Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Wie gleiche, wie Papi" - a few old family stories, and Felix's not so surprisingly new passion....

When Felix was not even 2 1/2 years old, his cute observation in baby German meant pretty much something like "Like son, like daddy". We were wearing the same type of beach sandals, and that is what Felix had keenly, and proudly, noticed.

I also always thought - actually pretended - that Felix was a little Wolf, an extension of myself (all insecure macho-fathers seem to need the assurance that their babies are without the slightest trace of a doubt REALLY theirs... Hahahaahahaha!!!!)

Anyway, some people say Felix is like his Mom... (good for him!)

..... others think that Felix has more of his old man (luckily not the Wolf's schnas :-)

But that is not what I wanted to say. I want to say that Felix has turned into a Sharkman*), one of the kind I like: Genuinely feeling close to, and concerned about, sharks. No ego-driven BS, and not exuberantly advertising his new love. Sharks have become Felix's intimate passion, and diving with them a big time adventure.

*) open the link

A fully grown Blacktip Shark approaches Felix - and he loves it!!

Not that the urge for 'adventure' would run deeply in the family; we Leanders just need a touch of the exceptional once in a while to feel that we are alive.

I have to enlighten you, so please bear with me as I schmooze a little bit about the topic.

I was a simple money changer by trade all my life, and, believe me, there is nothing especially "adventurous" about collecting deposits at low interest rates with your left hand and basically lending the same dough at higher rates with your right hand.

In fact, it is a rather safe and, I'd say, boring way to earn money, not tons of it, but enough to enable Shylock's epigones to make a decent living with just the 'spread'.

So, to add some spice to my very bourgeois life as a three piece suit wearing wan... errr, I mean banker, I did some pretty reckless stuff such as, for instance back in 1967, applying for, and getting, a job on a yacht as a navigator without having a clue of dead reckoning, let alone celestial navigation.

After I was hired I promised to do my home-work, and learned the bare essentials, including the functions of a sextant, in two weeks.... For those of you who only know what a GPS is: Christopher Columbus used a quadrant, a forerunner of the sextant. Columbus' quadrant was basically the same instrument I had to became familiar with.

We sailed in a 42-ft yacht from Mallorca to the Canary Islands, me being the only one with at least a pale notion of the art of navigating offshore. Hard to believe but we were blown off the course by only 10 miles - everybody was very happy with the relative accuracy of my navigation. Mind you, this was a little over forty years ago.

My father Wolfgang Julius Leander (1905 - 1964), a native of Berlin, also had a rather traditional job in the 1930s, at least in his own, non-typical unassuming view as a 'Berliner' - he was, among other things, a meticulous mechanical engineer and a stunt and test pilot to whom risk had to be manageable by calculation, not speculation or intuition - not exactly the trait of a hard-core adventurer.

And yet, doing hair-raising aerobatics in small biplanes or ditching a fully loaded Curtiss C-46 into a swamp in the Bolivian tropical lowlands as opposed to sitting safely in ventilated offices was his way of satisfying his hunger for a little excitement in life - lieber Papi: You were my hero, still are!!

My maternal Hamburg born grandfather Alfred Wacey Barber (1866 - 1937) set up shop in the middle of the Amazon in 1890 as a 24 year old rubber entrepreneur. This was right after serving a three year overseas assignment as an assistant representative of a German trading firm in Vera Cruz, Mexico.

I hesitate to say that my grandfather was a 'rubber baron' (he was), having heard too often the sometimes more fitting expression 'robber baron' for shady characters and other soldiers of fortune swarmed in from Europe and elsewhere who were just that: robbers - Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador was full of 'interesting' people already then.

Alfred Wacey Barber might have met Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the highlands of Bolivia without knowing who the dashing gringos Paul Newman and Robert Redford really were... :-)

For sure the legendary Fitzcarraldo, obsessively well played by Klaus Kinski in the Herzog cult movie of the same name, and my grandfather must have known each other - they were both competitors of British extraction in the rubber business.

Amidst this rather, shall we say, unusual business ambiente my grandfather thought of himself, and was regarded by others, as a dependable, solid 'Kaufmann'. To him, and his generation, that word was synonymous with the protestant ethics of an honorable, old school merchant in the best hanseatic tradition.

Sorry for having gone off at a tangent perhaps a bit too far...

OK, now back to Felix.

Felix, 31, works as a Lead Digital Strategist at Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR agency. And, boy, does he get to see the world in that position!

Today London, next week Mumbay and Delhi, then the boss sends Felix to co-lead or lead a three-day long training workshop in Santiago, Buenos Aires or Lima, only to find out on his flight back that he has to travel next to San Francisco to discuss digital media strategies with one of Burson-Marsteller's prestigious client in that area.

Wow - I envy Felix for his fantastically dynamic job! Not so sure whether Carmencita, my daughter-in-law, and Tibucito, my grand-dog-in-law, feel the same - hehehehehe.

Long story short, finally: I wanted to share with you the pleasure I felt to realize that Felix has learnt one of the most important lessons in PR: "PR begins at home".

Accordingly, Felix has posted about sharks in his company's blog, and thus converted the world-wide Burson-Marsteller family into shark lovers!!! Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hanli Prinsloo of South Africa - future freediving world champion?

Hanli Prinsloo - she is blue water....

At the rate Hanli is moving forward I wouldn't be surprised at all....

Read this press release:



Cape Town based Freediver Hanli Prinsloo has been on the West Coast of
Sweden competing in the Nordic Deep Freediving Competition. Freediving is the sport of diving as deep, as long or as far as possible on one single breath of air.

She surprised herself and her competitors by setting 4 new
South African records and winning the competition. Free Immersion is a depth discipline where the diver pulls herself down and back up a rope.

Hanli broke the previous record of 42meters by doing
a 50meter dive into the black cold waters of the Gullmarsfjord. The pool disciplines started with a Dynamic No Fins record, where the diver swims breaststroke under water, here Hanli broke the previous 78meter record by swimming 126meters under water.

This dive ranks her among the top 5 women in
the world.

The next day Hanli broke her own Static Apnea record, floating
face down holding her breath, with a 5minute 39second breath-hold. And on the last day Dynamic With Fins, she broke her own 129meter record by doing a successful 150meter dive, swimming underwater with a monofin.

Hanli now holds 4 of the 6 South African Freediving records.

Hanli has been freediving for ten years and teaches freediving in Cape Town, Mozambique, Egypt, Sweden and with Blue Wilderness in Umkomaas. Her focus is on wildlife freediving, scouring the oceans for big fish and mammals, freediving with whales, dolphins, sharks and any other fish. Nordic Deep 2008 was her first big competition since the 2006 World Championships

Hanli - YOU ABSOLUTELY ROCK!!! Congratulations!!!

If you want to take freediving lessons with Hanli, and practice holding your breath among tiger sharks, all you have to do is book one week with Blue Wilderness.

Mark and Gail Addison of Blue Wilderness are the only shark operators in the world (!) where you can do both: learning how to freedive with a world class instructor, and freediving with the most beautiful sharks on earth or should I say, more appropriately, in the ocean?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Diving with Tigers on 'their' beach in the Bahamas - truly an extreme adventure.

Wolf and "Olga" playing on 'her' beach.....
(Photo: Paul Spielvogel)

My friend Dominick Macan of DiveAdvice has organized a Tiger Shark trip aboard the fabulous Dolphin Dream to Tiger Beach from November 9 to 15, 2008, and has asked me to be the shark dive guide.

Did I hesitate to comply with his request? Well, yes and no.

' because I am not a professional dive guide, and 'no' because I am a shark diver to the bone marrow. With all due modesty, I feel perfectly confident that I will be able handle the "job".

As a reader of this blogspot you will know that I consider Tiger Beach in the Bahamas and Aliwal Shoal in South Africa to be, by far, the best dive spots for close shark interaction.

It will, thus, not surprise you that these are the two places you will find me swimming and playing with the striped beauties for many years to come - God willing, that is.

No other spots to 'discover', no more experiments, and disappointments, in faraway destinations: Bahamian and South African tiger sharks - that's it for me. I will never tire of the incredible privilege to dive with these majestic creatures.

There aren't too many around anymore. In the last three decades the tiger shark populations have been decimated by a staggering 90% - world-wide. And it's not because of their meat. It's mainly because of their much sought after fins to satisfy the obscenely voracious appetite of the Chinese and other east Asians for shark fin soup. So-called sport anglers kill tiger sharks mercilessly so they can pose next to their victims, and for their jaws, almost as 'valuable' as the jaws of white sharks.

Tragic, but that is another story...

So, anyway, do you feel like joining me and some very, very cool people on this trip?

Dominick has ONE SPACE LEFT - if you have the time (and a little cash in your piggy bank :-), don't hesitate. The last spot always sells quickly. Send Dom a note - - and ask him to mail you the details of this extreme diving adventure.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Wolf has a She-Wolf...


..... OK, Chiara is not a exactly a She-Wolf but she is a She-German Shepherd, well, sort of. Wolf, Schmolf, whatever - who cares? Chiara is gorgeous!!

The guards of our gated community found her in the street a few days ago, and snatched her (I would have done the same) - so, now she is ours. That's, in essence, the way Bolivians nationalize natural resources...

Since we don't have a fenced garden, we cannot keep Chiara. She lives at the guards' house. However, I can 'borrow' her whenever I feel like it which is a perfect arrangement.

I have instructed our guards how to treat and feed Chiara, I have taken her to a vet for a complete health check-up (delousing, pills and lotions against parasites, vaccinations - and a bubbly, warm shampoo bath, probably the first in her young life). I take Chiara for daily walks - which is good for both of us.

Felix told me to train her well, and to be "strict and consistent" in doing so (being an 'educator' is probably the part where I will completely fail as a dog dad).

I find it strange that Felix, of all people, would urge me to do so - I was neither strict nor consistent raising him. Maybe that's Felix's discreet way to tell me that I did a lousy job educating him - ???? Never mind, Schnuffel-Felix, just kidding!!

- All photographs taken by Karin Leander -

I have never seen a German Shepherd, any dog, who does NOT look intelligent....

Chiara was born and raised on the street - now she is majestically feeling at home with the Leanders

We definitely have something in common.... at least, I feel it - does she?..... :-)

Come here, Chiara - be a good girl!!

........ yeah, Chiara - now, that's being a good girl!!!

Click on the images to enlarge them

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Debbie Millin: Sea Salt in the Blood

Debbie at her 21st birthday. Some mermaid, huh? Now, aged 24, she still looks the same.
(Guys: don't gawk; gals: don't get jealous!!! Hahahahaha)

I met Debbie Millin in March 2007 in Umkomaas (South Africa) where she assisted Gail Addison in running a smooth Tiger Shark dive operation. Little did I know about her then. Sure, she came along a few times to freedive with the boys, and I could see that she felt very comfortable in the water, enthusiastically swimming among sharks and other 'big stuff'.

Debbie could dive down to 15 - 20m with normal fins which is quite an achievement for someone who did not seem to be either competitive or trained. At that time I thought that her boyfriend, Sijmon de Waal, an avid spearo and experienced shark dive guide, was the one who got Debbie into freediving and overcoming her 'natural' fear of sharks.

No fear: Debbie swimming with a bunch of lovely doggies of the ocean.
(Photo: Sijmon de Waal)

Now I know that the ocean, and swimming in it, was in her blood since her earliest days on earth: Debbie did her first apnea dives when she was a couple of weeks (!!) old, and she absolutely loved it.

beats even sharkwaterman Robert Stewart who claims to 'remember' that his love for the ocean was ignited when his parents gave him a goldfish at age one.

Debbie was fortunate enough to grow up in South Africa, an excitingly wild and exotic country where being close to the ocean and living an outdoor life is just completely natural. When you see Debbie during the summer months next to the water, you'd think she could be a typical southern Californian chick - green-eyed, blond, sporty, exquisitely tanned.

It's only when she talks that you'd note she is not a typical southern Californian chick. Her English is 100% South African - which I am sure most foreigners find hard to describe. For instance: South Africans don't say "two years", the say "two yoooeeeeeaaahs" - "Durban" is something like "Doooeeehb'n", and they sing a bit when they speak. The accent is not always easy to understand but it is rather distinctive and quite charming.


About one week ago Debbie sent all her friends a circular mail to let them know, among other things, that she took some serious freediving courses both in London and Marsa Alam / Egypt under the expert guidance of Marcus Greatwood of No Tanx.

I completely underestimated this young lady - what really impressed me about her was her beaming friendliness and her modesty. I had no idea how determined Debbie can be. Rarely does she talk about herself, and trying to be in the center of attention is something she instinctively rejects. This makes Debbie (and her boyfriend Sijmon who is pretty much the same) my kinda people.... No BS, genuine, cordial, and rock solid.

So, here is the news, in a nutshell, in Debbie's own words:

Wow where to start :) Sij, his dad and I had an amazing time in the Red Sea in June. We spent the first week in Marsa Shagra Eco Village (Marsa Alam: with NoTanx (the freediving club that I joined 3 months ago:

Each day consisted of an early rise (some days we did an amazing yoga session whilst watching the sunrise) and freediving training session on the ropes about 100m from the beach. The water was 28 degrees!, and the visibility about 40m minimum... wow. This was followed by a wholesome brekkie, nap, lunch, tan in the sauntering heat and then an afternoon training session/snorkel in amongst the myriads of multi-coloured fish, corals and the deep turquiose blue surrounding us...

Delicious dinner was followed by breathing excercises/freediving talks/many a laugh beneath the moon and stary sky. There were 14 of us, all there to enjoy the ocean in one breath...:) I experienced my first night freedive! What an incredible experience; we had torches but did not need to use them as we were guided by the full moon above us...quite eery, catching glimpses of movement around me from the moonlight. Felt like I was Aerial in The Little Mermaid...dream come true!

There are 2 videos on youtube of our holiday: and You can see bits of me with my monofin in the sled video :P Oh and also my first attempt at swimming at depth with a monofin (look like a spastic fish but hey, I have time to improve on my technique, hehe).

Debbie training with No Tanx in the Red Sea
(Photo: Marcus Greatwood)

Also at Marsa Shagra, we went on a 2 hour camel ride into the heart of the desert, guided by Bedouins (local desert people) who then cooked us a traditional meal in the middle of the desert. (check out the pics on facebook). Another amazing experience, eating with our hands whilst cross-legged on carpets with trillions of starts above us and utter silence hanging in the surrounding wilderness.

The group also took a trip to a neighbouring bay to freedive with a dugong (manatee) but to our disappointment, the lone ranger was nowhere in sight...Grins rapidly appeared when we realised we were left with the many green turtles feeding on the sea grass on the bottom.

Nevertheless, the day was spent diving down to lie on the bed of sea grass, just metres away from a giant turtle happily munching away :P So many beautiful memories....

The second week was spent on the Emperor Superior ( with 16 others on an incredible journey though the southern red sea, exploring and diving the reefs. We did about 3 dives a day, and many a night dive: sleeping, eating, and diving all on one boat! Wow, the most beautiful reef diving I've ever experienced...

We freedived with our first Oceanic White tip shark, and I saw my first ever Thresher shark ( Hehe, excuse all the weblinks but I'm loving trying to give you a full experience of what we did :) I hope the links can all be opened.

There were so many incredible dives on the liveaboard...swim-throughs, caves (Little Mermaid full throttle!), a wreck, drop off reefs, feeding devil firefish at night by shining our torches on little cardinal fish, hehe.... wish I had an underwater camera!!!

I cant fully describe the blue of the ocean, the bright colours of the fish and corals, the crackling of the growing reef... Sij, words are meaningless when I say thank you... truly one of the most amazing moments of my life. And I look forward to many more with you to come :)

And now the BREAKING NEWS: Debbie Millin is the new South African freediving champion in the Dynamic No Fins Category. She swam 78m underwater. The previous record (75m) was held by South African world-class freediver Hanli Prinsloo, another most graceful ocean lady. Read on:

On the freediving front, I couldn't be happier :) Last week Thursday I broke a South African record for Dynamic No Fins discipline (swimming lengths of a pool underwater)! I still cant quite believe it and am so happy :) Sorry I kept this quiet until now, but to be honest I really didn't think I'd do it...

I was only told of the record attempt 3 weeks before by MIG, the coach and owner of NoTanx club, and therefore only had 3 training sessions to prepare for the 24th July record attempt. The current record was 75m by SA's top freediver Hanli Prinsloo. The night of the attempt was the first time I'd actually properly done that distance: 78m :)

I'm over the moon! But whew, quite a stressful experience knowing that everyone there is there for you, watching your every move: from the safety team, to my coach for the night, to the international AIDA judges...The UK men's record holder (who also trains with us at the club) also broke a national record :)

My record was captured on video ( and since then there have been a few press releases/articles and pics. Hehe, still not used to all this:;; and

Pity they got my age wrong... hehe, oh well. Hopefully this is the first of many records to come. Mom was there that night to watch: mom, it meant so much to me to have you there :P tears and all! What a moment shared together...

Sounds pretty enthusiastic, huh? Well, that is Debbie all over. Just the way Sijmon and her friends love her.

Congrats, Debbie!!! You are an inspiration!!!!

Others feel the same about this very special young woman - so much so that a fine Italian diving watch company, "Immersion", gave lucky Debbie duck one of their fabulous time pieces, the Challenger, in recognition of her success. "Immersion" sponsored the record attempt night on July 24, 2008, where it all happened. Marcus Greatwood of No Tanx called the event appropriately "The Immersion Challenge."

Wanna know a bit more about Debbie? Click here.

Now let me tell you something about Sijmon, or Sij, as Debbie calls him. Sijmon de Waal is the guy who taught me how to handle tiger sharks when they become a bit too "personal".

My tiger shark "instructor" probably could not imagine that I have since become an almost neurotic tiger shark lover. Sijmon now wants to see me kissing a striped beauty on her nose. No problem, next time we dive together in Umkomaas, I'll show him..... :-)

Not only that, I think I could now teach him a thing or two in the vast field of photography. Sijmon is a very talented underwater photographer, yet he still needs to learn a couple of useful things - for instance how to take out a camera of a tiger's mouth.

What do I mean?

Here is what happened to good ol' Sij a few months ago while freediving with tigers: Sij had some bait in its left hand, camera plus strobe in his right hand, and did not notice "Dartboard", a lovable and most spectacular resident 4 m tiger girl, approaching him from behind. "Dartboard" didn't feel like mincing matters, and went straight for the bait AND the camera.

Sijmon: "She snuck up behind me, and I just saw her at the last minute and had enough time to roll onto my back. However, "Dartboard" was already snapping at this stage and got the bait and the camera at the same time. I held onto the camera as the strobe was in her mouth, and put my foot on her head and tried to pull the strobe out, but she refused to let go and started swimming for the bottom."

Sijmon with his camera equipment, and "Dartboard" - maybe already having second thoughts...(Photo: Wolfgang Leander)

Tiger sharks seem to like cameras as my friend Jifa can testify... So, after darting in to get the carcass and the camera, "Dartboard" went to the bottom, bit off the strobes shaking her head vigorously, and then gulped down the whole "schmiehl" - worth some 4.000 dollars.

Ooooohhhh, that must have hurt badly - Sijmon, of course, not "Dartboard", as she probably regurgigated that indigestible metal object soon after swallowing it .... :-)

Sijmon should have perhaps tried to take the camera out of "Dartboard's" mouth rather gently (easier said than done, I know...); instead, he put his foot / fin on the shark's head trying to make her loose her grip on the shiny - which got the lady quite determined to have it her way, and, well, that was the end of that.

I have seen excellent photographs taken by Sijmon. Here is one. What a masterful shot - dig it:

Sijmon is on assignment in Dubai; he works with an international oil company as an offshore engineer, hopefully making tons of money to compensate for the hardship of being out in the desert without his Debs!!

Sijmon and Debbie are lovely individuals, and a perfect match - I have not the slightest doubt that they will eventually end up exchanging rings and the vows of eternal love.

Yes!! Eternal love - that is what I wish these two great friends of mine.

Eternal love - and many little Debbies and Sijmons, all children of the ocean!!!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Do you remember Shark Week during the late 80s?

Being nice to a tiger shark...
(Photo: Felix Leander / 2008)

I recorded all the Discovery Shark week episodes this week, and unfortunately I found myself fast forwarding through most of them. How absurd was Myth Busters and Surviving Sharks. It is really unfortunate - watching the show almost had a reverse effect on me; I began to doubt if I should dive with Tigers again...that is just crazy talk! Of course I will, actually this coming November.

On the flip side, a friend of mine also watched the show and has become very interested in sharks; he actually came diving with me in the hopes of seeing one - each to their own I guess.

Around the same time that Shark Week aired, Richard Theiss sent me a copy of his film Island of the Great White Shark - and how refreshing it was to watch. It reminded me of what Shark Week used to be - informative, scientific, and not in the least bit sensational.

While Richard directed, wrote, produced, and edited the film - he did not narrate it or appear in front of the camera...unlike a recent docuMEntary... :-)

So Discovery Channel - go back to the roots, take a look at Richard's film and some of your old tapes, and make a comeback in 2009.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My comment on the previous blog: When will these brainless macho shark anglers finally get it??...

South African freediving champion Debbie Millin next to a tiger shark in Aliwal Shoal
(Photograph: Sijmon de Waal)

What goes through their thick heads when they see a photograph of a graceful tiger shark in its element? Probably just a primitive hunter's reflex thought: "Wow - would that one not make for one helluva trophy?"

It is sickening to see a tiger shark, any shark, hung up by its tail, invariably with the grinning perpetrator next to his victim.

Recreational shark fishing should be forbidden. No catch-and-release. Sharks should be left alone. Period.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another real stud

An angler - name has not been published, caught and killed a 12ft tiger shark at the Dampier Classic fishing competition. I just love what Dennis Brian-Smith, competition organizer, says about the catch:

"There will be lots of scientific data taken from this...There will be the liver and so forth will be sent away and examined and and also the stomach contents and methods that they determine the age and so forth of the fish which is fantastic as well."

Sounds like a pretty smart dude...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Is this a good life or what??

Felix sent me this pic today with a laconic caption:

"A good brew after a nice dive in the Florida Keys with Felipe Conill."

Actually, what else is there to say?...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Congratulations to Rob Stewart

Rob Stewart joins the ranks of Hollywood's elite winning the Environmental Vision award - congratulations.

I hope the sharks will continue to benefit from the film, Sharkwater, and Rob's growing fame.