Sunday, October 31, 2010

The end comes with big risk...

It is Sunday. The last day, or at least so we thought. As luck would have it we have been send some south westerly winds. These winds are just about at right angles across the runway and makes flying very uncomfortable and if they are strong even dangerous. This morning is one of those days.

Of course the sun is out and it looks like the most perfect day and I guess most people would wonder why on earth we are refusing to fly. It is expected. And it is a tedious and long explenation. Most of it people do not understand because the nature of the conditions are quite technical. There is often doubt. The irony is that the forecast is for the same winds to persist for the next two days. I expected that we would pack up. 5 minutes later David called to ask I don't. He would prefer to wait and see what the winds are going to do.

And that is the nature of this work. Trying to generate funds on the one hand while making safe flying and sensible decisions. Of course David is quite aware of that and does not expect us to fly in anything that we deem not safe. But that does not mean the pressure is any less. The fretting of what the weather is going to do mills in your mind and you are effectively on duty 24/7. It is almost as if one is flying in these conditions in anyevent! It is tough. This is the biggest wear of the job. If the weather is absolutely borderline is it worth taking up someone for a flight? What are you going to do when it is borderline. Then it looks just doable then it doesn't...

Of course I don't believe it is a good thing but we will go through the motions anyway.

You just never know - tomorrow might be perfect...


Wish you were here!

These boots were made for flying…

It had been a year since our last flight (or as Garreth pointed out, more than a year) but the sense of excitement was just the same. The wind was 5k from the NE so we climbed to 3000ft on the west coast. Still, we got rocked a bit more than what a measly 5k wind should be capable of doing. So with the same amount of excitement and now with the same amount of fear as last year’s flight (We got rocked at 5grand over Beau Vallon bay on that occasion!) we settled into a rather exhilarating flight down memory lane.

You would be amazed at how many people come out to Seychelles with only shorts and T-shirts. Not a jean not a jacket or any kind of top in sight. I guess it must be a tropical thing. I supposed it is not that you are going to need a jacket or fleece, for it never gets cold here. But /it pays to be prepared because you never know what might happen or come up, such as the chance to fly in a micro-light. It can get pretty darn cold at 5000ft and when you hit the likes of 7000ft or 8000ft it becomes a different ball game all together. At these altitudes in an open cock-pit plane, wind chill factors become painful and any exposed flesh takes a beating. Well, especially considering that you are supposed to be in the tropics.

People who know will always make a plan and I guess Garreth was not going to let his toes freeze again. Even if the boots seemed made for clubbing and dancing it was still the most class act to fly in my little orange plane!

Wish you were here!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No sharks again

Just finished flying for today. Even if the weather has turned (it is good!) the sharks are not here. Yesterday the boat went out but Neil could not find the mornings sharks again. Today we did not spot any either so the boat trips were cancelled. Sherrie and I flew around the island this afternoon and spotted a few turtles, lots of schools of fish, some barracuda and loads of fish fleeing for their lives! Even if the big sharks are not to be seen there is still lots of action! Will give a more detailed update later.

Now I have to catch that beer with a sunset! (Or is that catching the sunset with a beer..?) Oh, heck! I have to go!

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rain stoped. Sharks are here.

This is just a quick entry. The rain has stopped today and Neil found two sharks. It means the boats will be going out this afternoon. Perhaps there is still hope for finishing on a high!

Wish you were here!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Everybody ready for the jump! This was taken earlier in the season.....

It seems there is some prophetic tendency in my blog. As soon as I mention the word drought and no rain, the heavens open up. It has rained for most of yesterday and last night. This morning it is still raining and the met is forecasting rain for the rest of the day with possible heavy falls for the afternoon. Clearing is expected by tomorrow midday only, or so the met office says anyway…

As if the lack of sharks is not enough, the rain has put out even the last flicker of hope we have had of finishing the season on a high. Of course, everybody is trying their best to keep busy and not think about it too much. It is the usual thing. The end of a great season is approaching and when dreams have been realized it is no wonder that no one wants to say goodbye.

From a statistical point of view this has been the second best season ever. Even if the end has been slow we had a lot of sharks. We saw 42 sharks in just one flight, twice! In total Neil and I spotted 594 sharks from the air while the boat crew had 395 in water encounters. The numbers of experiences are just too many to remember and without the daily recording of the interns almost all would be lost. Meticulous detail of each and every encounter is kept – sharks are sized, sexed, photographed, accompanying fish noted and counted, peculiar markings, behaviour, time of day, area, swimmers in the water among other things are all noted on water proof sheets of paper. Afterwards all details are entered into the computer for easier and more in depth and detailed analyses later on. Add to that the data Neil and I gather from the air and the data sets become pretty impressive to say the least.

The MCSS functions as a team. Without the team effort there will be no success and no progress or reward. Breaking previous records is not just the doings of Mother Nature but also great teamwork from the interns. Of course, I am not saying they are all angels – by no means! :) But they worked well together and this year, once again the team excelled. They will be taking with them treasured lessons and experiences.

In the meantime, we are wet but thankfully on the ground!

Wish you were here!


Monday, October 25, 2010

We reach for the chocolate...

This is Kathryn sizing up some comfort food....

“Quick! Somebody give me chocolate and no one will get hurt.” Of course the magical properties of chocolate have been a delicious topic over the ages. And while modern science has proved beyond doubt that there is absolutely no magical ingredient in coco to explain the enhancement we feel when eating this elixir-come- aphrodisiac-feel-good delicacy, chocolate debates (and the act of eating it) continue.

Of course, with the extreme lack of whale sharks (note extreme) this kind of indulgence is not just customary but mandatory. It comes at the best of times too. The fact that the whale sharks seem to have made an early departure for this year has been playing on our psyche’s and frustrations. Every day boat loads of people have to be turned away. Painstaking explanations are given to appease customers, as if the words, ‘sorry, there are no more whale sharks around…’, could be construed as if it is a commodity and the shop has run out of stock. Surely with just a bit more planning and better management…

October is the start of the rainy season (Well, a bit more rain than in the other months really) and in previous years us pilots have always had some reprieve from flying on those rainy days. (It was most frustrating since we knew the sharks were out there but the weather was not allowing us to get onto them). This October however, there is a drought. Rain fall is down 70% compared to the average for the month and the met office expects this trend to continue. We have been able to fly every single day but ironically the sharks are nowhere to be found. And while we can’t blame anyone but changing climates and global warming, there is certain expectancy for the magical abilities of pilots to find some whale sharks – though subtle, the pressure is always on us.

Of course, I find solace the traditional way. Who cares about whale sharks if you can have that!?

Wish you were here!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Footprints in the sky…

I had to use that as a blog caption. It is just so good… :)

It came highly recommended from Kate, one of the season’s interns. (Before I elaborate too much about Kate, let me tell you right off that she is Joe’s, our hero photographer’s girlfriend. Kate and Jo spend some time traveling – working in Oz for a year or so while diving and yachting among other things). Kate has long, dark blond hair, startling green eyes and a personality that is a treasure. When it comes to the notion of a good woman (the movie), Kate is right up there. Let me tell you, she is a rare treasure. After our great conversation for the afternoon I could hardly help not to come to that conclusion. Jo and Kate make a great couple and Joe is a very lucky man. (I hope he realizes that! ;)

Kate accompanied me on yesterday’s afternoon flight – we don’t normally take people up with us in the afternoon flights but I figured the extra eyes would come in handy to spot sharks, which have become scarce. On the way back we flew through the Sarron gap, as it is known to pilots – a low gap in the mountains connecting Beau Vallon Bay with Victoria the capital. We flew around some wispy cumulus clouds while to our right the massive Granitic peak of Morney Seychelles dwarfed the wispy clouds and us. It was on the drive home, while crossing the Sarron gap in the car when I looked up at the mountains and realized our view and experience was way better than those tedious and perspiration inspired footpaths along the cliffs. On a whim I pointed up into the sky and said, “Look! There are our tracks…” It was quite a beautiful moment, especially when Kate, in all earnest followed my pointing finger while she peered into the sky too. It was easy to come up with the notion of ‘footprints in the sky…’ It sure makes for a great title. I wondered about all the foot prints I have left up there over the years in the Seychelles sky. What would it look like if they were all visible?

One day, I will write a book about that…

Wish you were here!


Gone, gone, gone…

Here is another one of Joe’s pics. Is this the end of the season for views and encounters like this one?

Well, what can I say? For two days we have gone without a glimpse of the large spotted creatures and it seems like the sharks have disappeared. The few weeks we have all been murmuring about the season coming to an early end and secretly, one and all have been having their fingers crossed while we hoped for the best. All to no avail it seems. Could this be the end, while we are still ten days short of the formal end of the season? Perhaps we might get another spurt of activity – a kind of last gaps so to speak before the final curtain call. Of course the sharks and Mother Nature cares less about man’s labels or concept of time…

Wish you were here!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Speaking of the devil...

Speaking of the devil, the rain is finally here. This morning we woke to the sound of little waterfalls as the water cascaded off the roofs. It was music to our ears. After an hour with no sign of the rain abating, a phone call to the met office, David decides to can the day. Of course just as the decision was taken the rain stops. Slowly the day turns around and Neil flies around the whole island in the afternoon. He finds one whale shark near Theresa Island. That is exactly where we got them yesterday. We all feel we missed out on a good day of sharking.

Yesterday was absolutely awesome. It was one of those days when you had an element of absolutely everything thrown into one. The morning started when I picked up my passenger. Perhaps I should have guessed by then but being a typical male, my passenger’s beauty numbed all other senses. That of course does let the cat out of the bag – Kim is absolutely gorgeous – but that part is a whole different story. Suffice to say we had a great flight and I enjoyed the company of my passenger immensely.

It was a very unstable day. The build-up of cloud over the island was huge and by lunchtime it was raining over the whole of Beau Vallon Bay. This of course was where the boat was departing from and as expected David called – the concern in his voice obvious. I set him at ease; the build-up was localised and over Beau Vallon Bay only. The west coast should be clear. Of course the storm grew throughout the course of the afternoon and I spent my time flying in close proximity of the clouds and rain. The sun bathed parts in sunshine, mixing concern with tranquillity while I danced on the borders of these two contrasts for almost two hours. The lighting was absolutely spectacular and the rain, clouds, turquoise water, island greens, granitic hues, whale sharks edged over white sandy bottoms was a feast that is impossible to put in words. Eventually the rain started spreading towards the Airport and threatened to cut off my return route. It was a beautiful trip back, scenic and completely uneventful too – I had left a healthy safety margin this time. In other cases we would leave just in the nick of time because of the scarcity of sharks. But because the sharks were playing nice and stayed with the boats, it was easy for me to leave earlier, playing it safe. Here are some pics of the scenery – the build up from a distance and inside the action. All in all a grand day I would say!

Wish you were here!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

warm cold sharks...

The sharks have been acting warm cold – oddly so. On one day we would have 8 then just one or two the next day. Then a few more and then just one. It has been quite frustrating, especially for Neil and I who have the job of finding the sharks for the dive teams. Flying around for hours focused on spotting a tiny brown tadpole that is not there, is exhausting. On those evening everyone wants to party, except Neil and I – people find it hard to understand why we are so tired.

On another note, we have had another few days of calm weather. Blissful flying yet the whale sharks again is playing hard to get. I would get 4 sharks in the morning and then only one in the afternoon. Then Neil would get just one in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Thankfully they all hang around and everybody gets a few turns to swim with the whale shark. David and I are not sure what to make of this season. I somehow have a feeling that the season just might be coming to a premature end. That would not be good seeing as the MCSS has two full boats booked until the end of October. It is going to be frustrating and long flights in the last week or so. Of course, not be too pessimistic, as always we remain hopeful. At least the sun has been shining like there is no tomorrow, which brings to a serious issue.

There is a draught on the island. Yes, a tropical island that is supposed to be experiencing rain (and lots of it) at the moment is having a draught. The dam is the emptiest I have ever seen it. Their dam is not very big but as the water is used, it rains again and fills up. At the beginning of the season I noted the dam being the fullest I have ever seen it. Now it is quite the opposite. It has been dry for more than two weeks and before that not much rain – that is very unusual for Seychelles. Every day the water gets cut off for a couple of hours and sometimes, if your timing is off you have to just take a swim in the sea.

Wish you were here!;)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shark news...

Yesterday was a cracker of a day. The winds were down to less than 5knots. Few Clouds and a slight sea. The best part was that the sharks turned up in some numbers. 8 for the afternoon of which a few ended up being real friendly - many dives were made with the same shark and people could look and look. (I have to say that the flight was actually quite turbulent. The wind though light was east and this put me right off shore into the thermal trigger zone. My flying buddies will now what that means!)

One of the interns is a young gun, David. Fit and strong he is very into free diving and just the other day he had quite a remarkable experience. Diving down to 60ft he was hanging motionless in the blue - no bottom in sight, no surface in sight, when he got this sense that he was being watched. Looking around he noticed this long thin body and realised it must be a marlin or something. Not moving, it slowly glided closer at witch time David took a few stroke closer. Right at this moment the fish raised its extra large dorsal fin. A Magnificent sail fish! He had been down for quite some time and still had a long way to go back to the surface so could not hang out for much longer. Heeding the warning of the large sailfish not to come any closer he gently made his way up to the light. He was pretty stoked that day.

Neil, is flying today and the wind is up a bit more and still from the east. The whole west coast should be turbulent and I advised him to fly high... Will hear later how it went.

Wish you were here!


PS: I have published a new web site. Why not check it out. If you like it please spread the news. Comments are welcome too. :) click the link "hangcheck" in the sidebar...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Age, flying and risk

Pat and I amongst the clouds...

The other day, Garreth and I talked about flying and age. It was no coincidence talking about these interesting companions – I have been around long enough to know a few retired pilots myself. Of course our conversation was not about pilots and age but about the act of flying people that are not so young anymore. I mentioned to Garreth that some would consider my act of flying Pat as nothing but gross negligence and we pondered this notion.

Pat we guessed must be around 80 – I never asked her age but later friends let me in on it. I noticed her frailty when I helped her into the back seat but it really struck home after the flight – after I helped her out of the seat I had to support her while she regained her balance and footing. It took a while and it was during this time that I had a myriad of thoughts on the responsibility and the risk I was taking by allowing her into the back seat of the little orange plane. I cannot even begin to describe the depths of the compassion that flooded me at that moment too and it were these thoughts that really spurred my conversation with Garreth.
We jested of course about what family might say, “Are you crazy granny! You are too old to do this kind of thing. You might die..!”
“What do you mean I might die? I am dying right now! Come on sonny, lets get up there…” and we both chuckled about that.

Of course the reality is that when it comes to the aged we get hung up about risks far too much right at about the time when the other side of the coin should be considered more. We argued that it is worth considering the risk when you are young – losing one’s life at that stage is quite tragic, (not that we think it is not tragic for an elderly person to lose their life, just perhaps less so) but consider for a moment that for the aged the benefits become even greater. Making a tick on a bucket list is far more than a mark on a piece of paper. In the same way we will never really know what it must have meant to Pat, being up there, enjoying vistas and sensations for real that she had spent her whole life dreaming off. And what about the aftereffects of such an experience? Is the spirit lifted? Is life made lighter? Is living made more sensible? Surely all these things must be worth the possible chances of dying.

It was then that I remembered the movie ‘second hand lions’ and the truth struck me that there is value even in the act of dying. If I were aged and got the chance of dying while flying in a micro-light I would jump at it in a flash. It sure beats lying in some old age home waiting for death, hands down.

“Get out of my way sonny! I want to get into that seat!”

Wouldn’t you?

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Good weather and risk

This morning Neil left with a surprise on his hands. The flying he is about to experience will be of the best he has ever done. The sea, if it can be called the sea for it is so calm a baby could float on it. (Have no idea where that came from! But you get the idea :)
Yesterday I had a taste of it with the wind steadily decreasing from 5 mph in the morning to zero that afternoon. Many would say this can hardly be called work. But it is. Much of my work constitutes the stress of flying innocent people (OK, they have agreed to get onto the back seat voluntarily so that can hardly be called innocent) however, I know most people are completely un aware of the risks, even if you explain it to them. Of course, I am. This is my work – the stress and worry of ‘what if things go wrong..?’

I flew two dear ladies this week – they loved it like there was no tomorrow. (Now there is some truth in that statement I tell you!) But these were the kind of ladies that I knew would be useless if anything should go wrong. Like landing in the sea. It would be game over for them. Of course we fly out over the sea for most of the time…

But the enchantments of tropical waters, the magical colours that seduce even the most ardent and steadfast adventurer is triumphant once again. It is so impossible not to be lured into the tranquil beauty that it is a sin not to make use of the moments. Going lower for some high speed flying resembles that of a speedboat skimming along the water. Just better.

Oh magical indeed!

Wish you were here!

The sharks are back...

This is one of those pics you just have to love. Does it not fill you with a sense of awe? It should. This type of agrigations are very rare and I was lucky to be in the right place...

We have had a bit of a spurt of whale shark activity. Yesterday we encountered 8 sharks in the south. The two boats with full passengers (that’s two groups on each) had a great time. Some of the sharks just did not want to go away! I saw quite an amazing thing. After years of flying this was the first time I witnessed such a thing.

I spotted a hammerhead shark of about two meters, cruising near the surface. This guy was swimming about, seemingly at random, I guess sniffing the waters to find out what is going on. At the same time a whale shark started to surface not far from the hammerhead shark. I could see the hammerhead shark was on an intercepting course. The whale shark, about 6-7meters in length rose out of the clear depths like a living submarine – its dark outline becoming clearer every second. The hammerhead was closer to the surface before it spotted the whale shark. At this stage I could only imagine what it must feel like to look down and there, slowly rising out of the inky depths is the biggest mother shark you have ever seen. I too would not hang around to ask questions. That hammerhead burst into action with the fastest U-turn, running away like a yelping dog with its tail between its legs.

It was hilarious!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What about the sharks...

Here is a pic of a big whale shark next to the boat. The boat is ten meters long...

I have been very secretive about the sharks this season. (Actually, I have been quite silent when it comes to most of our groups doing for the most part). But after an initial boom period of sharks during September the beginnings of October has seen some slow days. The sharks have been few and far between for the last week. Most days we have sighted 1 or two in the mornings and then have multiple encounters on just two sharks for the afternoon. It means that the tourists are still getting their share of swimming with the worlds biggest fish but it is hard work for the group. For Neil and I as pilots our eyes are not given much rest - we are constantly scanning the sea surface for any movement or suspicious shape to give away the presence of a whale shark.

On another note, one of the interns, Jenny is leaving us today. She has actually been one of the party animals, no that might be too wild a description, perhaps energetic and outgoing is better, of the group. She will be dearly missed I am sure. (she is doing her masters in the UK on shark matters...)

The weather has also been warm and sunny yet the winds have been wanting to go to the southwest. As I have explained the southwest winds are very turbulent around the runway and Neil and I have been flying very cautiously. It has actually been quite stressful. The actual direction has been between 180 to 200 degrees which is turbulent but manageable around the runway, however if it switched just 20 degrees more we would be in trouble. The air around the runway becomes that of a washing machine. It has been difficult to relax knowing that the wind could change, (unlikely but it could!). It has made us ponder if it is worth the risk on many a time...

Still, we have not been having those windless calm days. That is something to look forward to!

Wish you were here!


Friday, October 1, 2010

now it works....

What the!? It worked! OK here is another...

The pics are from the water in Anse La Mouche bay and the other from the air next to Bay Turney. This is as far as you can get from the airport on the island! :)

No pictures on this blog host...

Still not able to upload pictures - workingonthe problem. Perhaps it is from the blogger website. I notice quite a few people are having the same problems... I am going to try just pasting it onto my blog from Word...

... errr... (should be GRRRR..!!!!) It is not working. Maybe I should think about changing my blog home page....