Sardine Run Day 3: Into the Boat

As with most diving holidays, there’s an early start involved. Why Mother Nature decided the best things should happen at stupid o’clock in the morning is beyond me. But we’re up at 6.15, for breakfast and a 7.20 boat launch. It’s still dark. My wetsuit it too tight, and I’m walking like a neoprened Quasimodo. Im wearing a stupid red beanie hat, and I feel daft. But the adrenaline is more than making up for it.

Sunrise on the Wild Coast

After our boat briefing, (i.e. hang on) we start making our way up the river. It used to be a working port town (hence the name Port St John) but sand and silt has been washed down into the river basin making it unusable by big boats. Our small rib has to dodge the sand flats as it zig zags across the water toward the mouth. Either side of the river are huge cliffs which make a beautiful setting, reminding me a little of the scene in Lord of the Rings – I’m expecting to see two huge statues carved in the rock on either side.

We don life jackets and get told to hang on to something. Apparently a surf launch is, well, exciting, so I’m told. The surf looks crashing, and I can’t imagine our little boat getting through it without flying out of my seat, but Harvey the skipper tells me that it’s actually flat. Hmmm. I don’t want to see not-flat.

Our guides, Mia and Harvey

After waiting for a few minutes, Harvey pulls full throttle and we fly in between waves, and we’re out into the ocean. The Indian ocean. Where the sardines are. I hope.


As we came out of the surf, I thought I saw a black torpedo shape on the horizon, jumping above the waterline. Was it a whale? I pointed it out to Mia, our dive guide, and was told yes. It was breaching. My first humpback sighting. I wanted to head there right away, and get in with it, but the guides seemed unfazed. I figured it must mean I’ll see plenty in the week. Let’s hope so, I thought.

The waves were big and rolling as we headed south. I was glad of a sea sickness pill I’d popped before coming out; my breakfast had only just gone down, and I thought it wouldn’t taste as nice on the way back up.


Eagerly scanning the water as we went, trying desperately to cling on to wet, coarse ropes to stop from bouncing off the boat, I caught the sight of dolphins jumping to the starboard side. We slowed, and came round; all in all around 100 dolphins must have swam past us as we sat, all jumping, skipping and genally looking happy, on the way to somewhere north. We were headed south – did they know something we didn’t?

I think had we already done our weight check, we would have got in the water. Instead, we headed on further south to a sandy bay, and jump in. 7 minutes at 8 metres and I’m over weighted. It’s currenty and we loll around a lot. The visibility is rubbish but it doesn’t matter, there’s nothing to see here anyway.

Back on and away

So back on the boat, and with weights removed, we continue along the coast. It’s quiet, I hear Harvey say on the phone to his friend, also out spotting on another boat. A few others in our boat are sea sick by now, but I’m still high on adrenaline (and JoyRides – I’ll definitely be taking some tomorrow).

A few tell tale snorts of air on the surface soon give away the location of bigger things, followed by tails coming up, but as we navigate closer, they disappear. Occassionally coming up for air, we get to see the back of a humpback whale or five before they disappear quickly into the 130m depths. They’re not for playing today. The earlier breacher I spotted has gone, replaced with the serious migrating types. We keep trying to get close, but we’re greeted with tails. Which is a beautiful sight, don’t get me wrong. But I’d like to get closer.

Up high

Now, in order to spot stuff, it’s better to be up a height. So our boat has a high chair, about 10ft up, bolted to the back, which you can climb and use to spot activity. From the deck, it looks like its a sea sickness disaster waiting to happen. But Nick went up, and he’s not thrown up on us yet, so I decide to take the plunge (or the opposite) and head up the ladder. It’s high. Wow.

But what a cracking experience. You can indeed see for miles, and you do loll around like a rag doll. Hanging on makes your arms and legs move and if you don’t watch carefully you can be catapulted out forward if you hit a wave the wrong way. But it’s fantastic. A windy, wavy roller coaster of a ride, and all the while you get to see the whales before everyone else.

Liquid picnic

We cut our losses around 1.30ish and headed home. As it turned out not many people saw much today, so I don’t feel too bad. I have four days ahead, and Im quietly confident we’ll see something – dolphin pods, humpbacks, if not sardines. The reports on twitter tonight say some sardines were caught somewhere – I need to find out where, and recommend it to Harvey….

River mouth view
Our liquid picnic

After a quiet afternoon and a nap (and the best shower ever, always is after diving, especially cold water), we headed into town for supplies, followed by a drive up to the big hill/cliff overlooking the lodge. We took beers in a cool box and had a liquid picnic as the sun went down. Sadly there was no sunset due to the cloud, but we’re promised the best sunset ever, when we go there later in the week. But the view was spectacular enough without the sunset, and the full moon replaced it, peeking from behind the clouds.

In Nature the full moon makes stuff happen. Turtles nesting, coral spawning, werewolves roaming and other natural phenomena. Given I’ll be up at daft o’clock for Mother Nature all week, I’d like to think she’s going to pay that commitment with some kind of full moon sardine event this week. Failing that, she can keep the werewolves. Humpbacks will do.

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