Trying to control what you will experience as a traveler is a fool's errand. Especially when it comes to diving and anything in nature, you cannot predict what you will see or not see. This was the major reminder I was given when diving False Bay in Cape Town, South Africa.
I decided to dive False Bay in South Africa because of its kelp forest, cow sharks, seals, and healthy coral reef. In the end, I only got to experience 3 out of 4 of these highlights. While I could have let this get me down for the remaining few days of my trip to Africa, I decided to stay positive about the experience.
In this post, I write about my dive experience in False Bay. While disappointing, I managed to find the positives in the experience anyway!
I specifically planned to go dive in South Africa because I mostly wanted to see kelp forest.
Kelp is a fast-growing, oversized algae or seaweed. There are many different kinds. The type I was looking forward to diving with in False Bay is commonly called "sea bamboo." Sea bamboo forms long, bare stalks with a puff of leaves on its end toward the surface. They remind me of Truffula Trees from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
In False Bay, there is a shore dive that will give you access to a large kelp forest area. I had expectations of diving in between the stalks, navigating it as if I was floating or flying through a real forest.
I was also looking forward to seeing the cow sharks that frequent the forest. Cow sharks, or broadnose sevengill shark, can reach be up to 3 meters in length and weigh over 100kg. I was excited to see these gentle beasts slowly moving through the kelp stalks.
Pisces Divers offered several packages, including the opportunity to see kelp, reef, seals, and a wreck.
I visited Pisces on my first day in Simon's Town. They told me the next day they would be visiting the SAS Pietermaritzburg wreck and Ark Rock reef where the seals hang out. They were very nice and offered to customize my experience. If I wanted to go to see the Kelp Forest at Pyramid Rock, they could add this on earlier in the morning as a one-on-one shore dive.
I knew the kelp forest dive would be worth it. So I opted to go early and do the shore dive. I would have the opportunity to take all 3 dives that day for $150 USD. That's a great price at $50 per dive including all equipment!
Pyramid Rock Dive with Kelp Forest
The season was winter—so I wore a 5mm full wetsuit with a hood and a 3mm shortie over it. It was restricting, but I was happy to have the warmth later.
A driver took my dive guide and I over to Bakoven where we entered the water from the shore. My experience with shore dives has not been great in the past. I find them very tiring, as you have to swim out to a point before descending. I had to fight waves and an incoming tide while craning my neck to keep my head above water with my thick suit and equipment on.
Eventually we made it to a point where we could descend. The water was very murky and dirty. I could barely see my own fins, let alone any fish or other sea life.
As we descended further, the visibility did not improve and the waves above water created a surge below. A surge is when the water pushes you in one direction and then back in the opposite direction. We were swept back and forth across the sea floor, bumping into and tangling our gear in the kelp.
I followed my guide close behind. The visibility was so bad that I wasn't be able to see him if he went too far ahead.
There were moments during this dive that I felt slightly panicked. I worried that my gear would get tangled. I worried that I would lose sight of my guide. I worried that I would tire quickly, as the swim out there and now the fight against the surge was waning on me.
I was determined to press on. So I fought the panicked thoughts away, as I had experience doing previously in Bali when I got caught in the current. But then my guide turned around and gave me a thumbs up. I responded with in agreement. We resurfaced after only 10 minutes under.
Later, my guide apologized to me. He was surprised the conditions were so bad—they apparently were amazing the day before even in the rain! He kept us under hoping the conditions would get clearer if we went further along or deeper, but it didn't.
This wasn't his fault, I told him. It's how diving goes sometimes!
I managed to snap a few photos of the kelp, despite the conditions. They appear fairly clear and not at all representative of how poor the conditions actually were. It was certainly very disappointing. No shark sightings. And none of the gorgeous kelp views I hoped for.
What I did gain, however, was more experience with diving in difficult conditions. Anything can happen at any moment in the ocean. The more experience I get in poor conditions that make me nervous, the better off I will be in similar situations in the future.
It's all a learning experience!
SAS Pietermaritzburg Wreck
I have been on a lot of wreck dives. I enjoyed my first wreck dive with beautiful jewel anemones in New Zealand. I had a great swim through experience on a wreck dive in Key Largo. I also experiences multiple wrecks and plane wreck dive in Hawaii. Other than these few unique experiences, I feel once you've seen a wreck, you've seen them all.
Pietermaritzburg was on the docket for the boat dives that morning so I went along with it. Pietermaritzburg was a minesweeper built in Scotland and launched in 1943. It was sunk in 1994 to create an artificial reef.
Conditions were improved for this wreck dive. Although it was very close to Pyramid Rock, there was no surge there. The color of the water, however, was still green and quite dirty. It was hard to appreciate all the life growing on the wreck because the sunlight didn't reach much.
The photos did not come out nice, but the silver lining with this experience was that I still saw lots of life—different starfish, nudibranches, and shyshark!
I had high hopes for the next and last dive site at Ark Rock.
Everyone said it's basically a guarantee that seals will swim with you there. Seals are naturally curious animals. When you get in the water, they have no problem coming right up to you if they're around. They can even be a bit annoying as a diver because they will get right in your face, nudge you with their noses, and want to play with you.
I had never seen seals while diving. So this would be a new experience for me!
Sadly, the seals didn't show up at the site. We saw them on the way back from the dive site, huddled up at a different location at the surface. It just happened to be a really unusual occurrence while I was there.
The lesson I learned from this was, again, not to have expectations with diving. It's important to just go with the flow and enjoy the dive for what it is. If I had done that, I might not have been so disappointed initiatlly.
In fact, I saw lots of gorgeous soft coral at Ark Rock. There was also some kelp there.
The best part was seeing all the colorful anemones.
With slightly better visibility at this dive site, I was able to capture their brilliant colors.
I didn't get to have the dive experiences I went to Cape Town to see. But I did walk away a more skilled diver and with an appreciation of what I did see.
With travel, and especially nature, you cannot control what will happen. As with most things in life, you can only control how you perceive and respond to an experience. Instead of feeling too down about it, I chose to have gratitude for what I did get out of diving in False Bay.
One unexpected outcome from this experience was because of my dive buddy! At the end of our dives, Tomas from Poland offered to give me a ride into Cape Town which led to an evening spent photographing the beautiful sunset views around the cape.
If I had not gone diving that day, I never would have met Tomas! And so you see, there is a silver lining to every disappointment! Stay tuned for this story and more in my next posts.