I am bruised and shattered after spending most of Sunday underwater with a small group of hard core local divers.
[Aside: for all those of you who cherish illusions concerning the physical similarities between surfers and divers; allow me to disillusion you. Surfers, as we all know, are universally fit, healthy, tanned and relaxed. Divers, I will have you know, are fat, chain-smoking, pasty and awkward with girls. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining about it. Its just so we’re all clear before I go any further.]
At the first dive site we went to scout (checking whether the sea conditions were favourable for diving), we stood on a windswept cliff looking down at a pile of huge sandstone rocks about 80 feet below us, covered in barnacles and liberally drenched by the enormous waves which crashed against them every few seconds.
~ The Pacific Ocean makes the North Sea look like a small, grubby hand basin in a Council toilet. ~
Fat Diver #1: “Yeah, it looks good. Nice one. Its a bit like a washing machine, you know, if you jump in at the wrong moment, but, like, you just need to time it right. Like… Now! Yeah? Like… Not now! See?”
Me: “Er, okay. And where’s the dive exit?”
Fat Diver #2: “See those rocks? Where the waves are coming in from both directions at once? Okay, well, you slip round the corner under that overhang as the wave washes in and then you haul up and out as the wave sucks back, yeah? But, like, quickly.”
Fat Diver #3: “Are you girls up for it? Shark Point is a really cool dive, you’ll love it. Once you’re in.”
Me: “Wait, its called Shark Point? SHARK Point? Not SHARP Point? You’re sure? Okay. Right.” *Looks at the other girls who have gone green* “Why don’t we try Bare Island instead? I’ve heard that’s lovely.”
It was a wonderful day’s diving, but not the easiest day’s diving. We saw an octopus, a weedy sea dragon, a Port Jackson shark pup, huge numbers of bristleworms, nudibranchs, sea stars, and orange, white and purple sponges. At one point, I swear it was like being on one of the sets of the original Star Trek. Only, you know, wetter and with a huge guy called Ben bashing you in the head with a fin every few minutes.
Now that we’ve clarified the differences between surfers and divers, let me elucidate the Vast Gulf that separates the Grouper from the Groper.
The Australian Blue Grouper is a big ole fish – they can grow to over a metre in length and more than 100kg (220 pounds) in weight; comparable to a Great Dane dog. No kidding. All Groupers start life as females, and the ones in Sydney Harbour are a lovely soft green colour. Each male has a harem of several females and he patrols their territory constantly to protect it from interlopers. When a male dies, the largest of the females in his harem turns blue, becomes male and takes over.
I will refrain from drawing the obvious lessons from that piece of biological neatness.
However, I will take this opportunity to observe that diving with a woman in a bright blue wetsuit can swiftly go from interesting to alarming.
I also urge you to read the Wikipedia article on Groupers. Next time anyone tries to tell you that fish are boring or not as curious or cool as other animals, please regale them with fascinating tales of the Grouper.
In the meantime, here is a photo of the 80cm long male Grouper who joined us on our first dive yesterday morning for 10 minutes or so. Smiling toothily.
On the contrary, the Australian Groper is married to my boss and corners girls at the Office Christmas Party to pat their bum, leer down the front of their dress and tell them things they’d really rather not hear from a drunk 50 year old.