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...