What an Awesome Bay to Play In
Legal responsible interaction with marine animals in their natural environment…or a sheer adrenalin rush! Choose…or do both in Plettenberg Bay with Offshore Adventures.
Just when you thought you could do anything and everything in Plett, two new adventure offerings from new marine adventure outfit Offshore Adventures have seriously upped the fun levels! Launching from Plett’s main beach, the custom-made ‘Hooligan’ rubber-duck is aptly named for one of the two adventure trips on offer – a half-hour of high speed white-knuckle wave-jumping that will leave you grinning like a lunatic from ear to ear and ready to spend the remainder of the day in the kind of happy stupor that only a prolonged adrenalin rush can induce. The second adventure trip on offer is snorkelling at Robberg Peninsula with seals – a gentler experience, but also not without its adrenalin factor, particularly when there’s a swell coming through! An hour and a half long, passengers get to enjoy a milder trip through the bay, and unhurried experience swimming and free diving with the playful and curious Cape Fur seals that have re-colonised the Robberg Peninsula.
On Saturday 22nd January we got to do both in one trip – an once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget. I had dived with the seals before (sorry MCM…) many years ago, when things were less regulated, and I knew that it was both fun and safe. Seals are curious animals, and playful, and as long as you don’t act like an idiot and try and touch them or do anything to make them nervous, they won’t bite you. The waters off the Robberg Peninsula are not particularly deep, and they are often clear as crystal – perfect for snorkeling and interacting with these marine mammals beneath the surface – as I had done before. On this particular day, however, visibility was low, and there was a swell that made it more comfortable to hang about on the surface and watch as groups of the playful animals broke away from the colony to swim around us. The water was cold, the Easterly having brought a drop in water temperature with it the night before, but a soft rain and total absence of wind on the day had given the ocean a glassy quality in the Bay, and the swell that we bobbed around in was devoid of choppiness – altogether making the cold bearable. Of course, the nice thing about cold is that you go numb and when you go numb, you’re not cold anymore! Problem solved! Suited up as we were in 5ml wetsuits, the shiver factor was over in a couple of minutes, leaving us all free to simply enjoy the experience for as long as each of us wanted to – the Skipper on hand to haul you back into the boat anytime you feel you’ve had enough.
Swimming with seals is a totally unique adventure activity in Plett – operators Jaco and Mark de Goviea spent many months on the process of obtaining the right licences from Marine and Coastal Management – not only obtaining full legality for the activity, but proving its safety and non-impact on the seals and the environment, and their own experience and expertise as skippers and dive-masters. The professionalism and absolute confidence in what they are doing was evident throughout – a crucial enjoyment factor for participants – it’s great to get a thrill as long when you know you are safe hands, which is something (and I think I can speak here for everyone on that boat judging by everyone’s reactions) we felt. Equally as evident however, was how much the skipper and dive-master themselves enjoyed the activities. As skipper Jaco later stated, they are doing what they love. ‘We don’t need an excuse to go to sea. We’ll do it anyway.’ The participants absorb that sense of fun. Both activities are well worth what you’ll pay, and even better is that it is affordable for locals too! (Sorry activity operators – but one cannot deny that most prices are, necessarily of course, geared to euros and dollars…)
Many a reaction to the diving with seals activity is ‘what about the sharks?’ Operator Jaco explained that, contrary to popular belief, there’s no chance of encountering a Whitey there, as the seals will not allow one near the colony – they will chase it off en-masse long before it gets anywhere near where you are swimming. As a confidence inspiring measure, however, they have three ‘shark pods’ – devices developed by the Natal Sharks Board to protect divers and surfers. These are strapped around three of the swimmers, and deliver an electronic pulse that is proven to keep sharks far away while not affecting any other sea life. So no Jaws…and no worries!
The diving came in the second-half of the trip, and as enjoyable as that was, for me it followed in the shadow of the first half. As we launched off Main beach, I wasn’t expecting much. The sea was flat. So we’d go fast. Cool. We set off slowly, everyone getting comfortable on the specially designed seats with grip bars, our snorkelling gear tucked away beneath each one. A very soft rain, no wind, warm in wetsuits, it was gearing up to be a pleasure cruise. Then we did a few donuts – laughter inducing, hold-on-tight, every-one smiling. Okay – you can have fun on a flat sea. Then we headed across the Bay toward the Robberg, and the skipper began to push it. The sense of speed was sheer exhilaration, and gradually became more so as we went out far enough to meet the incoming swell. Then we went faster…and the realisation that we were in for an significant adrenalin rush hit home – particularly when the skipper slowed to tell us that if it got too hectic for anyone we should just scream and he’ll slow down.
We hit the incoming 2m swell at 55mph. The boat’s top speed is 62mph. My fingers, actually all of me, were later grateful that we didn’t push it to the absolute limit. So – this is what it feels like. I’d often watched the NSRI duck go out in heavy seas at speed and wondered…I was determined not to be the first person to scream, but it was hard to keep it bay when the boat went airborne, then again, then again, then…oh…hell…how far out the water have we just gone…and now we’re gooooiiiiing dooooowwn…and there’s a trough beneath us! I think I shut my eyes at that point and said a quick prayer. Eventually I just had to let it out – but the best part is that you realize you are screaming and laughing at the same time. The faces, mine included, must have been priceless! And I was sitting at the back! The front is, I’m told, twice as hectic. I’m not brave enough for that!
Jaco later admitted he did push it a bit to impress the “unimpressable”, the Bungy boys, but in any case, the boat is designed to take it, and the seats are designed to keep you right where you should be. As much as you feel at times that you must fly off, you in fact don’t move. The hull of the rubber-duck is also especially designed as a high impact shock absorber so the noise is far greater than any shock wave felt physically. It’s scary…but it’s safe, with a very experienced skipper who knows how to handle the boat, the design of the boat (slightly wider than usual) and the outboard motor props turning in opposite directions to keep it stable and self-correcting on both take-off and landing on wave-jumps. “Hooligan” was built and designed by Marcus van Deventer for Lomar Marine in Plettenberg Bay. “The technology that went into this boat made Lomar Marine the obvious choice,” says Jaco, “It is very stable, strong, light and exceptionally manoeuvrable.” The boat is an 8.3meter Lomar RIB with 2x 200hp Yamaha outboard motors, seats 12 people and has top speed of ±110km/h.
The boat is designed for maximum safety and minimum physical impact – the effectiveness of which I can personally vouch for – there is no negative physical impact. My back is very happy, and this is a back that has previously had me barely able to move for two days after wave jumping on a wave-runner jet ski!
I can honestly say that the high-speed boat trip not only equalled our world-famous Bloukrans Bungy for adrenalin rush, but also possibly surpassed it – something I had not expected. While that judgement is completely subjective, I would say that, as responsibly done and safe as the trip is, the trip we experienced probably isn’t for the faint-hearted, and deserves a place on the ‘wild’ side of the ‘mild-to-wild’ activities list. However I would also recommend it as better than a week at a health farm as far as the physiological and psychological after-effects, and make the point that this is an activity geared toward families. In any case, the skipper only goes as fast as you want to go! We had two children of around 13 on board and they were grinning the hardest as the end – except maybe for the ultimate adventure boys onboard, the kiwi Bungy operators, who were, to quote, “well-impressed”. Although high-speed rubber ducking is offered elsewhere is South Africa, the “dolly launch off” Plettenberg Bay’s Main (Central) Beach is – as of course is the return. (And to give you an idea of the non-impact of the actual ride, the slide up Central Beach holds more opportunity for a bashed chin)
Long-time Plett locals Marc De Gouveia and Jaco Kruger started free diving Marine Safaris cc T/A Offshore Adventures in 2010.
“I met Marc when I joined Sea Rescue station 14 about 6 years ago” says Jaco, “and that is where the friendship started. Marc was a member for 5 years, he is also a Padi dive master, always had a big love for the ocean, jets-skiing, boating, fishing, scuba diving; he is just an outdoor type of person, adventurous by nature. We are very similar in that department. I studied B.Com Tourism Management at the university of Pretoria, and moved down to Plett in December 2004 to do my skippers and dive master courses. I worked in the Whale and Dolphin watching industry for 6 years, and completed my Padi MSDT.
The concept of starting our own operation began some time back. We wanted to bring something new to Plettenberg Bay as Plett forms part of the adventure capital of the Garden Route, and by marketing to the adventure market we are hoping to bring more visitors to town and get the visitors to stay a bit longer, thus benefiting the community as a whole. The two products we offer appeal to a variety of visitors: High speed adventure boat rides and the swimming with seals. We are fortunate in the way our seal colony is located on the lee side of Robberg, and that the depth there is very shallow, making it safer and more fun for our clients. This is the ultimate human/mammal encounter in South Africa – we are taking it to the next level. We just want to do what we love, being on the ocean and entertaining people, nothing in the world beats the facial expression of an exited person.”
Jaco explained the idea behind the product as being the “the growing market sector. Look at the amount of adventure operators in the area, Bungy jumping, Canopy tours, Skydiving, Scuba diving, Sea Kayaking, and the list goes on. I believe that the Garden Route is fast becoming the adventure capital of South Africa, and Africa in a whole. We wanted to offer our product to this growing market.”
Find Offshore Adventures at Central Beach, and don’t worry about gear – just put on your cozzie. They supply everything – wetsuits, fins, snorkel & masks, and of course, life-jackets.
The entire experience was fantastic, and I was ‘blown away’! I would do it again… in a heartbeat….and once my fingers have recovered from holding on! Pure, unadulterated Fun!
Article written by: Nikki Ridley – firstname.lastname@example.org