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Wonderful Waidroka

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There is nothing like getting a warm welcome from all the staff when you first arrive at a resort, particularly when you are feeling more than slightly bedraggled from your journey. At Waidroka Bay Resort, we soon felt completely at home, and with all our bags whisked to our ocean front Bure (Fijian style bungalow), before we knew it, we were sat with the dive staff chatting about what the diving had to offer us the following day. We were to be the only divers on the boat, as a group had just left, which meant we had the choice of where to go – so we asked for them to take us to their favourite sites, of course!

All the meals at Waidroka are served “family style” with the guests and staff sitting around a communal table. You can opt to sit at a more private table or outside if you wish, but most like to sit and chat about the days diving and surfing with each other. The chef at Waidroka recently won Young Fiji Chef of the Year, which is an amazing accolade, and the food clearly reflected his talent. Not only was it delicious, but beautifully presented as well.

Our first day of diving was going to be based around the island of Yanuca. The dive centre has a close association with the villagers here, and the staff come to teach the school kids about the marine environment and wildlife each week. For us, it is the perfect place to relax between dives over a cup of tea, or lunch, whilst parked in the sheltered and secluded bay, with kids running around on the beach in the background. December is mid-summer here, so the schools were on a six week break.

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Our first dive was at a site called Fantasea 1. Our guides, and head of watersports operations, Chelle and Warren, raved about this dive, so we just hoped it would live up to their enthusiastic tales. This has to be one of the best coral dive sites we have ever been on – no really! Fiji is famous for its reef diving, and this resort is at the heart of the Coral Coast, but even so, we were blown away by this dive site. Everywhere we looked the reef was packed with brightly coloured gorgonians, a rainbow of broccoli corals and numerous fish and critters hiding away on this fabulous reef. Chelle posed for us on the wall, diving through overhangs, gullies and swim-throughs, and with a maximum of 18m we stayed for well over an hour! How were we going to match this?

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On our surface interval, we chatted about where to go next. Warren and Chelle told us about a site that was nearby, the Tasu II Wreck. Sunk in 1994, this was a 200 tonne Taiwanese fishing vessel, which had been confiscated for illegal fishing and deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef. She sits upright in the sand at just over 20m, depending on the tides. After over 20 years, plenty of animals have made their home here, and Warren went off to find the tiny pipefish that live on the roof of the wheelhouse, while we weaved our way around the structure, photographing the windows adorned with sea fans and capturing images of each of us framing our faces in the gaps. The dive is not over once you have finished exploring the wreck though, as you can extend your bottom time by swimming the short distance to Seven Sisters reef, a series of seven pinnacles that reach up to 5m, so you can select your safety stop pinnacle. Anthias, in pink and orange, in their thousands pulse to the rhythm of your breathing and strobe guns. It is truly magical.

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Back at Yanuca Island, we relax and have some lunch. The chef has prepared packed lunches for each of us, which we are ready for. Our final dive site was another assault on our senses. Vivid colours on every available surface; it is easy to see why Cousteau called Fiji “the soft coral capital of the world”.

Alas, an incoming front was causing the wind to pick-up and we were starting to get worried about the diving being cancelled the next day. You could see that we were not the only ones concerned as Warren kept disappearing to check his weather apps over the course of the evening. After another scrumptious dinner, he called us over to brief us on the shark diving that we were due to do in the morning. The diving was going to depend on the weather in the morning, so we had everything crossed – this was one dive we had been looking forward to for weeks.

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The shark dive that the Waidroka team take you on is run by the founders of this event, Aqua-Trek. The boat ride to Beqa (pronounced Benga) Lagoon is about 30 minutes away, and, whilst the weather was not ideal, we were delighted that the dive had not been cancelled and eagerly jumped on-board. Heavy rain overnight meant that the water was looking a little green from the run off from local rivers. However, it also kept away many of the boats that would usually come for this dive, so at least we could look forward to a more personal experience. Aqua-Trek’s boat pulled up with only 4 or 5 divers, so there would only be 7 divers, plus the shark feeders and wranglers in the water. As Fiji has some strong currents, the dive site is setup with a series of lines to guide you down to the correct shark feed location. The main stars of the show are Bull and Tiger Sharks, although you may also see Lemon, Nurse and various species of reef shark as well. The divers line up behind a wall, with the feeders in front to tempt in the sharks with fish heads that are donated by local fishermen and resorts. Usually it is the Bull Sharks that get the food, with the other species being wary of getting in their way, and you can see why when you get on the dive. Even with the visibility reduced and the water a little green, the experience is incredible, as huge bull sharks come in for their snacks. Surprisingly, they do so in an astonishingly calm manner, never rushing and appear content to circle around if another is already feeding. We were very fortunate to be invited into the feeding circle to kneel next to the feeders for an even closer encounter. One Bull Shark took a liking to Nick and came right up to his camera, stopping just in front of the dome port to say hello, before the wranglers gave her a polite nudge to move her along. All too soon, it was time to end the dive. We stayed as long as we were allowed to watch these magnificent sharks circle below us, but the visibility was getting worse, and we had to head back to the boat.

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Alas, the weather finally beat us, and the second shark-feed dive was cancelled, as the visibility was getting worse, and the shark feeders could not see the sharks coming. It was the right call, but we were bitterly disappointed. We just had to remind ourselves how privileged we had been to get the first dive at all. The waves had also picked up, so the boat captain was eager to get us back closer to the resort. Within the reef system, the waters were a bit calmer, and so we decided to pop-in and dive one of the teaching sites near the resort. Waidroka has a pontoon for guests to sunbathe on and to use as a base for snorkelling and swimming. The best thing about it, though, if you look closely between the wooden slats, is that this is where many of the Banded Sea Kraits (sea snakes) come to warm themselves during the day. It is the first time we have seen this behaviour.

Our final night was to be a traditional Fijian evening of Lovo (food cooked in a BBQ pit), Kava (the local drink made from pepper plant roots) and music. We donned our Fiji Tourism Sulus (traditional Fijian skirts) and Scubaverse polo shirts and joined in the fun, the music and dancing. It was with not a small amount of sadness though, as we were leaving in the morning and, quite rarely for us, we really did not want to depart! We loved our time at Waidroka. The diving was great, the staff were all wonderful and so the whole experience was a joy. Maybe we will be able to come back sometime; we would certainly jump at the opportunity.

www.waidroka.com

www.fiji.travel

Find out more about Nick and Caroline at www.frogfishphotography.com.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Diving below the waves of the Western Cape, South Africa – Long Beach at night (Watch Video)

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Head under the waves of False Bay and explore the incredible diversity that is found along the Western Cape. The bay has popular dive spots from diving amongst the biodiverse underwater kelp forests to jumping in with the playful and friendly cape fur sealions (Arctocephalus pusillus). The bay along with the rest of the South Africa coast is known for the range of shark species that are found from the shallow coastal shores out into the open oceans. The coast is also home to numerous endemic shark species such as puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii) and Pyjama shark.

Longbeach is a shallow shore dive close to the coastal town of Simonstown on the Western Cape. The dive is mainly made up of diving across the sand with a few wreckages, rocks and outcrops where there’s algae growing. A pipeline can be found at the site which provides locations for species such as Pyjama Sharks (Poroderma africanum) and octopus (Octopus vulgaris) to shelter. Diving at night at the site provides the opportunity to see species that are more often hidden during the day such as cape Squid (Loligo reynaudii) and Biscuit Skate (Raja straeleni). Other shark species such as the small Puff Adder Shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii) are also occasionally seen at the site.

Diving with the local dive club – Cape Town Dive Centre.


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

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Book Review – The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

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It was the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Cruiser Ordzhonikidz, supported by two destroyers, had brought Soviet leaders Khruschev and Bulganin to Britain for sensitive meetings with the British Government. The ships were moored in Portsmouth harbour and the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, had expressly forbidden any clandestine inspection of them. However, on the morning of 19th April 1956 Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe, an experienced naval diver, slipped into the cold waters of Portsmouth harbour. His top secret mission was to photograph the hull, propellers and rudder of the Ordzhonikidze. He was never seen alive again.

A badly decomposed body, with head and hands missing, was discovered by fishermen in Chichester harbour months later. It was claimed to be the missing body of Buster Crabbe – but many had doubts. The incident marked the start of a controversy that claimed the posts of several high ranking naval, government and intelligence service personnel. The author of The Final Dive, Don Hale, claims it is one that still rages and which may not be resolved even when secret government files are released in 2057.

Don Hale, an acknowledged campaigning journalist and former Journalist of the Year brings all his experience and skill to unravelling this longstanding scandal. He has drawn upon official reports and private letters, statements from government representatives, fellow officers and friends to piece together Buster’s life and events leading to his disappearance and subsequent investigation. He speaks of “inquiries blocked by intrigue, constant cover-ups and government bureaucracy coupled with threats relating to the Official Secrets Act” (p. xi). If you like reading about subterfuge on a grand scale you will enjoy The Final Dive.

Don Hale’s meticulous account of the life of Buster Crabbe is supported by dozens of black and white photos and extracts from numerous official documents. It reveals how an amazing series of civilian jobs, wartime activities and friendships with high ranking government officials, British intelligence officers, American CIA operatives. . . and now known spies, prepared him for his final dive and perhaps his fate. One of Crabbe’s acquaintances was the author Ian Fleming – of James Bond fame. Indeed, it is suggested that Fleming based the character of 007 on Buster Crabbe. After reading of his exploits, both before WWII, his bomb disposal work during the war, and afterwards it is easy to see why. Certainly, those who worked with Buster Crabbe “all agree he was fearless.” (p.59). After reading of his exploits one wonders if he was too fearless.

In the later stage of Buster’s life, prior to his disappearance, Don Hall recounts “a constant merry-go-round of overseas assignments” (p. 118) for Crabbe and how he “began to receive increasingly hazardous commissions” (p. 136). It culminated in the morning dive in Portsmouth harbour. Hale’s forsensic-like account of the events surrounding the final dive and aftermath reveals absolute panic and bungling behind the scenes as official answers conflict with known facts. He describes how “The whole incident still seems bathed in secrecy, with the true facts deliberately buried in bureaucracy, and supported at the highest level by an incredible cover-up operation”.(p. 205).

A final comment by Don Hale adds to the intrigue. He states “The only part of the Crabbe puzzle about which I am not certain is not who sent him – we know the answer to that – but why on earth he was he sent, possibly at considerable risk?” (p. 248). After reading The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe you will no doubt have your own ideas.


The Final Dive: The Life and Death of ‘Buster’ Crabbe (2007)

  • By Don Hale
  • Stroud: Sutton Publishing
  • ISBN 978 0 7509 4574 5
  • 260 pp

Don Hale was a professional footballer before becoming editor of several regional newspapers. He has received numerous national and international awards for investigative journalism including Journalist of the Year. In 2002 he was awarded an OBE for his campaigning journalism in the Stephen Downing miscarriage of justice case. He has championed several others who have been wrongly convicted.

His other books include Town without Pity (2002), Murder in the Graveyard (2019) and Mallard: How the ‘Blue Steak’ Broke the World Speed Record (2019).


Find out more about Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author, at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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