Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Abalone Quest (Part 2 of 4 of the Quest)

Bruny Island
I had only a small backpack on with a few clothes on a sunny day, and I was also lugging around a heavy weight belt and dive gear in my hands, when I boarded the ferry to Bruny Island. Bruny Island is a remote island off of Tasmania, and it only has 500 people that live there. It looked like this trip was becoming visits to remote and extreme islands.

When I boarded, a blonde teenager of 15 was the only other person without a car who boarded Bruny. His name was Hector, and I told him I was going to Bruny to dive for abalone. He told me where to go. Hector was shy, and he seemed excited to meet someone from Los Angeles. Later, he would tell all his friends he met an Asian-American on the ferry from Los Angeles.

Hector also told me that there's no public transportation on the island; so, I had to hitchhike to get to the camp ground. Another hassle. Soon, Hector left downstairs where his friends were.

Without having a car, it was a hassle to come onto Bruny Island with heavy dive gear: a two piece wetsuit, a lead weight belt, fins, and a mask. As a result, I was ill prepared for the harsh weather of Bruny because I only had a small pack. I didn't have enough clothes. I didn't have enough food.

On the ferry, I saw a jeep that had the label Dive Bruny Island. I chatted the guy up. I asked for a lift. He said he would.

Peter drove me to my camp on Bruny Island. He was most hospitable. He pointed out the most southern wheat that grew in Australia and the smoking house for fish and the chocolate factory and the oyster farm and the cheese factory.

It was a most sunny day. But because it was my first day on Bruny, the first day of fair weather deceived me. It was cool and sunny, but no wind. That would change later.

Peter pointed out a good dive site for Abalone. It was where Abel Tasman and Captain Cook landed hundred of years ago. Then, he went out of his way to drop me off at my campsite. I pitched my small little red tent. I geared up and went for a dive in my wetsuit.

As I walked to the spot, Hector and his friends found me. Hector kicked a ball across the road and ran to the ball to run up to me. His friends came. They were shy too but were happy to be introduced. One of them said, "So, he's the one from Los Angeles."

I smiled and nodded. Then they went off their way to play more soccer in the sunshine with the ocean on the coast next to them.

I reached my point. I plunged into the water. I felt the icy water swish against my skin. I hate the cold.

I swam through the great Kelp Forest and couldn't see anything. The seaweed kelp grew massively, and sometimes I felt engulfed by it. It certainly tangled me up a lot. And when it tied up my mask, I felt like I couldn't come up to the surface for air, which felt like suffocation.

The currents were also strong. It was like a whirlpool against the tides. It was like a great sea monster was sucking in the water and me with it. Then spitting me out. Then it'd suck in the water again and spit me right back out.

After about 30 minutes of this, I felt seasick. I think it came more from the dizzying effect of seeing the moving seaweed (like when someone can't read in the car because of his peripheral vision) than the strong currents.

Yet, there was a point when the swishing water calmed, and I spotted one. An abalone. And it was huge. I took in a few deep breaths and swam down to take a look. Yup, that was it. I went back up for air. Caught my breath.

Then, I took my knife and tried to pry it off the rocks. But because I hesitated, the abalone suctioned itself on the rock. I pried and pried with excitement, but I was losing my oxygen from doing so. Then the current swept me away, and the knife got stuck between the rock and abalone. I was dizzy from not having enough air.

I surfaced and inhaled more and more air. I couldn't find my abalone and knife because of all the seaweed covering it. So, I had to wait once again for that split second when there was a pause between the waves, and I found it.

I dove down. I grabbed the knife and wrenched up. The abalone flipped over. I picked it up. I was awed by how big it was. It was the size my hand. I put it in my bag. Success. I captured my first one.

But as I went to the surface, I felt dizzy and sick. I took out my snorkel and vomited my lunch into the water. A red mist of stomach acid and chunks of food mixed with the ocean water. Oh, I thought - I'm not feeling well.

But on I went, and later I found another one and called it a day.

I was cold and shivering. I got two abalone. I must've been in the water for a little over an hour.

Upon coming to shore, I took my catch and stabbed a knife between the shell and the meat of the abalone. I felt bad for killing the creature; I hadn't killed game in awhile. And to do it now, made me realize how awful death was. I told myself, It's for Mom. I cut off the abalone gut and tossed it into the ocean. I thanked God for my catch, and put the meat and shell back into my plastic bag.

I went to my campground kitchen. I boiled some water. I put it in an instant noodle soup. I drank it. It felt good to touch the warm bowl. My hair was cold and wet. My body was icy. My body sucked out all the heat when I drank the soup.

I went to the restroom. I had no change for taking a paid shower. So, I turned on the faucet and cupped my hands and then poured the hot water over my body. It felt good.

I was successful, but not very successful as you can get 10 per day. I was annoyed I got seasick too.

I changed into my regular clothes, and in the kitchen was an elderly couple - who was now drinking Bailey's Irish Liquor. It looked good.

I sat and slumped on the couch, looking worn and pathetic. But I thought to myself, if I caught two, that means I could get more.

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