January 2006 Florida Spearfishing Marathon.

The prospect of a 30 hour ride in a pathfinder full of gear with a broken cd player, a passenger window that will not open and a cracked exhaust pipe would likely have most people ponder on the benefit of a spearfishing trip to Florida.

Thatís because most people donít have to deal with January in Quebec. I have a plant light for me.

Since we planned on fishing all day every day for two weeks taking a car was the most practical solution. Plane and car rental for two for two weeks would cost nearly 3000$. Besides you canít have much gear and I donít know many people foolish enough to put two kayaks on a rental.

Taking a car costs 500$. Once in Florida you have your own transportation, all the gear and you can carry kayaks.

Kayaks mean autonomy. Without them you have to rely on people to take you on their boats or swim to first and second reef. The third reef is a really long swim and with Fort Lauderdale intoxicated boat traffic itís a bit foolish.

Personally, I favour kayaks over motorboats. I like to spend time in the water, drift for hours and hours, and hit whatever spots I feel like. Worrying about the boatís engine, waiting turns and diving as a group is fine but it takes the free out of freediving in more ways than one.

Day 1

On the first day we used a kayak as a boat deterrent while we drifted over first and second reef. We found lots of bugs under what appeared to be an engine somewhere between first and second reef.

We dove only a couple of hours. We had spent most of that day getting fishing licenses and gear.

Later in the evening we met Federico. We went through everything in his garage. Thatís where I saw a contraption that few freediver have set eyes upon. Federico owns a machine that makes screw on bands! I expected to be taken in the back and shot for my indiscretion.

Federico sells the Marc Valentine guns and there were quite a few around. For those not familiar with the gun, itís supposed to be an uncompromising high precision competitorís gun. Very different from the normal high power stuff most of us use but the perfect gun if you want to shoot evasive fish and score points. I know that the handle is popular with the target shooting crowd in France.



He also had a few of Juanís guns. Itís an hybrid design using a Beuchat handle and a wooden stock. The Beuchat handle can support 3 bands or more since the pin is right under the release (see number 4). A solution similar to the one adopted by american tuna gun mechanism designers. The normal eurogun mechanism uses a pinching system that is smoother but can handle only a limited load.



Federico lent us his kayak for as long as we were in Florida. We now had two kayaks. Bad news for third reef residents.

Day 2

Four to six feet with a strong North Easterly wind.

JJ had no kayak experience but we made it to the second reef. We anchored east of the buoys north of Commercial. The vis was commendable for a rough day. I shot two Ceros within seconds (thatís Sashimi meat). I also took a jack for chum.



I was trying an old 100 cm Omer Excalibur that I had used only once in the four or five years Iíve owned it. I didnít like the original bands or shaft. I equipped it with a Riffe Euroshaft and I set a 3/4 inch Rob Allen band. I accomplish that by using old screw-on band rings and screws. I tied the bulk band material to the screw. It works very well. I get to use the material I choose at any length I want and it costs me 3$ instead of 40$. Which mean I could change my band every few weeks if I was not so lazy with my equipment. It worked well and I kept going back to the Excalibur all week.

While waiting for mackerels I heard a boat coming. I almost drowned waiting for it to pass over me. I guess the yellow kayak and the 4 foot flag is not enough. The boat had three props.

The wind was stronger by midday. Against better judgement, I insisted on going to third reef. JJ should have stayed on second reef instead of following me on my foolish mission. Soon he was loosing against the wind and seas. He paddled like a madman and went backward while a barely dip my paddle in an attempt to match his progress but still move forward. I suppose that all the years of kayaking have led to some sort of ability.

JJ was in good shape and I knew he wouldnít fail me but I could see him ripening. By the time we got to where I expected 3rd reef to be he could have used a little color.

Since I left the GPS home to make the whole thing sportier (a gallant way of saying I forgot the f. thing) I had to paddle against the wind and make repeated dives to find the reef; quite a proposition in those conditions.

On my first dive I went down to about 70 feet to find sand. I didnít know the area so I went out further. I finally abandoned when I saw that I was obviously too far. Anyway I could not see the bottom while holding to the end of my anchor line (perhaps 80 feet with the inclination) and the vis was pretty bad by then.



JJ had turned back. Made it to shore and passed out on the beach. I retreated to second reef. Triggers followed me for a while but there wasnít much else.



Day 3

Flat seas, great vis but a cold front was in the forcast.

JJ had an epiphany the day before and was now on his way to become an expert paddler. Not that he really needed it anymore. We decided to drift from second to third reef. The wind was pushing us offshore anyway.

After the last remnants of second reef we saw sand mostly. I say mostly since there was garbage here and there. Margates appeared once in a while and some sort of mackerel passed by.

The sand reached 60 before it got shallower. More scattered used tires. I expected to see some mutton snappers but only hogfish and margates greeted me on third reef.

As we drifted over the reef muttons started to appear. I was using a 120 cm Rob Allen Railgun. It was tied directly to my kayak. It was a gun I had not used in a long time.

I went down and landed in a sand patch at about 50. I let myself drift to the edge of the patch where I could get a glimpse of another patch on sand while I was mostly concealed behind a chunk of reef. Sure enough, 10 feet from me, a Mutton well over 10 pounds was showing its side... a point blank shot with a 120.

I pulled the trigger. My shaft planted itself firmly into the sand at least 6 inches away. Upon inspection I found that the shaft on my 120 was bent well beyond any hope of repair. Thatís when I remembered that the last time I used that gun I had to work on that shaft merely to put it back in the gun. The shaft did not look so bad while inside the gun but as soon as you took it out and turned it you could see the fatal bends. Federico sold me another shaft.

Day 4-5-6

The weather was great: visibility above average, no waves, and warm temperatures.



On 3rd reef we found fewer muttons than the first days, which was fine since we could only eat so many and we were looking forward to a challenge. We also spent time on second reef shooting passing ceros and playing with eels.

I fooled around with my hockey gun. It works great but I find it to be tip heavy. I really enjoy using that gun since I build it from scratch mechanism and all. The line release system is amazing. The gun that was merely supposed to be a vehicle for a mechanism I designed decidedly worked its way to usefulness.




Friday

I have always found that competitions clear delusions and help divers move forward. I donít see them as elite venues. I believe itís the beginners who get the most out of competitions. Yet many think they should show up only when they actually know what they are doing.

The Longfins had scheduled a competition for Saturday and I was really looking forward to meeting the guys and participating.

What makes the Longfinsí competitions worth while is that they are muscle power only. Everyone is on the same playing field. Itís not that you cannot have a real motor based competition. But they are much more demanding in resources both human and financial. For instance, you cannot have a bunch of divers changing turn at the wheel on a single boat competing against divers with personal boats and dedicated drivers and still call it a competition. To hold a motor based competition you need a fleet of similar boats. A maximum of one diver per boat goes without saying and on each boat you need at least an official and a driver. You really do need one official per boat and most international competitions will require a safety diver as well. None of that is going to happen soon in local competitions.

Unfortunately the competition was cancelled due to the cold front (unimaginable for divers outside of Florida). So we decided to dive the competition area. I lived dangerously by wearing my 3 mm suit.

We put in north of Sunrise and paddled to second reef. The wind came from the North West. The current was pushing us South. Visibility was excellent.

On my second dive I laid on the sand surrounded by corals walls. There were very few ornamental fish swimming about. While on the bottom, a school of small amberjacks swam by and 20 feet to my right I glimpsed a proper black grouper. It turned away. I remained on the bottom and I swam to the crevice. It was a long and complicated structure broken in places. I followed the fish carefully. The grouper kept moving away appearing once in a while in the many openings. I was not gaining so I decided to accelerate while it couldnít see me. I managed to get a little closer. I was perhaps five feet above the reef. As soon as it was in the open I took a long shot. I hit the grouper mid-section. It was fortunate that I had put two wraps of shooting line on the Excalibur the night before. Otherwise the shaft would have stopped short.

During that time, JJ was shooting mackerels. Heís a sushi enthusiast.

We decided to drift south with the current. The wind was pushing us to sea. We expected to end up over sand so we were pleasantly surprised when we discovered a new reef. We named it number two and a half or 2.5.

Initially reef 2.5 was considerably deeper than second reef and held a lot of bugs. As we moved south the reef got shallower with areas barely 15 feet deep.


I saw small amberjacks, a couple of hinds as well as suicidal red groupers. I guess they would have been easy game during the competition.


My sinuses were bothering me so I headed in early. JJ fished until darkness. A huge hammerhead paid him a visit, a local treat according to Bruno Munoz (I thought of using ďdelightĒ instead of ďtreatĒ but I like the ambiguity).

Saturday

The temperature was perfect for diving by any standard. It was sunny, the wind was coming from land, visibility was great and fish were everywhere. It was not especially cold. We dove for 6 hours. We would have stayed longer but it got dark. As it often happen JJ had spotted bugs minutes after sunset. We got a few in the remaining light but we eventually had to give up.

For the benefice of the Longfins: my feet got cold when I had to walk back to the car.

Sunday

Warmer air, wind from the north east, stiff waves.


Got in at 30th street close to Oakland and paddled north to Commercial. We anchored south of Commercial past the buoys. We found a large metal structure housing bugs, a sea turtle and a red grouper. It felt like the municipal aquarium.


I put the red grouper on my kayak and we pulled half a dozen lobsters.


On third reef JJ heard lobster squealing when I pulled a large lobster from a hole while holding my gun with my knees. Since the current and wind were pushing the kayak to which my gun was tied I had quite a workout. At about 60 feet, it was my deepest lobster yet. Third reef would be all right for lobstering if it wasnít for the current.

For some reason both of us kept missing fish. JJ started to curse his 115 cm Viper. He was using it mostly because he could tie it to the kayak. He prefers his homemade 90 cm. Heís the one who showed how to defy "the donít build your own mechanismĒ directive. Since then Iíve been experimenting with all sorts of mechanisms with mechanical line release devices and I reversed at least two mechanisms putting the nut behind the trigger. It turns out I donít really care about the woodwork as much as I like to design mechanisms.

We fished until sunset again. Later the wind really picked up. By the time I decided to take a midnight stroll the wind was howling. I saw a 30 foot sailboat desperately clinging to its anchor well into the swim zone. Whoever was on that boat was getting trashed.

Monday

No diving. The bad weather gave us our first break. Notice that it took 10 days before we got a bad day. We went to an anglerís shop on Andrews to get stainless steel springs. Bill McIntire had told JJ about the Jinkai springs. Itís quite a challenge to find springs in Montreal and it would certainly not have cost us 8$ for 50.

Later we went to Bruno Munozí place. Bruno showed us Juanís guns and we talked about the Beuchat handles and how difficult it was to get them at a reasonable price.

I was the designated driver but JJ and Bruno went for the Italian wine reserves.

Tuesday

The weather was not easing. Since weíre not the beach type, we decided to head back to Montreal. Besides the wetsuit soars would probably not have worked to my advantage.

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