On taking things for granted……..

1 08 2013

We live in a world that makes most things easy.  And we take this ease for granted.  And I can tell you from first hand experience, that taking things for granted can land you in a whole of trouble….

Glenda and I are going back to the big smoke again this weekend for a friend’s 70th birthday.  I must’ve met Roger forty years ago now, even before Glenda….  how time flies.  Roger, who suffered from polio as a kid and wears leg irons and gets around on crutches, sailed around the world with his wife and kids and is not the type to let mere handicaps like leg irons stop him from doing what he wants to achieve…  He and a group of other friends were a large part of my life once, and it was actually through them that I met Glenda…  and she and I were reminiscing about this long gone part of our lives the other day, when we started talking about the event that could’ve easily taken our lives, involving a trip to the Barrier Reef with Roger and a whole host of other people.  I thought I’d share it with you…

Once upon a time, I used to make regular trips to the barrier reef, SCUBA diving, spear fishing, and taking underwater photos of the brilliant ecosystem that is the reef.  Words cannot describe it.  Photos do a better job…  but really, you have to be there to appreciate the reef.  It is truly a wonder of the world…..

Clownfish on anemone

Clownfish on anemone

I had a long break from the reef after getting married, what with travelling overseas and then starting a photographic studio, and embracing the Matrix mercilessly, then having children… there was no time for such trips.  But we eventually returned, with our kids.  They just had to see it before it disappears because of Climate Change.

To reach these islands some 80km off the coast at Gladstone Harbour, we chartered a large boat big enough to take the twenty of us and all our gear and food and water for two weeks.  Needless to say you have to be well organised, there are no last minute runs to the corner shop in the SUV to get another box of corn flakes….  It’s an eight to ten hour trip, and everything has to be unloaded when you get there, including a couple of small boats with fuel and sails etc.  It’s quite an expedition.

Camping on the island with no TVs and no computers and no mobile phones is blissful.  And it makes you talk to other people too..!  There you can forget the Matrix, and enjoy the important things in life.

One of my favourite pastimes was photographing Clownfish.  These were made famous by Hollywood when they made “Finding Nemo” who was a Clownfish.  They’re really easy to photograph, almost enticing you to.  They are normally so common….  well I just took them for granted.  But on out last trip to Northwest Island, there were none to be seen, not even in the protected zones, which, let me tell you, was very depressing.  Something is definitely awry here, and it’s not down to people eating them.

North West Island

Speaking of eating, another activity I always looked forward to was spearfishing.  In the good old days (when I was twenty one……  sigh) you could dive in the water with a speargun and look around for the best and biggest coral trout or cod.  All it took was one kill for dinner.  I even speared a Venus Tusk Fish once that must’ve weighed twenty kilos and fed the whole camp.  We never killed more than we could eat and never removed fish from the island, though later some less environmentally friendly people started bringing freezers and generators…..  which was about when I stopped going.  That sort of behaviour is now banned thank goodness.

But this last trip, I speared one fish that wasn’t worth eating, and then didn’t catch one other……  where have all the cods and trouts gone…?  In people’s freezers?

One of the men on this last trip was a friend of Roger’s whose name, if I remember rightly, I think was Peter.  He owned an American Indian style canoe fitted with an outrigger and sail, and he and his daughter went out sailing on this thing nearly every day.  Being friends of Roger’s I assumed they were perfectly capable sailors, and on our last day, I decided to go out with them accompanied by Glenda.  The idea was they would drop me off on the edge of the reef with my speargun to see if I could catch one decent fish before leaving.  When we reached the outer reef, Peter’s daughter dunked the anchor, which I took for granted hit the sand at the bottom.  So I didn’t check…  I assumed she would….

As I had been having trouble with my weight belt, I mucked around for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, removing one weight at a time, testing floatation, and again, and again…..  until I was happy.  Back in the water, i started swimming face down with a snorkel towards the island and the reef.  And I swam, and I swam, and……  where was the damn reef?  I turned around only to see the small canoe my wife and the other two were in disappearing towards the horizon…..  I turned the other way to look at the island and thought…..  geez it looks rather small from here…..  which is when I realised we had all been drifting away from the island, the anchor had never hit bottom.  And here I was, in a black wet suit, in the middle of the shark infested and equally black coral sea, where no one would see me.  If they even knew I was missing……!

The current was strong.  It was clearly decision time.  I unclipped and dumped the weight belt, and rolled over onto my back and began using my fins to swim as fast as I could comfortably keep up for I didn’t know how long.  In those days, I could easily cycle for two hours non stop, riding up and down Brisbane’s biggest hills, and I convinced myself all I had to do was get in the groove, and just do it.  I have no idea how long I did this for, I guesstimate maybe two hours.  Encouragingly, I could tell I was making progress.  Slowly but surely, the island was getting bigger…  but how long would I last?  And zero signs of the other three or the bright red sail that was raised above the boat.  Surely that thing could point into the wind against the current…?

Eventually, the charter boat that was going to take us back to Gladstone the following day arrived out of the blue, dropping off another lot of people.  How lucky could I get?  Raising myself up as far out of the water as my poor old legs and fins would allow, I yelled and screamed and waved my speargun in the air, until to my relief, someone on the boat spotted me.  You have no idea how euphoric that felt…..  I was pretty buggered by then, and I really have no idea how much longer I could have kept on swimming.  At least in a wetsuit I could never sink I suppose….

The skipper positioned the boat close to me, and I dragged myself aboard, spluttering about the other three drifting off towards Cairns in a canoe with a red sail…..  I’m not sure they believed me, but they nevertheless motored in the right direction, and yes, we found them…..  and boy was Glenda glad to see me on the deck!

The crew threw a tow rope towards the canoe, but you wouldn’t believe it…….  it got tangled in the propeller (which was thankfully not turning).  Someone had to dive in and fix it…..  and guess who was all rigged up for diving?

Reluctantly, I jumped back in.  I say reluctantly, because by then we were in deep water, and there was a six foot swell, and there’s nothing quite as intimidating as a hundred tonne boat lurching up and down six feet when you have to get under it….  So holding one arm up to make sure the thing didn’t thump me on the head, I took a deep breath and dived under the boat and miraculously untangled the rope that would allow my wife’s rescue……  oh and the other two as well, as incompetent as they were….

Believe me, that was the last time I took anything for granted.  Well, anything this serious at any rate.

And yet, we collectively take this amazing little blue planet for granted too…..  and I can’t help but wonder how much longer before that gets us all in deep trouble……  there is no planet B.