Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sodwana Bay

It seems like ages since I last went diving but in reality, it isn't so long ago. I met Barry at work and cleared out some emails before we departed on the 7 hour drive down to Sodwana Bay lodge. It was a very quiet drive and it doesn't even seem so long these days. We went down in my 320d which is proving to be the ideal car for long distance travelling, we drove from Johannesburg to Sodwana Bay and back to Pongola which is about 1000km on just over 3/4 of a tank of fuel. Just absolutely amazing and extremely reasonable on the pocket. My new glasses are making such a difference to my driving since I don't get anywhere near as tired with them on as I do when I don't use them.

Saturday morning we were meant to get collected from the Dive Shop but 20 minutes after the designated time, out lift still hadn't appeared so we resigned ourselves to lugging our dive gear over the dunes and drove down in my car. Once on the beach it looked like we weren't even going to get one dive in let alone two. Apparently, the coast guard had closed the entire coast because of the cyclone just south of Madagascar and this was only lifted at about 10:00 which meant we had just enough time to dive before the wind picked up and made diving impossible. The rest of the boat was a couple of small dive schools so everyone else was on either their first or second dives which is normally a recipe for interesting things to happen.

From the shore the waves didn't look that big and there seemed to be a big gap between the swells but once we got onto the sea the swells were largeish at about 3m but they were unusual in that they were travelling much faster than normal waves so the boat skippers were having real difficulty in getting the gap. A couple of times we almost got through only to be stymied by the back line and had to turn tail and run back in and wait for another so called gap. We had to punch through a couple of waves which is like driving through a wall of water with a not so hydro-dynamic inflatable boat. We also had waves break on both the port and starboard sides, quite an experience by the end of the weekend and quite a welcome for the novices. Once we got beyone the back line the sea was actually fine but the swells were big. We heard later that Durban actually closed the port which is a highly unusual occurrence and the shops near the harbour mouth got flooded and the durban boardwalk which is normally way above the high tide mark was flooded and half the beach dumped on it. In other words, NOT small waves which didn't bode well for the dive because big waves equals big surge.
Sure enough, the surge was huge and at times one could barely see the reef for the sand in the water. This dive was unusual because by the time we had descended to depth the novices were nowhere to be seen. Normally there is a problem with one or two but at least some of them normally make it down. There was so little to photograph that I think I only took 5 pictures and we aborted the dive after about 30 minutes due to the surge and lack of visisbility. Nevertheless it was great to actually get wet again.

Spent the afternoon watching the rugby on and off and reading "tour de force" which is proving to be a very interesting book. The way that Lance Armstrong comes across I'm not sure that he should be a model for other people to follow except if they want to win at cycling. Had supper and retired early pretty exhausted. There is definitely something about diving and detox that go hand in hand.

Sunday morning the waves were no better but there wasn't much wind so we managed to get in two dives, both of which we managed the whole dive instead of having to abort it. Met a Canadian girl travelling on her own who professed to be a professional photographer. Yet another Canadian to reinforce the general stereotype that they are inordinately insecure and lost, I wonder what it is about them. It's a bit like they speak, think and act like a yank but they're definitely not and outside of speaking, thinking and acting how do they exhibit their Canadianness? They can't, hence the tortured lost soul type. Also met two guys from Venezuella, Jorge and Guillermo who were a whole bundle of fun. A bit like teenagers, always on the prowl for the next lay. Very funny to watch. After the second dive we had lunch with them and talked a bit about Hugo Chavez who, in their books, is from the pit of hades. They clearly come from the have's and Chaves is taking from them and giving to the have nots and it isn't going down very well.

We managed two dives today and surprise, surprise nobody got lost although the diving was pretty miserable. Still loads of surge and sand in the water. Didn't open my camera and I have now done 3 dives on it. Note for the future, the battery will only last one dive if I take more than 25 frames on a dive. It would be great to be able to do more but it is still such an advance on the analog camera.

More rest and relaxation during the afternoon before a quiet supper and a cigar down at the bar below afterwards. Watched a bunch of teenagers vying for the attentions of the one and only blonde girl in the group while they pretended to play pool.

Monday morning the swells were still big but not huge. Unlike Saturday and Sunday when there was the dive group, today we were the only South Africans on the boat. We had Italians, Belgians, Canadian, American, Venzuelan and French diving with us. Talk about the united nations, I must say that it is really great to see so many different nationalities coming to see South Africa. The one Italian who actually works in Stockholm was particularly funny. He was huge, so big that he couldn't bend over far enough to put his fins on in the boat but besides that, he thought he was coming to the third world and having arrived in Sodwana Bay, he was still looking for it. He describes his experiences in Italian laced broken English. He says that he lands and the airport, she is beautiful. The roads, they are beautiful, the verges all trimmed just like in Germany. And his cell phone he says, it works everywhere. So where is this third world he asks only half believing our answer that it definitely exists.

While we were kitting up we happened to be standing next to the Canadian girl Laura who needed some suntan creme put onto her back. I'm sure that Guillermo and Jorge would have obliged but she looked around and found the least threatening male i.e. the oldest, grayest i.e. Barry to apply the lotion and I could't help but see the funny side. What I didn't know was that Jorge and Guillermo were keeping a beady eye on our side of the matt and just about killed themselves laughing at me suppressing my laughter. Lots of Spanish chatter and laughter.

The conditions, while hardly perfect, were much better than yesterday so I was very hopeful for the dive. My camera has been recharged and the memory stick cleared so I'm all ready for a great dive. We get out to the dive site and there are the usual sniggers as I get handed my weight belt. Most weight belts have between 5 and 8kg of lead on them, the heavier ones you need two hands to lift. Mine has 2kg on it and it looks positively anaemic. I should actually drop one or both of them but it is starting to look ridiculous to get handed a belt with a solitary kg on it so I have stopped at two. In reality I have another 2kg in my BC but nobody can see that so they think I am really only using 2kg's. As I pick up my BC and cylinder there is a loud pop and hiss of 210bar of compressed air escaping. I turn the valve off as quickly as I could and checked my O-ring. It looked okay to me but I waited for the skipper to come and check it which he did and it looked okay to him too but when he tried to pick up the bc and cylinder we had a repeat so he had to get a new O-ring for me. These two little leaks cost me 40bar of pressure so I was going down with only 170bar to last 50 minutes. I thought I would be up really early and I was pissed off that I wasn't going to have my full time down because of the O-ring.

I had an absolutely fantastic dive, it was still a bit sandy but nothing like yesterday and I saw so many things and I was just finning over to the dive master to tell him that I was low on air and going up when he signalled that everyone was to ascend. I made the entire dive on a miserable 170bar without taking any risks at all, very pleased with myself. When I get around to touching up the photographs I will put them in here but that is going to take quite a while. On the way back I was sitting next to Laura and opposite us were two of the Italians with these huge underwater cameras with twin flashes on stalks. They looked like something out of a sci-fi movie to which Laura comments that she has the same camera and casing and that she usually finds that the size of the camera and the size of the ego go hand in hand. Who was I to disagree!

Got back to the beach and washed all our kit and gave James and Ndu a tip each and said goodbye to everyone. I was walking around the outside of the tent saying cheers to Jorge and Guillermo when Laura appeared right in front of me and I almost didn't see her in time to stop. You know when someone invades your space and you have absolutely no idea why, she had scooted around the outside of the matt to find out what the tip that we had given James was but that isn't what Jorge and Guillermo thought was going on. They were hooting with laughter, chattering away and their parting sentence was an admonishment to me to "be good" to which I replied that I was always good, not that they believed me for one iota.

Drove the 7 hours back to Johannesburg and went straight off to a Cigar and Whisky evening. I can't believe what a difference these glasses make. There I was after having had an early morning, a dive and a 7 hour drive and still be wide awake up until 23:00 when I thought it best that I toddle off home. Great weekend, the last dive made up for all the other dives.

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