By Winston Cowie
Qatar. The name gets people thinking. Where is it? Don’t they have the Soccer World Cup in 2022? Isn’t it a desert with a shedload of oil and gas?
It’s all of the above. I should know – I have lived there for the past three years … but what can a young kiwi bloke do in Qatar in his ‘spear’ time?
I went to the only rugby club in town to find out.
‘Play footy, suck piss and go spearfishin,’ was the answer of a young blonde-haired-Australian, half way through my first rugby practice in 40C heat.
‘Sometimes we go down to the Inland Sea near the Saudi border, other times we go offshore,’ continued Treno Webb, the self proclaimed spearfishing king of Queensland’s Stradbroke Island.
‘I met two Qatari guys. Their English isn’t very good but they’ve got one of those 20 foot centre console fibreglass jobs they take 100 clicks offshore. There’s an old oil tanker wrecked out there, sits between six and 20 metres of water. Some big fish on that and a good mission!’
‘I’ll give them a call and see if they’re keen.’
The unknown beckoned. A Magical Day
We met at the marina at 4:00am.
‘There’s gonna be me, you, my Indian mate Domingo, and the two Qataris. Khalifa, he owns the boat, and his mate Mohamed. They don’t speak much English but are keen spearos.’ I was told.
We cast off and the twin engine 125 horsepower Yamahas roared into life. We reached the spot in two hours. I looked at Khalifa, whose eyes were on the GPS. ‘Calais, Finish,’ he called. The anchor rattled over. I could see a wreck below us in beautifully clear water. I ripped off my shirt, threw on my weight belt, strapped on my knife, grabbed my Beuchat gun, tied it to the float, and was over. Treno, Khalifa and Mohamed were close behind.
A deep gulp and I was down to the wreck. The fish swam up towards me; mostly the types of reef fish you would expect to see around structure. The thing that struck me was that there was such abundance. I decided to have a good look around and worked my way up to near the bow of the 75m wreck.
A deep breath and down I floated. An Arabian Gulf seasnake cruised past; I shivered; I wasn’t a big fan, having had them try to cuddle me numerous times during my scientific diving work, this one buggered off pretty quickly. Something flickered at the edge of my vision when I was at 15 metres. Four giant trevally cruised into view. My heartbeat quickened when they veered away at three metres. I picked the last and largest and fired. I hit it just behind the gills, right in the middle. As I swam towards the surface I tested its strength. It was thrashing hard and I let go of my gun. I reached the surface and began the recovery, pulling in the nylon hand over hand. As it neared the surface, I felt for my knife. A couple more pulls and the trevally was in my hands. I knifed it, then holding onto it, began the swim back to the boat.
Each of the boys speared at least one fish and by lunch we were ravenous. We ate some giant trevally sashimi with wasabi and soya sauce then decided to change locations. We motored to a nearby oil exploration platform and tied the vessel to it.
‘There’s usually heaps of fish around these platforms. Let’s get a couple more’ said Treno. I had lived for a month in Qatar and Treno, I, another Kiwi (Mish) and an Aussie (Wombat) were living together in a villa and needed a few more fish to keep us fed for a while; the garlic mutton masalas were getting a tad same same.
Over the side we went. A school of trevally appeared almost immediately. I shot another one and pulled it in. I saw a large barracuda, which I had been told were good eating in the Gulf, so I nailed it. I was swimming back to the boat with the fish when I saw a massive disturbance in the water. I was pretty sure I had seen a large fin and a tail in amongst the spray. I bee-lined for the boat, threw my gun over the side and swiftly followed. I looked again as I pulled in my spear, float and the fish. A large area of sea not 50 metres away was boiling; my eyes narrowed as I saw a few fins.
We motored over and were shocked to find they were sharks – and heaps of them – in a feeding frenzy. Tails and fins leapt into the air, giant trevally and smaller baitfish were jumping. It was all happening. We looked at each other in amazement; we had been spearing 50 metres from where these sharks were frenzied. Lesson learned; be relaxed but aware. Don’t kid yourself, as I’ve read in some books, that you’re in some ‘special relationship with the ocean,’ when your spearfishing. It’s bullshit!
What a day, though. Even now, two years later, it is one of the most incredible days I ever had on the ocean. One hundred kilometres offshore in the Arabian Gulf. Two Qataris, an Indian, Aussie and a Kiwi. While we couldn’t speak more than a few words of the others language, the smiles of all at the end of the day said it all. It was one of those special days on the ocean that we are blessed with occasionally.
By Winston Cowie, with input from Trent Webb, Hamish Dobbie and Wombat Quinn.