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Diving Feature - Rottnest Island WA

September 7th 2007 01:40
Diving Rottnest Island
Andy McCutcheon & Aaron Hawke

Nineteen kilometers off the coast of Fremantle lay an idyllic paradise island that abounds in marine life and affords exceptional diving opportunities.

The words diving and Rottnest Island are almost synonymous amongst the local population of Perth and Freo.

When we advertised the fact that the SeaSpray crew would be in Perth after the Easter break, Bob Lushy of Seagreen Marine in Fremantle stepped up to the plate and offered to take us across in one of his company’s new Jenneau 34’ power boats for the day.

While boat tests we do are generally done on vessels between 40’ and 80’ for SeaSpray readers, I wasn’t able to do a formal comprehensive review of this boat however, having said that I also didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to bring to your attention that in the 30’-35’ range of available boats on the market this one’s a cracker.

It is a great looking boat with soft ergonomic lines, high freeboard and a fantastic shaped sea-going hull. It is very well laid out, good fit and finish, excellent sleeping accommodations and handles like a dream…I’d buy it for myself if I had the money and allegedly Im not the only one who feels that way.

Fishing legend Rex Hunt, who did have the money, purchased the 42’ model for he and his family last year at the Sydney Boat Show and “Yibiddy-Yibidda Folks” he loves every minute of it.

After brief introductions all around, we boarded the vessel in Crawley next to the Royal Perth Yacht Club and were underway before 0900h. Despite our proximity to the mouth of the Port of Fremantle, it took nearly 45 minutes to wind our way into open water giving us a true sense of the expanse of water that the Swan River occupies.

It’s a pretty ride along the Swan with lots to see and do and my wife, a native of Perth, kept a sharp lookout for her Fathers former boat, “Westerly” where she had spent months at a time moored in one of the many bays of Rottnest Island as a child.

While I had been pre-warned about the feisty conditions at the Freo heads, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a day on the water as we eased our way across.

We headed North out of Freo alongside huge cargo ships and a flotilla of enthusiastic boaties and fisho’s. When I had flown over Freo a few days earlier by helicopter, I had noticed a string of reefs and exposed rock outcroppings.

Bob pointed out their position, detailing our route visually on the GPS and as we got closer to our destination the changing hues of the water had me pining to suit up.

As we got closer to Rotto, the brilliant white sand married with mottled rock outcroppings was a spectacular site. Rottnest Island enjoys a Mediterranean style climate owing to its native flora and fauna.

We searched for a secluded inlet where we could drop the hook and found one on the North side of the island passing Geordie and Longreach Bays along the way.

With anchor set, it was time to suit up. Gear for the dive was provided compliments of Radiator wetsuits of Fremantle whose product range is currently in use with Australian SAS troops largely because of the .5mm thickness that is equivalent in BTU’s to a comparable 2mm suit making movement at depth like wearing a second skin.

Additional gear was provided by Aaron Hawke Managing Director of Powerdive Australia who demonstrated the SCUBA unit his company manufactures.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Powerdive unit, it is a self contained, electro-pneumatic diaphragm pump that operates from a removable, rechargeable battery. Both the pump and battery are housed in a watertight PVC casing and 8mm air hoses connected to an intermediate containment bottle, float on the surface while providing two divers a length of hose and a regulator allowing them to descend down to 7m for a little over an hour.

While you will never dive the “Titanic” with this unit, it is an easy to use light and portable alternative to lugging around tanks, buoyancy compensators and the like. Alternatively, outside of it’s recreational potential, the Powerdive unit is an excellent safety tool aboard vessels of any length for light salvage, untangling props and even bottom cleaning.

Recouping the capital costs associated with purchasing one of these units on that basis alone could be realized in a single season and you aren’t required to have a valid SCUBA license to operate one.

Below the surface in the crystal clear waters around Rotto, visibility was exceptional. Sub-surface reef outcroppings sheltered innumerable species of fish, which darted about as the exhaust bubbles from my regulator fueled their curiosity.

I had asked Aaron prior to descending if spear fishing was legal in these waters and while it is, it is much further offshore, so instead of a spear, I was handed a spring activated noose and given instructions to check every crevasse for Rottnest Cray’s.

For the first ten minutes, I was so distracted by all there was to see, I had momentarily forgotten to look and Aaron had since surfaced to the “goodie bag” with one already on the scoreboard.

Not to be outdone, I feverishly returned to the depths and left no stone unturned in pursuit of the elusive crustaceans destined to adorn our tableware for tea.

Another ten minutes had gone by and Aaron had snagged another one for the “goodie bag”, two on the scoreboard and I hadn’t even seen one yet!

In a desperate attempt to at least bring something to the table, I found several large fish hovering beneath a rock outcropping. They didn’t seem phased by my presence and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a hook-up.

I managed to open the spring-loaded noose wide enough to encircle the fish that seemed content to remain in place while fanning in the current. As I let the spring go I got a piece of its tail, but not nearly enough to classify it as a catch and release. Bugger.

The hour below the surface seemed to dissipate way too quickly and we soon found ourselves back on the duckboard, Aaron about to eat Cray…and me about to “eat crow”, although to his credit, he did allow me to take these photo’s using his catch.

Once we pulled anchor and were away, a large billowing column of black smoke was rising over Longreach Bay.

As we rounded the point we followed several rescue vessels out 2-3 kilometers towards the mainland to discover a 50’ Key West on fire and burning ferociously.

We positioned our vessel upwind of the acrid smoke and were kept at bay by the Rottnest Rescue inflatable while larger rescue vessels were attempting to contain the flames with fire hoses. Within minutes, news helicopters were circling overhead, but I had already gotten exclusive stills and video of the catastrophic event.

After the Key West burned to the gunnels and there was nothing left to see, we fired up the Jenneau and headed back to Fremantle.

It was an absolutely fantastic day above and below the water and I would like to thank Bob Lushy, Bob’s offsider Chris and Aaron Hawke from Powerdive Australia for taking the time to show us such a magnificent dive location.

Text by Andy McCutcheon
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