in the vicinity of Narvik, it’s difficult for divers, Edd included, to choose a favorite dive. “On past dives, I enjoyed visiting the Erich Giese, a German Z class destroyer that sits in about 65 meters of water,” recalled Edd. Back in the late 1930s, the Erich Giese was part of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, or, in other words, the German navy. During the early stages of the Norwegian Campaign, this ship engaged in naval combat with two British destroyers as it tried to make its way out of Narvik Harbor. Although it was temporarily successful in defending its escape, narrowly dodging five torpedoes fired by the British, it was eventually reduced to a burning wreck after enduring as many as 20 turret shots.

Aft Torpedo launcher Erich Gise

The Landego

Apart from diving the Erich Giese for the first time, Edd was also able to explore the D/S Landego, which he described as “stunning to see up close, with many of its details remaining intact, if not for the Arctic marine life that has taken to living onboard.” The Landego also shares a rather intriguing war story. According to Norwegian reports, the ship was requisitioned by the Germans and used to lay cable for military communication purposes. However, as it turned out, the exact spot chosen by the Germans for laying the cable was an active minefield. The Landego struck a mine, exploded on impact, and cost the lives of 9 men onboard. Today it sits approximately 300 meters offshore and provides divers with an extraordinary diving experience.

Diver on port side of Landego

If Wrecks Could Speak

It seems the more you look into the history of each wreck in this area, the closer you come to understanding the difficult circumstances many of these men were forced to endure. For Edd, learning the stories of the wrecks he dives has become standard practice. “As with every dive we go on, we are briefed beforehand on the history of the site, which we can then use to compare with the photos and videos we later capture on our dive. This provides our trip with extra meaning, especially in a place like Narvik, where such a large naval conflict was carried out in a relatively small body of water.” It’s interesting, yet also harrowing, to think that a German invasion from 1940 ultimately turned into what is today seen as one of Europe’s top wreck diving destinations.

After learning about the ships’ backstories, Edd and his team are eager to get in the water and start exploring. Edd dons his Liberty sidemount rebreather which allows him to better pass through some of the smaller doorways and access points of the wrecks. Once in the water, Edd and his team take their time searching the sunken ships, combing over details such as torpedoes and bullet holes, and comparing what they found under the water with what they had learned during the briefing. They also take care to document everything they see with their underwater cameras, and even go so far to share videos of their experience on YouTube. This is the perfect way for Edd to relive some of the moments of these dives, while also providing newcomers with some insight on what to expect before getting in the water.

Ladego Stern Deck

Plans for the Future

When asked if he would recommend Narvik to fellow divers, Edd replied with enthusiasm, “Basically, if you like brilliant wreck diving, clear water, stunning scenery, and impressive, historically-relevant dive sites, Narvik is the place for you.” He then went on to add, speaking as a professional diver, that one of Narvik’s greatest advantages is that many of the wrecks sit in 10-30 meters of water, meaning even shallow range divers can discover these remarkable WW2 shipwrecks.

Plus, with so many wrecks located in one fjord, Narvik is the ideal location for divers to make return visits. Edd is already planning his next trip to the area, adding, “Narvik is one of the greatest places to go and teach wreck penetration courses. And, given that wreck photography is a hobby of mine, there’s no better place for me to keep visiting and get all my amazing shots in one place.”

A Destination to Dive

For most divers, just the fact that 16 accessible shipwrecks can be found within such close proximity of one another is reason enough to visit this unique spot. Plus, with the striking landscapes of the Norwegian fjords, the rich history to be discovered, and need we mention the saunas, it’s easy to see why Narvik could command the top slot on divers’ bucket lists. If you’re ready to see for yourself what Edd Stockdale and his team have been so enchanted by, pack your gear and head north to this unforgettable place. Perhaps you could even join Edd there!


Edd Stockdale is an Ambassador for Divesoft. Find out more about the CCR Liberty at www.divesoft.com/en/products/ccr-liberty

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Competitions

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