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!