A ‘totes cray-cray’ experience: Crayfishing on the West Coast

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 1 July 2021

Forget the coronavirus. For approximately six weekends a year, there’s another virus that grips the Cape Coast. We’re talking crayfish fever and, judging by what we saw in Pringle Bay, there are a lot of people infected. We headed West for a totes cray-cray* experience.

Words Alan Valkenburg | Photos Peet Mocke & Catherine Valkenburg

The Pajero Sport was as comfortable on the byways as it was on tar roads.

*Because, dear reader, you may be out of the loop as far as the latest teen lingo goes, allow us to educate you: Pretty much everything gets abbreviated. ‘Totally’, for example, becomes ‘totes’. And ‘crazy’ becomes ‘cray’. Really crazy becomes cray-cray. Because, of course, it does. You’re welcome.

My first crayfish experience was when a friend proudly whipped out a pair of live ones and placed them on the braai grid above the hot coals. Cooked alive, they writhed and screamed as my wife and I watched in open-mouthed horror. I wasn’t particularly hungry after that.

Crayfish still isn’t my thing. Having said that, the whole crayfish experience was something I was interested in exploring. Freediving, searching the seabed, taking out a boat and dropping ring nets. Ja, I’d give that a go.

A bit of research revealed that there are only about six weekends a year during which you can legally catch crayfish. There was only one left this season and it was on the Easter weekend. No time to waste, I headed to the post office to get my permit. For just R94 I was now the soon-to-be owner of at least four crayfish. I mean, how hard could it be?

The Pajero’s interior was both spacious and comfortable.

Now we just needed wheels. And not just any wheels, I needed something with space because I had a few other ideas in mind. Step forward Mitsubishi, and the Pajero Sport. The vehicle easily swallowed two adults, three excited children, several bags, an empty coolerbox (to hold all the crayfish I was going to catch), a few wetsuits and three long pieces of hardboard (more on that, later). The Pajero’s third row of seats can be folded down to allow for a bigger boot but I opted to have them up so I could bend the hardboard sheets over the back row, keeping the back window clear.

Destination: Betty’s Bay. We’d been told there was the possibility of a late check-in penalty at our digs so we were forced to push on. Luckily the Pajero did just that, handling the N2 traffic with ease and manoeuvring its way around the many twists and turns of the beautiful Clarence Drive. Overtaking opportunities are few on this road but when I needed to put my foot down, the vehicle responded admirably – more than enough to scoot past grannies admiring the view. The ride was comfortable and between my iPhone syncing with the Apple carPlay and my USB flash drive packed with toons, we had more than enough entertainment for the kids.

The two USB ports for backseat passengers served as a sweet reminder to the kids that daddy isn’t letting them have their own phones yet, despite their constant pestering.

Warren and the author making their way out into the water for the third time. Things looked calm but 10 minutes later they were to be very different.

Take 1: Low vis, no vis
I was up at 7am to meet my buddy Warren and we were in the water at Hangklip by 7.30. We were out of the water by 7.40. The problem? Conditions were hardly perfect; there was a bit of swell coming through and this was disturbing the seabed which made visibility, well, zero. My kids watched in amusement as I tried to remove my wetsuit, a less than dignified process full of grunts and moans. This turn of events meant we had spent more time taking off our wetsuits than actually wearing them. But are we quitters? No! So we headed to Pringle Bay, just a hop, skip and jump up the road.

Take 2: Who turned the cold on?
How ocean water can be five degrees colder just a few kays away I do not know. What I do know is that the water at Pringle felt more Arctic than Atlantic. Our feet felt scalded as we stepped into the water and made our way down a channel between the rocks. Ten minutes later, after a shove onto the rocks from the waves, we were out again. I got a bit of a dead leg but it was nothing serious. Of course, as soon as we exited the water, the waves died and it was calm for the next several minutes convincing us that if we could just get past the waves, it would be calm.

Below the kelp forests are the perfect hiding places for crayfish, just be careful of the swell pushing you onto the rocks.

Take 3: I nearly died
And it was calmer. For a while. We headed for a kelp forest and dived a few times. Then suddenly, it was not calm. As I made my way across the previously calm area, I was dumped by a massive wave. Surfacing from what felt like a washing machine, two things became apparent: more big waves were coming and there was a giant rock sticking out of the water a metre or so from me. How many others were hidden just below the surface waiting to break my back? By hook or by crook we managed to avoid the rocks as several waves broke around us and made our way back to shore, exhausted and cold.

Things would be better tomorrow, we told ourselves.

Board meeting
The afternoon was spent introducing my children to sandboarding on the cheap, DIY-style.

I am happy to report that there were no near-death experiences here. Our three pieces of hardboard survived seven rides down the dune, all of which featured dad steering the youngsters ‘safely’ down. Dad’s toes took a bit of a beating from braking.

The Pajero then got stuck in some sand three-point-turning its way around on a narrow twee-spoor track but no fear, a quick dabble with the Super Select II-4WD settings and we were soon on our way, sonder probleme.

Artisanal sandboard

3.5mm hardboard sheet (@ Buco) – R135
Cobra floor polish (@ pnp) – R35
Baby powder (@ clicks) – R33

= R203

One cray, two cray, three cray: cray-cray!

The next day we met up with friends at the Maasbaai slipway where they loaned us their kayak and a ring net. We’d tried diving, now we were going to drop nets with fish heads for bait. We headed out to the kelp forest, lowered the net, waited around 15 minutes and then quickly pulled it up. No luck. While we paddled around, dropping our net every 15 minutes or so, Warren’s friends used their inflatable boat and did likewise with another three ring nets. After three hours on the water, the net result (see what I did there?) was three crayfish.

The massive Pajero boot could now easily hold the wet wetsuits in the sadly empty coolerbox (we’d given Warren’s friends our lone catch). I honestly wasn’t too disappointed to be returning home without any crustaceans; I didn’t have the faintest clue how I was going to cook them. All I knew is that I wasn’t going to be putting them alive on the braai.

The author finally got his hands on a crayfish, courtesy of the ring net he borrowed from some friends. Too bad he had to return it.

I spent a fair amount of time chatting to fishermen as they returned to shore with sour looks on their faces. Most didn’t catch quota, many blaming the commercial fishermen who they reckon plunder these waters, and just days before, a group of poachers had been caught with more than 2 500 crayfish tails. It’s sickening, both because that haul would have been the legal catch of more than 600 fishermen but also because it’s hard to imagine the ecology recovering from such a raping.

We headed home via Kleinmond and Highlands dirt road as there was a gorgeous view of Elgin I wanted to share with my family. The Pajero was equally adept on the dirt although I had to take my wife’s word for it as she was determined to have her go behind the wheel. Instead of crayfish we lunched on padstal pies. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Motoring match-up

Road-trip vehicle

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.4 MIVEC 4×4 AT

It claims to be the versatile, family 4WD – and my family certainly enjoyed it. There was tons of space and plenty of features to keep us entertained. It looks both tough and classy and didn’t disappoint in either department. The eight-speed automatic transmission delivered decent fuel efficiency and provided smooth acceleration.
133kW @ 3 500r/min
430Nm @ 2 500r/min

Price: R674 995

Contender 1

Toyota Fortuner 2.8 GD-6 4×4 VX

Toyota’s range-topping bestseller gets more power for 2021, sharper looks and a far better interior. That iffy ride comfort hasn’t changed though, nor has the frankly odd third row folding process (to the side, rather than into the floor). Not the most efficient either but will outlast the cockroaches.
150kW @ 3 000–3 400r/min
500Nm @ 1600–2 800r/min

Price: R806 300

Contender 2

Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4WD

A lot of car for the money – it’s substantially bigger than both the Fortuner or Everest and notably cheaper. Isuzu’s venerable 3-litre diesel cruises very nicely thank you, is the quietest at speed if not under power. Build quality is impressive, too, as is the sophisticated interior and terrific AWD off-road ability. Very little to moan about here, a real trouper.
130kW @ 3 600r/min
380Nm @ 1 800–2 800r/min

Price: R747 900

Stay Here

Jack’s Seaview
We stayed at Jack’s Seaview Inn, in Betty’s Bay which we found on AirBnB. There was nothing flashy about the place but the rooms were huge. If we had caught crayfish, we wouldn’t have been able to cook them as there are no braai facilities but thankfully there is a restaurant on the premises.
Rooms: From R250 pp. Breakfast can be added for R75 pp.
083 554 7789, jacksbettysbay.co.za

Jack’s Seaview Inn

Eat Here

We enjoyed cocktails and chilli poppers (R14 each) at Gnocchi, on Clarence Drive in Betty’s Bay. The place was jumping and we were lucky to get a table.
060 550 6536, [email protected]

Lemon + Lime Deli
The bacon and egg pie – R35 at Lemon + Lime Deli (Pringle Bay) – hit the spot. I could murder a few of those each morning.
073 698 0737, lemonandlime.co.za

La Galerie

La Galerie
La Galerie (Pringle Bay) serves a Meatball Melt: sliced meatballs topped with caramelised onions in a secret sauce with melted cheese, for R95.
028 273 8155, lagalerie.co.za

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