Monday, September 24, 2012

The truth shall set you free...

Savi and I at 6000ft over Beau Vallon bay - pure bliss!

I am struck by the paradox of two popular sayings – ignorance is bliss and the truth shall set you free. If ignorance is bliss then does that mean knowing the truth leads to some realm that is not blissful? And then knowing the truth will set you free of what exactly? Ignorance?

To find the real truth about these sayings you need to go to the source, where these saying originated. (A really great story behind them – I encourage you to look them up :)

The south westerly winds have moved in over the islands of Seychelles. These winds are not known for their pilot friendliness. In fact I have had some of my most interesting flying experiences with this particular breath of air – that it has its origin from a dragon I can vouch for first hand.

Today Neil is up there flying. (Thank God it is not my turn! ;) But this morning I could read the signs and knew what was in store. Neil on the other hand thought it a great day and was blissfully unaware of the turbulence the subtle shift in wind direction brings.

On our spiral descent. The wind is coming right at you. (Yes, from out of the picture towards you. :)

Last night I happily showed him the landing footage of yesterday’s flight. (Yesterday the wind had already started veering towards the south west.)
“Hey Neil… Check this out!” My voice carried a bit of pride – not for the accomplishments of the flight but just for the fact of having captured a few rock and roll moments on camera – as pilots it’s always a thrill to watch these from the ground.
“See where I spiraled down? It provides the path of least amount of turbulence…” I said while I could not help notice a raised eyebrow from Neil. There was just a slight shift in the tone of his voice too.
“I would never have known to do that…” I could sense a tiny bit of trepidation of ever having to fly in similar conditions.
“Savi loved the spiral dive” I added. “He said it reminded him of his tandem sky-dive…” Of course at that stage in the flight I on the other hand did not think of sky-diving – though the thought of free falling was probably somewhere in my mind I can assure you it had nothing to do with sky-diving! For Savi this was the most exciting part of the flight – me too of course but for very different reasons. Afterwards, on the way home as I pointed out some swaying trees to him I said “Savi, if we were up there in our little orange plane we both would be screaming for our mommy…” While listening to his laughter I was entertaining thoughts of dying.

This morning when Neil left for the airport I wondered if I should have told him about all my turbulence secrets – a kind of aerial survival guide. “Ag, I will make a decision when I get to the airport…” He said while his dry mouth forced a slow, laborious swallow.

The truth shall set you free from bliss alright!
Wish you were here!

After the flight. Savi and I - happy for different reasons!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

40 days...

I want to say it is official but I would be lying, even if I know I am right. (This personal vrs official business is another story! ;) I am talking about the worst whale shark season we have ever had. It comes at a very bad time too. These giant fish seemed to have joined forces with the economic pressures from all over the world – the recession is not just confined to the world of commerce.

As you all know we were off to a promising start but it soon fizzled out as the days passed and we could not run any encounter trips. Of course we have all been very positive about this, “Its still early. Lots of time left.” Or “This has happened before. Nothing to worry about…”. But for all this positivity, slowly the wheels have been falling off the wagon. It’s been twenty days and we have not managed to run even one whale shark trip with paying pacs. Even though the interns have had a turn to dive with these large enigmatic creatures, there has been no money generating trips for the MCSS.

The Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles certainly can do with these additional funds. Like so many other NGO’s around the world involved in conservation activities, being pro-active in generating some research funding by the NGO’s themselves has become a trade mark of well organised and worthwhile conservation organisations across the globe. Certainly the MCSS is in a favourable position to make use of this – the whale shark ecotourism program being a great opportunity.  Unfortunately, it is a program that is very much dependent upon external factors of which there is absolutely no control over at all. Economically that equates to risky business.

Firstly, the aerial observational fights are entirely dependent upon the weather. Couple this with the appearance of whale sharks and it certainly highlights the vulnerability of an organisation to this type of business environment. If the weather is particularly bad for a longer than usual period of time and if on the few days that it is flyable there are no whale sharks around as well, then it turns into a test of character for everyone involved. We have some interesting examples of diplomatic-grumpiness around these parts of late. :)
The stats are not looking good – we have only been able to fly a third of our time we have been here. At this rate we are in for a record which we have no interest in breaking.

Of course, we are ever hopeful too. After all, there is still forty days left! And forty days, according to history is a very meaning full number. :)

Wish you were here!
PS: Neil is up flying today. Let’s hope he got some!

The interns…

There are six newbies to our program – three men and three ladies. They share the MCSS staff house right next to the MCSS office. It is a great place (See previous posts). Perched on the rocks adjacent to the ocean, the views, especially at sunset are absolutely idyllic. I recall many days of sipping a glass of red while admiring the setting sun over the water – truly memorable moments. Of course the newbies have found their own routines too, some which also include watching the sunsets as evident by the copious amounts of cigarette butts in a sea shell astray at the view point. This (and clothes heaped on a pile), epitomizes the typical lifestyle of students at this stage – a time when health is not high on or even part of the priority list of life.

 Amanda, Maddy and Jozefine.

Of course, not all of them are students. John and Amanda are probably more experienced at this thing called life. Amanda is from the UK and a Chiropractor – her hobby being marine biology and sharks. She has taken a 6 month sabbatical from her career and seems to be thoroughly enjoying her time here.

John on the back of the pick-up.

I have not had a good chat with John just yet, but judging from his lack of presence during the evening party sessions I can only conclude that by this stage he too has found that drinking and partying all night is not a good thing for the human body!

But Jozefine, Maddy, Savi and Ross are just full of youth.

These four have been up on the micro-light with me so I have managed to get to know them a little bit better. As you know I treasure these moments.

Jozefine is a biology teacher from Belgium. We spend a lot of time chatting in our home languages with one another, which is weird. It’s like there is some unseen Star Trek voice translator that allows you to hear this strange tong but oddly you can understand it! Flemish is so much like Afrikaans!

Savi, is French but with a very strong America accent. He has lived in the US for 19 years and just recently moved to France for the sake of his mom who is quite ill. No doubt that this is weighing heavily on his mind, even if he does not show it openly. Even if he is the smallest of the interns his voice project otherwise – his radio transmissions are LARGE, if you get my meaning. :)

Maddy, of course needs no introduction. (See previous post) In fact, we met last season. She was doing her Dive Masters with the Underwater Centre and lived in the flat next to ours.

Ross, 24, from the US, is a mechanical engineer and fresh out of Uni. He is quite the intelligent young man, intent on traveling, doing a lot of diving and out just to enjoy life for now. Oddly, he doubts he will ever work in the engineering line. He does have an unusual talent though – impressive culinary skills. He has promised to show us how to produce a serious chocolate fudge with the microwave! (On the first social evening at David’s house for the crew I overdosed on these little double chocolate delights!).

They are a great bunch. Now if only the weather (and the sharks!) will play ball!

Wish you were here!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seasoned familiarity...

I marvel at how familiar one can become with Mother Nature. It is raining and I find a deep rooted comfort in that. Not just the sound of the rain resonating through everything – even the bones in your body – no, I am talking about the intimate familiarity of it. A familiar phase you can only attain after spending a lot of time in her company. Perhaps I am fooling myself here in my description – it might be nothing of the sorts. Just contentment found after seasons of doing the same thing – a most wonderful perk if you have done something you love for that length of time.

Did I ever tell the story of crossing those white cottoned clouds with Maddy in the back seat? Like the comfort of years and seasons – I think a good descriptive word would be, seasoned familiarity – Maddy once again reiterated to me that nothing beats such an experience as in sharing it with a pretty woman. And believe me, I have flown my fair share in my time, and still marvel at being able to discover new intricacies of the fairer sex – they have such beauty if a man knows how and cares to look.

Maddy is 24, an age that I think back upon as an emotional and physical innocent time – perhaps fresh might be a better word – but to me it seems a great springboard to start life from. She is there I have to add, in that space of finding the right direction even if to her the road seems riddled with bumps and holes. Kind of like the air we were experiencing over those clouds. There is this mix of fear and excitement and beauty and awe – a cocktail of emotions that never fails to stir and lasts a long time afterwards. Even if we were being tossed around by turbulence and Maddy had fear popping out of her in giggles and smiles, she knew it was all going to be alright. Being in the right company does play a big part in that – like having me in the pilot seat ;) and it sure is true for all aspects of life.  In the time I got to know Maddy – she did not just share the back seat of my plane but also a coffee, while that very same deep rooted comforting rain poured down on all sides, all things that help to remove emotional barriers, believe me – I got to realise that this young lady has had far more of life than one would normally expect of someone her age.

We had a great chat about life and the universe – most often because I love such topics but also find joy in stretching those young minds into these more serious realms of life. Of course by now I’m more than qualified to say that too. It also qualifies me to say that Maddy is there, at the start of her real, adult life, on the mend, physically and emotionally – the bad habit of smoking being kicked and her heart on the mend. (Yup you guessed it, the end of a very bad relationship). And as much as it pains me to see these things in young people, there is also pleasure – knowing that these things are what form you, gives you personality and character, builds wisdom and wrinkles and attractiveness.( OK, the last bit is just for me – nothing is as boring as a perfect unblemished baby face! ;)

Of course there are things that I have come to recognise as awesome qualities in a person, the kind of thing you should never settle without, like the ability to be happy no matter what and having a sense of humour. Maddy is like that, which if you get to know her is rather remarkable – not that I would want to divulge information of a more personal nature here. Let’s just say, I am very fond of Maddy. She is a good woman. (Remember that movie?)

So sailing across these cottoned textured clouds while being tossed around in turbulence builds a bond, whether one is aware of that or not does not matter but these exposures to the rawness of life brings a certain revelation to one’s purpose.., well to me anyway. :) And who knows, perhaps Maddy might have taken something to that effect with her too, even if it was just to show that there are healthy things in life you can do, that makes you forget about everything else.

This is Maddy in the back seat – making the most of the view, the turbulence and the company.

Wish you were here!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


From our house, there is always a dissonance of sounds – dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, cars, trucks, chainsaws, fighting geckos and the frenzied squawks of the fruit bats to name some of the obvious ones. It can be quite alarming to say the least but thank God for our natural ability to filter out these audio disturbances. However, even through all of that natural filtering – and believe me the locals have it down to a fine art – there is this strange, deep throated, moaning grunt that enters the air at suspicious regularity. It is a strange noise, one that is impossible to filter out. It is puzzling and disturbing and cannot be placed but for that oddly suspicious rhythm to the grunts that triggers something vaguely familiar within in you.

Of course inevitably you have to ask.

“Oh that?” the locals would say, “That is just the tortoises having sex.” At which stage it is too late to retract your question and the door is left wide open for a range of topics, most of which have nothing to do with tortoises I might add.

The Aldabra giant tortoise is one of the world’s largest. It is also the oldest living animal on the planet. According to records, Addwaitya an Aldabra tortoise attained the amazing age of 255 years before kicking the bucket. Eddwaitya was estimated to weigh in excess of 700lbs – the oldest and largest tortoise in the world! I often pondered why our Creator chose to give them years of life far beyond that of us humans, who are supposed to be the crowning glory of His creation.

Of course I have known about the Aldabra giant tortoise for many years too but my knowledge of them have always been limited to that which was disseminated by the local folk – that they humped a lot – and seldom was anything else divulged at all. In fact there is a couple just below our house – their loud grunting sounds bellowing into the air, early morning, midmorning, late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, early evening… It is certainly no secret that they copulate frequently.

(I have to add that this too would leave me pondering.)

The other day I stumbled upon an interesting read about these animals. Once, these tortoises roamed freely on all of the Seychelles islands. Many scientists believe each island had their own distinct species of these giant tortoises but that only the Aldabra tortoise survived. For seafarers, tortoises were easy game and a great way of providing fresh meat for a ship’s crew. Sailors would come ashore and just pick them up so to speak. (I have to wonder what they did when they ran into an Eddwaitya size-a-like – it would have taken some manoeuvring of sailors to get that on-board!) Inevitably the tortoises where literally “carried” to extinction and they disappeared from all of the Seychelles islands except Aldabra. It was from Aldabra that they were reintroduced to their older habitats on the other islands and today there is a hefty and healthy population of them around. It was then that I read that these old guys are only successful at coitus 2% of the time, which perfectly explained their age and frequency of copulation. Our Creator knew very well that without that they would have been extinct long before the seafarers got hold of them!

Wish you were here!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bull shark

Quick update.

We are on day 12 of the Official MCSS Whale Shark season and so far Mother Nature has not been too friendly – 12 days gone, only 5 flyable, none where we could get the boats onto the sharks. Even today there is rain out in the bay and I wonder if Neil managed to get up. I know earlier on he was fighting his instincts – to fly or not to fly!? (You know it’s strong if you are using a traffic-light as a wind-strength indicator! ;)

The other night, while visiting some friends in the yacht club, as we crossed the jetty we spotted a shark. It was a bull sharks and it was trying to outwit the fish attracted to the spot light shining into the water. For a while we were entertained by this shark’s stalking techniques, ranging from just casually swimming in from the side and trying to slide closer to the fish on the sly, to faster semi charges from the murky depths into the light. None worked. You could see the fish seeked shelter in the light, from which they could easily see the shark and stay out of harm’s way. Here is a pic of the shark. Cool hey!?

Wish you were here!

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's in a name...

Quick update.

After my rather encouraging previous report things have changed somewhat. At this stage we have had 7 days since opening of which only 3 have been flyable. Today is even worse than yesterday – rain showers with strong gusty winds. At the airport I was just in time to see Emirates have to do a go-around. For a big plane that is a big deal though in Seychelles this time of the year not too uncommon. They had three go-a-rounds in the last two days…

The Anemometer is my favourite instrument. It is an analogue wind speed and direction gauge – classic recordings with a marker on paper. It is quite a breath of fresh air in an era where everything is going digital. This instrument records wind speeds and direction over time. It is a great way of checking the history of the wind action and I base much of my decision making on this fine instrument. If ever the recording touches the 30knot mark it is a simple black and white decision for me. This is a pic of the wind speed side of the graph… Say no more!

Neil has decided to learn to SCUBA dive on his off days. He admits at not being a water-baby and having drunk a lot of sea water yesterday. Today is day two of his adventure.

Last night we got invited to a crepe party, as the French call it (Pan-cakes).
“Veroee..” It was the third time the French lady pronounced her name to me and it still did not hit anything familiar. Even if her voice was sexy, her phonation and accent made vowels and consonants disappear and fade into one. Full of laughter and light-heartedness I asked again. Laughing and being in a similar mood, she shook her head and said, “Virginia...” It was very obvious she has had to do that before.

Our hostess, Anne, a French lady we met in our first week, found a new house and as part of the house warming she organised a mellower get together. I like to think it was to accommodate us pilots but reluctantly realised it was because Anne has a very sweet tooth. Nutela spread, honey and bananas were the favourite toppings. By 9:30 Neil and I had to call it quits after we both seemed to run into a sugar crash! This was unfortunate since the French ladies outnumbered us by two to one which was nice for a change.

Darren, the third part of our house (We are three sharing the house) met a new girlfriend. These two are quite madly in-love by the looks of things. So this morning he is telling me about his new lady (as he often does - she is French and another connection we have with the bevy of French ladies this season). Her name is Iesatta. Though she is French she is from some tropical island descend – Barbados I think, she has a beautifully almond coloured skin. Iesatta's family have come to visit her this week and that set the topic for the morning. (Don't worry. Last night Neil too was having a tough time getting the names.)

“So it is Iesatta (pronounce as in ‘eesaata’) Her sisters name is Buyla,” says Darren. “B-u-y-l-a” He enthusiastically goes through the motions of spelling it out for us. Neil and I are of course paying attention and listening intently. “And her brother’s name is Felloloo”.
“Felloloo..?” I ask while thinking to myself who on earth would give their kids such strange names.
“Yes.” He says before adding, “and her parents’ names are…” before pausing and saying, “Actually I have no idea how to pronounce them.”

Wish you were here!


Me in my favourite coffee shop - where I'm writing this...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Taking care…

Since the 1st of September we have had four days – three flyable with sharks. These are great numbers and we hope a foreboding of what is to come. (Its funny to see how everybody is suddenly happy with lifted spirits now that the sharks are here. I know from experience that this is going to be a bit of a roller coaster ride.. ;)

Neil and I - he is in the front seat.

Flying out to sea in a single engine aircraft is not considered a kosher thing to do. Of course it is an adage which we inherited from our forefathers for good reason – back then motor technology was just not what it is today. You have to hand it to them though. Even though motor reliability was perilous, they never wavered from crossing inhospitable mountain ranges just to deliver post. (Back then post was thought of in a totally different light all together; getting a letter was really important…). But these early postal aviation pioneers crossed inhospitable terrain on an almost daily basis and often, too often, they would not reach their destination.  Many where never found. (The list includes the likes of Antoine de Saint-Exupery - you can go look them up, written down in the annals of history).  The chances of surviving when going down in mountains or over the ocean were slim to none –finding the wreckage of the plane afterwards had no better odds either.

It was a high risk occupation and the turn-around of pilots were not much different to that of the waitresses at our favourite pizza joint down the road. Certainly these men knew the risks and they were not stupid. Yet, the pilots never stopped flying. They never stopped working and they never looked for a different occupation. No, they kept at it – the lure of adventure in that seemingly void that leave no trace of visits too great to give up for the price of being mortal. As one such early pilot, Dean Smith put it. “It was so alive and rich a life that any other conceivable choice seemed dull, prosaic, and humdrum.”

Such was the era of unreliable engines and un-wavering human courage – brave men that had no place for the foolish.

These men were meticulous in what they were doing: They knew all about the weather. They knew their airplanes back to front and inside out. They knew the routes they were flying (OK, early on there were some exceptions…) But considering what they were doing they took care.

Neil has ventured out on his own today. We had a good look at windguru and at what the weather looked like outside the window (A wise thing to do!) Other than a small chance of rain, it looks just fine. We have also meticulously gone through the plane too, fine-tuning everything we can lay our hands on. We have gone through the emergency procedure drills – repeatedly. Of course over the last four days I have accompanied him on all the flights, familiarising him with procedures and getting him settled.

Neil is very experienced. Other than flying hang gliders and micro-lights, he is also a qualified commercial helicopter pilot. Even so he has been a bit nervous during our few days of training. His words have reminded me of the kind of flying we are doing.

“You must remember we are operating on the top end scale of the envelope. And while your judgments to say it’s a go or no have been fine-tuned, mine is not. At these scales the margin for errors are pretty small…”

It certainly is not your average Sunday’s flight.

Here we are on our way back from spending the afternoon in the isolated Conception Island area. We avoid flying long distanced over the sea with just one engine. Instead climbing high and overflying the island is the safest route. This is the view from 6000ft overhead the airport…

Oh, and did I mention that now-days our engines are pretty reliable too…

Wish you were here!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

They are here..!

Just a quick update. At 6 this morning I collected Neil at the airport. Neil is our second pilot who will be helping us out with the flying duties – yes it all gets a bit much for just one pilot. Of course we have all been saying that when Neil arrives everything is going to change. He is a good guy and our luck is bound to be different. So we all thought. Given the weather and lack of sharks we certainly were willing to try anything.
Well, Neil and I had a quick coffee, bit of a catch-up and then headed to the airport to have a look. The wind was still pretty strong but I deemed it doable. Now, two years ago Neil was one of the pilots for the season so it is not like he does not know what is going on.
“It looks fine Neil, the wind is not that strong so it will be good.” I said only to be greeted with these big eyes staring right back at me before he dryly replied, “Are you kidding? It’s howling up there!”

Well, Neil is getting used to the wind again.

We had a great flight in the morning and we thought we saw a whale shark. It was swimming in very deep water over a white sandy bottom and before we could get a good look it had disappeared over onto a rocky patch. It was a whale shark or just a big other shark – we just could not be sure.
In the afternoon David decides to send out the boat with the interns only – they really needed to see a whale shark before any clients did. It was a tough call since we had to cancel a boat full of clients – A safe call.
Of course we find 4 whale sharks in the Conception channel for the afternoon. The interns are over the moon so everybody is in a very happy mood.

It is kind of cool to start the season, 1st of September (Start of spring!) on such a good note.
Talk about a good note. I have to mention that today is my parents’ 50th anniversary – now that’s cool! :)))))))

Mom, Dad, well done and to be honest..,

I wish I was there!