Hide and Seek

After several years of shore diving, I, like many spearos – began to think about investing in some sort of boat to get out to deeper, less accessible reefs. It follows that there were also days when the sea was just perfect and the fish running but the flying current made drifting off to Madagascar a very real if somewhat concerning prospect. So, a boat had to be procured and I set about scouring the usual boatyards and backyards. My old man had agreed to come in as a 50 % shareholder – otherwise apparently my options were limited to a dinged up old quasi fiberglass skiff not much bigger than a longboard, with a dubious motor which looked more like a 70’s food processor. We finally settled on an Olufsen Ski-Vee, a real beauty… white with blue trim, 15’6 and two 40 Horse Power Evinrudes. Stoked with the new boat, I set my labourers loose on a huge washing and polishing spree. Hours later the boat was glowing (except for the console screen that had been rubbed down carefully with a scourer).

We Were Going Diving!!!The obvious choice was Cape Vidal, that diving mecca to the north, and more specifically the adrenalin pumping Levern Point (also incorrectly known as Lavern, Leven or Eleven point depending on who you ask). Now a few notes on Cape Vidal, without wanting to give too much away in terms of my vintage. We were planning on visiting the old Vidal – the original Vidal with its bone jarring, horrific red dirt road. The old Vidal road was all potholes, poachers and pine cones – a far cry from the luxurious tarred road, game viewing cruise that it is today. When we first starting going to Vidal, we would leave Durban at around 2am and drive for hours, then hammer it down the red road to the bay for a shore dive… somehow always beaten by the Richards Bay motley crew. I recall that on more than one occasion we hitchhiked up to Levern (yep, 4x4s on the beaches in those days) then did a few drifts and hitched our way south again… thankfully getting a lift back. The fish were wild too – huge shoals of Queen Mackeral, big GTS, Couta, Sailies and bus- sized Hammerheads. You name it, we had shot, lost or been chased around by it. Vidal gave us some crazy times back in the day.

So, we launched in the bay on a perfect autumn KZN day – straight out and through the surf without a hitch. I did some radical swoops and turns, more to show off than to dodge any rollers and we were through and heading North at pace. My old man was skippering and the divers were yours truly, my old mate and mentor Dirk and Raymond, a long time South Coast kreefdief.The morning passed quickly. There were shoals of Queen Mackeral as per the norm and we all got a few on the shallow ledge. But at around 10am the place went dead. There was plenty current with good vis and not too many other boats… but something had flicked the switch.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to head for Deep Oscar, but it seemed like the best idea ever and the obvious place to christen the new boat with Wahoo, Sailfish and metre long Job Fish. I dreamed away as we headed south and offshore out to the marks I had never dived but, I had heard there was a pinnacle in around 90 feet. We arrived in the general area and I took a look around and lined up with the low set of dunes north of the bay so they were lying at almost 90 degrees to us. I looked at Dirk and he just shrugged – “looks okay”. This from the guy that used to sit on people’s car bonnets outside the pub to see who would come out and fight him. Not overly reassuring. I asked my old man how deep we were. He was hunched over the fish finder puffing on his Lucky Strike plain. He didn’t answer immediately, so I bail over. The water was absolutely crystal clear, the vis possibly around the 30 metre mark… calm and warm. There was nothing underneath me but blue green water for what seemed like a hundred miles. Nothing happened for a few minutes. A big Black Tip cruised up from the depths and swam below us keeping pace as we drifted along. No drama, we had seen at least 4 that morning although this was a big one – broad across the back… an Oceanic Black Tip I think.

My old man started whistling – loudly. I looked up and he pointed frantically downwards. “PINNACLE!” he yelled “FULL OF FISH!!!” I took a quick look around, Dirk seemed preoccupied with his flasher and Raymond was looking the other way trying to work out what the noise was. This was it! I took a huge breath and dived. Subconsciously, I was waiting for the crackle of the reef and my heart was pounding as I envisaged balls of Job Fish and spiraling shoals of 80kg GTs. I dived longer and deeper. Now my suit was starting to constrict. There was still no crackle of reef and I was looking around for that big old dome of the pinnacle… but saw nothing but empty blue water. I started to think that maybe I had missed it.

I was at 20 metres at least, and the agoraphobia was knocking. Nothing around me, so I started to fin back up. The boat picked us up and we ran back up current for about a hundred metres. I ask my old man how deep the pinnacle was, and he replied it was at 17 metres. I thought that was strange but he didn’t look up and seemed to be pressing a hell of a lot of buttons on that sounder. He was peering into the screen and kept shading the unit with his hand. Whatever. In again and we spread out. The Black Tip was back and he’d brought a friend along – just as big. They cruised along below us. Raymond came in closer to me – not too many Black Tips in Warner’s pantry apparently. Again the whistling and yelling. My old man was doubling his efforts to get our attention, waving both hands in the air this time. He bellowed, “PINNACLE – FULL OF FISH – 17 METRES!!!!”The boat was at 90 degrees to me and we were miles from where I made my first epic canyon exploration type dive. Anyway, I was thinking this all over as I again submerged and headed for the bottom. Again there was no reef crackle or pinnacles and I pulled off one of my longest, deepest dives ever – stopped only by my float line as it stretched to its max. I saw Dirk on the surface and he scowled at me. “Have you seen the pinnacle?” I asked… and he shook his head. We swam back to the boat. My old man looked at me like I was stupid when I explained for the second time that there was a mile of nothing down there.

I got back in the water for another drift, grimly thinking that I was going to find the pinnacle if it took all day. I was completely confused as we were now below where we started but further out to sea. Maybe a cross current or something? I didn’t muse for long as a bomber of a Zambie (Bull Shark) pitched up. He looked like a Christmas tree from above with all the remoras and as he cruised under us I noted he had several Mackeral traces hanging from his mouth… blinged up. The Black Tips beat a hasty retreat. They appeared to be quite wary of this battered looking old mugger. They also appeared to be roughly half his size, watched, amused, as the shark passed under Dirk who barely gave it a glance, then under Raymond who stiffened and let out a yelp for the boat. He obviously had his suspicions about this particular shark. I heard him fall into the boat about 50 metres away. His language was blunt, short and deteriorating as he vented on large sharks, pinnacles and game fish in general.

Again the whistling and shouting from the boat – much pointing and yelling to “DIVE – FISH – PINNACLE -17 METRES!!!!” And so on and so on. I looked across at Dirk and made a small gracious gesture with my palm upwards. “After you sir” I intoned. His gesture in return was blunter and more to the point – singular and stabbing upwards to be exact. He paddled off, pulling his flasher. I was alone again above the abyss. I make a weary dive to about 50 feet, listening for the phantom pinnacle. I slid downwards and leveled out – my lungs felt like old Volkswagen seat covers. In levelling out, my vision filled with the Zambie. He had come down to join me. Nice. He was so large I couldn’t look at him without swinging my head. I let out an involuntary jolt which scared the crap out of him and he bolted. As I finned upwards again, I was thinking how he was close enough to make out the treble hooks in his snout. On the surface Dirk swam over and with a wry grin explained how the Zambie literally stood on its head to follow me down and nearly out of sight.

That was enough. I rolled back into the boat with my pinnacle plundering dreams in tatters. Sitting drinking a noxious energy type drink I asked my old man (politely) exactly what the issue was regarding the pinnacle at 17 metres.He took a pull on his Lucky Strike, considered the far Vidal skyline through his Ray bans for a moment, then said: “Ja… looks like I had the bloody thing on demo.”


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