Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shark-diver action, again

I got a mail from Corry Versluis last week describing a duekl he had with a shark. I asked him to write it more descriptivly for me as his initial version was part of an electronic chat we had. here is Corry's full story:

Wednesday the 25th June, Jaco Blignaut, Hein Eksteen and I went for a dive on Scottburgh deep as conditions were predicted to be excellent. The previous week saw torrential rain on the Southern KZN coast leading to extensive flooding and unfortunately loss of life and property of many.

Although it looked as if there wouldn’t be diving for months after the floods with the sea being brown I said to a disconsolate Hein that we will dive later in the week. Hein had flown up from the Western Cape hoping to get some good fish during the annual Sardine Run. Scottburgh is an amazing place, it is a place where generally one can find diveable water and it caters for all sectors of diving from shallow inshore right to open blue water hunting and all other facets in-between. I personally don’t know of any other area in SA with the variety so close together with the accessibility of the area.

Anyway, as said, Windguru (normally you can bet your life on their predictions) showed a moderate SW wind in the morning dropping in the afternoon. I said to Jaco that we don’t need to break ourselves in the morning as conditions would improve as the day progressed. This was not to be and if anything the wind only got stronger and stronger.

We launched at 10h00 from the Mkomazi River and headed to Deep Cracker. On getting there the sounder was black indicating fish from top to bottom. We all got ready quickly and hopped in south of the spot as the current was a very slight South-North.

As far as diving results and ability goes, Jaco needs no introduction, Hein won Nationals 2007 in very difficult and unpleasant conditions so I knew I was in the company of two great divers and thus had to dive super hard so I could also get in on the action. I breathed up pretty quickly and dived to the bottom and within 10 to 20 seconds the Kob(jewfish/corvina) moved in. I aimed; shot and pretty much stoned a 15kg fish. My though was get one on the boat then look for trophies. As I was swimming up 4 massive Kob of 30-40kg came up and circled my puny looking fish. I tried to call Jaco and Hein but they had also each shot a fair Kob. Quickly, fish were put on the boat and we carried on diving. The top 10m was clean but the bottom 4-5m was pretty murky. We each managed a few more until Hein lost one to some very determined sharks. I told him to make sure his shots were good so that the fish wouldn’t spook too much. One dive to the bottom I was buzzed by a big Zambezi (Bull) shark and as the Kob had moved off we decided that discretion is the better part of valour and that we would seek other quarry.

I told Jaco of a shallower spot in about 16m where I had in the previous few months managed to shoot some big Rock Salmon (Mangrove Jacks or River Snappers). There was a shoal and we could go and get some more trophies and show these Capies[persons from the Cape provinces] we only shoot big fish in Natal.

We got to the spot and it was almost top to bottom vis. We dived around but didn’t really see anything. Jaco and Hein started shooting Fingerfin and Bream but on watching Hein shoot one, I saw a shoal of Geelbek (Cape Salmon) coming out of a cave to investigate all the hullabaloo. Amazingly these fish came and circled me and I was able to select and shoot my biggest to date. It was an awesome fish of about 8kg. As I stoned the fish the others just turned and sunk back into their cave. On surfacing I shouted to Jaco and Hein that the ‘bek were in the caves. I am a firm believer (especially after diving with Guyla) that you are less likely to spook a shoal of fish if you choose your shots and switch the fish off. This can ensure two or more fish out of the same shoal before they wisen up. Also learnt some other tricks but Guyla will never forgive me if I divulge his techniques.

About 10 minutes later I saw Hein struggling and a Geelbek he had shot in a cave had reefed him up properly. I took a dive down and saw one hell of a mess. The fish swam around a pillar in the cave and no amount of pulling was going to get it out. I came up for a breath of air and Hein was excited as it was his first ‘bek and really wanted to land it. Instead of carrying on and shooting fish I decided to help my mate as in his excitement diving into a cave at 16m could be dangerous.

Being calmer I took a few dives to disentangle the line and knew that one more dive would be all that was needed to free the fish. Knowing that one more “big dive” lay ahead I relaxed properly and with lungs bursting sank into the cave to get the last of the line and loosen the fish. As I was busy unclipping the line I felt “Hein” push me out of the way. I wondered if he had gotten impatient and was now eager to help. As I turned around “Hein” turned out to be a massive male Ragged Tooth Shark (Sand tiger shark). He had sensed that a free meal was awaiting him in the cave and simply had to come in get it. He was so big he got stuck between the floor and the roof of the entrance. Now generally, we would know that if we can’t fit through something we can’t get in. Not this boy, he was intent on getting the ‘bek. Complicating matters was that the only way out of the cave was now blocked by jaws armed with cruel teeth snapping madly in all directions. I had already been down for about 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Instead of watching this amazing spectacle I felt it was about time to go up for air.

I know, how often does one get to see a sight like this? 50/50 would give me that 4x4 in a blink for this footage but I really wanted the air. I’m kind of silly that way. Anyway, I started kicking the nose of the Raggie avoiding the teeth. After about 5 kicks he started backing out of the cave. As my gun was outside the cave (OK, first checked to see if there were other fish to shoot before fiddling Hein’s fish) it was my only option to get Jaws here to hamba [local African word for buzz off]. As I thought success the bugger came back. Now I really started to kick and realised I was kicking better with my left foot than my right. I saw my fin had come off and was lying neatly on the floor. Three good kicks turned the shark and gave me my gap out. Common sense tells me that I should have simply put on my fin and then swam up but I had now been down close to if not more than 3 minutes and pretty active. I grabbed my fin and swam up. Hein’s eyes were the size of saucers and immediately realised I was in trouble. I indicated I was OK, and broke the surface and took the best breath of air I can recall. A 30 second samba was the only reminder of how close I came to blacking out. [samba is a loss of motor control characterized by jerking movements and sensations which occurs due to oxygen starvation] It took me a minute to recover and swim over to Hein but I was now in no state to dive for a while and as we looked down the fish, now less tied up swam out on the line towards us. The Raggie was on hand to grab it by the tail. Hein dived down and scared the shark away and luckily managed to land the fish albeit with a bite on the tail.

Jaco meanwhile had shot a decent sized Prodigal Son (Cobia). I was buggered and had only managed to lose another Kob due to a bad shot but as it was getting late we decided that it was time to go home. Jaco said that it was the best he has ever seen and I can only imagine that he has had some humdingers in his day.

The importance of staying calm under pressure cannot be overemphasised. Often what kills less experienced divers is that when they get into trouble they panic. Not that I’m blowing my own trumpet or anything but panic didn’t even seem an option to me in the cave. I firmly believe that experience is priceless. I get angry when divers take buddies out to areas where they are not suitably experienced. E.g. taking a doppie[novice] to a place like the Protea Banks and leaving them alone while you hunt fish. All that is needed is for the doppie to see some or other huge fish and chase it literally until they can’t anymore and then realise they’re 20-30m down and still need to come up. No prizes for guessing what will happen next. I’ve often told mates that if they bring someone they literally have to dive on them all day, thereby buggering any chance they have of shooting something decent. Furthermore, should anything happen, the skipper of the boat will ultimately be held responsible too as he/she is the designated “safety officer” and their judgement will be called into question for allowing inexperienced divers to dive beyond their means. Sobering thoughts, but with SA becoming as litigious as the USA, one has to consider possible scenarios like this.

Anyway, it was a fun day with awesome diving. But more importantly, also a day where I certainly learnt a lot about myself and how I react under pressure. Not that it is a license to push myself to the extreme, which would be stupid. But should something happen, I will know that by staying calm and collected I should come out OK.

Good diving.

Yes Corry seems that El Sand Tigres lik keeping our feet free of at least one foot. I had an incident with a sand tiger(raggedtooth shark) some time back where it got me hopping around and eventually I hooked off one of my fins at a bit over 20m but it was not as spooky as Corry's as I was in the open, not in a cave!
Natal raggies are known to be a bit more placid that ours but when there are snacks about they seem to express uniform behaviour - ragged!

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