We spent the last week in the Drakensberg. This is the most beautiful mountain area we have in South Africa. Absolutely amazing.
The plan was to chill, sleep and get away from everything for a few days. The reality was that we were so hyped up from all the work that we ended up with a working holiday in the Berg. Still a good time.
I struggled to sleep a bit, had a number of sleepless nights because - i think - there is just not enough oxygen up there. Besides, it was freezing cold. Pleasant during the day, but after 15h00 it got bitter. The fireplace glowed red hot and we snuggled up under our thick winter blankets. After we did our work in the mornings we went for a drive in the afternoons. Weather was perfect.
And so was the weather in Margate. I missed the diving on Protea Banks especially because we have what looks like a record number of Raggies this year. Literally hundreds...
Glad tomorrow we are diving again and i can see what is going on.
Paddle Out For Sharks
Yesterday was our annual Paddle Out For Sharks event. We have a little do at the base in Shelly Beach where we have the local surfers paddling out to backline with their boards, us taking out school kids on our boats, the NSRI and Rescue Police and Medics all joining us with their boats to spare a moment of thought for the plight of our sharks. We did some speeches, demonstrations and tried to bring a bit of information about sharks to the public who does not know but fear them.
Our surfers were the best. From half meter tall to two meters tall, everybody was there. It was a pleasure to have the President's Bikers Club with us who gave everybody a ride on their hot 2 wheel machines or rather rockets.
Tightline Fisheries sponsored 50 packs of fish and chips for everyone to enjoy. This is a great privilege to have a fishing company supporting shark conservation.
SPAR Shelly Beach sponsored a truckload of snacks and plastic lunch boxes for school kids. Allan Uzzell sponsored t shirts for all the kids and COO EE Cooldrinks gave away their lovely soft drinks and South Coast Tourism gave every school kid a backpack for their books.
At least on our small scale we brought a bit of attention to the importance of the sharks in the ocean.
Sardine Run 2016
On Wednesday i am driving down to Coffee Bay with our pilot to check the place out. We are looking for landing and taking off facilities as there is no airport. He will have to land anywhere possible. It is an adventure for sure. We also want to see with our own eyes what is going on in Coffee Bay. I heard that there is big action in front of the hotel. Hundreds of Gannets diving and countless dolphins hunting. It sounds like the run has started. Even the main Durban newspaper says so. But this is always the case during the Sardine Run. As things are heating up, so does the fever. The rumours are rife and everybody seems to know everything....
Last week we only dived monday and tuesday. We had a group of divers from South East Asia and could show them some exciting shark activity on Protea Banks. Lots and lots of Raggies on the Northern Pinnacle of Protea Banks and on our Baited Dive we had lots of Black Tips and Bull Sharks.
On wednesday we shot down to Coffee Bay to sort things out for the Sardine Run. Our new pilot needed to see where he can land his plane and i had to crunch some numbers with the owners of the Ocean View Hotel. Our mission was most successful and even left a bit of time for the three of us to enjoy ourselves.
The trip to Coffee Bay and back is always an adventure. As soon as we enter the Eastern Cape Province, the wheels of civilisation fall off. EC is poor, very poor.
The roads are full of potholes, some as big as kiddies graves. There are so many animals along the road, from donkeys, to horses to dogs, goats, pigs and sheep. One never knows when they decide to run and this puts any driver permanently on edge.
Besides this you have to watch out for people who could be walking anywhere at anytime, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when the weekend is celebrated.
While we were in Coffee Bay we saw lots of dolphins, we saw whales and we saw gannets flying around. At some stage we saw several black patches on the ocean suggesting sardines. The staff told us that only 5 days earlier the sky was dark with gannets flying and diving. So it is definitely heating up down there. We are glad, too much action has not yet taken place. After all, we want everything to wait for us when we launch on 25.6. for the first time.
While back home we have more work and stress than time. Tomorrow i need to take our boat Avatar for re-pontooning. There is nothing wrong with the old tubes, but new ones will no doubt look a lot better. Beulah's orders !!!
We are also gathering all our stuff we have to take with us on the Great Trek. Equipment, spares, clothes to give away to the poor, anything we might and might not need. Once we are in Coffee Bay we can't get much.
The infrastructure in this province is very limited which accounts for the poverty there. And this is accelerated by the weak economy we have in South Africa in general. Therefore we always bring second hand clothing whenever we go there for the Sardine Run. This year we have about 400kg of stuff which was sent to us by our supporters in Germany. Every last shirt and sock will be given to a needy child and adult free of charge of course. !!
Hopefully this coming week we will be able to take a good load of stuff together with the first boat down. All our boats still need to be fitted with new axels with a break mechanism. Not sure how quick this will be done, but we start tomorrow with the first boat. When it is fitted, it will be loaded with equipment and towed to the Ocean View Hotel.
The hotel has also undergone a major facelift in the rooms. Like every year we see more and more rooms to be modernised. They don't stop working and they do it in such a way that nobody is inconvenienced. What a magical place the Ocean View Hotel is. We are privileged to be hosted there every year with our guests.
This year we have close to 70 !!!
Staff and management go out of their way to make work and stay for us and our guests there absolutely perfect. What a great feeling to be so welcome.....
Again we are under pressure. It has become the usual state of our minds. Everything is pointing towards the Sardine Run now. Next week all the crews are leaving and we dare not forget anything..
In the meantime, Protea Banks is doing well. We have about 30 Raggies on the Northern Pinnacle of Protea Banks. On the Southern Pinnacle of Protea Banks we have just about everything else. Yesterday I did my dive number 3500
And what a brilliant dive it was !!!
Visibility 15m, watertemp 20C...BUT : 30 + Hammerheads, 3 Zams, 10 + Black Tips, 1 Raggy and 5 Guitarsharks. Amazing !!! The sea was properly rough though and we decided to leave it at that.
Today we were off and tomorrow it is a Baited Dive and a dive to the Northern Pinnacles on the plan.
Yeah, it is hectic around here now. Yesterday Spike took the Twilight boat down to Coffee Bay, followed by Tristan with a huge trailer full of equipment.
It is always a worry when boats and equipment are on the road, especially into the old Transkei. Stuff breaks, gets stolen, no infrastructure, lots of animals on the roads and huge pot holes. I was on high alert all day when Shorty dropped the bomb...Our compressor , she not working. Oh dear...
I could do absolutely nothing yesterday because we had a public holiday. When Tristan brought the Hilux back from Coffee Bay last night - he did not want to stay over night - we suddenly found a large oil patch in my driveway.
Toyota, she broken too.....
We really don't need this trouble five minutes before twelve....After a sleepless night I contacted my mechanics, the one for the car and the other for the compressor. Lucky the car mech found out that we only had a missing gearbox oil filler plug. But he found a couple of other problems which would have screwed up a lot on Coffee Bay. So thankfully we are getting everything fixed this weekend.
On Monday I have to go to Durban with the compressor part and hope, old Karl can fix that problem too.
Then we will be ready to roll off for the great Sardine Run.
Once the rest of the equipment, the second boat and all the crews are finally down, we can get it set up and cracking. Next sunday is our first day at sea....
I hope it happens before the heart attack comes....
We took two days off to let the ocean calm down again. On Monday we found 4-5m waves out on Protea Banks. Quite hectic. But as soon as we entered the water, all was good. We had jams and black tips around us straight away. It looked as if they were waiting for us to get a bit of good company for a change. can imagine that being surrounded by miserable sharks all day can get a bit boring...
After a while we got a large school of hammerheads. We estimated about 100 animals. Brilliant dive.
Tomorrow we will be back
Beulah left today for Coffee Bay. Sad to see her go. We are not used to being apart from each other. For 32 years we always did everything together except for the Sardine Run in the last couple of years.
Of course i also worried all day about her driving on these unpredictable roads but she made it in one piece. Not so my car....Apparently she overtook a truck which swerved across to her side and knocked the car. She said, this could have been the end, but luckily it just bent the bumper....
And we worried about her car not wanting to start nicely .
We also received a blow when we heard that Tristan, one of our most important Crew would not be able to travel with the other guys because his boss insisted to finish some work they started. He is the ground crew in a helicopter operation which sprays crops. So now we are really worried wether he will be able to make it or not, especially because it is so short notice....
In light of this, Spike and the rest of the team wanted to leave with the second boat tomorrow at 3am. But we found out that the trailer board was not working although everything was perfect a few days ago. We took the board to be fixed but it was till not working at all. It is obviously the car which is faulty now, but the electrician was already gone by the time we realised this. So instead of at 3am they have to leave 5 hours later and drive through the traffic in daylight....
Worry, worry, worry
Coffee Bay. Ocean View Hotel picture middle -right
The long awaited Sardine Run Program in Coffee Bay is starting. The first two guests have arrives at the Ocean View Hotel and more are expected still tonight. One couple have underestimated the distances in Africa and just landed in Durban. My friend and transport operator Chris has picked them up and now need to drive through the night to get them to Coffee Bay. if all goes well, we expect them to arrive around 3am.
Three hours sleep before breakfast and first launch of Sardine Run 2016.
Everything is ready. The boats are in position, the plane is sorted out and the crew is itching to get going.
We rented 2 soccer fields and got a grader in to make us a landing strip for the aircraft. We now have a proper airport except for the airport bar.....
I am in Margate awaiting another 7 guests to arrive at our Diver Villa. We will be diving Protea Banks. A perfect combination to the Sardine Run.
As from tomorrow i will know exactly what is seen and will report daily
RA Mauz International Airport
26.6. 2016 Sardine Run
Today was our first day on the Sardine Run 2016 and it started with a huge BANG !!!
We had a Bait Ball right in the beginning of the first day !!!! What a pleasure.
Sardines, Dolphins, Sharks and Gannets. Everybody came to the party.
Later our plane directed the boat to a couple of humpback whales.The guys followed the whales until is was safe to snorkel with them.
As our guests are approaching one of those giants, it decides to "snorkel " with people. The whale turns around and moves straight towards our guests in the water...
Some people swallowed everything, including sea water !!!
They came back to base at 14h30 with huge smiles on their faces. This is Sardine Run !!! Every bit of ocean action...
In the meantime we had a brilliant day on Protea Banks as well. First dive went to the Southern Pinnacle of Protea Banks where we encountered countless black tips and bull sharks, a raggie and a guitar shark. The visibility was 20m and the water temperature was 22C.
Our second dive was done on the Northern Pinnacle of Protea Banks. I was hoping for 50 raggies as we had practically no current. And 50 i got !!!
On our way up we saw lots of black tips and zams.
As we chose to stay a bit longer a bit deeper , some of our guys had a bit of deco to consider. All divers were already at the surface when i had to stay with our two Marcels who clocked up 5 minutes of deco. Silently i was swearing at their Suunto computer which is known to be ultra conservative, especially after the second deep dive when suddenly Marcel pointed behind me. I turned around and could not believe what i saw !!!
A whale shark came straight towards us. Barely two meters before us it turned around and slowly swam off....
What a privilege !!! We did have a whale shark not long ago on Protea Banks but before that we did not see one for 5 years or more. Whale Shark on Protea Banks !!!!! WOW
27.6. 2016 Sardine Run
Another good day in Coffee Bay. Today we had 2 of our boats out at sea. Our plane directed the boats to some amazing action. One boat was bust chasing a couple of smaller Bait Balls while the other boat played with whales .
It is quite difficult to make sense of all the info i get from Coffee Bay because there is always some kind of stress involved. Apparently some bearing packed up on my Hilux and Beulah had panik station. Also the crew did not come back from the launch site for a long time after the guests were dropped off at the hotel. As there is no phone connection in the ditch, she worried tremendously and feared some damage or similar. In the end it was all good and nothing went broke. Only a lot of hard work kept the boys busy. That is good news . They are paid well so might as well work hard....JJJ
All in all 2 out of 2 successful days with happy guests
Protea pulled out the rabbit of the hat again today. On our baited dive we had a record number of black tips, approx. 25, we had 2 tigers distant, 4 rams, some of the seams right amongst the divers and even 6 raggies were farting around the bait. This is very unusual as the raggies are bottom dwellers...
Second dive at the caves we had lots of raggies and a couple of zams and black tips. Vis was down today, especially on the second dive it was a bit murkey. Water temp was also a cool 20C, quite different from yesterdays pleasant 23C
28.6. 2016 Sardine Run
A windy day today but the boats both managed to launch safely. Our launch site at Mapusi is amazing. Our plane unfortunately could not fly today. We worried about this but it wasn't long until our boats reported the best action so far. Not far from the Ocean View Hotel they had hundreds of Gannets raining down into the ocean.
Sevaral loose Bait Balls
Dolphins, the lot.
Obviously my pictures here are mainly a day delayed. I am fighting hard for regular updates and new photographs, but it is not easy communicating with Coffee Bay. Right now i can't even get a telephone line... damn !!
Apparently my car has been fixed again. Wonder what else broke today ??
The Wild coast is truly a wild place and my staff probably fit in perfectly !! Yeah !!!
Oh, i just heard, that we almost lost pour pilot today...he had a piece of food stuck in his throat at the restaurant. This is how big the portions are at the Wild Coast !!! Hehehe. Lucky, old spike knew how to grab him from the back and kick his ass so the leg of lamb came out again...Jeez, i'm struggling
We had a cold front coming through today , and cold it was alright. Froze my ass off on the boat. In fact, the water was warmer than the air. as we drive out to the reef we get wet and wetter. Man, it was cold. Just as i dried a little by wind and sun, a wave broke into the boat and drenched me completely. Cold all over again.
Was glad when we hit the beach.
Oh, and the dive, yes,it was a great dive on Protea Banks. The guys did a Baited Dive and had lots of black tips and 4 zams. One of the zams entertained them especially.
29.6. 2016 Sardine Run
Today was a relativ quiet day. We had some loose Bait Balls which were pretty fast moving. Dolphins were working them but no Gannets were diving. later in the morning it got quiet, probably due to the warm air although the sea temperature was cool at 18C.
Coffee Bay is still the centre of activity this year. We never saw so many Bait Balls like this year. Usually we were more than happy to have 2-3 a week. Now we see this many a day.
Even boats from Port St. Johns are coming down to Coffee Bay daily now. Imagine, sitting on a Zodiac for 70 km one way....They are clearly very desperate.
Thankfully, Coffee Bay is our home for the Sardine Run and we don't and would never put our guests through a torture like this.
We do everything in our power to make the best of whatever nature provide us with.
We have our own spotter plane
We have 2 excellent and comfortable boats
We have a lovely hotel in the Ocean View
We have amazing accommodation and food
We have really good and experienced crews
Tomorrow is another day on the Sardine Run 2016
Today we did two dives on the northern pinnacle of Protea Banks. We had reverse current which caused us to reverse our underwater route.
So we started on the second cave and ended on the first cave.
The dives were particularly peaceful and nice. The vis was a lovely 25m and we had Raggies everywhere. I estimate about 60 sharks.
They were not bothered about us. Slowly gliding through the reef, no stress no fear.
Those dives were so relaxing for all of us. Loved it !!!
30.6. 2016 Sardine Run
Today we had a somewhat larger Bait Ball than usual. It was large enough for most of the guests to go on SCUBA and watch the action around it.
After this things got quiet again. Mainly due to the warm temperature.
Tomorrow we expect a cold front to hit Coffee Bay probably by late morning. The boats , if they can launch, would most likely have to return to the safety of the river mouth and cut tomorrows outing short. We will see. The good thing about a cold front is, that it wakes up the ocean for a couple of days.
We had only one dive today. Went to the southern pinnacle of Protea Banks and because of the rare reverse current, we started on Sandshark Gulley and ended north of the southern pinnacle.
The guys saw about 40 raggies, 4 bullsharks, lots of black tips and 2 hammerheads.
Vis 20m, water temp 22C