Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blue Wilderness - not just the Addisons...

Everybody who has been out with Blue Wilderness to dive the Aliwal Shoal tigers will acknowledge that they are a good shark dive operation.

Being busy business people, the Addisons have to rely on their on-the-spot assistants who effectively run the day-to-day dive operation to make Blue Wilderness a profitable enterprise.

I am talking about Marros "Marcus" Bafana Msanii and Muzi "James" Zikhali - Blue Wilderness' moving spirits, so to speak.

Both Marcus and James are Zulus - dependable, open, genuinely friendly, and extremely hard working individuals.

During the high season for tiger sharks (December through June) these two guys hardly ever have a day off - tourists, especially th
e local ones, go to dive with Blue Wilderness on weekends and public holidays. Contrary to that famous Greek film Venus of the sixties, Blue Wilderness cannot say: "Never on Sundays", and close the shop..... :-)

Marcus - never smiles when he is being photographed, not even when he sits next to Jifa!...
Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Marcus has been with the Addisons for more than half his life - 18 years, to be precise. Marcus knows just about everything that is needed to ensure that on every day-trip to Aliwal Shoal the guests will get the very best the place has to offer in a safe and enjoyable manner.

While I have never seen Marcus in the water (some people claim that he can't swim), I know that he has completed a PADI dive course.

Marcus is the skipper of the dive boat most of the time, helps the divers to get in and out of the water, sees to it that there is always enough bait to keep the sharks happy and close to the boat, and will drive the passengers to the right place.

Since the "right place" is not static, a GPS won't be of any use - Marcus' trusted navigation 'instrument' is that sixth sense that he has acquired by pra
ctice and much experience.

I am always amazed to hear Marcus eloquently interpret the ever changing weather conditions: Winds, currents, clarity of the water - or the lack if it - which can be told by its color from on-board, even from shore. Most of the times Marcus is right, and will hit the sharky spots - but if he doesn't he will grin and apologetically admit to me that "it's probably better in the Bahamas"... :-).

Marcus is not just an employee of Blue Wilderness - in a very concrete way he is, and helped to buid what has become, Blue Wilderness.

James joined Blue Wilderness a little over two years ago. He was already a certified dive master, one of the few black South African professional divers, and is in charge in supervising the actual dive activities.

Prior to each trip James briefs the guest divers meticulously, and tells those who have never been with the Aliwal Shoals sharks what to do when being surrounded by 30 to 40 black tip sharks, and how to position themselves when they get to see the more elusive tigers.

Dive guide James
Photo: Jean-Francois Avenier

The dive guides of Blue Wilderness prefer to do their supervising job while free-diving which makes a lot of sense: As they are normally at the surface, they have a much better overall view of all the scuba divers, and can go down to direct them if necessary.

I have been able to watch James doing his job, and was impressed right away by his free-diving ability. He moves gracefully under water, goes deep, and has an amazing breath hold capacity. James can easily stay down for two minutes. You don't think two minutes is a lot? - well, just try to hold your breath for one minute while reading this, and you'll see...

James romancing a beautiful tiger girl...
Photo: Allen Walker

Astonishingly, James is the only qualified black free-diver in South Africa but when you know that he has been trained by master free-diving instructor Hanli Prinsloo, you won't be surprised about his outstanding apnea skills.

I have never seen dive assistants as hard working as Marcus and James.

James, for instance, has to leave his home at around 4:00 am in order to be at work at 7:00 am. Getting back home takes him another three hours which he has to walk due to the lack of public transportation. Where in the world will you find people with that kind of dedication to their jobs??

So, if you think that New Yorkers who spend two hours a day commuting to work, sitting comfortably in a train are to be pitied, imagine James walking to his place of work before dawn on pitch dark roads...

Hardly anyone who goes diving with Blue Wilderness will know this, often out of sheer lack of interest in the members of the crew. At best, Marcus and James are being taken for granted. But then again, one just has to open mind and heart to discover that there are always incredible stories behind all human beings...

To me, Marcus and James are the unsung heros of this South African shark dive operation. They are two unassuming, responsible, efficient, and always helpful professionals who truly deserve a big, big applause!!

Click on images to enlarge


Mark Harding said...

ay wolfo fantastico, YEBO GOGO!!
It is true what you say, these guys are true water craftsmen, and know more about the blue stuff than any book or current model or gps can ever tell us. i thought whilst reading your post about our guys in ecuador who know a site only 50 sq metres, four miles offshore just by reading the coastline features.

Hanli Prinsloo said...

Wolfy! Lovely words! I love Marcus and James from the bottom of my heart, they are the most earnest, kind competent men on the deep blue sea! Thank you for celebrating them!
Love you guys!

Jifa-ZA said...

Marcus and James are two lovely and dedicated guys indeed, thanks for giving them a bit of highly deserved "fame", Wolf :-)