Red Alert

 Being a young spearo from Cape Town and having to report to two bosses daily isn’t exactly my idea of a fun time – but then neither was finding myself in 15m of water, with 5m vis and being evicted from my local Red Roman spot by the men in grey suits, who we try to pretend aren’t also hunting…

Four years on and the question still lingers in the back of my mind: Will that feeling of terror ever go away?

I have some awesome tales of shooting Red Roman in the bay, but some stories also involve a ‘not so nice’ aspect of spearfishing, bringing to mind the ‘blinker approach’ that so many of us have when diving in our local waters. Red Roman along the Cape coast aren’t the easiest of fish to come by as their preferred terrain can be much harder to access than you would think. After spending an entire year living in Fish Hoek, diving and looking for decent reef (an area that I still classify as being one of my favourites in False Bay), I had heard all the stories and reasons as to why I shouldn’t dive this area – mainly because of the threat of sharks. But, as we all often do, I’d block the warnings from my mind and dive anyway.

One of my top spots to dive is the Quarry. Given, it is extremely popular with the Great Whites, with sightings between Sunny Cove and the start of Glencairn… but for many years this stretch was a marine reserve that was only recently opened up. The number of different species that are found there is remarkable and is what kept me going back despite the danger of sharks. During the peak season, even fair sized Yellowtail have been spotted there, hanging off the edge of the weed.

I think, over time, I became a little too comfortable diving the Quarry; making quick dives before and after work to shoot a few of the Gallies that like to congregate in this area and simply not thinking about what else I knew I would run into sooner or later…

It was one Friday afternoon when myself, Ryan and Ant found ourselves at a spot that I had drifted onto earlier in the week, a ledge in 7 or 8m of water and about 150m from the shore. Ant had arrived late and sat out, while Ryan and myself swam out searching for the ledge. With 5 to 7m vis and long strands of snot around, it was a little uncomfortable. Ryan had just shot a fish and called me over. I was slightly further out as I knew exactly where I wanted to be and where I hoped the bigger fish would be, too. And there it was; the thing everybody had warned me about. I broke the surface and my stomach had felt as though it was being regurgitated through my mouth. I had looked beneath me and all I saw was the glow from the side of a Great White as it swam past me, almost on its side as if to have a better look at me.

Its eyeball was massive as it stared at me. I remember shouting for help and, at the same time, out of the corner of my eye, seeing Ant running along the rocks as if he was going to jump into the water to help. As the shark passed beneath me, I remember seeing the thick fat in the creases of its gills. The shark had made an immediate turn and was headed straight towards me.

I didn’t even have the time to think of anything. All I was sure of as I closed my eyes, was that its mouth was going to open. Then unexpectedly,I was pushed out of the water by the broadside of the massive shark and the accompanying change in water pressure that followed as it altered its course. I will never forget the sight of the shark as it hit me, the contrasting black and white colouring, and the massive size of its head – which I can only compare to the bonnet of a Fiat UNO.

Ant had given up at this point, thinking it was over. My gun had somehow managed to fire, leaving the spear halfway through the muzzle and bent halfway

  1. I swam back to the shore and spent the next half an hour trying to figure out what had just happened – and how I made it out alive! Needless to say, my experience resulted in the instant end of my summer diving for that year.

At this time of year though, with winter coming on, the Great Whites tend to start moving off from the bay to the island, opening up possibilities of somewhat safer inshore diving and I’ve been tempted to give it another go.

Last year, a good friend, Ryan, had just returned from a three-month holiday overseas and was also keen to get back in the water (it makes it easier to dive in the bay when you come across a diver who’s more keen than you are). The two of us had also done a bit of diving together off a rather large Buttcat, Aiger, owned by renowned spearo, Edward Hayman, in the past.

Those were days when we cut our teeth hunting out decent Roman spots in the bay. Edward never felt the least bit threatened by our diving presence – and we shortly found out the reason behind that. Edward, as we know, would never allow anyone else’s GPS on his boat, and with good reason. At the first place we stopped at, I remember him saying: “Manne met die pistole in hulle hande”… In simple English, he was asking us if we were all ready – but he had a real smirk on his face.

I remember looking at the fish finder and thinking to myself: “Is this guy for real?” The fish finder showed a massive bump at 18m that dropped to a ledge at 24m, then evened out on the bottom at 27m. It did look amazing on the finder though. Edward, Ryan and myself were classed as doppies back then – a term used to describe a young diver that doesn’t shoot many fish very often… Anyways, Edward managed to shoot two beautiful Reds that day, both in the 3kg region, while we hung out on the boat stealing with our eyes. It had been mentioned that there were some fish near 5kg in the same area and we were eager to find them.

Two months later, Ryan and I were back in the same area desperately searching for Edward’s Roman goldmine. I remember telling Ryan: “Never! It’s impossible! You won’t find it…” But, seconds after shooting off my mouth, the top-man shrieked. He had his GPS on hand ready to mark the spot at an instant. I couldn’t believe it. There it was, the bump, as I remembered it.

Ryan was more than excited to tell me: “Hey buddy! You jump first. Do a vis check…” Vis checks are top priority in the Cape and more a routine than anything else. There was quite a current running toward the outside of the point, so he made a calculated drop in order for me to land exactly where I needed to be. As I sat on the side of the pontoon gearing up, there it went again, that nervous unsettled feeling, and it instantly felt like my lungs had shrunk to half their size.

I lay still on the surface for a while to make sure I could fill my now shrunken lungs before I started my first descent. As I dived, I could make out a long crack running parallel to the block, which was supposed to be 15m away. The visibility was amazing. I could see fish swimming in the crack from 15m! I continued down past the top of the crack, seeing some enormous John Brown smiling at me with their crooked yellow teeth as I passed, keeping my eyes open for the red giants that I imagined were awaiting my landing on the bottom!

I remember the dive clearly, large boulder-like structures with small sand patches scattered in between, the base of the block forming small undercut cracks and holes. And there they were… two Reds making their way towards me. Suddenly, they stopped. I remember turning around and seeing more fish behind me, but they were slightly smaller.

I couldn’t wait to tell Ryan how big the fish looked and that I was hoping to get one on the next down. I must have done four dives before I was eventually able to take a shot. The same two larger fish were hanging around and the one looked near double the others’ size!

CLLLLLLICKKKKK… OMG, I had missed completely! I saw the giant disappear into a hole and I bolted for the surface with some rather large words coming out of my mouth. After being stripped by the top man for missing the shot, I quickly calmed down and prepared for another down. 

Luckily, I managed to land in the exact same area but there was only one big fish still there. Try again, I thought. CLLLLLLLICKKKKKK… BOOM. I had taken the beast’s partner! Comforted, I slowly made my way from

27m back to the surface. Only as I was pulling in my reel line with the fish now making an appearance, did I realize how big it actually was. “Now that’s a meneer!” were Ryan’s words, after putting the fish onto the boat. Looking at it though, I felt horrified at the thought of how big the one that got away must have been!

We managed to get three fish that day, with the bigger ones weighing 3.2 and 3.6kg. I can still only imagine how big “the beast” was. Exhausted and having already lost one weightbelt, we decided to call it a day and made our way back to Buffels Bay slipway.

It is difficult to explain to others what makes us come back for more, year after year – even after an encounter like mine. It’s a question that can’t be answered and will never really be understood, especially by people outside of the spearfishing fraternity. Myself, I just look forward to the next approaching winter, when the water’s a little safer and I can do what I love best without worrying quite so much.


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