Aliwal Shoal is famous for many reasons – its unparalleled shark diving, its beautiful reef life and its incredible marine diversity. It’s also famous (or rather, infamous) for another reason – its challenging launch site. The majority of boats headed for the Shoal must launch either from the mouth of the Umkomaas River, or from the beach when the river itself is too low.
Either way, the launch is characterised by large, unpredictable waves created by ever-shifting sandbanks, and exacerbated by strong currents and hidden rocks. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled ride for divers; and a significant test of a skipper’s abilities. With so much at stake, the skipper must have experience, talent and courage – which is why we settle for nothing less than the best.
Andrew Gray has been a member of the Aliwal Shoal Scuba team since 2010. He’s known for his level-headedness and expertise, two qualities that combine to make him one of the best in the business. With an impeccable record of safe launches at one of the world’s most intimidating launch sites, it’s not surprising that our clients feel happy in Andrew’s capable hands.
Andrew’s abilities have a solid foundation in experience. He started skippering in 2001, at Da Blu Juice dive centre in Sodwana. There, he was the consummate multi-tasker, working some days as a divemaster, some days as skipper, and always as one of the centre’s part owners. He spent several years in Sodwana, before deciding to build his experience by tackling other launch sites.
In 2008, he took on the role of skipper and manager at Umkomaas-based Africa Dive Expeditions, and has been at home on the waters of the Shoal ever since. In addition to his skipper’s qualification, Andrew is a CMAS Master Diver and holds certifications in gas blending, compressor maintenance and as an oxygen provider.
He has a deep love for the marine life of Aliwal Shoal, and has earned his ragged-tooth and whale shark specialties. As a result, there’s more to Andrew than his excellent skippering skills. He’s also a mine of valuable information when it comes to the Shoal’s resident species, and he’s always willing to lend a hand to divers that need help with their equipment before or after the dive.
As well as being the Aliwal Shoal Scuba manager, Bruce Klopper completes our team of skilled skippers. Bruce grew up in nearby Scottburgh, and as such his knowledge of the South Coast and the unpredictable seas that wash its shores is deeply ingrained. He spent his childhood on the beach or in the water, instilling in him a life-long respect and passion for the ocean.
Although Bruce’s upbringing meant that he was familiar with skippering long before he became certified, he achieved his official licence in 2006. By that time, he knew how to read the Umkomaas launch site’s many moods, including when to brave the surf, and when to make the safer decision and postpone the launch for a better day.
He began skippering for Aliwal Shoal Scuba shortly after qualifying, helping out on busy weekends and public holidays. Simultaneously, he pursued a 14-year career in IT, which gave him the technological know-how required in order to assist on the management side of things as well. The ocean remained his true calling, however, and he accepted a role as full-time skipper in early 2016.
Today, Bruce has successfully launched at Umkomaas for over 10 years. He is a certified PADI Divemaster and has completed hundreds of dives on the Shoal itself. His underwater experience gives him the understanding needed to connect with his clients, and to help assuage the stress of nervous divers so that they can make the most of their time on the Shoal.