A Close Call Down Under

About ten years ago, due to unforeseen circumstances, good fortune and blind luck I found myself in Australia for a second time. More precisely, the exotic sounding Mooloolaba on the Sunshine coast in South East Queensland. From a diving perspective, not that dissimilar to KZN – maybe a bit like the mid-South Coast? The main difference being that your car was still intact when you got back from spearing and the locals always looked at you funny whenever you said anything.

Underwater, things were also pretty similar with some good diving off the points when it was clean and flat – fish species looked alike too – also like South Africa, the reefs close to big cities were dived out and the fish equally flighty.

I spent a bit of time diving around the local headlands and met up with a couple blokes who more or less got a handle on what I was saying. I took a lot of strain for shooting a couple big Rubber Lips, I just couldn’t believe that the guys weren’t spearing them. The reason for this is that they are known as Mother-in-law fish in Australia and everyone avoids them like the plague, so I learnt that the hard way. I am still not really sure what some of the things I got called that day meant.

Apparently, In Australia, everyone has a boat of some description – there are millions of them out there on any given good day, zooming about all over the place. The sheltered harbour launches meant that small vessels commonly known as “Tinnys” could easily access open water and on a good day it meant major traffic jams and parking shortages at the local boat ramps. The guys are pretty game and travel quite far out to sea in these boats to fish, and dive with single outboards and mostly tiller steer.

We had had a few days of good diving during the week and early on a Saturday morning I met up with my mates, Mark and Joe, and we got in off a big point close to the harbour mouth. The conditions were excellent and the viz. just kept getting better – I had found an iron wreck a day or two earlier that I had ran out of time to explore fully and I was heading back for it at pace. My dive buddies were slightly behind me and I was aware of boat noises in the background, but didn’t really give them much thought. Pulling ahead of the others, I was totally focused on finning straight for the spot.

My friend Dirk once got whacked on the leg by the boat he was diving off, but I believed that was mostly due to the boat driver’s primary occupation being the garden help of the boat owner, and who had about 5 minutes real sea time experience when the incident occurred. Guys do funny things when the Snoek are thick.

Nearing the edge of the reef I was just about to make a dive when I heard a boat that sounded really close. I glanced over my right shoulder and immediately realised two things. One, the keel strip of a boat was about to annihilate me at high speed, being about a meter from my face. Two, I wasn’t going to have time to do anything but wince and brace for impact.

Shockingly, the boat blasted right over me, coming up over my right side as I rolled out to the left. I got a good jarring on my hip and my right arm was pushed under the water and yanked forwards. There was a lot of noise and a lot of wash, and then it was gone. My mask came off at some point in the festivities and later I realised that somehow I had also lost a glove. I can remember looking up and seeing the two guys looking straight ahead – they hadn’t even seen me. The boat didn’t stop it just kept rocketing away from me out to sea. I was just amazed that my flipping head was still attached to my body.

I yelled out to the guys on the boat. I don’t recall what I said, but they didn’t hear me. I could see them both talking animatedly, totally oblivious that they had just nearly turned me into neoprene and float line laced burley. As I was gingerly feeling about to see if I still had all my attachments, Marc swam up. His eyes were huge in his mask. “Mate, I thought you were a goner for sure “. Translation – Bru, I thought you were &*@#$% ed. Apparently the boat had just come up past him and flogged it straight over me. Much to his horror, I had simply disappeared under the bow. I put my mask on and completed my appendage inventory whilst looking around for more boats bearing down on me. Pulling up my gun, I was not stoked to see that my pride and joy (1.3 Freedivers Carbon Stealth) was now a 3 piece model. Astonishingly it was (all three pieces) liberally coated with blue anti foul from the underside of the boat. I looked at it for what seemed like a long time before folding it up with its mangled spear and tying it to my buoy for the swim home. Clearly the outboard leg had struck the gun, apparently right out of my hand. The cartridge case in the handle was completely missing and just a huge crack across the top of it remained.

It was a long thoughtful swim back. Mostly I thought about my three week old son and his beautiful Australian mum whom I nearly didn’t make it back to. In discussing the incident on the beach, we had apparently made a couple of very obvious (and hindsight exacting) errors.

It was a Saturday and everyone was out there doing their thing, probably not the brightest idea to be out shore diving close to an extremely busy harbour on the weekend in awesome conditions.

We had got in early and the sun was just coming up and the guys in the boat would have been running with it directly in their faces. They couldn’t have seen a float in the water even if they were looking. I was further out to sea than the other guys, probably too far ahead, and most likely not something that guys on a boat, hell bent on getting to their spot and beating the crowd, were expecting – a lone diver about a kilometer out to sea.

It was a close call and I must admit that it did give me reason to rethink the way I dived after that day. As we were about to leave – one of the guys comes over and asks me…

“Mate, Ya know when you yelled out at them fellas in that boat?”

“Yep”– I replied.

“So – what does YOU – BIG – PUSHES mean then?”


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