Recollections Of The Australian Night

Gotta Dive

By Matt - 12/1998

All yesterday I was frantically searching for a buddy to go for a dive. In the end, my last buddy cancelled at the last minute. I had a tank full of air, a fully charged light and backup and a dive location just beckoning me to dive...

So I went!

It was a very casual affair. I left home at 21:45 and went to work to pick up my gear - found a heap of stuff on my desk but had to ignore it 'cause I'm on leave! Got my gear and packed the car - I took things slowly, making sure I wouldn't forget anything. I set up my SCUBA unit in the light of the dive room too, so I wouldn't have to do it in the dark at the dive site. I also packed up some dive gear I might need during the week. Finally got everything packed and took off. I hit the dive site at about 22:30. I geared up slowly, noticing I had forgotten my long sleeved t-shirts I normally wear under my drysuit, along with the extra pair of wooly socks... damn!

I then put my right foot into my suit - double damn - it was full of water! Second time this has happened to me... I finally figured out it's because some people dump their wet gear on top of the drying racks at work - this causes the water to dribble down into my suit throught the open zipper... hmmmmm I'll have to figure something out.

I decided to go anyway, despite the (lack of) thermal protection and the wet foot - I whacked on my hood, in lieu of the t-shirts, clipped on my torch, checked by back-up and headed down to the water. I hit the water at about 22:45. A light rain had just started. The water was FLAT - very easy waterskiing would have been possible. The dive site, Camp Cove, is situated on the inside of the southern headland of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). I looked west and through the rain induced mist I could make out the lights of the city centre including the lights of "the coathanger" (the Sydney Harbour Bridge).

One final check of my gear and I descended, time 22:48. The Noctaluca sp. (bioluminescence) was not huge but there was some around. I hit the sandy bottom at 2m and lit up. My UK600 penetrated the water for about 5m - blinding me from the backscatter - the "functional" visibility being about 3m. I continued over the sand, heading north toward the heads. Between breaths, because the water was only 3m deep, there was a short period of bubble noise followed by the most profound silence on this earth. This, in turn, was followed by the slow steady hiss of my inhalation, a slight pause and the exhale.

I came across some junk in the water, scrap iron and stuff which some "thoughtful" person had dumped. Cruising around it like some sort of cows of the sea were several leatherjackets of various sizes, picking off the plant life growing on the waste.

I stopped almost instantly, there sitting in the sand infront of me was a table sized, Eastern King Prawn. At about 10 cm it's not really a big one, but rare to see on a dive anyway. Next, just 2m away was a frogfish. Normally found under ledges, this medium sized one had come out of hiding, most likely because of the overcast conditions. Another 5 m beyond the fish was a little garden of seagrass. In the middle of this was a large hermit crab, dragging (and feeding from) a small, dead fish. Several other small crabs were seen to scurry away quickly with the intrusion of my light. At this stage, only 10 minutes into my dive, I had travelled only 30 m along the reef. I had seen quite a bit so I decided to write it all down. I stopped, pulled out my slate and began to write. A couple of minutes later, when I had finished, I noticed that my torch beam was FULL of plankton! I just sat there for a couple of minutes watching the little fellas whiz past!

Moving along the reef I came to a beautiful "grotto" like indent. It had steep walls covered in sea urchins, sponges, ascidians and anemones - the colours were stunning! I sat there for a while and noticed something else... The top of a sponge looked as if it were moving! On closer inspection, it turned out that a really tiny decorator crab was picking up some "drive through" for dinner! Just outside of the "grotto", I checked the time. I was expecting 40 minutes but I got a surprise! 27 minutes! I looked at my air... I had used 50 bar - even better!!

Just after recording the "grotto" on my slate, I crossed a patch of sand and headed over the top of a small rocky outcrop from the reef. More sand... and then movement! Turning to the left to get a better look was a shark! A small, female Port Jackson but beautiful none the less. She swam right up to me and stopped directly underneath... I stretched out my hand and gave her a small "scratch" behind the lateral fin. She didn't mind, just sat there quietly on the bottom. I left her alone...

Now, I had been as deep as 4 metres by this stage, but I was beginning to notice that the water was getting shallower - I was getting close to the next beach along. I was following which was now, a vertical wall which went all the way to the surface. There was a slight overhang near the bottom and small fronds of kelp were growing at the top of the overhang forming a "tunnel". I stuck my head inside and lo and behold I saw three cowries cruising along the sand next to a juvenile flounder. I'd never seen a live cowrie before so I quickly pulled out my slate to record it!

After another 20m, the reef shallowed out to about 2m so I turned around to head back. I went to check out those cowries again but I missed the original spot. I stuck my head into another part of the tunnel to find NOT LESS THAN 30 cowries - I know, I counted them. Next to them were another 3 flounder - needless to say I stopped counting cowries and flounder for the dive. I cruised on a little further and saw another frogfish. I tallied about 7 by this stage so I stopped counting them too. Around the next corner I saw this really cute, stripey cuttlefish. As soon as it saw me it just buried itself in the sand! I took the time to record stuff on my slate, hoping it would come out of hiding but it didn't - it's eyes were intently looking at me the whole time! I gently flicked it out of the sand with my finger to get a better look using the peripheral beam on my torch so as not to "dazzle" it. It just sat there looking at me back, so I left it.

I then came up to a small opening in the reef. It looked like it was a swimthrough, a little on the tight side but I decided to explore it. I edged my way into the entrance. It was tight but the colours on the floor and roof were magnificent! It was low and wide and seemed to turn around a corner to the right and continue for some way. I flipped over onto my side, hunched up my shoulders for a better fit and started to enter the tunnel. I had made sure there was ample room to back out first, in case there wasn't anywhere to turn around further along. A little way along I saw a kinda chamber, where I knew I would be able to turn around, so I squeezed my way forward. I got to the bend and looked at the rocks right beside me. There, hidden by a small outcrop, were two beautiful, large crinoids (basket stars). My torch illuminating sparkles of irridescence on their arms - greean, red, blue - like some living, moving, tree-like opal caught in a bright light! I then looked around the bend in the tunnel... It continued for some way, out of torch light, which in the tunnel extended some 7m or so - the water seemed a lot cleaner in here. I was tossing up whether to continue further or not, it appeared there might be an exit a bit further along. It did not appear to get any tighter either. Just as I was about to press on a huge, Giant Cuttlefish came out from the side of the tunnel about 5m ahead of me! It did not seem overly fussed by my presence but I decided I would give further exploration a miss. The tunnel was too tight for the both of us and I didn't want to make the residents angry!

I turned around in the chamber and swam out of the tunnel, thinking that the cuttlefish must have come from somewhere and there was probably another entrance to the tunnel. I searched for it but in vain... I am really curious now as to where the tunnel will take me. hmmm I will have to go back, better equipped for som more detailed exporation...

Leaving all thoughts of the tunnel behind I saw one of the most fascinating things of my life! A smallish cuttlefish (they were everywhere last night - I never even STARTED to count them) was hunting. It had stalked up to a small crab, which I am sad to say, got startled by my light and did the bolt. The cuttlefish, seeing it's prey getting away took one last lunge at the crab! The crab fought back gallantly, nipping the cuttlefish! The cuttlefish jetted away, retired hurt (as they would say in cricket).

Further along a small orange anemone was fully extended in a little hole between two large boulders, looking like an omnipotent statue of the virgin mother in a niche (but far more beautiful). 5 minutes later, I was back at the beginning again, watching the "cows of the sea" munching away as if I had never left them. Bottom time was 60 minutes and I still had plenty of air so I decided to explore the sand for some of the huge brittle stars that inhabit the sight.

I didn't find any, but I wasn't disappointed either. I crossed several large seagrass beds. Interspersed with these were little "forests" of bright white sea pens. Thinking of the meal I had denied the cuttlefish and of the most excellent film footage of some Attenborough documentries, I devised a "cunning plan". I settled down next to one of the larger sea pens. I held my torch directly above the beautiful white "christmas tree" and waited. Before too long, the plankton were zipping around in the light... and into the waiting tentacles of the sea pen. It was fascinating but I did tire of it after 5 minutes or so. So I head off across the sand once again. A row of pulsating gold and green creatures stood out over the sand. I was a school of seven squid, swimming in a formation which would put the cleverest flight of birds to shame. Unfortunatly they saw the dark figure looming behind the bright light and scattered to all four corners of the compass.

Feeling intrusive once again I decided to turn back. I hit the reef again at 75 minutes. Everything started to have a more subtle hue about it and I realised that my torch battery was begining to go flat... I clipped it off onto my BCD and pulled out the spare. I got the spare going and turn off the primary and made my way directly to the exit (but not before seeing an absolutely HUGE pufferfish swimming past the leatherjackets). Before surfacing, I decided just to lie in the sand for a while enjoying the peace of it all. I surfaced after exactly 80 minutes at 00:08 - a true midnight dive *sigh*

The rain had stopped and the water positively radiated with the reflections of light from both the city and "the coathanger". The water was all "shiny" like it can only get when it is calm with no wind. The air was warm and the water was a toasty 22C. Being past midnight, the suburb was deathly quiet - the only sound was the lapping of the waves on the beach...

Sorry it was so long,


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