Poseidon Explorer had been lying on the beach for the last two weeks. Two old boat builders from Kabwe had been working at the camp with the boat all that time. New cotton in the seams between the planks and new ground color on the bottom of the hull had made the boat ready to be launched again. The soccer team in Kabwe, as well as some extra friends, had been hired to get the boat into the lake. The day after that we weighed anchor. It was towards the horizon in the north. We steered the boat north, towards the horizon when we left. We left our little harbor with feeling cheerful and optimistic as we began our trip to the district north of Ikola on Lake Tanganyika. At the Kabwe village we stopped to purchase some provisions such as onions and tomatoes. At the same time we could see the lake ferry Liemba coming in. It was going to anchor a couple of hundred meters outside the village. The Liemba was coming from Mpulungu in Zambia and Kabwe is one of the places where it has a stop. In the old days the ferry went all the way up to Bujumbura, but with the troubles in Burundi Kigoma has been the most northern stop.
It was ten o'clock in the morning when we set course towards Karema and the sandy banks at the Ifume River delta. The waves were already getting rough. Looking out at the lake you could see the crest of the waves breaking and forming white caps. We were traveling rather far out on the lake and we passed Karema almost without us knowing it. The water we traveled on was deep and blue-black. As we neared the Ifume River delta the color of the water became light turquoise and large groups of hippos were easily seen. Immediately north of the delta lies the village of Sumbwa and a few kilometers north is Ikola, the main village in the district. At both of these locations the shorelines are just sandy beaches. The next village in the northern direction is Isengule. Most of the underwater biotopes there are still just sandy surfaces. Directly north of Isengule is Kobogo and here there used to be rocky biotopes in the water. But today, when the lake's water level is a couple of meters (about six feet) lower than it used to be, the major part of these rocks are found on dry land. The first really underwater rocky area doesn't start until north of Kalya. The underwater biotope and the shoreline consist of alternating sand and rocks. The mountain slopes along the shore here are totally covered with cactus and small dried out bushes. When we passed these parts it had not rained for a very long time and was nearly unbearably hot. The only green vegetation was the cactus. At Kasalamnjaga there is a small bay that is ideal in which to anchor. Just outside the bay there are some large rocks emerging from the lake. These provide good protection against wind and waves. The whole stretch from Kasalamnjaga up to Isonga consists of almost only rocky biotopes. It was part of this region we should visit the coming week on Lake Tanganyika.
From 2:00 a.m. until 4:00 a.m. I was lying awake philosophizing about the cold. It was terribly cold. Although I was incredible tired I could not sleep. I was so cold that I was shaking although I was wearing socks, jeans, a T-shirt and two pair of long sleeved sweaters. On top of that I was lying on a double bed mattress with an old blanket over me. It had started to blow rather hard later in the night. My place on the boat was by the gunwale at the starboard side. The wind was coming from the north and was first felt by the starboard side and the people that were sleeping there. At 1:00 a.m. Krispo and Marko went up to change water. We did not have many fish at this time, so the water change, made with a noisy gas-powered engine, was done relatively quickly. At 4:00 a.m., I managed to get some sleep and I slept until 6:00 a.m. when the cabin boys Vittus and Stahili started to make the morning chipati bread. But they were not that lively in the morning. It takes a long time to make bread for the whole crew. That's why they have to start so early. At 6:00 a.m. it was still pitch dark outside. On board we had a small fluorescent tube spreading a nice glow. It was an ideal to be on the lake early in the morning. The wind had decreased to a gentle breeze and the delicious scent of newly baked bread was coming from the stem. At 6:45 a.m. The sunrise was on its way and as the sun became brighter and brighter the rest of the crew awakened. By 7:30 a.m. there were 20 newly baked Chipati ready to be served together with a steaming cup of tea. I mixed in a lot of sugar in the tea to at least get some kind of energy. Then it was time for the blessing of the morning, namely a cup of strong black coffee.
We had anchored the boat at an excellent place. We did not have to move the boat to get to the collecting location since we were already there. After breakfast we therefore started to prepare the diving equipment and the collecting equipment. At half past eight all the divers were ready and could start with the main task for the day. I was soon ready, too, to join them. I was a little bit too eager though and missed some important details. The tubes were not correctly fastened to the diving west, and it was loose on my back until I tightened the strap. I also did not prepare my mask before I dived in, so it fogged up and my vision was worse that it would have been without the mask. To be able to clear the mask underwater a peculiar technique is needed. You take your mask off, take out the regulator from the mouth, put the mask against the mouth and make sure that you get the saliva on the inside of the whole glass. You can't just spit, you have to put your lips to the glass or quite simply lick it. Another way is of course to go back to the surface and do it the regular way by spitting in the mask. Also, there was some dirt in the connection of the low-pressure hose to the diving west. The hose was leaking and filling the west with air. I gradually became more and more buoyant. When I realized what was going on, I simply disconnected the hose. When all the mistakes were corrected I was finally able to study the dive site.
Everybody was in full swing early today. The clock was barely 8:00 a.m. when I first hit the water. At first I swam past the shallow place outside the anchorage, just southwest from us. Here the water was only a half-meter deep and the waves were extremely strong. There were a lot of pebbles on the bottom and I could observe a few red Callochromis melanostigma mastering the waves. I continued out towards deeper water to escape the waves. I struggled past the 20-meter (66-foot) long stretch of half meter (18-inch) deep water. My equipment was quite bulky with a lot of it exposed to the surface swells. When it was deep enough I turned to the south and finally found the zone between sand and rocks. In this intermediate zone I could see Neolamprologus gracilis eating plankton. It was about 8 meters (26 feet) deep at this location and the group in front of me consisted of less than 10 individuals. In the sand just outside the rocks there were big schools of Enantiopus melanogenys, Xenotilapia flavipinnis and Grammatotria lemairii. Suddenly, I had three half grown Hydrocynus vittatus ("tiger fish") in front of my mask. They were studying me from a short distance, hesitantly. Soon they were frightened by the sound of the regulator and they dashed away.
All the newly caught fish had to be identified, counted and sorted before the divers could have their lunch. It was also important to check the size of the collected fish. During this collecting trip we had been concentrating on Tropheus sp. "kaiser"When it was time for sorting this was the procedure that was used. One holding cage at the time was emptied into a net with an area of about one square meter (nine square feet) which was placed in a water filled thousand-liter (264-gallon) tank. The number of fish that was put into the net each time varied between 10 and 15, depending on the size of the fish. In this case the contents of the holding cages was mainly Tropheus sp. "kaiser," and therefore we could put 20 fish in the net for each sorting round. Mwalimu was managing the identification and sorting, Marko kept notes and John and Krispo collected cages and put the fish into the net. Each fish had to be sexed before it could be put in the right tank. It was also important to sort away all the small Tropheus sp. "kaiser," at this early stage. Only the largest animals are of interest to us. It would be disastrous to the native population to also collect small animals. If half-grown fish are left to live in nature another year they will make sure that the population survives. Otherwise you have to hope for the small fry to keep the genes in the population intact, and they are a very suitable class="caption" food for predators. The sorting work was proceeding well. Fat Tropheus are always easy to sex, which is not always the case with thin or smaller individuals. The fish were counted and placed in different tanks. The small individuals, which were probably caught by the less experienced divers, were simply returned to the lake. You can keep a lot of Malawi cichlids in a thousand-liter (264-gallon) tank with fresh lake water and with regular water changes every other hour. But with the Tanganyikan cichlids in general, and especially Tropheus, it is another story. A maximum of 100 newly caught Tropheus in each tank is what you can have, and that implies that the water is changed at least twelve times every twenty-four hours.
Rocking boats and glittering waves. Summer breezes that slowly swept along the coast. The sun was shining from a cloudless and clear blue sky. We were collecting fish by the village Rwega. The village people were standing on the beach. This was the setting for our collecting activities. The water at the rocky shores north of Ikola is a blessing to dive in. It is crystal clear and bright. The rocks stretch, in most cases, not deeper than 10 meters (33 feet). But it is a turbulent biotope with waves from the open water of the Lake crashing over. At a couple of meters (six feet) depth the heavy swell is perpetually making itself felt. Here it is not as much sediment on the bottom here but in certain places, where the waves are strong, the sand is constantly whirling up from the bottom. The sunbeams were penetrating way down in the water so you could actually see them. Knife sharp beams projecting themselves on the algae covered rocks and the yellow Tropheus sp. "kaiser" were lighting up the biotope even further. In shallower water you could see Ophthalmotilapia ventralis flutter around above rocks in this turbulent environment. This variant is almost as completely neon blue as the race that lives immediately south of Ifume River at Karema down to Kasombe. In deeper waters over rocky habitats you find Ophthalmotilapia nasuta where it scrapes loose growing algae from the rocks. The variant at Ikola is completely black with a yellow section on the belly and with yellow pectoral fins. In the shallowest biotopes there were only stones, free from sand and sediment. T. annectens is more common in this biotope than deeper down. Among the sand between the big rocks scattered on the bottom of the lake and you could observe many Xenotilapia sima.
I returned to the boat when the dive tank was nearly empty. Powerful waves from the lake were rolling in where we were anchored. It was clear that the anchor, supposedly in the sand on the bottom of the lake, had come loose. Suddenly our boat, Poseidon Explorer, rapidly started to drift towards the shore. Omari, the only man on board, hauled up my diving gear. Then I tried to get the boat towards open waters by pulling the anchor line. The only thing I succeeded with was to pull the anchor towards the boat since the anchor was sliding on the sand. Omari pushed long bamboo poles down in the water against the bottom and tried to get us out from the beach. But the vessel was not affected by the power of such few men. When the hull hit the bottom and the waves were coming in broadside we were forced against the beach even harder. The depth was now just a couple of decimeters (about 8 inches) and was too shallow to put the outboard down into the water. The hull was pounding constantly against the bottom in pace with the waves and the boat was rolling heavily with each wave that swept in. The equipment on board was soon scattered all over the deck. This happened at noon and that was lucky because now the rest of the crew came swimming towards the boat. John was assigned the task to dive and locate the anchor and then fasten it in the sand bottom or against a rock. At the same time the rest of the divers were pushing the boat out until there was about a meter (three feet) of water under the boat. With ten men working we brought and end to our crisis. After that it was time for a lunch break and some food. The divers were eating common maize flour and boiled beans. We did not have time to roast any fish. On the remaining heat on the glowing coals I managed to sizzle up some onions and tomatoes. But the maize flour is not a highlight in the history of cooking, so I boiled up some spaghetti instead. To conclude the lunch tea and one coffee was served.
Poseidon Explorer has a weigh of almost 5 metric tons when it is not loaded with gear. When we have a lot of fish on the boat, and therefore also a lot of water in the plastic cans, it is a heavy ship. In extremely bad seas, when the waves force the ship into pitches, rolls and swinging movements, the crew is not a cheerful bunch. When the boat is not totally loaded with water, or in calm water, it glides along gracefully through the waves. Since this was in the beginning of our collecting trip the boat was lightly loaded. Although the water was rather rough on this trip, we progressed peacefully crossed the waves back to the shore at Rwega.
As it started to become evening it was time for some food. We were eating rice and roasted fish; Petrochromis sp., Lobochilotes labiatus and Boulengerochromis microlepis. From a clump of trees down by the beach we could hear a sound like a howling alarm. The crickets were out. From a small tape recorder that we often take on our trips, we had different and more welcomed sounds. It was the most bizarre parts from a Swedish comedy act the we play to amuse ourselves. It was most beautiful at twilight. The clouds over the lake had decreased. The last light from the sky was gleaming on the water surface. The sun was quickly sinking down on the horizon. Shortly after that it was completely dark.
- Konings, Ad, Tanganyika Cichlids in The Cichlid Yearbook, Vol. 1-6. Cichlid Press.
- Konings, Ad, Back to Nature Guide - Tanganyika Cichlids.
- Karlsson k Lundblad, North towards the Kaiser, Ciklidbladet No. 1, 1991.
© Copyright 1998 Mikael Karlsson, all rights reserved
Karlsson, Mikael. (April 17, 1999). "North Towards the Kaiser: Part One". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on June 16, 2021, from: https://cichlidae.com/article.php?id=112.