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Have you ever persisted with a piece of dive equipment because you had to make do?

Even though you may have not really needed to make do – you still did – grimly holding on to the belief that you would somehow triumph and overcome the obvious?

This isn’t a story about the merits of various guns or gear, or which dive brand is best compared to others. It’s a story about circumstances, persistence and plain old bad luck. It started as I recall exactly like this….

Having emerged more or less intact out of the business end of a small vessel after being run over earlier in the year I was in need of a replacement gun. My previous having been reduced to a splintered and tri-mangled wreck – just looking at it made me feel a bit naar, so it was unceremoniously dumped.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in a large well equipped dive shop in Brisbane, located in a suburb that I could barely pronounce and any attempt at spelling it here would exceed my allocated word count.

There were many guns in this shop and I’m pleased to note that my favourite gun builder from Durban is well represented (ED please note: I have mentioned him 3 times in these stories now and he hasn’t even sent me a sticker – I might have to start plugging the other oke) I eyed a few of his models and muddling over the exchange rate I deduced that they would cost the equivalent of a small car back in South Africa. I began to do the cheap seats shuffle towards the end of the rack. The next gun I looked at cost the equivalent of a small car with two fishing skis made of Kevlar woven carbon on its roof racks – clearly I was heading in the wrong direction.

The shop assistant kindly intervened; maybe he had seen this type of befuddlement before? I explained that I was looking for a replacement – 1.4 with 7 mm spear and 20 mm rubbers. He showed me one or two and perceptively he realised that the idiot before him was either destitute or held a foreign currency.

“Maybe you would like to see a few of the entry level guns?” He asked politely. We passed the end of the rack and almost out into the toilet at the back. He pulled down a green and black number that has all the weight and feel of my great-great grandfather’s rooinek skietyster on the wall behind the bar back home.

I don’t recall the brand – the name seems to have escaplezed me at the moment…

The price wasn’t too bad. Simply put, it’s all I could afford. The shop assistant offered to put on a double wrap of nylon for me which cost almost the same as a new spear.

While loading the gun into the car the nylon wrap let go and there seemed to be a problem with the line release; it didn’t fi t snugly. I couldn’t be bothered to go back in. Anyway, I didn’t get to use the gun – who knew that small kids could take up so much time? I spent the remainder of my time in Australia suffering from sleep deprivation and the fear of pulling a loaded nappy watch.

Fast forward a month or two later and we are at Sodwana. It’s February and there’s a cyclone off Madagascar, the surf is huge and an old dive buddy and I spend most of the first afternoon and the early evening drinking the Captain into a peg-legged, parrot swilling mess.

Predictably, the next day I’m not feeling as inspired as I may have indicated the night before. In fact, standing on the beach eyeballing the big Kahuna out there I remark that it feels like a goat slept in my mouth. This strikes my companion as hilarious and he slaps me on the back, dislodging a rib and startling the Captain into a stomping frenzy in my head and gut.

He looks hundreds and hasn’t stopped talking since he opened his eyes at 4:30 this morning – he is more than excited – he is PUMPED and he wants everyone to know it! Keeping a wary eye on this human hi-bounce ball that apparently drinks and talks all day and night without any ill effect; I suggest we give the launch a go.

It’s with an even drier than usual mouth that I finally see the quarter mile whipping past under us and my companion, whom I shall call John (Although his real name is DIRK %^&&$%^ FABRIE) has continued to shout advice and laugh manically through the entire 15 minute surf launch ordeal and even the skipper, my old man, is looking a little white knuckled and more steely than usual.

So it’s off to the hotspots with much singular opinion being loudly and expansively shared about the current, weather, swell and a various other anecdotes about previous dives being thrown in for good measure. I’m holding on grimly, saying nothing but keeping an eye out for the occasional back slap or poke in the ribs. So far I have rather skilfully avoided several near misses. My old man hasn’t been so lucky.

We arrive and start suiting up. It’s hot and rough, the Ski Vee is pitching and rolling about and John / Dirk and I do the usual falling about while kitting up. Unclipping the guns and without a word, he hands over the not-so-local and lekker model that I have lugged back from overseas.

Not that he should talk mind you, hardly being a walking dive catalogue himself. He has mismatched fins, one of which is mine, and an old faded wetsuit with a gun that looks like Len Jones discarded it from the seventies.

However, despite all this, his verboseness, his apparent resilience to hangovers and an endless repertoire of stories at top volume…the bloke could shoot fish by the hatch load. John / Dirk was (and still is) an absolutely shit hot spearfishing guru of the first water.

We are about to bail in and I notice for the first time that the gun I have carried half way around the world does not have a clip on the handle to attach the float line. Unsteadily, I begin to re-rig the entire float line attaching the boingy to the flimsy looking pin through the handle and re-clipping on the float.

By now I am hot and feeling more than a little seasick. John / Dirk swims up and casually slides a Cuda onto the boat. It is the biggest one I have ever seen speared… He swims off again without a word.

I leap over and begin to unravel my flasher – the water is very clean and I can see the bottom about 20 meters below me.

We do several drifts and John/ Dirk continues to hammer the fish which seem to be throwing themselves onto his rusty old spear. More Cuda, a Kingfish and I watch amazed as a Sailie darts in and stabs at his flasher. It’s only the second one I have ever seen and it’s awesome to watch it snake away into the blue.

I, on the other hand, am having a hell of a time holding onto my scant breakfast and I am feeling seriously chucky – the strong current and enormous swell is sending me straight down Chundah Avenue at a good gut roiling pace.

Thankfully I notice a fairly large shoal of Kingies below which don’t seem to be doing much but hanging around. John / Dirk slides down and rolls one effortlessly, making it look all too easy. He shouts to me that they are Sangoras. I haven’t seen these before either.

I slide down and line up and pull off one of the most spectacular misses of all time. The fish continue to mill around obviously feeling really quite safe from the idiot splashing around above them. I blame everything under the sun, but mostly I blame my cheap ass import gun which gets a flogging in the name calling department. Amazingly the fish continue to spiral around. I keep a close eye on them and an even closer eye out for my fish murdering companion lest he return and add more to his already impressive tally.

Cringingly I miss another two opportunities. I really cannot explain how the fish and spear aren’t resulting in the satisfying Schlunk noise I had come to know and love so well. Things are not coming together for me; in fact they are seriously falling apart. So finally I make a third attempt with my foreign fish prong which has now been cursed at so long and loudly that the green paint is beginning to blister. I line up and place a reasonably appalling shot through the gut of a 5 Kg specimen. No matter, I have one now and it’s not going to be a whitewash against the human FM radio this time.

Eagerly I start pulling the fish up. I call for the boat and as I grab the spear to swing the fish around – disaster! It tears off and goes wobbling down to the reef below, spewing blood and bits of skin all over the place.

By this stage I’m more than a little unhappy and absolutely keen to get another chance at lobbing this euro-slinger of a spear into a Sangora before the whole shoal decides it’s had enough and goes off to find something more challenging to do.

So I load up fast and I don’t bother with the double wrap; it’s just streaming out behind me as I dive, again too fast after the fish. I’m hammering down after the fish and a good one swims across and below me from right to left. I swing the gun at it and let fly.

A couple of things happened a split second later which stopped my pursuit of the mighty Sangora dead in its Tracks.

Firstly, the nylon line trailing behind me took off after the spear. Even budget European spear guns are designed to do this, at around the 3 metre mark with the double wrap; maybe more, who knows, this nylon was humming along at a good old speed to be sure.

It didn’t really matter what length the nylon was, what thickness or even what colour it was because when one of the numerous wraps encircled my ear on the way past the result was both instantaneous and spectacular.

Now, I’m known for my ears and if Johnny Clegg hadn’t beaten me to his praise name of “Mahlebe” I would have been a very close second in line. My right wingnut got the outcome of whatever feet per square inch physics downloaded that was at play. In short it felt like old Poseidon himself had given me a good flattie alongside the face. The bang and flash of pain was unbelievable and I was sure that my ear had been torn right off.

Adding to my discomfort was the fact that my mask was whipped straight off my face by the same high speed crow’s nest as it screamed by and in an instant I was left mask-less and in some confusion at around the 15 metre mark.

Mask-less and gun-less, I clawed my way up to the top; the fi sh having given me the slip again was the least of my worries. It was a long, long scrabble back up to the surface.

So, how did the story end? Just like that the poxy import was snagged on the bottom and the boingy let go when I was trying to yank it back up into the boat. Good luck to whoever found that – you can have it. I never saw that mask and snorkel again and John/Dirk continued to shoot fish as I lay down and succumbed to my doom in the boat to the endless amusement of the Skipper.

All of this happened a long time ago now – John/Dirk lives in New Zealand these days and slays butterfish with practiced ease. He also apparently unsettles the local water police by swimming off the continental shelf in search of larger prey.

The Ski Vee and the steely old skipper still launch at Vidal and Sodwana, so be sure to pay your respects if you ever come across them.

As for me – I only write about diving now – a lung effusion and resultant scarring a few years back has put paid to any further spearing plans for me.

So let me know if I can regale you with another tale sometime.


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