A taste of what lies in store for all our oceans?

One of my first memories is snorkeling as a child, I must have been perhaps six or seven years old. At ten I had done my first SCUBA dive and by thirteen I was a qualified openwater diver. This lead to summer jobs in dive centres where I would mop floors, clean gear and greet clients in return for free dives. By the time I was eighteen I was a divemaster and working full time in the dive industry. I am grateful to have had the chance to dive the island of Tenerife’s amazing dive sites, logging over 2000 dives since then, for almost two decades. Travel and sailing have also enabled me to dive the Red Sea where I was overwhelmed by a chance night encounter with a majestic Manta Ray, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef where on my first dive I was greeted by a White Tip Reef shark and the Caribbean. All of these places have been different, each area harbours a unique and different ecosystem, each a product of local currents, weather patterns and the effects of man,s mostly unwelcome, intervention.

The yacht I am working on is currently anchored in the South of France at Golfe Juan which sits slightly East of Cannes on the Cote d’Azur. On a rare day off the chance to dive came  up which I snapped up in an instant. I haven’t dived for a while for various reasons but was reassured by the familiar smell of neoprene and the hissing of high pressure air tanks venting. Setting up was second nature and before I knew it I was in the dive centres fast RIB speeding toward the La Formigue light (actually an isolated danger mark which indicates a large rock in the centre of Golfe Juan) where our dive would take place.

The La Formigue isolated danger mark in Golfe Juan.

The La Formigue isolated danger mark in Golfe Juan.

This was to be my first dive in the Mediterranean Sea and I was  little aprehensive about what to expect, mainly because I was aware of the sea’s reputation for overfishing and pollution. The Meditteranean’s 2.500.000 square km is bordered by around 132 million people and 3 continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). The area has been the crucible of civilization in the west since records began which also means that it is the most fished area historically in the world, ever since the Phoenecians started exploring many thousands of years ago. Today many costal areas still depend on ever dwindling fish stocks as a source of income, an income that is far from sustainable. The Meditteranean’s curse does not end there   as many rivers such as the Rhone meander through Europes industrial and agricultural heartland, ending their journey in the sea. They bring endless tonnes of agricultural waste sush as fertilizers and contaminated waters from the factories and populouses that hug their banks into ”The Med” each year. This problem is further aggravated by the fact that climate change is affecting the sea in an alarming rate due to it’s fairly shallow nature and the bottle neck at the Straits of Gibraltar, just 8 nautical miles wide, mean that it takes over 100 years for the sea’s waters to fully recycle. Scientists are using the Medittaranean as a prediction model for the planet’s other seas and oceans, with some alarming conclusions.      One of which is appearance of ‘dead zones’ where fertilizers have optimized conditions for algae and bacteria which sufficiently starve the surrounding water to a degree where fish and other marine life cannot survive. Complex food chains which range from the large apex predators such as sharks and the nearly wiped out tuna population to plankton are becoming increasingly stressed and are giving way to a state of ‘Brittlness’ which favours simpler food chains made up of jellyfish (hence the areas ever increasing jellyfish blooms to which I have been witness), invertabrates and algae. This sadly is what all our oceans face if drastic action is not taken to avoid it. Sadly, the effects in the Medittaranean may be too far gone.

The dive was at best an excercise in futility as the Medittaranean’s barren nature was painfully apparent. In a 45 minute dive ranging from 10 to 26m in depth I saw no fish over a few centimetres and no larger predators such as octopus, barracuda, groupers or similar fish. Small wrasse and damsel fish where all that where to be seen in what seemed to me a very stark and folorn seascape. This was made even worse when we came across a huge monofilament fishing net that had caught on rocks and been abandoned by it’s owners. Far too large for us to remove and potentially dangerous also as it could ensnare a careless diver all I could do was document it’s presence by camera as it lay there. How long would  it pray on unsuspecting fish and turtles?

How long will thius net stay here on a never ending cycle of death?

I left the water with mixed feelings. I am always stoked to get in the water wheather it be surfing, diving, sailing, swimming but I had the bitter sweet taste to having witnessed first had the calamity that faces our oceans in the not too distant future, a painfull realization that has left a numbness in my mind.

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My first dive in a while....

My first dive in a while….

Off season superyacht life

Well, it’s been almost a month now aboard my new job and home. Slowly things are starting to click, the feeling of being hopelessly lost that comes with the first few weeks on a new boat and job are now fading. There is still a hell of a lot to learn, which is probably the best part of being aboard. Being on board a superyacht for the first time I am finding it very different to being on the smaller sail boats that I have worked and lived on, especially as this is an MY or ‘Motor Yacht’. There is an element of grace that seems lacking on a MY, although many, this one in particular are beautiful pieces of marine architecture. There is so much to be said about the power of the wind, billowing clouds of canvas above you and the heel of a graceful sail vessel. But like I say, I am here to learn, trying to soak up as much as I can from the already expert crew whether it be painting, tender driving, safety checks, fairing, getting our sailing dinghy or hobie cat ready or splicing etc. Every skill is valued and on an 80m vessel there is a lot to learn or perfect.

From the sky-deck. Another timeless sunset, dipping into the Meditteranean with out sat and comms domes silhouetted.

From the sky-deck. Another timeless sunset, dipping into the Mediterranean with out sat and comms domes silhouetted.

The boat is being prepared for the Mediterranean season at present, the season running from May until September more or less. During that time we anywhere in the Med is on the cards, places such as South of France, Sicily, Greece, Turkey or Croatia. We run a Monday to Friday schedule right now, during weekends there are always people on watch but as we live aboard there are usually several of us around. An average work day for me now goes something like this:

-06.00h: wake up, strong coffee and 30 mins of cardio in the onboard gym.

-07:30: Breakfast

-07:50h: Morning briefing with officers and deck crew. From then on we knuckle down to our assigned tasks which are varied. Some are a weekly occurence such as rescue boat checks, battery checks etc, others monthly and then there are the day to day tasks as dictated such as repairs, cleaning, maintenance etc. Work is pretty physical and messy at times, nothing like a 3 day wash down to burn some calories!! Yes, it takes 3 days to fully clean our hull and 4 decks…..

-10:00h: Coffee break

-12:00h: Lunch. We are lucky to have two very good chefs cooking for us, providing plenty of healthy food. Tonnes of fruit and snacks on hand too.

-15:00h: Coffee break

-17:00h: Finish

After work I usually either run around to the SUP school at the Mar Balear Dive Centre opposite us in the El Toro (Mallorca) marina for a paddle or hit the gym again for some circuit training. SUP here feels a bit strange as the water is still really cold, although this week I braved it in boardies and a 0.5mm rashie…. I think it was a bit foolhardy as I can’t feel my toes still! There was a tiny wave breaking of the end of a little breakwater and it felt sooooo good to feel the board take of and accelerate on the small waves! It made me miss home quite a bit, warm water and waves!! 😉

SUP carnage....Nigel (left)hanging around while I (far right) drink a beer on the SUP jeje

SUP carnage….Nigel (left)hanging around while I (far right) drink a beer on the SUP jeje

The crew are getting into paddle boarding which has been fun, lots of laughs and splashes, and always great to spread the ocean passion. Paddling back to the beach as a cold sun set behind us reminded me of sunset surfs at home.

Evenings are for getting some food, watching a film and resting because tomorrow…. back to the bilges! jejeje
Sanding down the engine on our wakeboard boat in the tender garage, ready for painting.

Sanding down the engine on our wakeboard boat in the tender garage, ready for painting.