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Post  Vaatjie on Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:54 am

PLANET?? affraid

Many of you who read this headline may dispute it vehemently, but I seriously doubt that you
are in possession of many of the facts which underline this claim.
Firstly, let’s consider some of the more well known sports like soccer, rugby, cricket and
athletics. Sure there are numerous injuries, torn muscles, broken bones and very, very
occasionally a fatality, particularly in rugby and in the case of long distance running, a heart
attack as the cause.
What about the more dangerous sports like Ski Jumping, Bob Sleighing or Down Hill Ski Racing.
Again we have injuries, and even some fatalities. In 2006 one person was killed in the top level
of competitive Ski Jumping.
That leaves us with Motor Sports, bike and car. These crazy idiots push themselves and their
vehicles to the limit and in the case of Formula One, Ayrton Senna was killed in a few years ago
and others like Nikki Lauda have been seriously injured. Every Formula One driver now racing
has crashed at one point or another, some many times and every top bike rider has crashed and
has broken bones to attest for it. These people get paid huge sums of money to take the risks
they do. Even more money is spent designing and building cars to try and keep them safe. Tens
of thousands of people go to the tracks to watch them in the hope of seeing a bad crash and
the events are broadcast to television around the world.
It stands to reason then that Underwater Fishing as seen on ESPN on Saturday morning where
those brave soles on their huge boat with various support craft who silently drift down in
crystal clear water to 20 metres and shoot nice fish out of huge shoals off the San Diego coast
with multi‐rubbered wooden guns can hardly be described as extreme.
The risks of Underwater Fishing off the South African Coast are:‐
a. Shallow Water Blackout
Simply put, if a freediver (No artificial breathing apparatus) dives under the water to a
reasonable depth (say 20 metres) and stays there too long (say more than 2 minutes), oxygen in
his bloodstream will have been converted to carbon dioxide in sufficient quantity that when he
tries to ascend, as the pressure decreases, he will experience an instantaneous blackout just
before surfacing. Some advocate that this is why free divers should dive in pairs, the so‐called
one up and one down system, but in strong currents and rough seas, this seldom works.
Another way is if you think you have stayed down too long then take off your weightbelt and
hold it. Then if you black out at least your body will float to the surface and can then receive a
proper burial. In the early 70’s, top divers like Tony Dicks, Dereck Blamey, Dirkie von Bergen,
Anthony Benjamin (both Springboks) and Eric Dreyer died this way and there have been many
more since and many, many near misses.
b. Sharks
One thing we have learnt about shark behavior is that they are lazy. They seldom try to hunt fit
free swimming fish and prefer to scavenge on the dead and dying. They are not so stupid and
the sound of a speargun going off underwater is like ringing the dinner gong to them. That
followed by the struggles of the dying fish really gets them excited. Thus numerous “spearos”
have been bitten by sharks, sometimes, stupidly trying to protect their catch and a fair number
have been killed. Trying to protect your Cuda or Wahoo from a 400Kg Tiger Shark is not for the
fainthearted. The seas off our coastline are home to a very large number and a very wide
variety of sharks ranging from the ferocious Great White, through Tigers, Zambezi’s, Ragged
Tooth, Blacktips, Makos, etc. Irrespective of the claims of “Bunny Huggers” and so‐called
marine scientists, spearo’s will attest to large numbers of Tigers, Blacktips and Raggies on
Aliwal, Zambezi’s on Protea and Great Whites down in the Cape. I think that every Spearo will
agree that on at least one dive in five, you will be required to “Pay the Taxman”. Freediving and
shooting fish when there are one or more dangerous sharks in the water near you is sport
which all but a few elite would contemplate doing. Furthermore it brings no adulation, wild
acclaim and huge bonuses, like scoring a goal for Manchester United does.
c. Strong Currents
The Augulus Current flows down the East Coast of South Africa and when it encounters shallow
water like Aliwal Shoal or Protea, it speeds up. It can reach 5 knots (over 10Km/hr) which is
much faster than the best swimmer in the world with fins on can make. Closer to the shore
chunks of this current break off and form a reverse or counter current going back up the coast.
Divers diving from boats far from the shore are often lost by the boatman (or top man) and
sometimes not found again. Swimming back to the beach from Aliwal (5Kms out) is an
unpleasant prospect and usually means coming ashore on the rocky coast at night. Walking into
the Wimpy at 10 o’clock at night dripping wet in a wetsuit with gun, mask, flippers and
weightbelt and fish slung over your shoulder and asking to use the phone is sure to get some
interesting stares from the patrons.
Diving from the shore presents the problem of guessing which way the current is going, if
someone is going to pick you up. It is not unusual for a spearo to be swept 5 kilometers down or
up the coast before finding a place to exit. If you didn’t arrange for it, then that’s a long walk
back to your car, carrying your kit and just maybe some fish and/or crayfish.
Second problem in the surf, there are frequently strong rip currents. These are what haul
bathers out to sea at popular bathing beaches, hence the need for lifesavers. Rip‐currents can
be very helpful going out, but coming back up a rip‐current towing fish on your float can be
likened to swimming the Comrades marathon. Not funny.
d. Large Waves
Our coast is almost completely unprotected; there are a few islands and larger bays down in the
Cape. Very large waves are generated by winds in the Southern Ocean and by Hurricanes in the
Madagascar Channel. In the 60’s waves created in the Southern Ocean and estimated to be
over 20 metres in height and 300 metres long broke a super tanker called the World Glory in
half. It got its bow on one wave and its stern on the other and with nothing in between it simply
split in two. Luckily we don’t get these every day, but on the Natal Coast at least we do get
waves between 2m and 5m on a regular basis. Swimming through surf of over 2 metres in a
wetsuit with weight belt, gun, crayfish bag and towing a float is something that only the most
experienced spearos are likely to attempt successfully. Getting back to the beach again is often
even more difficult. Only lunatics try when it is bigger than 5 metres.
Another more minor irritation is getting turned over by big waves in the surf. Besides losing
equipment and damaging the boat, several have been killed.
e. Rough Seas
In case you haven’t noticed, the wind blows on our coast 337 ½ days of the year and more
frequently in Port Elizabeth. Wind creates waves, and waves create rough seas. In these
conditions it is often difficult to see a diver 50 metres from the boat. Keeping track of three or
four divers spread out over several hundred metres is great fun. Hence another reason why
divers get lost. Searching for lost divers is irritating to the other crew members as it cuts down
on their diving time.
The combination of strong currents, big waves and rough seas makes really tough men “toss
their cookies” and beg to be taken back to dry land. Their costumes and wetsuits usually
require a good wash in “OMO Auto”.
f. Deep Water
Much of our diving is done in depths up to 25 metres. Only the best go below that. Shallowest
pinnacle at Protea is 27 metres. The recent SA Nationals was held at Sodwana Bay, and most of
the best fish were taken in around 40 metres and some at 45 metres. Currents were light to
moderate. It is almost impossible to try and adequately describe how dangerous it is to try and
freedive to that depth in a current and try and shoot a 10Kg gamefish. Every dive is a life
threatening experience.
g. Dirty Water
Freediving deep in clean water is one thing. Trying to do it when the visibility is less than two
metres is another story. At last years Zone Qualifier in Spain most of the fish taken were found
in over 25 metres using torches in caves in visibility of less then 2 metres. Only exceptional
athletes can find the mental strength to do this.
h. Poisonous Fish
Stonefish, Scorpionfish and Sea Barbel spring to mind, but even getting spiked by the dorsal of a
rock cod can create a nasty sore. They say that putting your hand on the dorsal of a Stonefish is
one of the most painful ways to die as several spearos in Mozambique and northwards have
found out. Several stonefish have been photographed on Aliwal Shoal. There are dozens of
other dangerous fish.
i. Electric Rays and Eels
The famous Australian wild life explorer, Steve Irwin found out recently that rays can kill you.
More recently, at Sezela, one of our top divers was belted by three electric rays while
crayfishing and he only just made it back to the shore alive.
Being bitten by an eel while crayfishing is a fairly common and nasty experience. Being bitten by
a big one (say 2 metres long), you could lose a finger or even your hand.
j. Potato Bass
50Kg and bigger Potato Bass, like sharks, think that the sound of spearguns is their private
invitation to dinner. They can be extremely aggressive and a fight with any over 100Kg over a
fish (unless it is a new record), will almost certainly end in a bent spear and a lost fish.
Fortunately their bigger cousins (well over 500Kg), the Brindle Bass (Jewfish), don’t seem nearly
as aggressive. Myth, however, suggests that Jonah was swallowed by a Brindle Bass not a
k. Bluebottles & Jellyfish
And other stingy things, range from a bloody nuisance, to sore, to dead, depending on the
number and severity of the stings and whether you are allergic to them. I have seen a diver get
back on our boat with over 50 bluebottles attached to him. Although, with a wetsuit on only,
lips, forehead and wrists are normally exposed, he was a hospital case, which ruined diving for
the day.
l. Coral, Kelp and Caves
In the north we have coral and in the south kelp. In both and in the middle we have caves.
Besides getting cut by coral, getting your line tangled in it after shooting a nice fish is a
character building experience. Doing so in deep water and a strong current will more than likely
convince you that knitting is better for your health.
Caves have a similar difficulty, except that to even see a fish, you will almost certainly need a
torch. Swimming 3 or 4 metres into a cave at over 20 metres to shoot a 30Kg Musselcracker and
then if you hit it, trying to get it back out again and get to the surface before you expire, takes
great skill and courage.
m. Other
Like heart attacks, cramp, dehydration, broken bones etc. can occur in other sports as well.
If you are thinking of diving in fresh water, like Kariba Dam, then you can add Crocodiles,
Hippos and Electric Barbel to the list.
What if you were competing in the 26th World Underwater Fishing Championships off Ille de
Margarita in Venezuela in October this year???
Only the 20 best countries in the World who have made it through the qualifying round are
allowed to compete. Each team has 3 divers a reserve, a captain or manager and a doctor if
they can afford one. Surely the doctor is redundant. Why not just let them die?
The competition area is over 40 square kilometers, divided into two zones. The best teams
“scout” this area for over two months before the competition starts, until they know where
every rock and cave is and what they are likely to find there. They study the weather and the
direction of the current, as fish move from one end of a reef to the other when the current
changes round. They train by diving for up to 10 hours per day.
When the first competition day arrives, teams set off, each of the three team members in his
own boat with a top‐man/skipper and a judge. They proceed to the designated competition
area for that day and on a signal the competition starts. Diving takes place continuously for six
hours, no half‐time, no lineouts, no TV breaks. No‐one is allowed to help the competitor, dive
to help‐ look for fish, load his gun, land a fish on the boat or assist in any way. Only a certain
number of each species of fish in certain size categories are allowed. There are numerous rules
of penalties and/or disqualification. The winner is he who accumulates the most points over
two days diving and the winning team is the one whose combined points are the highest. I
contend that this gold medal has more risk attached to it and is harder to earn than any that is
handed out at the Olympic Games and relegates playing cricket for ones country to something
like a kindergarten game.

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