Nationals bombed again (again, again)!!

Report back on Nationals 2002 and Bok selections by Ant Dunne

Well, 4 score and ten years ago, nah, 3 years actually, we had Nationals set for Cape St. Francis and Natal dutifully sent a full contingent off there nearly a week early to do battle with the other venerable provinces. We scouted and dived in icy water where it was clean and dirty where it was a little warmer and partied it up. After a few days of this, the weather deteriorated and the water also got worse – a sign of things to come! The comp was put off day after day and eventually cancelled with two days to go. It was a judgement call whether to waste two more days flogging that (now suffering from rigor mortis) horse.

The way Nationals are usually run is there must be three days of comp dived within usually 5 days of available comp days. As you cannot have more than two days of comp dived consecutively you have to have a rest day after two days. In spite of all this even if only one day is dived, the Nationals would be considered held and a success. Usually the first two diveable days are dived and then a rest day declared and if we are lucky a third day will be dived.

Last year Nationals was called off before it even got off the ground as the host province insisted on having the competition at Bird Island off the Port Elizabeth area, which is also a seal colony… At the SAFA (South African Freediving Association) AGM, which is held at the end of each Nationals, people expressed concern at holding the comp there and, in spite of negative comments, went ahead and arranged it. The comp was cancelled due to lack of interest…

Hole-In-The-Wall

the catchAnd of course this year was being hosted by Gauteng Province who nominated to hold it in the Transkei from the Hole-in-the-Wall. The last successful Nationals was held there and the proposal to hold it there again received many negative comments from locals. Most of the comments were centred on the reduction of fish stocks in the area to the local’s detriment in spite of the fact that the last two nationals held there were also 3 years apart and had about a 10kg total mass shot difference – so the concerns were more than likely not warranted. Anyhow the comp was attended by most of the provinces invited that arrived to dutifully scout the area to (hopefully) ensure success. Unfortunately a massive cold front and upper air cut off low-pressure region ensured heavy downpours and snow over the coastal and inland areas causing loss of life and damage to property. This pretty much wiped out the clarity, which had been really good, of the water for the first few kilometres of sea from the coast and so after spending about a week getting drunk, and other things, and disorderly inside for the week and suffering badly from cabin fever the comp was called off once again. Bummer. Oh well, it was a reprieve that the rest of the country will live to regret as Natal proposed to hold the next Nationals in Durban and it was accepted. Should be really interesting!!!

Choosing a National team

Due to the lack of Nationals this year and the requirement to choose a National team to represent South Africa at the World Championships to be held in Brazil in November this year the urgent necessity to hold Springbok Trials arose. Usually the people invited to ’Bok Trials are those that have placed in the top 10 during the most recent Nationals but obviously this could not be used as a guideline this time. This meant that reasonably anyone could be invited to the trial. It was decided at the SAFA AGM held at the Nationals this year that only those people that made their provincial teams could be invited to the ’Bok Trials and even then the names submitted would be subject to a selection committee. This was done as this “comp” is not one to be used to gain competition experience and standing in the South African spearing scene but a quick and hard evaluation of the diving abilities of the potential Springboks. From this a team of 3 members and one reserve would be chosen by the Springbok Selection committee which consists of 3 people : Tommy Botha, Anton Bosman and Rob Gates.

weigh -nA few names from the other provinces were put forward apart from those in Natal but were withdrawn due unforeseen circumstances. The names selected for the trials were Gyula Plagani, Jaco Blignaut, John Girzda, Ryan Burmester, Gary Hazel and myself, Anthony Dunne. As all the contestants were from Natal a vastly simplified competition structure could be adopted as well as much increased flexibility in selecting comp days from the period of Saturday 17th to 20th August 2002.

The original plan was to use a stop and swim structure as has been utilised before. This entails piling all the competitors on a few boats and driving to an undisclosed location – it may be in a well-known area but this would be done in a few areas to try and exclude the local knowledge advantage as much as possible. Then the competitors would be allowed to swim off in all directions and dive for the duration of that leg and not be allowed back on the boat in that time, thereafter the process would be repeated until the six hours of comp are over and very likely done again on a different part of the coast on another day or more. As all competitors were locals and quite familiar with the area of Deep Scottburgh it was decided to let each diver use a boat and split the area of Deep Scottburgh into two parts for the two days of trials. The first was the northern section from Scottburgh point to Widenham point, just south of Umkomaas river mouth. All wrecks were excluded. The southern section was to be from Scottburgh point to Rocky Bay, including the point.

Day One

weigh inThe first day was set for Saturday 17th August but was called off due to high seas the previous day and predictions for further bad conditions that day which never materialised. Sunday was a go with good water but quite a strong current – about 2km/h (The second day of Natal trials had a similarly strong current) and that makes for difficult diving especially in deep water. The main problem comes when you can’t see the bottom and you have to time your dive so that you land just before the spot you are targeting and if you dive too late you will have to swim up current to the spot otherwise you waste that dive – very tiring in 25m+.

Early the conditions were really good but later the east blew fairly hard and the sea was rather messy in spite of the fact that the wind and current were in the same direction. Visibility was good at around 20m and on one of my first dives off Aliwal I had a nice group of biggish Wahoo swim around me but I was using a short gun and they took me completely by surprise so I managed to spook the fish away from me – damn! A few drifts later I had another group swim up to me but this time I was ready and sank down quietly as the approached and spine shot the closest one (the smallest and stupidest one) but it was a “max weigher” at 5.8kg – Richard wouldn’t let me weigh in the dummy and made me take it out!! A “max weigher” means that it is over four kilos which was the agreed maximum weight that a fish would be awarded points on and any weight of that would not be awarded any further points – for more details on the format read Richard’s report on competition formats. I never saw any further Wahoo after that, but in that area while lying on the bottom in about 25m waiting patiently for a Kaakap to come in I saw two really nice Poenskop or Black Musselcracker around 20kg which would NOT come in to me in spite of spending a few lifetimes on the bottom, well it felt like it.

LaunchLater in the day I was sitting on the bottom trying to decide which small fish to shoot, once again in about 25m, I saw a yellow patch of fish swimming towards me that materialised into a nice shoal of Geelbek salmon. They swam right up to me so I took full advantage of the situation and shot one and pulled it in quickly as the shoal were being harassed by some Ragged Tooth sharks and a few big dolphins, which, fortunately didn’t manage to get my fish. The next dive down in the same area, after getting a lift up current with the boat, put me right near them again. They circled right next to me again and this time I stoned the fish as the predators were getting agitated.

There were a lot of Kaakap around and quite a few people managed to get at least one, rather strange for this time of year as they are predominantly a tropical fish and not endemic to our region. The usual trick with Kaakap is to lie on the bottom and throw handfuls of sand up which attract the fish – I would guess that they think it is a shoal of tiny fish that they feed on. You then peep through the cloud and hopefully shoot one a good shot as they tend to run into the rocks and are a strong fish. Locally that trick doesn’t seem to work nearly as well as it does in the tropics and you have to lie dead still and wait for them to come within range before you move or else they move off rather quickly.

The fish of the day was shot by Jaco Blignaut, which was an elusive, beautiful Eelskin Rockcod of 16.8kg, Gyula Plagani also landed a Poenskop of 9.8kg. The day’s standing was Gyula, Jaco, Ant, Gary, Ryan and John.

Day Two

the catchThe second day was elected to be the next day, Monday 19th August for the very good reason that World Champs is dived just like that – one day after the other and that is what the trial was about, to pick a team that would do well under that situation. The weather was ideal with a light southerly blowing and very little current although the visibility had deteriorated to around 12m deeper out and down to 3m or less in the shallower areas. Most of the competitors headed straight out to the deeper spots like Landers and 19 Fathom where they landed fish worth good points such as Tropical Yellowtail, Protea Bream and Blue Hottentot.

The fish were less abundant that day and much driving around from spot to spot was done. Once again Jaco Blignaut landed the fish of the day, which was a Yellowfin Tuna of 18.7kg that was shot with a reelgun! Another fish worthy of mention was John’s Rubberlips of 6.95kg. The standings for this day were Jaco, Gyula, Gary, John, Ryan and Ant.

The final score over the two days’ diving gave placing as:

  1. Gyula
  2. Jaco
  3. Gary
  4. Ant
  5. Ryan
  6. John
Day1 Jules Jacu Ant Gary Ryan John
Points 95.15 76.5 71.9 66.4 59.85 52.45
Percentage 100 80.39 75.56 69.78 62.90 55.12
Day2 Jacu Jules Gary John Ryan Ant
Points 64.7 57.4 53.4 50.3 47.75 46.1
Percentage 100 88.72 82.53 77.74 73.80 71.25
Total Jules Jacu Gary Ant Ryan John
Points 152.55 141.2 119.8 118 107.6 102.75
Total Jules Jacu Gary Ant Ryan John
Percentage 94.36 90.20 76.16 73.41 68.35 66.43

xls Springbok Trials weigh in results

xls 2002 Trials results 02-Feb-2002
xls 2002 Trials results 23-Feb-2002

The Springbok Selectors are still deliberating as to the members of the Springbok team as the trials are only used as an indication of a diver’s ability and other competition results are also taken into account.