Spring Swim 2014

Spring 2014 has arrived for us down in the Southern Hemisphere. In continuation of our quite silly extended family tradition, it meant it was that time of year again for the village idiots aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to mark the 1st of September with a dip in their swimming pool!

Luckily for us in South Africa it was actually a relatively warm day (as opposed to the 2013 swim, when the inland swimmers hit temps in the single digits celsius). I forgot to chuck my dive watch in the pool to read the temps in Durban, but it was actually quite refreshing, even at 6:10AM on a Monday morning!

Anyway, here’s the round-up from this year’s swims. Awesome efforts everyone!

Dylan's Swim in Durban North

Dylan’s Swim in Durban North

Cliff's Swim in Kloof

Cliff’s Swim in Kloof

Bruce's 1st Swim in Springs

Bruce’s 1st Swim in Springs.

Bruce ended up doing the swim twice to make sure the pics came out. So he gets double mention here haha:

Bruce's 2nd Swim

Bruce’s 2nd Swim

Kim & Matt's Swim in Grahamstown

Kim & Matt’s Swim in Grahamstown

And finally, if any of you are on fast internet connections, here’s the round-up of video footage haha:

Dylan’s footage from a hand-held camera.

Some late submissions, better late than never though!

Den, Carla and Angelica’s Spring Swim over in Singapore

Gay doing her Spring Swim in Kloof

Gay doing her Spring Swim in Kloof


Patrick having a swim in Umhlodti

Patrick having a swim in Umhlodti

Herman and Megan's children Becky and Joshua doing their spring swim in Harare

Herman and Megan’s children Becky and Joshua doing their spring swim in Harare

New Dive Logbook Template.

On my last couple dives I realised I’ve been diving “heavy”, taking down more weights than I really needed. But I couldn’t figure out why initially, until I clicked that I’d previously been diving with Aluminium cylinders and the local dive shops had switched to Steel cylinders while I was in the UK and that I hadn’t adjusted the number of weights I was asking for to take into account the extra cylinder mass.

So I’ve gone and updated my dive logbook template to take into account what type of cylinder you’re diving with, and while I was at it I also added what cylinder size you had last time. Not only will it help keep tabs of what weights to take (this wikipedia article about scuba cylinders lists buoyancy figures for full and empty cylinders in a range of popular sizes) but you’ll also get a better idea of air consumption over time if you vary your cylinder sizes between dives.

I finally also put together a basic cover page for your logbook if you need one, or you can use it as a starting point for some of the items you should include on yours. The cover page template also has a QR code linking to where the logbook templates can be found – most smartphones nowadays come with or can easily get apps which read these codes and I figured it would make an easy way to share where you found the template with dive buddies if they’re interested.

You can find the new templates at the permanent “Dive Logbook” page I’ve added to this site. That page will always list the most recent dive logbook, and there’s now a choice of downloading either the “raw” Word Doc version or you can download a PDF version which has been formatted to make it really easy to make an A5 booklet on an A4 printer (the Word docs are single pages, but the PDFs are designed to be printed double sided on A4 paper, then cut or stapled down the middle to make an A5 booklet). Of course there’s also a PNG version of the main template on that page too which you can use if thats easier.

Banking in South Africa – Whats Different.

One of the first things you have to do when you move to a new country is open up some bank accounts. Even if for no other reason than as soon as you get a job, you need the bank account so they can pay you. Moving (back) to South Africa is no different, you need that bank account.

Be prepared though, compared to the UK, banking here is rather frustrating. First of all, its an incredible rip off. There is no concept of free banking here. Even the most basic of basic accounts will cost you, and then for anything more they’ll just carry on heaping on the fees. They even charge for balance queries and for internet banking access and most scarily for withdrawals unless you’ve got an all-inclusive bank package. It seems like somewhere along they way they forgot that what they’re essentially doing is borrowing money from us – so we’re effectively being charged money to loan the banks money. Super backwards to say the least. And then they charge you even more to get it back.

Unless you’re happy paying very high fees you can only withdraw your money from your own banks ATMs, so the convenience of being able to use the closest ATM is sadly a thing of the past – you need to carefully plan when and where you’ll need cash and draw it as appropriate.

Another thing which is still so archaic in this modern day and age is that banks hold onto your cash for 3 days when doing a transfer before passing it on. Everything banking wise is computerised these days, so the actual transfer takes milliseconds at best, but you get to wait 3 days for your funds. And nobody here complains because they’re just all used to it. Makes you want to pull your hair out!

But worst of all, at least to someone used to online shopping and paying for services online, is you cannot use debit cards online in South Africa. Your debit card will happily be accepted by any overseas merchants, they’re super happy to take your money. But back in South Africa, I’m yet to find a merchant who’ll take debit cards. The local equivalent of Amazon, a seller called Kalahari.com, wont take debit cards. Buying flights with any of the South African airlines (SAA, BA, Mango, Kulula) – don’t count on using your debit card. Or at least your South African debit card. Funny enough, I’ve happily used my overseas Mastercard of Visa backed debit cards, but local versions backed by Mastercard and Visa are a no-go. Its like they’re really just trying to make life difficult for themselves and don’t really want people to spend money with them.

And don’t even get me started on how far behind South African Internet services are compared to the civilised world…..


Another Scary Drive Home

Today I saw something on the roads which makes me get a cold chill when I think back to it. And no, surprisingly it wasn’t the car accident which occured 2 cars ahead of me on the way home – that wasn’t much more than an expensive fender bender.

No, it was a few minutes after leaving work, as I was driving across a busy cross roads in the middle of Durban town. I was about halfway across the interchange when there was a loud siren to my right. I looked up the cross road hoping like hell it wasn’t a racing fire engine bearing down on me. It wasn’t. The view which greeted me was so unexpected I couldn’t even react. It was a police car which had somehow got another car to stop in the middle of the road. And 6-8 cops were standing around the stopped car, all with guns drawn and aiming into the car. As I carried on on my way across the intersection, one of the cops pulled open a door on the car and yanked someone out and pushed them face down onto the tarmac. At the same time a cop was doing that on the other side to someone else in the car. I have no idea how they got the car to stop (I can’t rule out them shooting out the tyres), and this was all happening in the middle of a very busy intersection with traffic still moving around and pedestrians on the side walk and everything you’d expect on a busy street at home time. Once I realised what was actually happening I moved on as quick as I could.

And the part that makes me get that cold chills is that the car which got stopped was between the cops and me in my car. There was nothing else between me and the cops but that car they stopped. And they were all standing there with guns drawn ready to fire if need be. And me and my car would have been in the worst place ever if a gunfight had gone down. Luckily I’ll never know how close to shooting they were, and I can try tell myself it was just for show, for bravado. But deep down I’m always going to know I probably got incredibly lucky today.

Bad Drivers in South Africa.

I learnt how to drive in South Africa. I also grew up living in a small village outside of any large city areas, so daily life involved a lot of driving and time in cars. I know South African drivers are bad, and I drive extremely conservatively expecting the unexpected to happen all the time.

But this week has been something else. Local schools had been on holidays the week before and the roads had been an absolute pleasure to use during the morning rush hour. Yet when schools are back, suddenly the rush hour deteriorates exponentially. Are parents really that bad at driving? Or is it because they have to wake up earlier to get wee little timmy off to school on time and so they’re still driving half asleep? Anyway, this week, since school went back, I’ve had what I’d call an extremely close call on every. single. morning. Today’s incident was probably the scariest. Driving down a freeway in a 120 km/h zone, I was approaching an on-ramp which was merging from the side. The traffic is always slow moving at the on-ramp, and impatient drivers merging onto the freeway cut across multiple lanes of traffic sometimes to try get ahead by like 3 cars. This morning a woman did that meters in front of me. Except she didn’t try accelerate up to speed – she cut into a 120km/h zone at probably no more than about 20km/h to 30km/h. And I’ll say it again – just meters in front of a car doing 80km/h. Which just so happened to be me in my car. It was too quick to do anything except jam on the brakes, and luckily she finally used one of the multiple mirrors on her car and saw she was trying to cut into a stream of traffic going a hell of a lot faster than she was and she pulled back into her original lane before our cars hit.

I haven’t had such a big addrenaline rush in quite a while – who says you need to do extreme sports for your kicks? Just move to South Africa and try survive the morning rush hour..

National Braai Day

Today is September 24, officially National Heritage Day but these days more commonly know and celebrated as National Braai Day. It’s quite fitting too as no matter what your routes and heritage, all South Africans love a braai and so it is a pastime that the entire population of the country can share and enjoy.

For those foreign readers sitting there “What the heck is a braai anyway” – it’s a South African term for cooking over hot coals. Some South Africans will also like to claim that a gas barbecue will suffice, but deep down they know a gas barbecue will never be a proper braai. But a braai doesn’t just mean the contraption with your hot coals in which you cook over. No a braai also means the social event surrounding the process of cooking over said hot coals. It means going to a mate’s place or having friends over to yours, or going with friends to an awesome spot and having a braai there. Just about anything can go on a braai with the exception being three meat based products: if you chuck pork sausages, hamburger patties or Vienna sausages onto a braai it stops being a braai and becomes a barbecue. There are plenty of fun videos exploring all aspects of braaiing a go exploring the youtubes.

My braai day was awesome – a morning of mountain biking around the Nature Reserve at Albert Falls Dam (which is up near Petermaritzburg). Saw among other things Zebra, Giraffe, Impala, Nyala and Gnu’s. And then after the ride we had an awesome braai on the banks of the dam, with steak and delicious wors rolls with home-made tomato relish on the menu. Ice cold Hansa beers and Savanna ciders to wash it all down and a simple slab of top deck chocolate for pudding. A very very cool way to spend braai day.

And now here in Durban it has started raining. So I am sitting in my lounge listening to the early summer rain falling on the roof, I can feel I got “kissed by the sun” and I am happy. What a great day out!

Learning To Surf

I’m busy trying to teach myself how to surf. So far its been a heap of fun – especially yesterday afternoon. I left work at 4 and popped down to the beach in Durban. It was just after high tide, so the waves were quite nice and kind and gentle (as opposed to when its low tide and the waves are super hollow on the shallow sandbanks – those aren’t nice and kind and gentle in the least!). No wind at all so it was nice and glassy, and a perfect size little wave for learning on. It was actually my first proper session on my new surfboard. And here’s what I learnt:

You want to catch a couple of waves just lying down on it and not bothering to stand up yet. My reasoning is that it lets you get the feel for the board and how far up the board you should be placing your centre of gravity. You learn very quickly exactly how far forward you need to be for the board to “catch” onto the wave and what it feels like when the wave picks you up and starts propelling you forward. For me and my board, I found the perfect spot was where I could just grab the nose of my board with one hand.

You want to practise getting up as quick as you can. My sister has since given me a great tip which I’ll try next time – to not even grab the rails of the board when trying to stand up. Just push your hands down flat on the top of the board. That way you never get into the bad habit of half-standing up and then pausing.

Thats all I’ve picked up so far. I managed to catch a handful of foamies and one proper wave! I only did one tiny half kind of turn, but it felt awesome and I left the water after an hour or so with a huge grin on my face, sand in my hair and salt water already drying on my skin. Summer in Durban is awesome!

Part 4 – Working Hours in South Africa

Ok, so i’ve been at my new job for 2 weeks now and yesterday was the first time I took my bike down to go for a ride after work. To be fair, they only initiated a “psuedo flexi time” at my work this week, so before Monday I’d been finishing rather late for a ride. But they’re pretty excited about their so-called flexi time so I thought I’d better make the most of it. And for anyone looking to move back to SA and wondering about standard working hours here, I thought I’d better explain how “forward and progressive” they’re getting here..

They’re of all, they’re letting a us choose a start time which we then have to stick to. If you’re running late for your agreed start time you still need to let your boss know and you can’t chop and change and have early starts on some days and later starts on other days even if its a permanent arrangement. So we either have:

  • 07:00 to 15:30
  • 07:30 to 16:00
  • 08:00 to 16:30
  • 08:30 to 17:00
  • 09:00 to 17:30

Core hours are 08:00 – 16:00 and its up to each team to work out their own “roster” to make sure they always have people coverage during those hours.

Standard contractual conditions stipulate a working day from 08:00 – 16:30 with a half hour lunch break (i.e. a 40 working hour week is standard in South Africa), but the new flexi time policy allows us to take a longer lunch break and tack the extra time on before or after our scheduled start and end time, with the conditions that we cannot go off to lunch before 12:00 and we cannot come back from lunch after 14:00 (i.e. a theoretical max lunch of 2 hours).

Being in IT, we may occasionally have to work overtime or on weekends. Apparently we’ll be able to work shorter hours the following week to compensate for that with talk that maybe some time in future there might be a multiplier involved (i.e. hours worked on a Sunday or public holiday give you twice as many hours off in the week after) but there’s nothing like that yet.

Finally, and this is something which is going to take some getting used to, standard leave in South Africa is only 15 days a year (instead of the UK’s trend towards 25 days a year) and I’m yet to find anyone who would let you “buy” more days on top of this like so many UK employers allowed. So you pick up 5 days of leave for every 4 months worked. South Africa also currently has 12 public holidays each year which does help, but if those public holidays ever fall on a Saturday it is effectively “lost” as we would have had the day off anyway (if a public holiday falls on a Sunday then the following Monday is given off).

I suppose that all this is better than super rigid working conditions though, and its a step in the right direction. That said, it looks like its going to be a very very very long time before working from home is even contemplated…

Part 3 – The Great Surf Experiment

If you’re moving back to Durban in South Africa to get away from the UK weather and back to a place with a decent outdoor lifestyle, you need to have a serious look into surfing. As a kid I’d been a body boarder (“boogie boarder”) for over a decade, but I’ll give away my age a bit and say in the last decade I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been surfing or body boarding.

So, when I recently started my new job here in Durban and heard someone on my team was selling a hybrid board (about halfway down that page) – described as cross between a shortboard and a mini mal – I was intrigued. The price was great (R1,500), it looked like it was in great condition and it was less than 3 years old. Kind of a no-brainer really, especially seeing as it came with a leash and a board bag too. I’m proud to say I’ve finally got my first surf board:

My new surfboard - a Hurricane Surf Hybrid.

My new surfboard – a Hurricane Surf Hybrid.

Going for my first paddle around (and hopefully my first wave on my new board, although looking at the current WindGuru and Magic Seaweed forecasts for Durban I don’t think there’s a huge amount of swell right now, so it might just be a paddle after all) tomorrow so I’ll report back later on how it goes.

Also related to surfing, when you’ve driven down to the beach you have a bit of a dilemma – what to do with your keys? Currently if you’ve arrived at the beach on your own you have 4 options:

  1. Leave them with some random stranger – which in Durban generally means with a  lifeguards or car guard.
  2. Hide the key somewhere on your car – in the wheel-arch,  under the petrol flap, etc.
  3. Use a surf lock which is a portable “key locker” which you lock onto your car and which uses a combination lock to unlock it
  4. Or take your key into the water with you.

Options 1 & 2 I just would not feel comfortable with, and with option 3 if you end up being in the water for quite a while a nefarious character may have enough time to go through all the combinations and crack your code anyway. So I was looking into option 4, but had the problem that my key is a remote key and not waterproof in the slightest. Asking around it turns out some locksmiths can cut all these new fangled car keys onto plain metal blanks which you can obviously take into the water with you. Some even make “surf keys” which include the transponder / immobiliser chip and are waterproof. If you’re after one of the former – a plain metal key without the chip – the best price I could find was with Total Locksmiths up in Pinetown who’d do a key for R285. On the other hand, if you’re after a key with the chip in it, the best deal I could find was with the guys at Gateway Locksmiths at Gateway shopping mall who can cut and code a key for you for R950 (or R850 if you mention that you saw their surfkey page on facebook). You’d need to check with them whether the key with the chip in it would be suitable for scuba diving (another Durban outdoor lifestyle essential..) but the plain metal one definitely would if you’re into that little hobby too.

See you in the surf!

Dive Logbook Template

** EDITED on 24 Nov 2013 **  Please see the static “Dive Logbook” page up top for the latest version of the template.

Recently I was getting ready for a dive when I realised that I’d filled up my 2nd scuba diving logbook. I was fondly paging through it looking back at some of my more favourite previous dives when I realised my logbook pages had a lot of extra fields on them which I wasn’t using at all. Which got me thinking – why don’t I just make my own logbook with just the stuff I want.

A couple hours later I came up with this template:

Dive Logbook Template

Dive Logbook Template

To turn it into a logbook I simply printed 2 pages per sheet (i.e. to turn A4 in A5), double sided. I then took my double sided printout to a local copy shop, had them make 20 copies, then cut the pages in half with a guillotine. Then they simply put it into a binding machine and bound the whole lot up for me.

Alternatively you could just fold the A4 pages down the middle and then staple the pages together along the fold to make a booklet.

I would recommend “printing” the pages out with either a copy machine or a laser printer though as your normal home inkjet printer results in prints that run and bleed like anything when water touches them, which is not optimal for a dive log book. But prints done with toner usually tend to be pretty resilient with regards to a couple drops of water.

I’ve put together the template into a (hopefully) handy PDF file which is made up of two pages with the template appearing twice in A5 size on each page. Just print the PDF file out on a double sided printer (or only put one sheet of paper in your home printer and once its printed the first page, turn it over and put it back into the printer to print the second page). Then hit up your photo copy machine or your local copy shop and take it from there.

You’re free to use the template for whatever you want. Even for commercial uses – actually if you’re a dive shop looking to make cheap log books for your divers I want to personally thank you. Diving can be a ridiculously expensive hobby and anybody who helps make it cheaper (and let divers dive more often!) gets a big thumbs up from me. All I ask is don’t use it to rip off customers – you’re welcome to put some markup on your effort to get it printed and bound and all that, but please let your price reflect the fact you got the template for free.

Get the free pdf version of the logbook template here:

Dive Logbook Template – version 1.0

Finally, if you’re making your own logbook, please remember to include a cover page including at a bare minimum the following details:

  • Your full name
  • Your contact details (so that if the log book is lost, it can be returned to you)
  • Your current diving certification level
  • Your diving insurance details (provider, policy number, etc)
  • AN EMERGENCY CONTACT (name + telephone number including international dialling code) – this is super important, do not leave it out!
  • You may also find it really convenient to include your diving certification number so that when you’re filling in logbooks with your buddies you can easily look it up and not have to try remember it between dives. Likewise, including your email address and/or social media contact details will let your new dive buddies easily write them down.

If you like this template but think it would be even better with something else added, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do.