Sunday, September 29, 2013

Short and to the point

Today was an interesting day. Savvi accompanied me on the flight as an extra set of eyes. (Four is so much better than two! ;) The winds had gone east and the west coast was thus off shore. If you were low you would get bumped around by the rotor turbulence and if you were too high you couldn't see much. It was kind of a toss-up between the two and we just made it up as we went along. I managed great navigation on the morning flight to stay clear of the bumpy stuff but on the afternoon things changed a bit and in one area we got hammered. For all the work we only got one shark – the boats did not go out.
Here is a pic of some of the action.

“Savvi and I still on the east coast passing “the point” – half way between the Airport (just off the pic on the right) and South point (off to the left).

Tomorrow they predict rain. We will just wait and see…

Wish you were here!


PS: Would you believe that all the interns have turned down to fly with me tomorrow morning? Are they insane!? Who would turn down the chance of flying around a beautiful tropical island in a micro-light?
Should I take it personally?

Hhhmm…. No. Perhaps they all have seen the weather forecast! ;)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Time and the speed of light not constant?

Just a reminder that my new book - Wings and Whale Sharks - is now available. In fact, why not check out my web, put and entry into my guest book and you can stand a chance of winning the book for free.

Makes sense to me.. ;)

What a cliché to say that “time sure flies when you are having fun!” But every now and then I get glimpses of the hidden truth behind these often quoted but seldom fully understood idioms. The amount of time I spend up in the sky, looking down on the earth provides a very different perspective on life. It is very much a matter of being hoisted above our usual two dimensional living while being afforded a three dimensional glimpse of the life we live. Looking down and “into” our world really opens the mind to contemplating the meaning of it all. Of course it is no secret that this perspective has convinced me of the existence of a Master Creator and even now, after thousands of hours and many years of being offered this “three dimensional glimpse” of life I honestly just don’t get how people can miss that.

It is a mystery to me.

Of course I know too that we live in a four dimensional world but few are aware of that – mostly it is exactly as I described it.

But coming back to the idea of “time flies when you have fun” concept. I managed to get an interesting little video clip of the Seychelles barred-ground-dove. These little doves are actually really cute and found everywhere around these islands. They have the sweetest call, though personally I think they do not possess much between the eyes if you get my meaning. ;) Look at this interesting photograph I lifted off from the video clip. Notice the view of the wings versus the shadow of the wings. Is this an optical illusion? Does it point to the differences between the speed of light – that the light reaching the camera from the bird is slightly different to that reaching the camera from the shadow of the bird? Or is there another explanation?
To me it certainly puts me even more in awe of how our world operates – down to the most intricate but perfectly designed complexities!

Wish you were here!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


We have been having a bit of a blow for the last few days but today the strength pattern broke. The sharks were still there and the boats went out! Apparently there was a mellow shark around again – one of those that hanged around and hanged around. Everybody had a good time, according to Dirk.
His mom and her friend Bettie are here so he has been giving them a bit of a tour – making sure that every night they go to bed totally exhausted!

Having Dirk here is heaven sent. Not only does he help with the flying duties but he is also a very good friend, one with whom I have shared many an adventure with. Dirk is actually as Afrikaans as they get and I have been enjoying his conversations in the evenings immensely. He has that typical thick, drawn out Afrikaans accent, something that the ladies find attractive – according to Dirk. Of course nothing quite beats that feeling of comfort when one recounts homely stories in your mother tongue, especially if they are of “Spyker” and “Vienna”, Dirk’s two trusted dogs. Yes Dirk is very much a dog lover – something I observed too while watching him with our adopted cat, Lilly. Lilly is a small cat and she is quite the treat, often showing-off to us boys while jumping from curtain to couch and doing wild scrambles around the slippery tiled floor of our flat. On occasion she has graced us with the odd gecko and even a tiny little mouse. But when Dirk grabs hold of Lilly, he typically hoists her high over his head with just his one hand, the other hand casually hanging by his side while he talks to her. There is no scratch or tickle – just a kind man with a wide grin of pleasure peering up at Lilly while she hangs like a sack of potatoes draped across a man’s arm wondering ‘what the?’ It become very easy to sea Dirk is used to handling only dogs but Lilly loves him none the less.

Lilly in a more dignified pose...

As I was saying, Dirk has been reminiscing about his dogs: “Spyker” a bull terrier (“Spyker” is Afrikaans for “Nail” but the name has other connotations too which I will refrain from mentioning here), and “Vienna” a Dachshund, with a name that needs no translation but in this case needs to be pronounced with that wonderful Afrikaans accent. I have long ago learned too that unlike one would imagine, “Spyker” is the timid one while “Vienna” is the terror, apparently with no fear what so ever and with a pet love for cats.

“Johan,” Dirk says, “His eyes glaze over when he sees a cat.”
I of course chuckle at the though. Even Dirk, who rules with a stern hand (I can vouch seeing him with Lilly), admits that when Vienna sets his eyes on a cat he becomes unstoppable. Apparently he gets tunnel vision to such an extent that he would often charge right past his quarry, having worked up such frenzy in thought alone that he seemingly loses sight of the actual feline during the charge. With a growl and huff Vienna would grind to a stop, sniff the air, look around in a daze, before setting eyes on the unfortunate cat to follow through, if the cat has not used this opportunity to make its escape. Though he has not killed any cat, none apparently have stood up to Vienna’s challenges – even the ones who rule the house, supposedly in charge of large dogs such as Rottweiler’s and the lot. It seems no one has ever told Vienna what the rules are.

So Dirk starts to chuckle as he gleefully recounts the tale when once again Vienna set sight on a feline and before Dirk could stop (shouting does absolutely nothing), Vienna was off in full charge – this time towards the neighbour’s cat who was blissfully sitting next to their pool. Vienna apparently got just the slightest of glimpses of the cat since they are surrounded by a thick hedge with the swimming pool trellis around the pool. Well, Vienna flies through the hedge, through the trellis and surprises the cat that it cartwheeled into the pool. By this stage Dirk is having a good laugh at the recollection of the event.

Vienna and Spyker...

“He goes into such a state, like he ran through that fence so hard during the chase that he could not get back out. There was no way he could fit. I don’t know how he did it but we had to go fetch him out of the neighbour’s yard to get him home.”
And while I had a good hearted chuckle about Vienna it was even more meaningful listening to Dirk in our home language. It’s a bit of ‘home away from home…’

Wish you were here!

PS: Later Dirk added, “I felt quite sorry for the cat since it was the middle of winter…”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wisdom without experience

Savvi and I before the morning flight.

It’s raining cats and dogs. Our little flat sure is cosy at times like these. And the sense of familiarity is welcomed too – how else after 11 seasons on the Islands of Seychelles. I am reminded of a quote from General Chuck Yeager – the best pilots are the most experienced pilots – or something to that effect, which brings me to my point: the correlation between wisdom and experience. The famous idiom expresses it quite well – experience is the mother of wisdom – and it is no wonder that we are sold on the idea that age and wisdom goes hand in hand. But does it? Is it possible to gain experience without wisdom or wisdom without experience? Is it at all possible to separate these two concepts? Though I am sure some of you will probably swear you know someone old without wisdom, (and personally I believe being young and foolish is actually cool compared to just being an old fool! :)

Of course with all the rain one can hardly help from being a bit philosophical. ;)

The boat doing a plankton tow. (You can just see the little drag net behind the boat)

Two days ago we had a fantastic run. The afternoon encounter trip was one of those memorable ones where interns, team leaders and the tourists (some Chinese) went home having lived a dream.  The boat crew was completely worn out even before my air support time was up – they had a record number of 23 encounters in less than 1:45 minutes. That is what Seychelles whale sharking is all about; that is why dive tourists come visit these islands – loads of encounters with whale sharks. It turned out a relaxing day for me as the boat was constantly busy with sharks with my just occasionally guiding them along. (Many times there were 4-5 sharks visible within a 50m radius of the boat.) In the morning Savvi and I saw 6 whale sharks in the south. This is Savvi’s second year with the MCSS though last year his whale shark experiences were a bit on the slim side – the six whale sharks were also his first from the air. In the afternoon he was one of the spotters in the boat so his day was full of experiences!

With all the sharks around I too was allowed to enjoy something sweet.

Back to the experience/wisdom concepts… The best way to learn is from others mistakes. This is something that is a wise mantra in my chosen sport! Though I found a nice variation of that on the net:
“A smart person learns from their mistakes.
A wise person learns from others. (mistakes)”
Did the writer mean it is possibly a mistake to learn from other’s mistakes? :))) Hehe…
And is it possible that you are gaining valuable experience just by reading this without even putting a foot in the water or setting a bum in the air?


Perhaps one can become wise without experience after all...

Wish you  were here!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shark news - 15 Sep

15 Sep. 13

There is a whale shark in the bottom left of the pic with swimmers chasing hard. A rare light wind day at the beginning of the season.

Well, my turn to fly turned out to be pretty good, even if the winds were very strong. Both days yielded plenty sharks - Friday afternoon we spotted 11 individuals – but like I said the down side was the strong winds which made for very rough seas limiting the boat to access the shark infested waters. (He he, that does sound pretty sinister doesn't it? “Shark infested waters…” ;)
Our basic daily routine is a survey flight in the morning – collecting data on all sorts of things and of course where the sharks are. After the flight a decision is made; do we run the boats for a shark encounter trip or not? This season we have an abundance of sharks but rather ironically the winds have been playing havoc with the sea conditions – open water conditions for inexperienced tourists being rather on the rough side. Most days have been tottering on the just doable scale of things and David has had to do some tough calls – sometimes getting it right but rather frustratingly on other occasions the encounter trip cancelled while the weather suddenly turns peachy, like on Friday afternoon, contrary to weather forecasts. Jo and I spotted 11 sharks while the boat remained in the bay. We find solace in that we are only human – we can’t predict the future and at least decisions were made erring on the safe side.
Dirks is up flying again. Conditions are strong. Def not for the faint hearted but I believe the boat went out and they had something like 19 encounters. No doubt a couple of very weary divers are going to have a good night’s sleep tonight.
Wish you were here!

Dirks first flight after a two year lay-off. We are heading out over Beau-Vallon bay with a large threatening cloud near the island. I had to accompany him in the back seat to make sure he did not get lost! ;) 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shark news...

12 Sep. 13
I have a good feeling about this year. So far the season has been great. We have seen sharks on almost every flight we have done and every time the boat has gone out they have had good encounters. The last three days the weather has been a bit disappointing though. Flying has been difficult and Dirk has managed to pick up some good decision making experience along the way. Unfortunately the seas have been too rough for the boats to go out. Today the wind averaged around 22
knots with gusts close to 30 – the very limits of our operating weather window – but Dirk did excellent. He saw 6 whale sharks even if the weather limited him to survey only the southern parts of the island. He did mention that he had a thorough workout in keeping the wings level while on the ground. ;)
Tomorrow is my turn to fly and as I write the rain is pouring down. I do see some hope in the Windguru reports. Time will tell…
Wish you were here!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Slow punctures and purple blades…

“What is a ‘slow-puncture’?”
Freya was leaning out of the passenger window while I was busy pumping the left front tire. Looking up at her I realised she was being quite sincere so I could not help a good hearted chuckle. Perhaps it was a case of a difference in cultures or probably just a lack of experience I thought while returning the air hose to its rack. Freya is a beautiful young British lady – tall and slender with black curly hair and a super smile that makes every young man’s head turn. (Besides the fact that my head is not young or that my neck does not turn so well any more, Freya reminds me a lot of my niece!)

“It is exactly as the word describes. There is a slow leak in the tire and it goes flat after a few days so every second day we need to pump the tire…” I explained as I got back into the car while not being able to help myself fall into a light-hearted and happy mood – not that I wasn't in a similar kind of mood before but her question just seemed to fine tune our happy state. Our conversation on the way to the airport, though quite serious as far as topics are concerned – conservation and saving the planet kind of stuff – the overtones was always humorous.

Of course the fact that we have been blessed with good flying days with whale sharks to boot, just added to our lifted spirits. The whole MCSS whale shark team has been on a high and unlike the previous two years which has seen slow starts. (Last year it would not be far off to say we did not really have a start at all). Already the team has managed to do 3 whale shark dives, spending hours in the water with these amazing fish – one encounter was for almost an hour with a seemingly very happy whale shark. This year our team consists of 5 interns and three team leaders. (See the pic). So far I have had the great privilege of taking each of our interns for their first flight in a micro-light – Freya being one of them.
From back left, Sam and Jo who are team leaders. Ali and James - Interns. Front row is Sarah, Freya and Mat - Interns. Savvi, an intern from last year is enjoying a lie-down.

“Would you believe those wind turbines actually look cool?” I said as we drove down the hill into Victoria. Before us as part of the magnificent tropical island scenery, eight brand new wind turbines adorn the seaward side of Victoria bay. These wind turbines are a step in the right direction for Seychelles in becoming more energy efficient. The wind farm is a 6MW facility with each wind turbine generating 750kw of electricity. When considering that the islands sole energy source is from diesel generators that consumes almost 40% of the country’s gross fuel imports, the importance of this step becomes even more apparent. Of course, given that we considered ourselves nature conservation activists, we had to chat about the negative side of these wind turbines too, which are not always as green as one at first would imagine. Strangely enough in the wrong area the large blades have a tendency to kill birds, the seemingly slow turning blades going fast enough to strike a bird in mid-flight. Even if the large length of the blades create the illusion that they are slow turning, on a really windy day it is not uncommon for the tips to be traveling at more than 100 miles per hour! Later studies found that the blades actually create some subsonic wave patterns that disorientate birds causing the high number of strikes. If a wind farm is set in or near a migratory route it could be disastrous.

“Oh and they strike a lot of bats too.” Freya added.
“Bats?” I asked while my mind could not help imagine these tiny flying creatures with their super acoustic sensors becoming blade victims, at a time when no one is watching.
“Yes” she replied before adding, “…and they found that if they painted the blades purple then it would strike fewer bats but the people didn't like the idea of purple blades. I guess it would make them more of an eye sore, so they voted against that.”
“Purple!” I said in disbelief, while having a good chuckle. “How on earth did they discover that!?” I added while we both laughed at the crazy idea that the colour purple has an effect on the navigational abilities of bats. How ironic too that people would care more about the colour of the blades than saving bats.

“So these two bats where hanging in a cave and the one says to the other, ‘listen, I have had it, I’m starvin’, I’m going out there to get me a nice juicy cow.’ You can’t do that’, the other one says, ‘it is broad daylight out there and you won’t be able to see a thing’. ‘Well, I don’t care, I’m starving and I’m going’. So off he flaps and disappears out of the cave.

At this stage Freya had caught onto the fact that I was telling a joke and already was giggling about the funny bat hunting cow story.

“Ten minutes later the bat comes flapping back into the cave, blood dripping from his face.
‘Wow!’, says his buddy, ‘That looks awesome. I want some too. Where did you get that?’ ‘Come’, says his friend, ‘I’ll show you’. So off the two flap to the mouth of the cave where the blood dripping bat says, ‘see that tree over there?’ ‘No’, replied the other. ‘Well, neither did I’.”

Wish you were here!

Freya doing a bit of piloting - a sure way of forgetting about slow punctures, purple blades or saving bats!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shark news 2013

Nothing fancy - just a quick update. We are off and running. The sharks are here and we had a very successful afternoon of diving on the sharks to day. One shark remained for near an hour with the boat until they got tired of it and called it a day. So lots of happy customers on the boat and a smiling crew. I am of course a bit flying unfit so the 12 or 13 hours I have spent in the air the last few days is taking its toll. Dirk, the pilot who is helping me this season is only arriving on Thursday evening so my first break realistically speaking will be Saturday only. Oh well... We just better suck it up! (Well, that's the mind part, but as we all know the body we have less control over! ;)

Wish you where here to help!