By John Ross
Every two years in a different country. This year on 24 and 25 October they were held on Margarita Island, 30 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
Margarita has about 400,000 people and is part of Venezuelaâs total population of 34 million. The language is Spanish with next to no English but the people are very friendly. Venezuela is between Colombia and Brazil on the east coast of South America and is very rich in oil. Gasoline is just 10c a US gallon.
The sea is rich in fish with viz 20m plus most of the time and a temperature of 28oC. Being 11o above the equator I expected lots of coral but found only a small number with large amounts of barnacles, shell fish, sea anenomes and rocks. The fish consisted of many tropical snapper varieties, sargo, parrots, drummer, trigger fish, squirrel fish, grouper, bonito, wahoo, rainbow runner, cobia, barracuda and some of the biggest puffer fish I have ever seen. Only one shark was sighted by Shane Fitzmaurice.
Our team of Shane Fitzmaurice, Peter Herbert, Dwayne Herbert, Kieran Andrews, Paul Spence and I arrived at different times from 1 October onwards. The first thing we realised was that the dive area was very small and with boats and divers in the water the good fishing spots would all be taken not to mention the hazard of being hit by a boat. Also the minimum weight at 1kg, 2kg and 5kg on the three groups of species allowed to be entered was going to be hard to achieve.
My first big disappointment was arriving at the airport to see Dwane on crutches and unable to put his foot on the ground. We realised our best diver would never be able to swim in the competition.
The next days were spent swimming the competition areas but as no fish were allowed to be shot we went to a group of islands 50 metres offshore in a wooden eight metre boat with 40hp outboards. The viz was amazing with loads of fish: parrot fish up to 20kg, morgate snapper, grouper and loads of barracuda.
We shot about 100kg of fish and could easily have shot more. After a six and a half hour round trip on a wooden seat our bums were like mince meat and bruised for a week.
The competition day arrived and the starting time was delayed due to a shortage of boats and marshals. Every diver had a: boat, captain, marshal and a helper so Herb had Dwayne, Keiran had Paul and Shane had me, but no marshal. We were told to go without. Some teams had no boat or commissario so had to wait for hours.
The start was delayed and the time was reduced to a five hour competition. All the fish in the hot spots were gone in the first five minutes and divers heard the boats passing overhead with divers everywhere. The fish just disappeared and the result for us was zero. What a disappointment. We were not alone as many divers had no fish or just one; some received a minus score for entering fish under weight.
The second day was a total stuff up with even less boats and still no marshal for us. We were up at 6am and at 10am still hadnât started – just sitting in the hot sun waiting. With everything in Spanish we were never sure what was happening. Suddenly all the boats took off so we thought the competition had started only to realise 15 minutes later that it was a false start.
We were all taken back to where we started and Shane was penalised one hour for starting early. About eight of us were penalised but many others were not. This all took another hour and the competition became a four hour event with us waiting yet another hour in the sun.
In previous world championships when we had false starts no divers had ever been penalised and we were also told the competition director wanted to disqualify us completely. We were so pissed off with the organisation that we went back to the harbour.
Another South African lost his boat and dive gear. After finding it an hour later he too came home.
Keiran entered one cobia and Herb one snapper for the day. This was a big disappointment and the worst ever at a world championship. Lots of divers didnât get fish. Tony Hugh swam for us on the second day and he too didnât get any fish. In the Spanish team on day two one diver hadnât got a fish but they won the competition. You could never tell where the fish would be. Some divers just got lucky.
Itâs easy to be wise afterwards and pick faults with the organisation but this is why I think we put in such a poor result. The European teams have lots of competitions where the rules are the same or similar so we miss out on these.
Lots of teams are also fully funded and have spent up to three months in the dive area.
For the first time ever depth sounders and GPS systems were allowed in the competition. Most teams had them and other team members spent all their time looking for fish and good areas.
A lot of divers are able to dive to 40m and so a lot of fish were shot in deeper water.
The European teams are very competition savy, very professional and far, far better divers which is why they are always at the top in results.
The cost of going to the world championships has become ridiculous.
The Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand teams feel that the Interpacific Competition is much better as the rules and the way itâs run puts everybody on an even footing. (Real divers can swim for six hours without a boat and helper and a GPS and depth sounder to help them.)
After being manager of the New Zealand team seven times over 14 years I donât remember many fish that were shot but I will always remember the great people I have met.
My thanks go to our sponsors Beuchat. Anthony Broadhead did a fantastic job getting us wetsuits, guns, fins, gearbags, t-shirts and hats.
Dave Moran from Dive New Zealand Magazine gave us all two dress shirts each.
Bob Rosemergy from Freedive NZ gave us a donation of $2000 and Pat Swanson donated $1000 from the sale of his New Zealand record snapper.
Final Spearfishing Results: