Mike Calder was always good to me. He supplied my first ever dive centre when no one else would. He had this motto: Come to Mike’s For the “The best advice and the right price”. He treated everyone as his no 1 customer and built his business on bonhommie and quality service. Both of which were seriously missing in British Retailing in the 1990’s. His death from cancer threw me for six. A big man in the British Diving world (and I mean big at 6’4”!) was gone. Steve Brown, his super competent manager bought the business from Mike’s family and continued the tradition. He was also good to me. He continued to supply me in Africa and now, he helps our clients directly in the UK. Steve moved with the time, and built the online side of the business. Mike’s Waterfront Warehouse, was a warehouse again- shipping to clients all over the world. Steve could not do it alone, and has a wonderful backroom team of advisers, packers and shippers. They are all seriously brilliant. I would say that Mike’s Dive Store is the very best dive shop in Europe.
And in case you think that’s a big statement, it is with great pleasure that I can announce that Steve and his team have won the Diver : Dive Retailer of the year award.
Mike’s Dive Store is official supplier to our Antarctic expedition, providing dry suits, cold water regulators and all sorts of other other excellent kit. So if you would like to grab something for one of our holidays (it does not have to be the Antarctic) then go ahead, follow the link and use the discount code Diveshow10 to get 10% off their already competitive pricing!
Join us for an exclusive and unique opportunity to dive the Antarctic summer. All Antarctic Scuba Diving trips are in the Antarctic Autumn. We have persuaded Oceanwide expeditions to lay on diving in their summer expedition.
The best time to visit the Antarctic is in the height of the Antarctic summer. This gives you the best chance to have good weather. It is also the penguin breeding/gestation season, and makes for the best all round experiences for divers and non divers alike. This is the signature trip that takes in South Georgia and the Falklands and Antarctica. We will not be running this trip for a good many years to come.
2 DIVE SPACES SUDDENLY AVAILABLE AGAIN!!!!
Previously full, we received word last night that one of our Antarctic Divers has had to pull out for personal reasons. Upon enquiry, we found out that the entire sailing is full to capacity. So we got on the phone to our co-expedition leader Jeff and asked his advice. He said he too had a dive cancellation. So, unbelievably, we have two berths available, Please see the prices below.
Are you that adventurous person who was hoping to join us, but we were full? Now you can, this is your once in a lifetime chance to dive the white continent in summer.
Prices include: Expedition PLA24, diving tanks and weights, all shipboard guiding fees, all meals on board the vessel. Two dives per day on diving days (at the discretion of the dive leader.)
Not Included: flights, airport transfers, hotels, dive gear rental, departure taxes, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, personal expenses, food on shore (except breakfast) land based tours, dive equipment, dive and travel insurance (mandatory), clothing hire.
We will depart from Ushuaia, Argentina aboard the ice-strengthened M/V Plancius to the world famous Falkland Islands. Steeped in history, this British Outpost is home to much wildlife and great diving. The vessel will then set sail again to the jewel of the journey, the British Antarctic Territory of South Georgia. This is a unique part of the earth which is only accessible by ship. We will spend our largest time bloc here before proceeding on to the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. We then pass into the South Shetlands for a final glance at the 10,000ft high peaks before steaming home to Ushuaia through the Drake Passage.
Scott Bennett is possibly the world’s most thorough dive journalist. He is so attentive to detail, and places a high value on his time. He is one of the most honest and meticulous journos out there and will report nothing without experiencing it himself or having three confirmed sources back up what he hears. Scott has written numerous African Articles for us, investigated resorts and been on safari with us. He sometimes sees things differently to us, but we love his brutal honesty. So we were very excited when we asked him to visit St Helena Island. We were slightly less excited when he said no. He was simply too busy and wanted to be near his elderly family. Reasons we simply could not say no to. Well, reasons that everyone except Raf could accept. Raf went into overdrive, badgering Scott to get out of his comfort zone in Ontario (That’s in Canada for the Americans amongst us- not Ont CA. ) and get over to Africa.
The badgering finally paid off and Scott made his way over to Johannesburg and the magical island of St Helena. And lets be brutally honest about this, St Helena is magical. It is amazing, it is wonderful, it is unique, it is a must visit, and yes it is a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Astonishingly it is also British. St Helena must be the one part of the greater British Emire that is still amazing. Unlike the British Isles which are in suicidal financial or cultural meltdown due to the mess of leaving (or not) the EU. St Helena chuggs on, being amazing, with lovely wonderful people who welcome the 35 tourists who arrive per week (In season).
So leaving Brexit (or not) firmly behind us, have a read of a Canadian’s point of view of:
A few years ago, we organised a dive expedition to Papua New Guinea (PNG). Our northernmost point of diving was the paradise island of Lissenung. This island is tiny, with small wooden huts in some trees on the beach. Everything in Lissenung is on the beach and has tree cover. It really is that small. Apart from the plethora of fish, coral and nudibranchs, what really got our attention, was the detritus of world war two. The harbour in front of Kavieng had a Catalina on the bottom along with an array of Japanese metal equipment.
One night in the sultry heat, we asked Dietmar, (the owner of Lissenung Island resort) why this was the case. He pointed to a map on the Bamboo wall of the dining hut.
“Kavieng is exactly 500 nautical miles south of Truk. It is the northernmost airfield in New Guinea. If you look at Truk’s location you will see that it was the natural supply base for the Japanese navy. They could carry on to Saipan and then Japan.”
Of course we should have remembered our history books, but the Japanese supplied their New Guinea Army through Kavieng. And when they were under attack by the allied forces, they fought off attack after attack from Kavieng. The tactical, technological superiority and professionalism of the US forces prevailed and the Japanese were defeated across the pacific. Peace eventually prevailed. But what got me thinking was Truk. What was so special about Truk and the Japanese supply chain? This forgotten lagoon in the middle of nowhere was turned into a major dive site. The fascination continued and I found myself reading more and more about Operation Hailstorm. Everyone says that the US navy were after the warships, but when you read the history of the defeat of Japan it is obvious that the US had a dual policy of blockade and fight. The US submarine fleet kept Japan completely isolated at the end of the war, and the 1 million Japanese soldiers in China were powerless to defend their homeland, as every ship which put to sea was sunk. The sinking of the Japanese merchant marine fleet in Truk Lagoon effectively neutralised thousands of soldiers on small islands around the pacific. The US forces could then ignore islands at will, and attack those that they chose.
Truk was on my radar but not really on it, because I thought that I would never get there. All of my visits to Micronesia had been to Yap and Palau, and perhaps I was interested more in life than death. But a chance meeting at the DEMA dive show changed all of that. One day Maria the owner of Kosrae Pacific Tree Lodge took the empty space next to us on the show. After three days of chatting and drinking coffee in between meetings, she invited us to come and see her lodge and dive centre. The easiest way to Kosrae was via Truk. So I found myself planning to visit Kosrae. But standing next to me, was my friend Cliff of the Truk Odyssey.
“If you visit Kosrae, you would be very welcome to see the Odyssey” he said. And the brain started to work on expanding the Trip.
“If you go to Truk I would like to come with you” said a voice behind me.
Stevie Macleod the owner of the Workshop at Al Boom divers (Dubai) had overheard.
“And I think I know a couple of others who might wish to join us. You see the wrecks of Truk are not still wrecks, they are also vibrant reefs full of fish. Diane would love this.
Doug Bennett the owner of Reef Encounters International (Japan) strolled over.
“Hey Raf, if you go to Truk, then I want to come too with Maggie” .
I sat down and took out my notebook and started to write down names. After a few minutes, I had a think and turned to Cliff.
“Cliff when do you have a whole boat available? I think if this continues I might need the whole boat”. Cliff beamed from ear to ear, his kind invitation to an agent to inspect his boat, had morphed into a massive booking in five minutes.
“Hey who flies to Truk?” said Stevie?
“Well we use Air Niugini” Is said to him.
“Well you can add that on for me”.
We all packed our bags and flew back to our respective nations around the world. Everyone else got to run their dive centre or workshop. I, on the other hand, found myself at my desk ringing Air Niugini and asking for fares to Truk from Manila and Singapore with a Port Moresby (Hoskins) stopover. Since this all came about, we have packed our bags a few more times, and I have seen the inside of a few aircraft. Turkey, Indonesia, the Antarctic, ST Helena, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania are all lined up before we will eventually board that aircraft to Truk, but it is now only 13 months away, and we are almost able to book flights. Now all I just need to head down to Mike’s Dive Store for that 3mm suit and some replacement fins and I will be ready.
And you dear reader? Would you like to join us? We only have three spaces left, so you would be welcome. We will be in Truk from 22-29 August 2020. We will be at Walindi Plantation the week after that, and if anyone lasts that long, we will have a glass of bubbles in Cairns or Singapore after that. Ping me an email at Info@orientafrica.com and I’ll send you some details.
All images courtesy of Truk Odyssey- as we have not been there yet!
As the time to dive in the Antarctic gets closer and closer, we need to sort out dive equipment. We need two of many things and one of others. It really is no joke this diving in the cold business, indeed just being in the cold needs special gear. Most of us who live in Europe and enjoy an active lifestyle have waterproof trousers, a waterproof jacket and thermal underwear. If you don’t mountain warehouse has cheap trousers (£30) and good cheap merino wool underwear. Everyone owns a fleece, and you might need two. A buffalo shirt or a merino wool top is very useful as a mid layer, and a Norwegian army shirt is great as the layer above the thermals. For an outer jacket, I used an Arktis Avenger Jacket, which was way too heavy, but in all honestly I will take a long Keela next time, (which Keela are making for me now). Some people have down jackets or outer thermal jackets such as snugpak or Helikon. Both work fine, with snugpak possibly having the edge. But you don’t need Gucci equipment, you need clothing that works. The name tag means nothing. we saw people with Berghaus, Mountain Equipment, Arcteryx and even one lad with an old fashioned oilskin. On your feet, good wool socks from bridgedale or three pairs of Royal Navy Arctic socks from silvermans for £10 will do the job. In short, you need a good baselayer (thermal top), waterproof trousers and a few mid layers. A dry bag rucksack for going ashore is also very useful. Boots are provided by the expedition people.
Antarctic Dive Expedition Equipment
Diving in the Antarctic is diving a long way from home. You will need all your own gear, and a small amount of spare kit and a good “save the dive kit”. For if your scuiba set stops working on day one, you are “off games” for the rest of the expedition.
Again you do not need the most expensive dive equipment out there. You need reliable equipment that works. You need two regulators, a dry suit, and undersuit and a bcd. A good hood, a few pairs of gloves, mask fins snorkel and some spare hoses. We chose the aqualung core, as it is the cheapest cold water regulator available in the UK. (and we needed to buy two per person!) Any working BCD will do, I have a dive rite, Cisca has a scubapro. You will also need a basic computer such as an aladin 2G and you must have a watch. All of us dive with momentum watches. We found the best value and the easiest to read was the Momentum Torpedo, made in Canada with a Japanese quartz movement these are ultra reliable.
You will also need under garments for your dry suit. We use Weezle under suits made by snugpak, the best British Sleeping bag company. Weezle went the extra mile for us, sending suits to be sized and then returned until we found the right sizes. They can be found at the US DEMA dive show if you want to meet them. (we also exhibit at the DEMA show)
With reference to the drysuit, we chose the excellent value Typhoon crushed Neoprene suit which cost around £650. This was made to measure by typhoon as I am an odd size. The whole process, from regulators to drysuits, fins, bladders, masks and even momentum watches, was managed by Mike’s dive store. Indeed Cisca was lucky enough to get an off the shelf Typhoon. Mike’s dive store was so cheap compared to US and Canadian stores that many people on our Antarctic diving expedition decided to come to Mike’s and buy their kit. Godwin flew in from Toronto to get his dry suit made for him. Other members bought other kit and we ordered bulk and had it shipped to our HQ in wales.
Steve Brown, the owner of Mike’s Dive Store, and his team were so helpful to us. Nothing was too much trouble for them. We asked for equipment that was not stocked and they got it delivered to us. After the initial meetings, we simply bought everything online. This was remarkably easy, and as the orders increased, we appointed Mike’s dive store, the official supplier to African and Oriental Antarctic Dive Expeditions. Steve gave us a single point of contact, and we were able to take advantage of his already excellent pricing. So if you are on our expedition and you need kit, we can get it for you, or put you in touch with Mikes’.
The History of Mike’s Dive Store and Raf
There is history between me and Mike’s Dive Store. The first owner of Mikes’ dive store was good man called Mike Calder, I bought my first regulator from him in 1992 alongside a Mares 7mm suit that was impossible to get into. When I got into the diving business, he helped me set up my dive shop in India in 1995. No one else in the UK would give a discount for export trade. No manufacturer or distributor would sell me a regulator (or 10) for less than recommended retail. Mike Calder thought this was asinine; and was unconventional! So crates of Seaquest BCD’s, technisub fins and Spiro Club regulators, left his warehouse in Twickenham and went to Heathrow airport. Mike literally put me on the dive map and I never forgot it. He then supplied me with cylinders and ancillary kit when I worked in Africa from 1999-2017. Mike passed away way too early in 2006. I missed his funeral as I was in Indonesia. The store carried on, and Mike’s son agreed to sell the store to Steve Brown as Steve had so much passion for diving, and more importantly the drive to keep the business going through the financial crisis. The connection between me and Mikes’ continued, as I knew Steve from when he was the Skipper of the MV Kiswani diving in Tanzania. After we sold our dive shop, Steve and I stayed in touch, and I bought a few items here and there. But it was this Antarctic Dive Expedition that brought back the old relationship of our needing tons of gear for our team. We are so proud to be dealing with team at Mike’s Dive Store. I for one will never forget the kindness that Big Mike Calder showed me in 1995, and appointing Steve and his awesome team as official suppliers to our expedition is our way of thanking Mike and Steve for always helping us.
In order to join an Antarctic Dive expedition, or to simply visit the Antarctic email Raf on email@example.com
I was first put into the idea of diving the Mesoamerican American reef by Mike Alt back when we lived on Pemba Island, in Tanzania. Mike had had enough of Zanzibar and wanted to do something different. So he called up, jumped on a propeller plane and then walked into our dive lodge on Pemba Island. He took one look at the place and instantly booked a week’s diving. Mike was taken by something that we did that kept him coming back year after year. We became friends and he in turn invited us to come to Xcalak. Getting to his tiny part of the Mesoamerican reef involved a 5 hour drive from Cancun airport, the final part being down a dusty track. We dived the southern reefs of Mexico with Javier Salas of XTC dive centre.
We would sometimes stop for our surface interval in the lagoon between Mexico and Belize. But that really is a different story, and you can read more about our dives with Mike and Javier here: https://www.travelblog.org/North-America/blog-757829.html Back at his house, with a stunning bottle of Argentinean red open, I asked mike what made him so interested in the reef that ran from Cozumel in the north, down the Yucatan peninsula, through Belize and down to Honduras. I had always known it as the Belize Barrier reef, but I was wrong. Mike explained that in the 1980’s he had read a National Geographic magazine about an expedition by NOAA down the reef to the Chinchorro Banks. The Mesoamerican reef comes close to the shore in some locations and has some outer banks. The Chinchorro banks were the outer reefs opposite the village of Xcalak, which ironically had the reef within swimming distance of the shore. Mike was a professional doctor but he might as well have been a professional diver. He stopped logging his dives at 1000, when he was in his thirties.
His fascination with the reef was compelling, and over many chats in the intense heat of the Mexican night, we discussed Mexico as it was in the 1970’s the ‘80s and finally into the 1990’s. Mexico and her underwater world had something very special to offer. Year after year we dived the Mesoamerican reef with Mike and Javier, learning each individual cave and dive site better and better. But life caught up with us all. We sold our dive shop in Tanzania to concentrate on being the best small dive and safari tour operator in Britain. Mike grew tired of the heat and moved to Chiapas state in central Mexico. Javier was kind enough to invite us down to stay with him and dive, but it did not seem the same without Mike. He in turn never returned to Tanzania without us.
It was a chance meeting with Paul Flower of Dressel divers who put the Mesoamerican reef back on the agenda. He suggested we dive with him. Last year on our way to San Cristobal De La Casas, we stopped off in heavily commercialised Playa Del Carmen. Paul arranged for us to dive the reef in front of the hotel. I did not have high hopes, but was very surprised to find the diving as diverse and pleasant as anywhere on the reef. What it lacked was the underwater landscape of Xcalak. Buoyed with such good diving, Paul suggested that we visit his centre in Cozumel. After some thought we agreed and asked around if anyone would be keen on joining us. Eleven months and a small group later, we found ourselves looking out of the window of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 over impenetrable bush while descending into Cancun Airport. Cancun has a bad name, perhaps given to it by the visiting all inclusive American sun tourists. But they do it a disservice. Cancun’s centre has a certain concrete charm to it, with friendly people and excellent restaurants. But this did not really feel like Mexico. We stayed in the excellent and cheap hotel Amontilado, which had some impeccably behaved Russian group guests and a few other nationalities. It was a far cry from the all inclusive beach monstrosities. Every bad side brings a good, and the infrastructure of the northern Yucatan is excellent. The next morning, we bussed down to Playa del Carmen with Adam and Maya (two friends) . There we painlessly boarded a rather modern looking catamaran and thundered off across the Caribbean sea to the island on the horizon.
We spent very little time in Cozumel town, but the town itself looked majestic. Low white buildings, small shop houses and polite people abounded. We climbed into a taxi and puttered off to our hotel in the south. Dressel Divers use the iberostar chain, and while all inclusive is not my thing, the iberostar was full of divers. It also had excellent food buffets with tons of vegetables and healthy options. The coffee was appalling and there was no hot water to make tea, but apart from that it was great. Upon arrival I co-ordinated with Maddy, the dive manager. “I promise you none of us will misbehave, none of my team will pull off some form of stunt dive, but please do not give us a divenazi- as a guide.”
Maddy was rather taken aback by my direct nature, but she got to grips with our madness and assigned us Omar, a Christian Mexican of Lebanese descent. Omar was quite simply brilliant. He knew what to say, how much to say, and how to treat us. We in turn behaved impeccably and gave him no trouble. The only bad boy was me, when I lagged slightly behind and below the group, but Omar was patient and I finned like hell to catch up. (having a camera is no fun sometimes). Omar had a girlfriend called Anna, who was a very different dive guide. She was blessed with mixed groups of Americans and handled them so well. She was charming and delightful, but I was rather glad that I was allowed to slack off by Omar, I was sure she’d have made me and Cisca keep up!
In addition to all this, Paul was happy for me to run a NAUI nitrox course for three of the team and a NAUI advanced course for two of our former peace corps volunteers. I have always loved training, especially advanced training, and it was a privilege to be able to teach Nikki, Kyle and Adam. What was interesting was the difference in buoyancy control between a NAUI trained diver (by my former staff) and a PADI open water diver. I will not lie, the NAUI diver was superb, and the PADI diver, with very similar experience (he was her husband) was not quite as perfect. Lets leave it at that!
The diving in Cozumel was like no other. It did not have many steep walls in the conventional sense of the word, but it had a series of pinnacles with massive fans, and swim throughs. The diving was very similar to Mtwara in southern Tanzania, with the tops of the reef being at 50-70ft and the pinnacles going down to 40 metres before a very steep sloping bottom descended into the blue. We were all diving on 30-33% nitrox, and so even with my computer set to a partial pressure of 1.4 the thing started bleeping at 118ft. I am far more bothered by nitrogen absorption than by oxygen toxicity, and many of my dives were deep, I kept glancing at my analogue depth gauge and momentum torpedo watch. The bezel was especially useful for the half stops, and long safety stops that I did. Without going into detail, I have studied decompression theory and various tables. I am a firm believer that the half stop and two safety stops at 27ft and 18ft are the best insurance policy, But that is a subject matter for another blog.
The words above barely touch on the stunning beauty of Cozumel. There were some underwater grass fields, but these had a plethora of nurse sharks, giant fans and coral heads and below 90ft, some very steep walls. The diving was unbelievably good and great value.
Every evening at sunset, most of the American guests would go inside to shower and prepare for dinner. We the ex-Africa mob would shower the salt off well before and make our way to the wooden jetty. There we would gather on the end of the jetty watching the sun disappear and then shed rays on the massive cumuli nimbus clouds. All too soon the week was over. It was time to check out of the hotel and take the ferry back to the mainland, Nikki and Kyle flew back to Boise Idaho, while the rest of us went pyramid bashing. Three days after that we had to split up again. Francisca and I flew to Chiapas, Uwe and Laura flew to Portugal Singapore respectively while Adam and Maya took their time to take in more pyramids.
Days later I found myself sitting on a pavement at 7000ft, watching the world go by, snapping the occasional black and white photo with my Nikon FM2. The world of Cozumel and the Mesoamerican reef seemed so far away. But perhaps a return might be in order?
It goes without saying that we organise dive tours to Xcalak and Cozumel
The Island of St Helena has been an enigma in the Atlantic Ocean. The only way to visit was by Royal Mail Ship, or Yacht. With limited yet lengthy sailings and even more limited very expensive cabins, the Island was effectively out of reach to most normal people. For over two decades, Raf Jah had his eyes on St Helena. When he met Anthony Thomas of Sub-Tropic Adventures in 2015, he made a vow that the day flights were announced, he would buy a ticket to St Helena. He kept that promise and three months after the first Embraer E90 landed on the St Helena Field, Raf and Francisca Jah stepped off the plane with a group of rather experienced divers. This is their story.
LANDING BY AIR AT ST HELENA AIRPORT – WHICH SHOULD BE CALLED SPIDER HILL AERODROME
Much has been made of the new airport on St Helena Island. And much has been made of the dramatic landings on St Helena. Our reality was simple a 3hr 15 minute flight from our last refueling stop over the azure Atlantic Ocean. As we approached St Helena, I peered out of the window at the clouds and the shape that was the Island. We made one pas by the island before beginning our approach. We curled past an impressive brown knob of rock and suddenly banked to the left and descended slightly. With a healthy bounce, we made contact with the runway. The pilot steadied us, and then all three wheels were on the tarmac and with reverse thrust and a bit of breaking the Embraer E90 rolled to a stop.
St Helena Air Terminal looked ultra-modern with its shiny glass exterior and clean parking mat. State of the art crash fire tenders, ambulances, refueling trucks, various vehicles along with an out of place Dennis town fire engine were parked near it. In the afternoon sun it all looked quite delightful and breezy, like a tiny regional British airport in glorious summer sun. For this was all undeniably British. Sadly, the vestiges of Britain were also in attendance, with needlessly officious immigration and quarantine officers. This was not the United Kingdom of 2018, but of my childhood in the 1970’s. Rather than be bothered by the foolishness of the situation, we made jokes about it until we finally exited the building. The airport has been misnamed Jamestown Airport, but in fact, it should really be called “Spider Hill Aerodrome”, for it sits next to the world famous Spider Hill. Indeed its runway sits in the direction it is, wind shear and all, to save the protected funnel web spiders.
In the carpark, our friend and contact Anthony Thomas of Sub-Tropic adventures met us and loaded our bags onto two vehicles. We set off along a winding road towards Half Tree Hollow and our accommodation. The jeep must have passed through four different ecosystems, barren desert to lush green forests and small patches of farmland. After dumping our frogman kit, Anthony took us on a quick cooks tour. The Island consisted of a large volcanic rock with lush green valleys, peaks and mountains starting at 2000ft. With the cooling wind blowing at altitude, you could almost think you were in the valleys of Wales. Then we descended to Ladder Hill Fort. Pronounced “ladi hiw for” by the Saints. This was an impressive fortification that overlooked Jamestown and its sheltered harbour. Once a simple East India Company fortification, Ladder Hill Fort had evolved over the centuries with its last additions of Naval Guns being added in the second world war. Now it was home to the “interim fire station”, a tin-roofed shed that housed a couple of British Dennis fire appliances and a Carmichael conversion- firefighting land rover. When I asked, I was told that the interim fire station was in fact the main fire station and had been “interim” for 20 years. The fort was open to all, and afforded views of the yachts at anchor and the tenders and barges that service the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. The RMS as she was known by the saints was due into harbour for its last sailing in a few days.
Below us was a series of 700 large steps that’s descended 700ft down into Jamestown. These steps were called Jacobs ladder. Once a supply railway to the fort, it had now been transformed into a steep shortcut from town to Half Tree Hollow. We declined to descend the 700 foot high steps and drove sedately down into St Helena’s administrative capital, Jamestown. This turned out to be a quaint English fishing village, with no recognisable shops. It has the same air as parts of Malta and Gibraltar, but with quintessentially British people. The saints spoke with a patois that sounds to have its roots is somewhere between Cornwall and Australia. The only downside was that the only restaurant that was open every night was that of the Mantis. Other restaurants or cafes would open for a few hours on certain evenings to cater for the saints and expats wishes. After a quick familiarisation with the sea, post office, tourist office and the rendezvous point for diving we drove back up the hill and went for dinner.
AT TOUR OF ST HELENA ISLAND FROM THE SEA
Our diving started the next day. We had opted to stay in the Williams Estate, a series of well-appointed semi-detached bungalows on the side of a mountain. This meant driving down to the wharf every day. Ladder hill road was a narrow winding path which had clearly been an old wagon track. In most places it was a single track road with a small stone wall between the driver and the drop. Descending against the flow of traffic required a keen eye and a swift foot for the accelerator and brake. We made it down with no issues and sought out the dive centre.
St Helena was not the most conventional of islands. Its towering rock cliffs had occasional fissures that dropped down to the sea in steep-sided valleys. At the end of these valleys there was sometimes access to the sea. This could be in the form of a rocky cluster or a stone beach. At the mouth of every Jamestown was a case in point. The end of the valley was capped with a fortified wall which sported a large gate. Beyond the wall was a, now dry, moat, the seawall, and a shingle beach. There was no jetty as the island had no deep-water wharf. All ships had to anchor in the bay and have the containers and passengers offloaded by lighter or barge. Every single person onto and off St Helena had to arrive or leave from a set of steps 20 foot wide.
Anthony Thomas had just rented new premises for the Sub Tropic Adventures Scuba Diving Centre, but had not as yet, made the move with all his kit. As such, we assembled by the famous steps and waited. A white Ford transit pick up appeared and Anthony and his no 2, Paul Cherret started to unload everything. We pitched in and helped while Anthony took a skiff out to collect his rib. Loading up took seconds and we were on our way. Anthony was apologetic: “This is not normal, soon we’ll have the dive centre down here and we’ll pre-load the boat and you will simply step aboard”. Anthony was definitely on the ball, but it made the expedition more real to unload our dive kit, cylinders and weights, before assembling our scuba kit on the wharf. Just as we were ready, Anthony appeared with a solid South African manufactured RIB equipped with radio, first aid kit, oxygen and twin 115 Suzuki four stroke outboard engines. Getting into any vessel from St Helena involves a step of the famous steps. Ropes hang down from a metal pole to allow people to pull themselves up at low tide. It seemed incongruous to depart for a dive trip in exactly the same was as governors, saints, traders had for over a century. Anthony turned east and we zoomed out on the flat calm water. It was a grey day for summer, and we looked back at the island, which looked like a forbidding brown rock made up of towering cliffs and nothing else.
“when expats used to arrive on the RMS, they would look at the rock and wonder where they had arrived. It was only when they went ashore and found the green valleys and views that they calmed down” chuckled Anthony mischievously.
DIVING TOURS OFF ST HELENA ISLAND
Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Long Ledge. Paul threw the Anchor in, and we checked our air and kit. After a safety check, we rolled backwards into the water and descended to 6metres (18 feet) and waited for Anthony. At 22’c the water was unseasonably cold, and I regretted not bringing my hood. I squirmed and wriggled until all the water in my 5 mm mares suit was warm. I had chosen to buy a standard 5mm suit, rather than some fancy so-called semi-dry effort, and with careful use, the mares was quite fine. The others soon appeared and Anthony led us into a series of swim-throughs or large caves. Each of these caves was brightly lit by shafts of light that pierced into the blue water. The water was extremely clear. The bottom seemed to be a mixture of sand and rock, and yet the rocks were colourful under a torch and between each one there was life of some sort. Nudibranches, flatworms and small fish were everywhere. Inside the caves, there were schools of sergeant majors and Squirrelfish. Anthony led us along a series of ledges until we ended up swimming along a finger that pointed out to sea. The bottom dropped away below us, and as we got to the end of the finger the marine life started to build up. The fish were clearly attracted to the point. This was long ledge and we were at the end of it. I popped down to 26 metres to have a look at the base of the ledge and found some moray eels and pipefish wandering around, but by this time I had been diving for 45 minutes and my air was getting low. I slowly made my way back up and Cisca and I continued along the ledge at 10 metres, and then 6metres, slowly off gassing as we went.
Our second dive was the Papanui, a broken up steamer that sank in front of Jamestown in 12mtres of water. The rudder was full of life, but the broken plates and boilers made for a fascinating dive site. We wandered off across the sand to find the second even more broken up wreck, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it. We had quite a feeling of history, diving on these two ships which were over a century old. We ascended early, but soon the others popped up yelling and screaming about a devil ray playing with them for 30 minutes. I grabbed my camera and slipped back into the water to look for the ray. It appeared below me and started to do circles. I ducked down on a single breath hold, and snapped three photos of the amazing creature below me. Having broken one of the cardinal rules of diving, I thought it best not to be too naughty and left my post scuba dive – snorkel activities at that.
We spent five days diving in St Helena, snorkeled with whale sharks, and went for afternoon walks in the green valleys. It would be quite boring to list all of the dives, but if there was one dive that summed up the reason to jump on a plane to St Helena right now, it was Torm Ledge. This diving in St Helena is based upon a ledge that is about 45metres deep and runs a mile out to sea. Only there does the drop off really begin and descend to 3000m. Torm ledge turned out to be an underwater pinnacle that rose up from the sea bed. We dropped in at 9 m and were immediately surrounded by amberjacks, giant trevally and rainbow runners. As this was our last day underwater, I dropped down to 36 metres and swirled lazily around my camera. They bumped into me, blew bubbles and hunted in front of me. As I made my way back to 18 metres, a cloud of powder blue surgeonfish covered the top of the pinnacle and when they lurched into the blue, they blotted out the sun. Cisca and I sat in the cloud, finning gently in the current watching the pelagics play and hunt. Just when I thought it could not get any better, a dark shape loomed out of the blue and cruised slowly up to us. An enormous whale shark was right in front of us. It was so slow, I could even snap a photo of Cisca with the shark in the background. Thew whale shark cruised away around torm ledge and came back keeping us comoany unril the end of the dive. As we climbed back onto the rib, the whale shark, not satisfied with saying hello once, hung around us under the diver boat. We could literally see him from the pontoons. Someone slid into the water with a mask and the whale shark just sat there unperturbed.
After that, there was only the final task of sundowners at Rosies café before descending Jacobs ladder to the Mantis Hotel for an evening meal of Plo, the St Helenan specialty. (Central Asian Pilav or Plov had made it through the East India Company to St Helena. Now it is their national food).
The next day, it was time for the trek past Napoleon’s house to the aerodrome at Spider Hill. There was some sea mist, but the E90 landed as soon as it cleared. We walked across the tarmac and boarded the aircraft. It taxied to the end of the runway and roared down the concrete strip. Soon enough we lifted off the British rock in the middle of the south Atlantic Ocean, turned south east and made course for Africa. Four and a half hours later we landed at Johannesburg airport and the real world.
BOOKING ST HELENA DIVING- THE AFRICAN AND ORIENTAL TRAVEL COMPANY
The most important thing, when booking a dive holiday is to use an agent who knows what they are doing, and who has actually been to St Helana. In addition, make sure that agent knows exactly what your requirements are. The African and Oriental Travel Company are South Atlantic Experts. They are brilliant at combining Diving in St Helana with Safaris in Namibia, Safaris in Zambia or South African Dive holidays.
Every week an Embraer E90 a arrives at Spider Hill Aerodrome. As such the atmosphere of the island has not changed since the boat days. So the time to visit is now- before the dynamic and spirit of the island is changed by multiple flights.
The African and Oriental Travel Company are the St Helena and Africa Specialists. They organise dive holidays in St Helena from £800.00 per person. Flights are £780 from Johannesburg and £450 from The UK to Johannesburg.
So all included a deluxe one week dive holiday staying at the Mantis Hotel and Flying with a scheduled carrier from London or Manchester should cost in the region of £2030.00 www.orientafricatravel.com +44 1291 570953
See the images below of why we love ST Helena. We had an amazing week on St Helena Island.
So what is Turkish Airlines really like? Everyone asks this question. While there is a lot of negative press about the airline, the simple answer is that across the board it works. My definition of working is: “It takes off, it does not crash, it lands- and generally all of this happens within an envelope of timeliness”. Turkish Airlines certainly does this. In addition to this, Turkish Airlines always feed you and the food and drinks are free. So far so good. So let’s go into some greater detail on what we think of the “the glorious Turks”, because it is not all perfect by any means.