By Donovan Gibbs
The boys have been through it all together scuba diving off the South Coast in the heart of the Cook Strait. We’ve powered through vicious three metre swells, fled the mother-ship of on-coming southerly fronts, dived in currents that threatened to rip dive masks off, and generally enjoyed some of the most amazingly rugged and enjoyable dive spots in New Zealand.
We’ve gone through all this to catch the ‘possums of the sea’, the mighty New Zealand crayfish, or correctly speaking, the spiny rock lobster. The term ‘possums of the sea’ was invented by a friend to convince an eco-diver of the merits of catching crayfish, the target of our dive adventures. Proceed no further if you don’t enjoy catching or eating seafood!
Diving is all about friendships and adventure in the deep blue sea. Towards the end of the working week the weekend warriors start to check the weather and marine forecasts, or can be observed doing ‘drive-bys’ around the South Coast to check conditions first hand. I’ve known my dive buddy Sarty for a few years now, and apart from the constant harassment about my dive suit inner, affectionately known as ‘the leotard’, followed by ‘when are you joining the ballet’, he’s a great bloke and friend. Over the years Sarty has taken stacks of divers to his favourite dive spots along the coast in his dive boat Craysea.
Crayfish frequent the South Coast as part of the giant crawl from Southland through the Strait to Hawke’s Bay and above each year. Unfortunately we do not get packhorse crays in Wellington as the water is a little too mind-numbingly chilly, ranging between 10 to 13 degrees over the year. Crays vary in size from the standard one to two pounds, to the odd large buck around four to six pounds.
Our intrepid group of weekend warriors, a group of handsome, strapping young men, headed out to Barretts Reef to fearlessly hunt for crays. Located at the entrance of the harbour into Wellington, this is where the Wahine came to grief. Barretts is a shallow reef structure that ranges from five to 15 metres in depth and is generally quite exposed to the winds that frequent Wellington. Covered in mussel, anemones and kelp, it makes a wonderful hiding place for juvenile and adult butterfish, signified by changes in colouring from yellow-orange to dark blue. Other reef inhabitants include the odd inquisitive blue cod, parrotfish, terakihi and schooling blue moki. Pulling up to the dive site on a Saturday morning in the middle of a blustery northerly, a school of dolphins moved past Craysea in formation. This really gets the adrenalin pumping through the veins, and inspires you to get into the blue stuff.
Marcel (‘I can spear fish and catch crays at the same time’) and I finned our way silently along the reef structure while Russ and Stu promptly navigated off the side of the reef to sand. Meanwhile, Sarty cunningly positioned the boat for his dive on the best spot. We caught a few nice crays, and Marcel bagged some lovely blue moki using my spear gun. We work as a team, with a boatie ready to respond to the call of a diver at the surface for a pick-up. We use Dive Alert air horns and have developed a sound system to alert the boatman that we are on the surface (ie. one long blast, followed by one blast for north, two for east and so on… eight blasts for ‘I’m heading off to Chile and you can’t see me’).
When hunting for crays always do the following when you don’t have a crayfish in your bag at the end of a dive:
Â· Swear black and blue that the ‘one that got away’ got through the hole in your cray bag (which you’ve just made).
Â· State you were on an eco-dive and were looking for nudibranchs.
Â· Accuse Pete’s cray loop of ‘not working’ – it doesn’t matter if you don’t know him!
Â· Bring the bacon the following week.
When diving around Wellington, make sure you have spare cash on you in case the Cook Strait ferry tries to pick you up (no comment Pete and Calum). And if you ever think about hopping on Sarty’s boat, enrol in a Coastguard Boat Master or Day Skipper course first – it helps when the propeller falls off!
Last, but not least, if you let everyone know you are a hunter diver, expect to be harassed about the odd cray give-away. The way to respond is to go into great-exaggerated detail as to the sheer danger of the dive and how extra-ordinarily delicious the meal you prepared was afterward. To help in achieving this effect, below is one of Sarty’s 200 top crayfish recipes.
Finally, come to Wellington – it’s a great place to dive.
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