Monday, December 8, 2008

The day I speared myself with a pneumatic gun

I bought a pneumatic speargun in 1991. The relatively short 600 mm gun was of the type that on would have to push the spear into the barrel and force a plunger down the barrel against the pressure of the air within. It had two power settings – low & high. This gun was not ideal for deep water diving due to the loss of power with increasing depth – but in those days most of my divesites were shallow anyway. Maintenance was a bit of a drag – one had rinse out the barrel with fresh water, this involved loading the gun and pouring water into the barrel or submerging it in a bath.
That day I had been out on a dive and took a fine poenskop (black musselcracker) of 12.5 kilograms in shallow water at Cape Receife. I had dropped in a shallow gulley, which had a cave to the left and another hole to the right – in the left I saw bronze bream and zebras and decided to leave them till later and first seek out something bigger. I looked into the cave to the right – it was dark and it took some time for my eyes to adjust. “Nothing there; no, what’s that movement? The white lips and large head of a poenskop moved into view behind a rock in the cave, I raised the pneumatic gun and discharged the shot into the passing shape just behind the head. A deep resoinding thud and the thick body pulsed into action I was promptly met with a jet of sand pouring out the cave over my mask as the fish struggled deeper in. I needed air badly – this was the first year I was diving and inexperience was slowly giving way to improved hunting skills.
Adrenaline running, I took what seemed an age to get back down to investigate. I managed to work the line back and pulled out the now weakly fighting fish. I pulled the fish up onto the boat. Brad Kwong-See, my then, regular dive accomplice was as amazed as I was with this fish. We both inspected it for some time and I had Brad take a picture or two. Later we headed home and as we approached the beach a buster westerly came though almost like a shockwave. The wind was strong enough to lift sand off the beach and give us a mild sandblasting some 100 m out to sea off the launch site at Hobie beach.
That evening after filleting the fish I began washing my dive gear. This involved rinsing the inner tube of the pneumatic gun. I loaded the gun on low power setting, this involved holding a plastic grip over the speartip and pushing the spear down into the barrel until it clicked into place in the trigger mechanism. I lifted the gun and poured water into the barrel, tipped it out and repeated the process. As I moved my hand over the spear my arm involuntarily reached for the sky and to my horror I realized that the spear was hanging from the base of my thumb in the fleshy part.
Just at that moment my flat mate Dylan Copeland walked in. His eyes widened and almost popped out as his jaw dropped at the sight of the spear dangling from my right thumb. Strangely there was no pain at all only a sensation of heavy pressure. I dropped the gun in the bath gripped the spear and plucked in downward while stiffening my right arm and pulled. The spear came out with relative ease, and slight pop;
Dylan and I peered curiously at my thumb. I expected a spurt of blood...

“Shit man that must have hurt!” Pain was still strangely absent and no blood even came out the hole. I guess the spear simply passed between muscles and pegged weakly in the bone. I squeezed the hole shut, rubbed some ethanol on it and covered it with a plaster. It healed promptly. I opened up the gun to find that a key part of the trigger mechanism was made of brass and a square edge had worn round, thus did not maintain a regular grip. I filed the rounded edge to sharpen it and give a good grip on the plunger and the gun was fixed. This is the only time I ever speared myself with the energy comming from the gun.

Anyway - don't point a loaded gun at people - mechanisms do sometimes dischrage without being intentionally released.

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