The Critic Flings Blood in the Water


The Critic Flings

Blood in the Water

Dusky Whaler

Underwater creatures and overwater bluffs

Manly, Australia
22nd June, 2004

The sharks slid through the water. Forward, twist to the right, forward, twist to the left. They described a jagged half circle a few feet away.

We settled onto the sand to watch. Above our heads, the sea moved in gentle waves. Sunlight broke into slender beams, lancing through the water. Smaller fish wandered in shoals around our heads, jerking first this way, then that.

The two sharks, following their instinct, knew only to hunt. Forward, twist, forward, twist. If I had flapped my hand in front of their jaws, I suppose they would have bitten it off. Otherwise, we were of no more interest to them than the rocks around us.

They circled and circled.

Stuff Knower

Outdoor sports. Diving, hiking, climbing, canyoning. Your vehicle to action, adventure, and fulfillment. One moment you can be hurtling down a glacier; the next wrestling with an angry jellyfish; the next hopping on your one good foot, trying not to cry . I have loved outdoor pursuits since the age of ten. I have spent years running through woods, or rushing through water, or lying, puzzled, in mud.

There are many dangers. Not falling off a cliff, or a grizzly bear biting off your leg - these leave honorable scars and gain you much credit. If you can contrive to lose half your intestines through some unnecessary exercise you might even land a National Geographic special. You on the cover, looking noble, staring off into the distance as if you'd just spotted a zeppelin shaped like a hippo.

No. The true danger in any outdoor pursuit is being found out.

Everyone wants to be accepted. Everyone wants to show they are competent, experienced. Noone wants to be the new boy, running around with "Inflate me" taped to the back of his wetsuit while the tough guys flex their bronzed muscles, trip you over and make the girls giggle.

Hey look, someone says, there's a giant sea panda! Yep, you say, leaning back on your elbow and chewing thoughtfully, seen one o' them varmints back in '69.

Hey, someone else says, check out this rope harness! Yep, you say, nodding and pursing your mouth. That's one o' them two loopers. Ain't seen that jesse since Scapa Flow, '78, or thereabouts.

You want to be a stuff knower. It's a school playing field, over and over.


Alas. You can't be an expert at everything, at all times. Your cover gets blown. On Saturday, I joined a group of fellow derring-doers. A shore dive. Simon was a new diver. Poor old Simon. The divemaster asked us, "How much weight do you want?"

I leaned back on my elbow and chewed thoughfully."Hmm - two piece three mill wetsuits... ten kilos - twenty two pounds". Good.

Simon frowned. "Umm. Three?"
The divemaster gave him a hard look. "Three what?"
"Three weights."
"Three weights??"
Simon gave a grin of desperation "Umm, yes... the big ones?"
"We'll give you twenty pounds and see."

Later on, equipment check and gear up. We sorted out our stuff and started to change. Simon spoke up again. Once more, the desperate grin.
"Umm. Ha ha. Um. Looks like I left my wetsuit leggings behind..."
We laughed. "Hurry back and fetch them, we'll wait." We gave each other rueful looks. Simon. The new guy.

We swapped acronyms while we waited. Divers love acronyms, just as surfers love hairstyles, and sailors love complicated words for ordinary things. Jibboom, indeed. Hence:
Big White Rabbits Are Fun - BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, Final OK.
SOrTED - Signal, Orientate, Time, Exchange, Descend
STELAR - Signal, Time, Extend, Look, Ascend, Rotate

I had a new one: RSBFT
"What's that?"
"Remind Simon to Bring his F-ing Trousers."

Ha ha. Good one, mate. I nodded. I was one of the tough guys. I flexed my bronzed muscles and looked round for someone to impress.

"Hey, mate?" The divemaster was looking over at me.
"Yep?" I gave a quizzical frown. One expert to another.

"Uh, you've put your tank on the wrong way round."

God - Damn - It

Shore Paradise

The seaside week is slow in days, quick in time. The sun breaks into the sky, the tide comes in. There are no clouds to divide time into chunks, to change the light. The shadows are short, quick-lived. The sun burns down to the horizon, the tide goes out. Days are hot, nights are cold.

The sun shines. Crowds drift in from the city ferry. They know they should come to the seaside. Once here, most don't know what to do. They drift along the shore. Buy ice cream. Buy chips. Loll around. Go home.

At Shelly Beach the children and braver adults challenge the cold to splash out into the cool winter sea.

Thirty metres away the sharks, following their instinct, know only to hunt little fish. Forward, twist, forward, twist. They have no interest in the humans. Sunlight breaks into slender beams, lancing through the water. Smaller fish move in shoals, dancing first this way, then that. Smaller creatures play along the sea bed, burrowing, exploring, living, dying. Every underwater rock crevice harbours a tiny world.

Above the sea it is another cloudless day. The ferries bring the day crowd. The sea creatures do not notice.

They circle and circle.




Yvonne dive
Yvonne's First Dive


Free time
Free Time



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The Facts

Where I stayed
Manly: Manly Beach House. This hostel rents individual rooms at competitive rates. Quiet and clean. I rented a short-let apartment from them in the Waterside Apartment building, beside the Corso and a stone's through from the sea. Vik and Dev are very helpful.

How I got around: