Coffs Harbour November 2010 - Mark Kallman

Coffs Harbour

The sea is like an old man in a wet nappy; ugly, vindictive and uncompromising. One foul weather warning after the next, wind howling from all points of the compass and then settles for a short while but I am working when that happens! When you start to pay attention to reports of people going out instead of fish landed, things are looking bleak indeed. First boat out pulled its anchor and while the divers were chasing it down a 4m Great Fright swam under one of them. The other boat that ventured out encountered 1, let's count that again 1 dorado at the wave recorder. It was nervous as all hell and ducked off before anyone could settled it down with a spear through the head. The water is warm out wide and clear but the sea is so rough most of the time, it is safer to stay home and mow the lawn

Swains and Saumarez

I touched on my trip up north and since very little is happening at home I thought I would provide a more detailed account. It is a long drive to Gladstone which is a mining town, so a bit of a hole. The boat we were on was Booby Bird. It was originally commissioned as a long-liner but serves the purpose of a mothership admirably. She carries 6 smaller tenders, 5 for guests use and a rescue boat. Each tender is equipped with flares, life-jackets, radio and V-sheet. Safety is paramount when that far out to sea. Oh and they all have fish-finders! We left Gladstone early on Saturday afternoon and steamed out to Swains. some 140 Nm northeast. The sound of the anchor being lowered into the sea woke us on Sunday morning and we quickly prepared to get diving. Plan of action each day: get up, first breakfast: fruit and cereal, get kitted, second breakfast: bacon and eggs, head out to dive, back around 1pm, light snack, then lunch: usually something cooked, out again at 2pm, dive 'til 5 or 6pm back for another light snack: chips and dip, sashimi, then shower and get cleaned, check gear before supper, huge quantities of great food before crawling into bed exhausted. I started to feel a little like a hobbit with all the meals we were eating.

The first day of diving was a learning experience. One group of divers headed north and outside of the nearby reef while we headed to the middle of the reef and drifted the inside. The guys on the outside all took dog-tooth tuna up to 40kg, on the inside things were very different. Initially just lots of different parrotfish, probably as many as 12 species but as we got to the end of the reef on the southern side we started to encounter large numbers of coral trout(I think these are marbled leopardgrouper). They are quite aggressive and therefore make easy targets. Between the trout there were also several types of emperor and sea-bream. A welcome addition to the catch on occasion was coronation trout (lyretail rockcod). There are stacks of bohar snapper but they are a restricted species because of the risk of ciguatera. The Booby Bird has a proper freezer and 2 deckies whose entire existance revolves around making your life comfortable. They fillet your fish and make sure your beers are cold and the tenders have fuel.

Later Sunday night we started to Saumarez, about 60Nm east of Swains. Saumarez is a thin sliver of a reef about 60km long and possibly 500m wide out in the warm balmy Pacific. The area has proven the downfall of several ships and their remains are often visible. The fish are similar to those at Swains but more abundant if that were possible. We dived to our heart's content from early morning to last light. Sharks started to become an issue the longer we stayed. Almost as though they had figured out what was going on. The one thing I must say is that there are lots of sea-snakes. I probably saw more than a hundred every day. They were remarkable and I often found myself drifting along taking in their presence, absolutely in awe of their graceful effortless swimming. Initially the spearos outfished the fishos but once they cottoned on to following us, we could not keep up with their catch rate. Spearos make the perfect fish-finder! By Wednesday evening, reports of an approaching front saw us leave Saumarez and head back to Swains. We got in another full day around the southern reefs and spent most of Friday morning chasing doggies. I shot at about 10, eventually having one break my spear off, pays to check your gear every evening and not assume your gear will hold up. A trip like this is really hard on your gear. By this stage I was onto my third speargun. When you return to the boat for the last time it is with a sense of relief. You are exhausted and in spite of the good food and huge quantities of it 8-10 hours of finning each day does burn some fat off your old bones.

We have booked for 2012 and I am looking forward to some good water in Coffs Harbour again. I am going to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. I might even see you around Aliwal Shoal because I am coming to South Africa for Christmas.