20 November 1990, (coincidentally my brother’s birthday) the crays are rumoured to be on the march.
My hunting dive buddy, Mad Des has roped me in to dive “The Pages” in Backstairs Passage between South Australia’s Fleurieu Penninsula and Kangaroo Island.
These 2 rocky outcrops, one 20mts high known as North Page and the other 24mts high known as South Page are seldomly dived.
Nothing much more than an oversized granite boulder on the surface with very little else, these outcrops provide habitat for seal and sea lion colonies as well as little penguins. Interestingly enough the landscape above water is duplicated underwater providing the diver with amazing swim throughs, massive overhangs and small caverns. I would best describe the underwater terrain as huge marbles stacked on top of one another.
We access the dive site after launching the boat at Cape Jervis, it only took about 20 minutes from launch to anchor drop.
The day was postcard perfect, calm seas and a dodge tide (South Australia’s gulf St Vincent and the gulf of Mexico are the only 2 gulfs in the world where periodically there is zero tidal movement for a 24hr period) and if all the planets line up where you get no swell, calm seas and blue skies, the diving is guaranteed to be amazing.
We anchored in approximately 10mts of water only about 50mts from North Page, Mad Des picked up a drop off of some sort on the sounder only about 50mts west of our anchor point dropping from around 12mts to 25mts… This was our target.
As I was gearing up and peering over the sides of the boat, I was amazed at the clarity of the water. I anticipated that we would probably have 35 to 40mts Viz.
We entered the water around 10am, descended down the anchor line, did a weight check, ensured everything was secured and took 2 seconds to look around… I was amazed. It was if I was in the land of the giants, I was surrounded by huge boulders covered in huge Gorgonian Fans, with huge Blue Groupers swimming around, and the presence of ever playful seals…. I was in Scuba Heaven!
WAKE UP XAVIER! You’re here to catch crayfish!!! Stop the fluffy stuff and get down to business.
As we swam towards the drop off, I was amazed to see the size of the Greenlip Abalone on the rocks, I had never seen abalone this big in my life, no wonder the fish life looked well fed!
Before we knew it, we were on the drop off. It was exactly what Mad Des saw on the sounder, a shear wall structure that looked like it had been purposely shaped the way it was! At the bottom of the drop off, we could see boulders much like up here around us, it looked like big marbles had been pushed off the edge.
Interestingly, the ledges on this formation were vertical into the wall, but even more interestingly it was what was inside the ledges that took my attention…. I had never seen so many big crayfish in my life and these guys weren’t afraid of us, in fact, as I stuck my face in the holes, the crays would come marching towards me, so close that their feelers would touch the lens of my mask.
This was nuts, in 2 minutes flat, we each had our bag limit of 5 crays per diver, the bad part of this was that only 3 could fit in the catch bag, I was going to have to swim with 2 massive crays in my hands all the way back to the boat… this created a few issues… How do I inflate my BC? How do I dump air from my BC? How do I communicate with The Mad One?
All these are inconsequential details really, let’s just focus on getting back to the boat whichever way we can!!!
It was a challenge, the crays had plenty of fight in them, one of them had managed to hook up my glove and partly turn himself around on my hand. He proceeded to start pushing one of his killer claws through my glove and between the knuckles of my index and middle finger on my left hand, there is still a small scar and indentation there to this day… It took very little time for blood to start pouring from my gloved hand or at least what was left of the glove on the said hand. I managed to shake the cray off, he had won the battle, he was free to live another day and escape the pot. Little did I know that the biggest challenge was yet to come.
Soon we were back at the anchor, Mad still had 5 crays, I had 4, I knew that I was in for some stick when getting back on the boat!
Suddenly as we looked at each other and nodded to begin our ascent, a shadow came over us, a bloody big shadow at that as well! It was a female great white, about 6.5mts long with a girth the size of a Volksy!
She looked peaceful as she turned to inspect us again, the coldness of her black eyes far too close to mine for comfort.
I made the decision to release the cray from my right hand, and Mad and I began to ascend back to back looking out into the blue, above and below us.
We were well within the no deco limits (thank god) but still needed to do some form of a safety stop… (only a very short one). Upon reaching the surface, I inflated my BC, took it off in the water and literally leapt into the boat. The Mad One was behind me, casual as ever, requesting that I take the 2 crays from his hands prior so that he could get his gear off, which I did, he casually got his gear off, stepped into the boat, as I hooked up the kits with the boat hook. The Mad One then started laughing at me, he was hysterical, his laughter was broken up by such comments as “Soft” and other sorts of expletives not acceptable for this newsletter.
I was trying to remain serious in light of our encounter. I had seen sharks before, but nothing that big!
And still the laughter went on. The name calling was now being accentuated by the Mad one blowing me kisses off a limp wrist…
When Mad Des finally regained composure he explained to me why he didn’t freak out, why he did his ascent totally un-flapped by the event of having this monster fish with monster teeth swim past us…
He reasoned it out like this:
“ Big Huh?” to which I said “Big is not the word I would use but I’ll start with that and work my way up!”
“ What does that tell you Xavier?” “That the beast is bloody good at killing stuff” was my response, “ Exactly he said, she knows how and where to get a feed and if we were on the menu, today’s diver would be tomorrow’s shark poo!” (he didn’t use the word poo, but I’m keeping it clean)
It all made sense as I looked to the Island of North Page, home to a colony of up to 400 seals and as I thought of the amount of fish life down there…. big fish life at that as well.
The Pages was the land of the giants – and still is. Big boulders, big corals, big fish, big crays, and even bigger great whites.
The remaining 3 crays in my catchbag would keep my parents off my back and stop them from continuously nagging me about me never bringing home anything worthwhile!
The lesson: 1. Humans are not the target food of sharks, if they were, I wouldn’t be here. 2. Mad Des has a sick sense of humour. 3. All creatures great and small have a place on our planet (especially crayfish and dinner plates).