17th Australian Bluewater Freediving Classic - Mark Kallman

An inordinate amount of preparation goes into the organization and successful presentation of any spearfishing competition and the Classic is no exception. Late in the year preceding a Classic, a committee has to be formed and cajoled, coerced or threatened into getting the ball rolling and that usually means contacting sponsors. I am a business owner and am frequently confronted with requests for sponsorship and am very sensitive to the decisions that go into committing to a sponsorship. This year it came as no surprise that we experienced a decrease in support from some sponsors. It can be difficult to equate sponsorship with advertising and justify the expense. It will always be the event promoter's ambition to convince the sponsor of the benefits but unfortunately there is no easy means of equating that sponsorship to an increase in revenue and I honestly wish there was, it would make the task of acquiring sponsorship that much easier. One is always cognisant of the current economic climate and the impact that will have on sponsors. That said, there were some stalwarts who contributed to the Classic and their support is highly valued and greatly appreciated. Our gratitude is extended to:
Coffs Harbour Chandlery, Spearfishing Downunder Magazine, Fishing Tackle Australia, Ski Kayak Centre, Adreno, Land & Sea Sports, Oceanic Diving Australia, Superfrog, Adina watches, James Sakker, Obsession Dive, Down Under Spearfishing Charters, Sharkshield, Absolute Beachfront, Allstar Sport
Once the task of obtaining prizes is complete the chore of attending to the paperwork begins. Acquiring a permit from the council for use of the beachfront, booking the beachfront for that weekend, getting all the necessary insurance documentation, contacting the Sea Rescue base at Woolgoolga for their assistance, getting the Woolgoolga Rotary on board to handle the auction, obtaining a permit to have a fish auction, arranging advertising and promotion of the event, even arranging the venue for the sign-on, the lunches and dinners, the presentation evening and the management of awards and trophies, let alone getting an efficient computer program to manage the daily results. The task would be almost insurmountable if not for a dedicated group of people prepared to donate their time and resources. Finally, the success of the event hinges on the whim of a most fickle mistress: the Sea. She can be decadently abundant and calmly provide you with her bounty one moment, only to turn into a tempestuous and murderous bitch the next. We were fortunate that together with the weather gods, her sworn allies, she co-operated in making this Classic a true bluewater event.

Boats traditionally launch from the beach at Woolgoolga but allowance is provided for launching from Arrawarra. All craft group for a mass start from the launch area, just offshore of Woolgoolga. Divers are permitted a half hour travelling time before the competition truly starts. Success is often dependent on the decision made that morning, head north or south? Conditions and species vary enough, to swing the competition, based on that first decision. We headed south looking for elusive jewfish but our source was not unique and the sure thing turned out to be a wild goose chase with the entire jewfish school scattering before anyone had much chance of boating one. So it was back to the drawing board, dropping back into a planned approach of choosing to chase species while hoping to perhaps get lucky by finding something big or unusual. Dave Welch and I quickly took Spanish mackerel but Michael Featherstone could not find one for love nor money, in spite of putting in a valiant effort. We kept on the move, looking for those different species. Having missed on jewfish and mackerel, the next stop was near the Lighthouse. Not expecting a mackerel, one turned up but now it was my turn to stumble, I missed on some amberjack and botched on stalking a cobia and we all agreed to move. Dave had an amberjack and was leading on the boat. Fortunately we are pretty realistic or pragmatic about the diving. Our firm belief is that if we are doing well, everyone is probably doing well and if we are struggling, then everyone is probably struggling. We could not imagine the success Jack Lavender was having at Hitler's Reef where he managed to chase up an amazing 8 species of pelagic fish in one day of diving, which included amberjack, high-fin amberjack, barracuda, bonito, cobia, pennant trevally, tailor and bludger trevally.

We continued our effort around the Lighthouse and pretty soon Michael had a Rainbow Runner; mine turned out to be too small. (Note: have some means of measuring your fish close at hand). Michael took a high-fin amberjack and then was very keen on getting a normal amberjack. I took an amberjack and Michael managed to find one eventually. He added a trevally to his list; Dave also managed an excellent Pennant trevally.

On returning to Woolgoolga we were astounded at the quality of fish that had been landed. Jack was ahead of the field by nearly 200 points thanks to his spectacular bag. My task was far from over, my wife and I returned home with the results to produce a spreadsheet for the day. A computer glitch led to a wasted afternoon, when some competitors discovered that the spreadsheet was not regarding empty cells as zero but assigning a value. After the competitors’ dinner and late into the night, we wrestled with the problem, working through the formulae and permutations until it was corrected. The issue was that divers would only get to see Saturday’s results first thing on Sunday morning, certainly not what had been intended. After the spreadsheet issue, the results started to become clearer and divers now knew what they had to land to qualify for best-of-the-best in the indicated species as well as where everyone stood in the scoring. At the end of day 1, 17 divers had taken 3 or more species which indicated the extremely high level of effort being displayed by the divers.

At the start on Sunday morning, many boats elected to go north with only a few stragglers, including ourselves, heading south. We were hoping that fewer divers would mean fewer spooked fish. Michael and I continued working similar areas and first up I had a very skittish Spanish followed by a wraith-like spotted mackerel both give me the slip. Our skipper Leon quickly told me Michael had a cracking good mackerel, well over 20kg in the esky. Dave was also struggling to find a mackerel and this time all I got was a little kingfish. I knew that Michael had a similar sized fish as I had seen him shooting it earlier. To remain in contention in a competition of this format, every dive must count and every potential scoring fish must be landed. Michael kept chipping away at the task and by the time we had to return that afternoon, he had another 5 fish in his bag, I had 2 and Dave had a small silver trevally. Michael had come in with a very consistent 2 days of diving but it was the big mackerel that made all the difference in the end. The benefit of consistency is reflected in the results, only 11 divers landed 3 or more fish on the second day of competition and Michael was ahead of the field by more than 250 points. The look on the faces of some divers returning from the north was remarkable. In spite of finding only wahoo, they had been treated to a day of extraordinary diving, beautiful clear, warm water and a prolific abundance of majestic wahoo. They could not put into words the sheer magnitude and excitement of the experience.

The results of the 2011 Classic are as follows:
Pairs: Grant Arnott & Brad Arnott (Adina watches)
1. Michael Featherstone ($500)
2. Jack Lavender ($300)
3. Andrew Martin ($100)
1. Adriana Djurasevich ($100)
1. Jack Lavender ($100)
2. Andrew Martin
1. Michael Featherstone ($100)
2. Tom Veitch
3. Grant Arnott
1. Paul Dorfstatter ($100)
2. Mark Kallman
1. Allan Eriksson ($100)
2. Rob Hyde
1. Darcy Wright ($100)
2. Paul Jones

Largest fish:
Of the competition: Michael Featherstone, Spanish mackerel 23.85kg (painting)
Spanish mackerel: Michael Featherstone 23.85kg ($100)
Wahoo: Adriana Djurasevich 18.4kg ($100)
Yellowtail kingfish: Alex Ritchie 14.7kg ($100)
Tuna: Tom Veitch 6.36kg (mack tuna) ($100)
Cobia: Kell Kielly 23.1kg ($100)
Jewfish: Alex Ritchie 6.27kg ($100)
Samsonfish: Ryan Balnave 8.29kg ($100)

The committee’s choice for the most meritorious fish: Dave Welch, Pennant trevally 5.85kg (painting)
The Charlie Vassallo State of Origin Award for the winning state went to Western Australia
I believe that Coffs Harbour Bluewater Freedivers can be justifiably proud of hosting another incredibly exciting Classic. For the full results please look at the website www.chbf.com. I look forward to seeing you all at the Classic next year.