By Kerry McKenzie
The day started like any other in the tropics for this time of year, its midwinter down south and dry season for us in the north of Australia. Fine and clear very few clouds and 24 degrees or 75 in the old scale. We went through all the usual motions with the boat and arrived on our favourite dive site with only one fishing boat in sight, nice one:)) I dropped anchor and watched the rope to see it go all the way down...mmm this is going to be nice! Because we are tropical weenies we kitted up this time with Moray semi dry suits 7mm across the chest and 5mm in the legs and arms with neck and wrist seals. After diving last weekend in 5mm one piece wetsuit and freezing my balls off...water temp was 21 degrees ....told you all we are tropical weenies.
The rebreathers were removed from their magic black boxes and gas etc checked before donning and rolling over the side of the boat. I found myself starting to sink and lots of bubbles coming from just by my left ear, what could this be as I had my mouth piece in and had no sign of a leak. Quickly swimming to the bow where Frank was and informing him that I was sinking he found I had about one turn left to tighten, on my BC inflator hose where it joins the bladder and thatâ€™s what I could hear...thank god for that. Frank had it fixed in a flash, and it saved me from a trip back into the boat to check things over,........very valuable people dive buddies;))
With that small oversight behind me we slipped silently down the anchor line with only the sound of the diluent auto addition valve cracking every couple of breaths.
The vis was great and the silence was deafening as we were using Nitrox closed circuit rebreathers and had nobody with us this time on scuba to make a noise. The anchor had to be adjusted so as the coral would not cut through the rope, once done and gas mixtures tweaked, it was time to take our bearings. I had 50 bar of O2 and 100bar of diluent enough to keep me down here all day;-)) We set off to checkout our mate in his cave, a 400 pound Queensland Grouper, as we got close, two large barracuda swam on ahead of us. We settled carefully on the bottom so as not to stir up too much silt.
Right on que several very large Trevally plus a school of small juveniles swam out of the cave and there lurking in the shadows were not one but two medium sized Grouper. What seemed like a very short time suddenly our mate dropped in for a look and I must admit my heart always misses a beat when this guy shows up as he is so big and when looking at him head on certainly looks extremely menacing.
We watched with interest as they continually swam back and forth in the cave and moved several times to get a better look. Frank swam around to the front of the entrance and suddenly there were 3 very loud thumps in the water, so much so that my stomach vibrated with each thump. This was Grouper talk for "get the hell off my property, you guys are starting to piss me off". We both realized that we had over stayed our welcome and began to retreat away from the cave only to look behind me to see a huge head coming out of the silt behind us. Needless to say I didn't look back again until I was at least 50 meters from the cave and my heart was racing, as that was a bit too close for comfort. This is the first time we have been driven off from this location and I can only assume that with our semi dry suits being completely black that we may have resembled other Groupers competing for his territory.....maybe? Looking at my bottom timer found we had already been down 45 minutes and hadn't started to look around the point of the rock outcrop yet so off we went at a very slow steady pace keeping a keen eye for Grouper:)) We came across another fishing boat and carefully swam past their anchor keeping a look out for fishhooks and line.
Coming up on the second spot where we always see Groupers I swam past it to look at an area that we cannot normally see due to bad vis. My bottom timer/ depth gauge read 15 meters, stopping short of a large vertical crevice I carefully looked around the corner to see what was there, however I didnâ€™t see much as there were many small fish swimming around. I made out what looked like scales, but they were facing upwards. As my eyes began to follow the scales up remembering that I was within touch distance the small fish seem to part and I was able to see the outline of a monster Grouper lying almost vertical in the crevice and towering above my head. I am 6 foot tall and this guy was another half as tall again, and he didn't know I was just under his belly. I said the "F" word and made a hasty retreat backwards and swam back to were Frank was waiting, making all sorts of sign language and gestures with my hands. However he wouldn't go take a look after seeing the look on my face. The whole thing reminded me of the movie Aliens when the creatures began to awaken and come out of the walls, lucky this guy didn't see me but yet he might have noticed the brown stain in the water.
Frank not wanting to go in the direction I had just come from headed up a rock canyon only to go about 10 feet (3meters) and ran into another monster but this time he was above us. However he didnâ€™t waste any time in dropping down to see what these strange silent shapes were. The response was not one of welcome as the last time we were in this place we had a guy with us on scuba and the grouper came in and checked us out before retreating as Ross started heavy breathing;)) However this time there was no Ross just rebreathers only and the Grouper showed no fear in approaching us with speed. Frank had to make a fast retreat out and I saw a huge tail flash past not more than 1 m (3 feet) from were Frank had been seconds before, deciding we had enough excitement for one day we both got out of there as quickly as we could with Frank so close behind me that I was kicking him with every fin stroke until we were clear of the canyon. I stopped and pulled out my slate .....that "F" word appeared again several times in relation to rebreathers and a comment to the effect that I was seriously thinking of taking up scuba again;))........bubble noise is safe!!!! Bottom timer showed 98 minutes and we both decided we had had enough excitement for one morning so we headed back to the boat with Grouper radar on full alert or as captain Kirk would say sensors were set for maximum range.;-)))
I smile when I write this as I feel this dive will be included in the many outstanding or adrenalin pumping dives I have had in my many years of underwater adventures. An hour later we were sitting at a picnic table overlooking the shore at Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island and eating Fish & Chips, with the people and noise of boats and jetskis it was remarkable to think that just offshore lay a completely different world.
I have since questioned the staff at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority who told me that by swimming directly in front of the cave was a direct challenge to the male Grouper and his group of females however they were unable to explain the behaviour of the other grouper who became quite menacing to Frank, however it may have been a territorial thing also.
As the heading says what a day ......what a dive.
written as experienced by Kerry McKenzie.