Monday, December 7, 2009

Its December and what now?

So the question begs. Whats up now that the whale shark season has come and gone? It is beginning December and normally this time of year we are busy with hang gliding training here in Wilderness but this year is different. Why? Well, during the past whale shark season I met the Executive Director of the Save Our Seas Foundation and was made a great and enviable offer (yes, it does happen sometimes! :-) It turns out they are receiving a new microlight with floats and I will be helping out with the flying when they are more occupied with research and filming on new projects. The first assignment was for this December from the 20th till just into the new year - which took care of my summer season. To cut a long story short, after cancelling some hang gliding students, the SOS ship got delayed in South America and they are only scheduled to arrive in Seychelles beginning of January 2010! Big bummer but such is life!

Of course we are now trying to cover things for December which is surprisingly difficult when not given enough lead time. It is raining at the moment - very desperately needed around here! It has given me time to catch up on admin, including finishing my short story book. Of course I highly recommend it to one and all. It is called "Wings and Things". Distinctly South African, all short stories about adventures around my home town - about flying and of course other things we encounter often in life. It is humorous and clever, the perfect bedside book to unwind, have a chuckle before closing your eyes for sweet sleep. ;-)

Let me know if you want one. For a very small fee I will post it to you! Its well worth it!

Enjoy the festive season!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The end of the 2009 season...

So the end of our season has come and gone – so too all the interns. (I can’t say enough about how very special this group was). Actually, John and Abi are still at the house, al l the rest have gone their separate ways. It is just one of those Island things. You meet the greatest of people and have such a great time while underlying you know goodbye is not far away and chances are you will never see them again. It’s a tough lesson in life.

The whale sharks decided to do the goodbye thing a week earlier by the looks of things. We did not manage to get up in the air much for the last week – we were plagued by rain and bad winds. (The winds were from the south west on those days that it did not rain making the flying very unpleasant (See previous post on flying in these kinds of winds!) For the times we did get in the air we did not see any whale sharks. It was little consolation for not going out with the boats but it was something. The best part probably was the end of season party. As usual David out done himself with food (he is not just a Whale Shark fundi but can handle a kitchen knife pretty well!) The themes went along Halloween (of course) but spiced up with a nerd look to go with that. Tori made mince meat out of that one, no doubt winning the nerd department hands down. However, over all I think it was between David, who donned a white see through suit with a authentic world war two fighter pilot goggle and leather hood and then Abi who looked like a cat - a leopard cat. She had this oh so very sexy leopard suit and seemed to revel in the love cats department - a hands down winner by me!

I am sitting in the La Digue Island lodge. It is pretty lux and pretty expensive! We decided to splash out a bit, just for four days, living the life.., well, imagining it anyway! ;) I have many photographs but lack the editing facilities on this little tour laptop to make them small enough for the blog. Sorry. I will post them as soon as I can though. Don’t forget to look!

Wish you were here!

Friday, October 30, 2009

30 October 2009

Latest update. Yesterday I managed to fly around the island and do a complete survey flight. Twice. Both times we found no sharks. The water is exceptionally clean with 25m plus visibility in most places – a sure indication that there is little food left for the sharks. It does help us by making us feel that at least we seemed to have not missed out on too much. The weather today is again rainy. Large cumulous congestus clouds fill the sky and over developments occur within minutes. The rain lingers for hours… It is grey and over cast when it clears – even so there are patches of rain in all four corners of the compass. (Is there such an expression? :) It is Friday afternoon and no flying. Tomorrow is the last day and the weather office has said it does not look promising. Everybody is disappointed and it just seems to be a bit of an anti climax…

At least we have a big Halloween Party going on for tomorrow night up at David’s house. :-)

Wish you were here!

27 October 2009

We have entered the last week of our program for 2009. Uncharacteristically the weather has turned against us too for this time of the year. A big trough has decided to hang around and the prediction for the next few days is rain. It does put a damper on things.
Today Sue and I drove to the airport while looking at the threatening clouds. It was raining to the north and the dark grey stuff to the south I hoped would be decaying. It was not to be. While at the hangar we prepared for flight but in the ten minutes we watched as the sky over developed. Then it started to rain. We waited for an hour and thirty minute before I drove her back to the airport. (I did invite her to come with for tomorrow – her husband is flying and I might just be able to take her for a short flight). David makes the call and cancels the boat trip. Many people are disappointed. For some it was there only chance…
By 2 I suddenly get a break and get in the air. We are kind of peafed off for canceling the boats but I don’t get even one shark on the flight. Maybe it was a good call. Then rain again later. Yea, the call was good. Everybody has got their fingers crossed for tomorrow…

Friday, October 23, 2009

We land on the beach...

This is Tori on the boat the same day after our mornings flight. She is showing off her 'bang' (A bouncing fringe) and is taking the rock and role of the seas with the same joy she did the bumps in the air!

Here we are on the beach. Beaches are always a great place to land on for microlite pilots. It certainly brings with it a sense of freedom!

The event of the year...

It is 10:30 in the evening and its pouring cats and dogs outside. The mood is commanding and if ever there was a time to tell a great story, then it is now. Beyond my balcony the rain is coming down in such thick curtains that it creates a sense of mysterious wonder; a wonder about life and a wonder of how it is possible for all that water to be up there, falling from the sky. And the noise! It is deafening. The sound is so over powering that it seems to penetrate to the bone; the watery vibrations opening the senses, casting the magic that is necessary for a good story. And if that story just happens to be true then so much the better…

“Now remember, if you are scared just throw your arms around me and hold on tight. For one thing it will let me know you are still there and what you are up to!” I was smiling while giving Tori a briefing of the flight to come. Her short ok and light smile was moving. I sensed she was completely comfortable placing her life in my hands and that privilege lifted my spirit.
“Let’s go.” She added with a gentle tone while her voice carried an urgency bordering on the light hearted. There could be little doubt, she was having fun.

Unlike Tori, I was full of apprehension. It had been growing steadily since the time we left home and all the signs that fed my eyes did little to calm my unease. The clouds that were drifting over the mountains were south west – a direction notorious for turbulent conditions around the airport yet we rolled down the runway and sailed into the air and for the first 500ft there was not a bump in the sky. Then down below but clear as day I saw the first bit of dark. A bit of ruffling of the sea surface that grew more intense by the second. Full of trepidation I watched the ruffling turn into hard ripples knowing that above it was a big bump in the sky. I was prepared for it but whoa!!!

There has just been a great flash of lightning outside. For a moment it lit the curtain of rain in front of the balcony flat and it’s awe-inspiring. There’s the thunder… It does not bode well for tomorrow.

Hhhmm? Whats that? Oh, the story! Well…

So I saw these ripples turn into moguls, yet I was ill prepared for the violent shock on the control bar when we hit the updraft. I had to knuckle down and pull in hard to get the nose back to a normal flying position. We banked right as I tried to fly away from the turbulence but of course by now it was everywhere. We had broken through the bubble of calm and climbing past 1000ft we were being shaken by the mixing air. Of course at this stage there was no turning back. The safest place was to get as high as we could, above the turbulence caused by this 2500ft mountain. “Whoa!” I shouted over the intercom. “Its rock n’ role time! Yea ha!” It was a brave effort on my side to role with the blows, to make Tori feel comfortable and just to get myself into the right mood to prepare for action. After all, we were far above the ground in a little bit more than a flying deck chair which was hardly the type of aircraft you want to be in when preparing to battle the elements. “Are you ok!?” I shouted.
“Yes! This is fun!” she shouted back in her usual positive and light hearted frame of mind. Knowing her it was hard to say if she was ignorantly happy or just sarcastically clued-up. Turning around I was greeted with her usual sweet smile - it gave nothing away. Lingering my look she quickly gave me thumbs up. How I longed for that ignorant bliss!

For twenty minutes we flew through the shaking air. 20 minutes that made me take in signs that I did not like. 20 minutes of rising concern so that by the time we flew clear of the turbulence I was as tight as a ball. My knuckles were white and there was no denying it - I was scared. Ironically, the calmer air offered me little reprieve; I knew that in order to land we had to go back through all that stuff!
“It’s windy up here.” Tori said with gay abandon.
“It is a bit.” I replied while keeping my tone light and marveling at her bliss. The last thing I needed was for her to notice my fear. I had enough to occupy my mind.
“There’s white caps down there.” She added with admiration while I looked down at the sea wondering how I had gotten us up here in the first place.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is certainly not dangerous to fly where we are. Here the wind was a soothing 10-15knots and being on the wind ward side of the mountains, it is really no problem to fly in at all. Going back to the runway was. There the big mountains churned up the wind, mixing it with the strong lee-side thermals making flying more than just a wild roller coaster ride. I knew it was going to be a bite on your teeth and hang on for dear life kind of landing. (How I can do without them these days!)

Boy! It is raining hard outside. And the rumbling! Like I said, it demands distraction!

Ok. The story...

Every minute my stomach seemed to cramp up. It made me think back of what I had eaten even though I knew it had nothing to do with that at all. I could not remember the last time I was so scared and my eager glances for hope at the dark dancing ripples on the water near the airport did nothing to sooth my concerns. After what seemed like ages we made our way back to a little bay from where I figured it would offer the shortest route over the mountains, through the turbulence and back to the airport. Of course Tori had been having a ball. I played along but my stomach was churning up the juice – there must have been enough acid in there to burn through iron!

“Is your safety belt on tight?” I asked.
“I’m not going anywhere!” she said full of joy. Up to this point I had made light talk about the bumps and once again the tone of my voice gave nothing away – it remained lighthearted and cheerful. My mind of course had not stopped doing a myriad calculations, weighing options and even philosophizing that sometimes it really is better to be ignorant. A lot better. I envied Tori sitting on the back seat.

“Whoa!” I shouted as we flew into such a strong down draft that it made the flying wires slam tight. We had experienced negative G’s and that meant nothing good! My eyes were bulging while I scoured the water surface near the end of the runway. We were still 3 miles away but from 2000ft they were clearly visible and I did not like what I was seeing. The down drafts were causing large windy eddies along the water at the edge of the runway. In my mind they were nothing but foot prints of dark evil swirls as they left gouges on the water, dancing in wild abandon, waiting to lure us into a gamble with death.

Up to then I was able to control my fear to a large degree. But there was no denying that my fear was increasing and that my calculations were swaying in favor for a precautionary landing on a beach; the lure of smooth and calm air associated with these landings becoming better by the minute. Though it had always been a consideration it was only as a last resort – things had to be really drastic before I would go for such a move.

“This is fun!” Tori shouted while all I could say was a questionable, “Really!?” while I wondered how it had been possible that there really had not been the slightest little itsy bitsy teeny inkling of a thought that had crept into her tiny mind, suggesting that we could actually die here. I dared not look around – by now my eyes would give away my fear, besides I had my hands full at controlling the bucking little orange plane.

The gusts were severe. The power of the forces transferred through to the control bar was immense and I had to use all my strength to try and keep us flying in a straight line – more or less! Again we flew into a down draft that left the stomach hanging. The wing wires go slack while we fall, momentarily weightless before, “Wham!” the wings would jerk up, suddenly full of air again while we were pushed into our seats. My fear had reached breaking point. I had had enough and without as much as a second glance I turned the plane around while heading for calmer air.

“Enough is enough!” I shouted over the intercom. “We are not going to land on the runway Tori. It is too turbulent down there. We are going to land on the beach where it is nice and calm and smooth…” and having said that I was flooded with a sense of relieve. All the tension left me with effortless ease and I was so happy…

“We are going to land on the beach?” Came her reply from the back seat and to my surprise, she threw her arms around me, holding on so tight that I could not help a chuckle.

It’s true! :-)

Boy! The rain is relentless! I wish you could experience a tropical down pour. It does wonders for the soul and such sweet sleep. I am going to bed now…

Wish you were here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wild Thursday...

Well, there is reason for the previous post being called 'calm before the storm...'. Today Tori and I got bounced that makes the worlds wildest roller coaster look tame. It was so bad that I decided to do a precautionary landing on Grand Anse beach. The moderate SW winds were great to fly in on the south west side of the island. But the Airport side was like a washing machine. We got tossed around that made me decide enough of that! The beach is the best place to land! I am quite drained to be honest - added a few more grey hairs today. I will write a better report on that flight later on.

Its just before 8 - I need to pour myself a stiff Brandy and coke... I think I deserve it. ;)

Wish you were here!

Calms before the storm...

We have entered the weather transition period – the South East monsoon is backing off for the North West. The weather is beautiful. This morning I was greeted by those inviting tropical calms as the ocean lay still and quiet. It is a great reflection of one’s mood – one and all are happy and there is a definite extra twist in the corners of smiles. I too am in a good mood and it is just not because of the good weather but also because the end is in sight. For many that is no reason to be happy about but it has been a long season for me – flying everyday has taken its toll. There is no doubt that I am looking forward to going home. Of course there is still ten days to go and in that many whale shark encounters no doubt! For the most, these are dream come true experiences and that is more than special I’d say.

To my surprise I met a couple that have been following my blog. (Checking up on it every day!) I must say I had no idea. There are 7 followers (officially) and well, I kind of have been going on those numbers thinking, oh it is not like I need to write every day kind of thing… Seems I have been very wrong. Still, I see no comments, no messages and no words of encouragement so to speak. If there are anymore readers who have been following my blog, how about a comment or two? Just to let me know it is not all going up into the ether out there… ;)

My evenings have mainly been spent resting. It has been unwind time and after days of hard work it comes as no surprise. Walking into my flat at around 7:30 to 8 most evenings (it has been 12 hour days for a while now) I find myself with no energy to do anything. I switch on my laptop while making a sandwich and a glass of milk then lie on my couch with my ear phones on (it keeps the barking dogs out of my head!) and watch a movie. I often fall asleep during this time and then just hit the sack. Strangely I keep thinking that I will do it tomorrow (whatever I have planned – like writing my blog!) only to come back the next night and feel the same way. My life back home is nothing like this – there is time for oneself and it has made me realize the value of being able to spend quality time with just you. It is highly under rated and I wonder how people can end up living like this. Remarkably I know many that do… (or would that be sadly?) Funnily enough, it is 8:45 in the evening and I have just enjoyed a brandy and coke – perhaps that is the reason why I am writing all this nonsense! ;) (At the same time I too can start to understand why people enjoy that ‘drink-after-work-or two’ kind of thing!)

Well, I am tired of sitting all day long so I think I will lie down on my couch and watch a movie.

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A special day.

This is a pic over bay Lazare with a Haylo on the clouds below (We call it a pilots glory) I would often sneek up above the clouds for this pretty sight...

Today was a rather special day (well, with this kind of work what day is not!). Truth is I see amazing things from the air and more often than not I don’t even mention it anymore. All my babbling just seems to become too much even for my liking with the result that nowadays I tend to keep my thoughts to myself. However, sometimes something happens that makes me compelled to tell (or write) about it and today was such an occasion.

It was a long and hard day and while routing back to the airport I spotted two dolphins out on the hunt. A school of nearby fish went flying in all directions before one of the dolphins happily sped off with a fish in its mouth. (Yes, I have eagle eyes and can see the fish clearly protruding from the sides of the mouth of the dolphin even from 1500ft up!) This was not unusual but these two led me to their small pod, one of which was a youngster about half the length of the mature dolphins. A yacht passed nearby and stopped to look at the small pod (9 individuals). At this point the little chap seemed intent on getting a closer look at the yacht to the clear discouragement from its mother. The mother kept on trying to cut off the little guy from approaching the yacht but like a determined mischievous teenager he (or she!) wanted none of that. Persistently dodging his mother’s blocks, I watched as the little guy suddenly got within visual distance of the yacht and just like a puppy getting a big fright, sped off at bewildering speed. It was comical. All the other dolphins dived with the youngster only to resurface a moment later a short distance away while all seemed to dart past the youngster as if to say “we told you so…”.

As the pod started moving away from the yacht, the little one’s curiosity got the better of it and like an inquisitive cat stalked its way back; slowly, cautiously and then on eye contact with the yacht raced off back to the pod (with one of the adults in close pursuit – they seemed to be keeping a guarding eye on him all the time). On rejoining the pod the youngster would dive and race around the others, playing with gay abandon - not unlike a young Giselle, fresh and full of youthful energy, jumping and bounding around a large paddock, almost annoying the older animals with unbridled joy, born from discovering the happiness of life itself (or a yacht in this case!).
Like all other animals play when young, the little dolphin did the same; stalking the yacht only to race back to the pod with boisterous darting and spinning among the others and then repeated it all over again. AS I flew on to the airport, I smiled with my heart at witnessing something new – part of the meaning of life even in a little dolphin’s antics at discovering a yacht.

It was rather special.

Wish you were here!

Monday, October 19, 2009

10 meter shark!

We find a 10 meter whale shark. Around here those kind of sizes are pretty scarce. As a bonus the shark turns out to be a female and she is friendly. She stays with the boats for almost 30 minutes with everybody taking turns to dive with her. I manage to get this pic of the action from the air...

The weather has changed. It has been blowing SW to NW for 4 days in a row. I am really tired (Even though I had a rest day just yesterday!) Today was a 5 hour flying day for me and conditions were difficult. The change in wind directions bring new areas of turbulence and I find my flying experience being stretched so I stay in areas of calm air - avoiding the turbulence areas as much as possible. I will write a bit more later this week with some more juicy bits.

Wish you were here!


Monday, October 12, 2009


This is a pic I took of Abi while she was sitting in the back of the picup truck after a good day of whale sharking.

We have been having some great days of whale sharking. So far every time the boats have gone out we have found at least four whale sharks. The customers have been very happy with one day, two boats enjoying two whale sharks for an hour! When we left the whole boat gave me a cheer over the radio and it was one of those that you could hear people where completely over the moon. It was a pretty good day. But out of all the sharking and action I am drawn to a beautiful moment…

“You found shggggquelch…berto!”
“Say again?”
“You found shggggquelch…berto!”
I was having a hard time to follow the excited chat of Abi, who was on the boat down below.
“OK, Abi, I get that you are happy.” I replied over the radio. Down below there was a shark that kept coming back to the boat which of course makes divers very happy. They don’t have to chase after a shark; instead by just hanging in the water they could get a great view of the biggest fish in the world as it kept coming back for more. Like Abi and everybody else, I too was happy. From the air to me it meant a bit of a reprieve, a time to rest my eyes so to speak. This one stayed for more than 30 minutes.

That evening while down loading track logs onto the computer, Abi joined me.
“Thank you Johan. You found Umberto for us again” she was smiling like I had found her something that had been long lost.
“I found you what?” I said.
“Umberto. A whale shark we spotted a week ago”
“Umberto is the name of a shark?”
“Yes.” She said nonplussed about the way I had asked the question.
“Who named the shark Umberto?” I continued.
“I did.” she said and when I sensed she was not going to add anything further to that I had to ask why? (I was determined to get to the bottom of this unusual name.)
“Well, it has a marking on its one side that looks like the letter U.” she said. “That’s why I called him Umberto…”

Let me just clarify, it is pronounced Umberto as in umbrella and not as one might have expected like the letter U as in ‘Hue’.

“Abi, with such a profound marking on its side, don’t you think you could have come up with a better name?” I asked.
“What’s wrong with Umberto?” She asked.
“Well, it’s not very original is it? It’s a ‘U’ and it’s a big fish and what about calling it U-boat?” I asked rather enthusiastically. (U-boat!? I know, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Now I think Hugo Boss would have been more appropriate! ;)
“Why don’t we just call it J-boat” she said slightly irritated.
“Well, there is no such a thing as a J-boat but a U-boat was a Second World War German submarine.” It was then that I remembered it was usually only boys that played with toys like submarines and that Abi had probably never heard of the U-boat thingy.
“But this is a whale shark, not a submarine” she said.
“Exactly Abi and they both dive and stay under water. So U-boat would be a perfect name for a whale shark with a distinct U marking on its side…”
“Oh! I think I will just call you Borris...!” she replied in a slightly in-dignified manner. I was smiling and I could sense that Abi knew I was making fun of her. Her remark made me even more inquisitive as to the nature of the beautiful blue eyed blond lady, who really had an affinity with these gentle giants. I was intrigued about the connection she thought I made to ‘Borris’, realizing that it is perhaps the same connection that the name Berto had with a ‘U’. (None). Invariably I had to admire what it was to be a woman. It reminded me of a great joke and for those that have not heard it before I am republishing it here. (With respect!) Of course I know too that I do this at my own peril. Who knows what wrath I am about to evoke from my girlfriends!)
;-) It’s true!
Wish you were here!
The joke...
A man was riding his Harley beside a Sydney beach when suddenly thesky clouded above his head and in a booming voice, The Lord said. 'Because you have TRIED to be faithful to me in all ways, I willgrant you one wish.' The biker pulled over and said, 'Build a bridge to New Zealand so I can ride over anytime I want.' The Lord said; 'Your request is materialistic, think of the enormouschallenges for that kind of undertaking, the supports requiredreaching the bottom of the Pacific and the concrete and steel itwould take! It will nearly exhaust several natural resources. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldlythings. Take a little more time and think of something that could possibly help mankind.'
The biker thought hard about it for a long time. Finally, he said,'Lord, I wish that I and all men could understand our wives. I wantto know how she feels inside, what she's thinking when she gives me the silent treatment, why she cries, what she means when she says nothing's wrong, and how I can make a woman truly happy'.
The Lord replied;'You want two lanes or four on that bridge?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Feeding day!

Remember the day when all the rays were out feeding in those plankton clumps? Well, this is a shot from Lanni (Luke's awesome girlfriend!). It just gives us a glimpse of what it looked like under the water. Like a squadron of alien fighter planes, cruising the blue universe...
Pretty cool isn't it?

Wish you were here!

Did you know...?

Thanks to Luke Riley for this great shot. He has been taking some awesome pics and kindly allowed me to use this one for my blog. You are way too cool Luke! :)
Did you know whale sharks take over 25 years to become sexually mature? (Many scientists believe it is probably more like 30!) That is a very long time in a shark’s life to stay alive before being able to proliferate your species! (Don’t get eaten or caught!) This is a major reason why whale sharks are so vulnerable to any form of exploitation…

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Goodbye Katie...

Goodbye Katie…
Time sure does fly when you are… flying I guess! Today the ocean from my balcony window is more like a lake. Many clouds are hanging heavily, dragging there feet on the water. We are near a low pressure system – which is benign when so close to the equator, but there is rain. Lots of it, well that is if you are in the wrong place (or right place pending on your desire for rain or not!) The major change is that the wind is calm. For a pilot of a little airplane such as me, it is heaven. This is when flying becomes a real pleasure and it can hardly be called work. Of course, it is you won’t hear a beep of a complaint.
The last few days have been busy. We have had bucket full’s of sharks on the south and the boats have been going out daily. The only down side has been the strong wind making the sea a little bit more than rough; many people have been seasick. Strangely enough, they would feed the fish (if you know what I mean) then hop back in for a swim with the whale sharks and call it, “the best day of my life!” ;)
We had to say goodbye to Katie. Katie has been pivotal in the way the MCSS operates today. She has been the star volunteer turned professional whale shark guide, looking after not just tourists on the boats but also the new interns. Together with Luke they basically run the show, which has given Dr David Rowat time off to pursue his research in more detail. Of course everybody loves Katie and we had a hard time to say goodbye. Katie has started her master’s studies at UNI in the UK. Who knows, maybe she will be back in a year…
In my own way, after four years of working with Katie (We were roomies for a week before she left) it has become difficult not to think of her every time a white vested chaser would swim after a shark. It has become second nature to listen to her excited chats on the radio and I have no doubt that customers on boats would instantly fall in love with this good looking blue eyed girl, sporting a white rash top with a bikini bottom, dripping wet while giving instructions about how to make the best of your whale shark encounter. I can imagine it was like listening to a real life bond girl! Even at our after dive socials Katie took centre stage making everybody laugh. Heck, I would not be surprised if some customers returned year after year just to experience Katie! She is probably missed way more that what anybody is letting on. Katie, we love you and miss you!!! :)

Pic of Tank girl...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Life is a tank!

17th September
We find ourselves flying into a 15knot headwind, heading south. “It feels like we are moving in slow motion!” she shouted from the back seat and indeed it did. We finally got our break to fly but the picture was anything but rosy. A thick band of cloud hogged the eastern horizon while a small streak of cumulous clouds blocked our way towards the south - It was looking more ominous by the minute. At take off it looked as though we had a short spell of clear weather towards the south and I figured we might have enough time to survey the southern parts of the island. We had been getting some whale sharks activity from that area and it would be valuable to see if the sharks were still there. Of course, the dark horizon moved in faster than anticipated and after thirty minutes we were back on the ground.
“That felt like ten minutes!” remarked Dominique, her first flight in a micolight being more than just a calm flight over the ocean - very often the nature of this kind of work. While sieving fuel into the tank I was reminded about how Rolf Harris blows on his didgeridoo.
“Do you know Rolf Harris?” I asked. “I love Rolf Harris!” She replied excitedly, completely unpretentious. “I actually have my own didgeridoo at home but have never played it” Anticipating my next question she continued, “The local aborigines believe a woman should not be allowed to play the didgeridoo and if she does she will become sterile and I want loads of children so am not taking any chances.” She was smiling showing that she knew this was totally silly yet serious enough for her to actually have honored the superstition. It was then that I remembered her remark from the morning when I picked her up from home, “O, I maybe shouldn’t be telling you this, but just before I got into the car a black cat jumped across my path…” It makes more sense now. Of course, with my kind of work it pays not to be superstitious but I allowed Dominique to continue.
“When I was younger I wanted to have 6 babies. Then I met my boyfriend and he wanted to have four so we compromised – now I want four…” This kind of unbridled conversation was a rare privilege and while I continued to fiddle with the fueling I kept an eye on this beautiful young lady while finding it hard to suppress the joy I was feeling for being a part of this moment. “Compromise…” I said dryly while raising my eyebrow and looking at her. Unperturbed she continued, “Now though, I only want 2 or 3 because I have found out that hospitals only allow you to have 3 cesareans at most…” I was being led along a conversation path such as I have never experienced.
As to the reason for the aversion for natural child birth I ascertained that it is not always beneficial for young teen agers to get shown these kind of things in explicit detail. (At least it certainly did put many off early sexual activity which might have been the intent in the first place!)
While taking pics of Dominique posing on an old army tank (For her boyfriend who apparently loves tanks) I wondered if he knew what a great tank girl he’s got…
Yup, it is not always all about finding whale sharks!
Wish you were here!

PS: I will post the tank girl pic soon!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Plankton feast!

This pic has been enhanced to show the plankton bloom. The Devil and Manta rays where having an absolute feast. In this pic there are 7 mantas and more than 30 devil rays. There were 5 distinct plankton bloom clusters with more than 200 Devil rays having a kings meal. To think the volunteers and a few lucky Eco customers managed to swim in that... What a privilege!

15 September more...

By Sunday the 13th we have gone through a whirlwind of experiences. Even I, with thousands of hours of air time get to see something new. The shark activity seemed to be getting better every day and on Saturday I find odd clumps of plankton, being aggressively fed on by a few whales sharks but hundreds of rays. Devil rays were having a feast and even some 20 or so very large Manta's were in on the action. I had never seen such a ray spectacle around here and the plankton clumps where unusual too (Though I am sure they are not it is just that I have not been able to notice them like this before) I have a slightly enhanced photo that gives you an idea of the plankton 'clump' (Of course I know it is called a 'bloom' I prefer the word 'clump' since it is more descriptive in this case. The plankton were in clearly defined clumps!) You can see it clearly as a greener discoloration in the centre of the pic. All the feeding activity was focused inside these clumps. It did not take me long to deposit the boat right into the centre of one of these areas (by then they had dived with 4 whale sharks already) The rays were so intend on feeding they hardly took any notice of the snorkelers, to their delight! Some amazing photographs were taken (I will see if I can get one or two onto my blog) but I was also quite taken in by the action. Though I had a birds eye view of it all I could not help but wonder how cool it must have been to dive inside that lot!
It was also around this time that I got a radio call from John who openly expressed his love for me. (Did I say John loves mantas and that it has always been his dream to dive with these amazing creatures?) Of course, like a man I, I reciprocated.
"We love you too..."
Wish you were here!

15 September....

Tori and I were very lucky to find this humpback whale near the airport. Even more luckier when it decided to breach and I had the camera aiming and got this pic. cool! It did it twice for us and after ten minutes of viewing we rejoined the circuit traffic. What a great suprise for Seychelles! :-)

Monday, September 14, 2009

We fly!

This is Tori snd I enjoying the calm air...

Finally we can fly! The winds have gone and in its place we find sharks. Lots of sharks. It is no surprise that David decides the trip down to the South of the Island is worth it. (The base is in the North in Beau Vallon bay with a 15 - 20 mile boat ride to get to the south of the island). I get to spend a few hours of circling round and round the South Western area while counting sharks and directing the boat onto some of them. The interns are delighted and I get a kind of hero's welcome at the end of the day. (O, the perks in the beginning! ;-) Of course I know that it is all in the spirit of things but soon it will become old hat and just another day at work.
The sharks hang around and they dive on 7 different individuals having 12 encounters. I count 14 different sharks while spotting more, these I can not be sure of whether they are double counts or not. At one stage 4 sharks were on the surface near the boat. Of course though no record for us, it is still good to see them in some numbers.
The old islander is not flying anymore but at least it provides some good shade for a lunch time snooze!

*th Sep and still more wind...

8th Sep...
Its windy, really windy. Today the mean is just over 20k while at 2000ft it is 30k. It is very obviously not a flying day. I am at home while the interns have all just left headed for the south of the island. (As Abi remarked, it is one big holiday this!) They are going site seeing and since they are all using the truck (Nissan double cab) it is a bit crowded. I opted to stay (Have seen the south of the island many times so to me it is no big deal).
A few days have past and I have slowly started to get to know them a bit better. I must say, they are a great bunch of people. Tori, (petite little lady) has an extremely dry sense of humor and many times I have had to really control myself from laughing too much. I often wonder if she is completely aware just how funny she is but the twinkle in her eye and wry smile on more than one occasion has made me realise she is with it way more than we realise!
Ciara is adorable. With her freckles, fair skin and red hair she epitomizes the Irish (Irish name!) but makes no bones about the fact that she is not! (she has an UK passport but was born in Egypt). Seemingly always keen for a party yet, perhaps underneath it all, more at home having quite time with friends.
Abi is your proverbial blue eyed blond with an open love affair with food - freely admitting her fondness of vitamins and calories all mixed into seductive flavours. Of course I know there is way more behind her pretty face than the facade of "love food". She is really pretty and I like her a lot.
What can I say about Dominique? Perhaps that there is some lucky guy out there named Mark! Dominique is beautiful. Well groomed is a good word that comes to mind yet she is sincere and unpretentious. And would you believe she wants to make Giraffes her life's work!
John is totally open to new ideas but reserved until there is sufficient evidence before embracing new truths. Young, fit and strong (he goes for a run every now and then) he seems well organised, looking after himself. O, and he loves Manta rays!
Gareth is a man on a mission. He is the only one with a marine orientated goal for the season and because of our lack of getting contact with the large spotted fishies seems to be getting more serious by the day. (Just about his work though!) He is a great supporter of rugby and we enjoyed the tri-nations between the Auzies and Boks over the weekend.
Truthfully, they are a splendid bunch of people leaving nothing not to be liked.
I hope they are all going to have a great time down on the south. With lots of sun and wind to cool you down there is no doubt they are going to come back sun burnt and sore. But hey! After all we are on a tropical island right! ;-)
Wish you were here!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Picture comments... Just after we encountered the strong turbulence. The view is to the east with Beau Vallon below, the capital Victoria with its harbour area and in the far distance, Seychelles international airport. (We are looking almost straight down runway 13) The other pic is to the west, showing the sea and the thick cloud bulge under the wing is Silhouette island - all obscured by cloud.

The blog entry....

We awake with rain. It’s the 2nd of September. Spring has arrived (well at least for folks back home - other than a change in wind direction, here it seems to be the same all year round). After yesterdays promise, today is a great disappointment. We have a boat load of people eagerly waiting to go out to dive on some whale sharks but of course, with the rain I am grounded. With no aerial support the chances of locating a whale shark becomes extremely slim. (The weather office did not predict rain so one and all were ready to go swim with the large spotted fishes!)
Yesterday, Gareth and I managed to do our first survey flight of the whole island. It was a kind of turning point. It was made all the more prominent by the fact that we found two whale sharks on the south west coast of Mahe - a sure sign that the project had finally kicked of. Gareth is one of the new interns and is busy with a thesis on whale shark size and fin relationships (A very interesting project to say the least!) He has also spend a season in South Africa on one of the great white programs and is no stranger to the world of sharks.

Flying conditions were anything but mild. The 40kph wind made hard work of our efforts and at 5000ft above Beau Vallon bay we found some serious turbulence that had me working overtime. It was a tough initiation into micro lighting for Gareth and a rather special welcome home greeting for me - Seychelles flying is def not for the faint hearted!

Of course turbulence and altitude are no strangers to me. However, it does not mean that the effects are any less! Truth be told it takes a brave man to remain calm when sitting in something that is just a bit more substantial than a deck chair, more than a mile above the ground while being shaken by turbulence that is not always understood. (I know, that is quite a sentence) but i need to reiterate something about my special world to you. I spend a lot time above the ground - intimate time, in close personal contact with the air, which has made me realize that we are more at home on the ground than above it. At first this seems a rather obvious thing to say but considering my background it is a real revelation to me - one that goes beyond just the mere meaning of the words. I have come to know the sky as a living organism (not a new idea by the way!). However, for me it is more significant because of the open cockpit nature of our little aero plane - the intimacy of air upon my face, the feel of the wind on my wings is more direct than any other aircraft in existence. I get to experience the sky like very few pilots do and thus get exposed to an element or a dimension if you wish, that is not well known. That the sky is a real living entity, that we get to explore parts of this world like necessary bacteria moving within the blood of an animal - part but yet apart. And as beautiful as it gets so too it can be scary. Every now and then I get unwillingly exposed to this kind of fear, brought on by just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The invisible air always makes us guess as to the nature of her flowing patterns and having studied this world with the use of physics, observations and experience I have come to realize that our predictions are not always correct - flow patterns set up frequently without our knowledge thereof and it is exactly these unpredictable bits that can shear my wings or turn our little orange plane upside down. (Again this is no secret - it is a well known fact that any aircraft can be broken up by severe turbulence and the scale of turbulence does exists more frequently than we realize!)

So with this in mind, it is small wonder that at 5000ft, while sitting in a glorified deck chair, I in all my experience and wisdom become scared. While I understand the nature of the turbulence there is always that nagging thought of that unpredictable element, what we would call, a freak of nature. I know of these unexplained things that have happened to pilots before and the thought creeps up on me - could this be my time... It is sobering stuff to contemplate and it takes courage to stuff that into the back ground while you concentrate on the here and now - fly the damn plane!
"Can you see any whale sharks down there?" I ask Gareth. The radio is kind of loud above the wind and engine noise but a comforting distraction non the less (The changing wind velocities and directions we are encountering cause a constant change in sounds - varying pitch vibrations, fluctuating engine rpm, wing movements and not to mention the oscillating gravitational field that is anything but comforting to the stomach!)
There is a bit of a nervous chuckle before he answers, "No! I can hardly see a boat from up here never mind a whale shark!"
In return I smile while looking down, past my butt, to the sea more than a mile below us...
Wish you were here!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Windy Sunday.

It is Sunday the 30th. I have just had my own church service at home so to speak. Nothing like quiet time with our God! (Considering the type of flying I am doing that is rather wise. :-) The wind has been very strong so there is no feeling of loss as far as flying is concerned. On Monday when one and all are back at work we can try sort out our security clearances (Late Friday afternoon I got an email from SCAA with our flight clearance number - clearance for the whole survey period) This was of course rather ironic - being given permission to fly but not having been given personal passes to be able to enter the airport areas!
David (Dr Rowat) is arriving back today from a symposium in Reunion. He has been quite busy with seminars and chats about latest discoveries of whale sharks which are most interesting indeed! I will in the coming weeks divulge some of the more interesting bits of these on the blog, so watch this space.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Assembly time two

Well I tried to get these pics on with the blog part but have not quite figured it out. this is us collecting the crated plane, driving to the hangar and assembling the plane. I thought you'd like the pics. :-)

Assembly time

Hi all! :-)

It is Friday lunchtime. I have just placed the butter on the kitchen counter to soften a bit - which should not take long in this tropical heat. Outside the wind is really gusty and even the door mat has been uprooted form its welcoming place. Frequent gusts over 25 knots at the airport with one reaching 30. That is of course my cue not to fly.

It has been a long and trying week. My flu seems to be slackening off though I seem to have been left with a staggering cough (Yes, staggering!) The plane is ready and all our instruments have been sorted. I still need to go over the workings of our little Dictaphone (These little gizmo do come with a manual - thankfully! Operating it in flight while tracking a whale shark needs to be second nature). At this stage we await permission from SCAA to fly. Our applications has been in since Monday and it is actually taking longer than usual. I spoke to Frankie (my contact at CAA) this morning and he believes it is just the usual bureaucracy. At least the weather is no good so it is not like we are missing out on anything. The prediction is for it to be strong throughout the whole weekend too.

Our intern team consists of six. All newbies to the island and its associated peculiarities, they have been in awe for the most part to say the least. This week has been spend on training them in the various tasks that would be expected - all of which has been met with keen enthusiasm. They seem to be getting along fine in their house and from my point also seem to be an interesting bunch with no odd balls that could cause friction. We have two men and four ladies - Abby, Dominique, Torri, Kierra, Garrith and John. They are heading out to sea this afternoon for some plankton tow practice - motion sickness tabs taken - it is pretty rough out there!

As for me - I am sitting pretty in a great home. It is quite lux. I have a huge wide screen TV with full cable channels to choose from. It is ironic actually since I have only flicked through the channels so far and find I don't have the time to watch anything. Who would want to while on a beautiful tropical island! The place has two large bedrooms with air con, modern kitchen and large open plane dining and lounge area. Unfortunately I will be moving out in a month to the more middle class flats used by the rest of the crew. Luke and I will be sharing a two bedroomed flat by then. Why not move in here you say? Easy. This place is three times the price!

Wish you where here!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Its here!

Well! 'WE' have finally arrived. This emphasis on WE meaning both me and our little orange plane. After serious headaches we managed to get the microlight onto the air Seychelles flight to Mahe at midnight on Friday the 21st. Rumor has it that it is in customs and we await clearance. Perhaps with a bit of luck on Wednesday or Thursday latest we will have our little plane.

Personally I am a bit for the worst on wear and tear. Would you believe we got this stupid flu days before I left. After a long layover in Jhb and a midnight flight I am suffering from a bit more than just jet lag...

But we are on the beautiful islands of Seychelles. More when I feel a bit better.

Monday, August 17, 2009

15 days to go...

15 days... How misleading! The fact is, to me the season has already started. Much of my time has been taken up chasing those involved in finishing our little orange plane in time. And time is running short - real quick. The last flight to leave Gauteng is midnight on Sunday the 23d. My slight panic is not for no reason either - the little plane is still in Durban. Between Durban and the Gauteng airport is not just distance but the chasm of clearing agents, customs, foreign exchange controls and banks (anybody with experience of customs will realise that three days to clear an important item is risky business!) all of which is trying their damnest to prevent our little plane from make that crucial flight. How we ended up here with a bit of a rush is a fair question too. Truth is a few of Solowings key factory personnel has been send home with the dreaded flu and work at the factory suffered - understandably one cannot take any chances with this little piggy flu...
Of course, my take is a dramatic one. Done on purpose. This is such a natural way of doing and looking at things that it becomes so easy to get caught in negativity even if slight. Everyone has been going out of their way to help get our little baby onto that critical flight. It is encouraging and heart warming to see people stretched yet remaining helpful, truly going that extra distance. Maybe though, it could just be the right use of a smile and those two little words of please and thank you. And not the pasted ones but the real deal. Just maybe...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

26 days to go...

News just in. Our little orange plane should be ready before the end of the week. That is brilliant! It means that for once things are panning out before schedule. Kind of weird around the Africa continent... Of course we are delighted and doing our best not to rock the good luck charm too much! Why should we!?

But with a bit of luck, customs should allow our plane through without fuss (Ja, right!) and beginning her journey back to the islands by end of next week. Fingers crossed!

Just for interest - I had a great flight yesterday. There were 11 whales in our bay - three mothers with calves. It was truly magical to see these giant animals hanging in their green rooms, perfectly at home in what we as humans see as very dangerous waters...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Only 36 days to go!

Hey! 36 days only? Of course this is not strictly true. It is not like the whale sharks are keeping a diary! You may arrive even earlier of you wish and find lots of sharks to dive on. Of course without aerial support that is extremely unlikely…

Back here in Wilderness (my home town) I have been doing some flying. In fact I have been doing some great flying and to be honest it is not without good reason that I have gravitated to this little coastal village. It is good here. Real good. Today I had another great day.

Last week we had some snow falls on the higher peaks. (Boy it was cold!) but of course the idea came to mind that I could sneak up there for a solitary peak at the snow! Why not? Of course the weather is a huge limiting factor – with big mountains, clouds and strong winds around it was a combination fit for hot chocolate and TV! This morning though I got my chance. Right after church I raced up to my little strip and got ready. Two days had passed and unfortunately most of the snow had melted but I was going up there anyway!

The views were breathtaking. In the far distance the mighty Swart berg mountains were completely covered in snow. They were of course much higher – rising to over 7000 ft asl. My goal was nearer and only at 5500ft. Still, with massive cliffs and a 10km breeze… Who am I kidding! The only thing fearful about the conditions was in my own mind! I managed to soar for a few minutes on the cliffs backing in the sunshine while snapping a few pics. Now all I need is the warmth of the tropics!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Believe it or not!

The truth is that I do not think highly of customs or any clearing agents. Given the very nature of their work there must be a propensity for making things more difficult for others. I almost want to say, " goes without saying!" Our little orange wings is still lying with the 'supposed' clearing agents after another three week stint of lying around those whatsenames warehouses. (Of course who do you think must pay for this 'storage'?) Does it ever help to argue with them? I would love to know if anybody has found the secret to speedy service from customs yet...

We seem to be having difficulty in finding a pilot willing to take of two months to join us on the whale sharks survey season. So far there are takers but only ones that can take off for one month at a time. If we do not find a suitable candidate I just might have to fly the whole season on my own. Like the good old days... Right! Still, it would be a great pity.

We have just passed the fourty days mark (on day 39 now!) and counting down!

Make sure you do not miss out...


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Are we stationary?

Did you know that whale sharks never stop swimming? Really? Not! ;) They often stop and remain stationary while "sucking" (or is that "slurping"!) away on a thin layer of plankton. The most common of these happens when a very shallow layer of plankton is concentrated on the surface of the water and the whale sharks find it most efficient to hang vertically in the water while their lips and mouths are just a few inches away from the surface. They would feed like this in ideal conditions for more than an hour without moving! :-)

While we are hoping that Guy will still be joining us I have some interest from a few other likely candidates. Most likely we will give preference to those that have previous experience with us. David Daniel, who was our pilot for half the season in 2008 has expressed some interest. So its not like we are completely destitute! ;) Whether Guy or David I have not doubt the season will be a good one!

So have you booked your place yet? Don't miss out!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Things are heating up!

Well! Just about a month to go and Guy decides to pull out. I must say we are not a happy bunch with that move. Guy is one of our best pilots and we were relying on him for this years aerial support. Seems like he is too in love! ;-) His reason for not making it - too much of a sacrifice to stay away from his beloved Aurilee. Guy met Aurilee two years ago while in Seychelles as our survey pilot. The two are obviously still going strong. Good for them!

Of course the game is not over just yet. Guy said he is still willing to come provided Aurilee gets a job too. (If she can go with then he will go - logical hey!) Perhaps the magic will happen, perhaps not. Either way we are now on the hunt for another pilot to help with the season. If you have the qualifications then get in touch with me. Send your CV to Who knows? Your dream might come true!

Till later!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

5th July 2009 - Its here!

Finally customs cleared our little orange plane (the undercarriage part) and it is in the factory busy with the needed repairs and maintenance. We too are getting things ready, starting to think about little odds and ends. One would think that after doing it for so many years it would be easy! Truth is I have been doing much work on my own personal little plane in our coastal village of Wilderness. In this aviation industry (all aviation for that matter) maintenance plays a bigger role than the actual flying. Of course the difference is it is good peace of mind to fly something that you know YOU checked out as apposed to some other supposedly trained person. As many pilots tell their AME's, "I will pay you as long as you come do the first flight with me!" ;)

But time is getting all the more closer to the start of the new whale shark season and I know there are many other people out there getting just as excited. (Who knows how many interns we will be getting this year?) Of course, new faces bring new challenges but also the chance for making new and lasting friends.

Chat later!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tense Moments

Things are tensing up - not because the South Africans lost to Pakistan in the 20/20 cricket but the fact that our microlight is stuck at customs. For the last 3 weeks. And it still needs to get to the factory for the much needed repairs after last years wipe out. Yes folks, we have not been advertising the story (since it actually is going to make a good second book ;-) but after thousands of hours of flying we did prang the little orange plane. Thankfully other than a broken little finger and hurt pride I walked away just fine. (Of course I wont give away the story here! ;-)

But we need to get our plane cleared (customs is tricky since it is for re-exporting) so we can get it back to Seychelles and ready for the season. Anybody have contacts at customs? :-)

Just two and a half months to go and it is tropical Island and whale shark time!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Well, lets try again. After writting a great blog I somehow pushed or cliked on something i shouldnt have and it has all dissapeared. It is now drifting somewhere in the information ether...

I have just completed my book, 'Wings and Whale Sharks'. It has been a few years of hard work but looking at it I can't help but feel a bit of pride. It has been my baby for a long time. It is hard to believe that the next whale shark season is upon us. In just three months we are heading out to the lovely Islands of Seychelles for some more observations of these large spotty creatures. I hope you have booked your place. If not then do so now. Go check out Loads of info about the Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles and how you can get into the water with these large but placid fish.

Also for those interested in my book, check out It will give you a good blurp of the ins and outs of the book. You can place a pre-release order there or just send me an email. Try I promise to get back to you and keep you posted.