Fairly early on in the dive, I looked out into the blackness above the surface to see where the other three lights were shining below and thought to myself, ‘these guys are f’ing crazy’. But then I thought ‘what the hell’ and followed. Later on, looking out for them again, I realised that I was bobbing in the ocean off a place named after sharks in the middle of the night and only then did it dawn on me: Given that they had a lot more idea of what they doing than I did, if anyone was f’ing crazy, it was me. I talked myself down from the start of freaking out and pissed in my wetsuit. Again. Mostly, but not entirely, because when it’s your wetsuit and you’re cold, you’re allowed to.
With just a relatively few sheltered-water night snorkels and night scubas behind me, this was pushing outside of my comfort zone. These other fellas, on the other hand, were serious spearfishermen; it wasn’t their first rodeo as they say, and in their 5mm diving wetsuits and long diving fins they were rugged up and warm and cruising along. Meanwhile, in a cheap old poorly fitting 3mm suit and bodysurfing fins, I was freezing and flapping by comparison.
We were there to hunt crays (eastern rock lobster, Jasus verreauxi), and that means ferreting down among the cracks and overhangs after them. Diving gloves on and experience at their disposal for the others, gardening gloves and what turned out to be some nice beginner’s luck for me. Seeing three crays lurking in a crack, I notice that one is a little small; the next part is a bit of a blur insofar as all I recall is lunging in to grab something other than the small one. And then I surfaced with one of the bigger crayfish in my hand. There are specific bags that one carries for putting these things in. I don’t have one. One of the others kindly carries my catch, and we head off for more. Even more kindly, when I had become so cold as to start having trouble getting about properly, he heads in with me. He had his bag limit of two and I had exceeded the expectations that I started with by having anything at all and getting back in one piece. By the time the other lads were in, I was well on my way into warming up in long underwear, three jumpers and a bottle of wine.
Once comfortable, I was able to slowly start putting the pieces of the memory of all it all back together. How I hadn’t lost my weight belt after all, but had simply left it off while nervously messing with my gear at the start, as if somehow it might become something other than shoddy and old if I toyed with it enough. How much more sinuous and slinky the most spectacular of the night fish are; the wonderful emerald and caramel coloured green moray eels (Gymnothorax prasinus), the beardies (Lotella rhacina), the blindsharks (Brachaelurus waddi) and Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni). Then how the inky black alien sensory overload of it all was such that other nastier sharks hadn’t gotten around to really being a concern of mine. And how a big yellow gibbous moon rose up out of the sea and I told myself to marvel at a mental picture of it later because my mind didn’t have the time to enjoy it right then.
The cray is in the fridge, I’m going over for mum’s birthday tonight and I’ll get dad to turn the barbie on. I’m not sure which story I’ll tell, because both of them are true in their way; whether I went bravely into the night sea to hunt a crayfish by hand, or nervously followed three crazy men out there and got lucky.
Caveat: Of all the foraging I have written about, this is the last thing that I would recommend having a go at. The truth is that it is not entirely safe. Leaving aside the issue of sharks, if something goes wrong out there, there is a real chance that you could end up being flotsam and a news story.