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Spearing Doggies - 3 Months in Africa

September 29, 2017

 

 

Africa has been on the top of my list of places to explore for as long as I can remember. I finally got the chance to visit last September. After 3 hard months of scouting for the World Championships I was looking forward to drying out. 

Me and Sam had a pretty rough idea of a timeline and some friends we wanted to visit but otherwise no real plan. We started off in Egypt with a quick visit to the pyramids. They were cool but super touristy we only stayed a day and it was enough.

 

 

While there we decided to visit Dahab where I knew some of the local Freedivers. Dahab was incredible and even though we were only there for a few days was one of the highlights of our trip. I have never seen reefs as healthy and abundantly populated with fish as in the Red Sea. We did a night snorkel and the diversity of life was absolutely breathtaking. Dahab is the freediving Mecca for all of Europe. The legendary blue hole there, it's really more of an arch, is open on the bottom to the Red Sea. I kept hearing about big tuna that lived at the bottom and when asking what kind everyone said yellowfin. Spearfishing is illegal in Egypt so I didn't think any more about it. The next day I did a dive to 200 feet in the hole and was absolutely shocked to see a school of 100 pound dog tooth tuna just milling about under the arch. I stayed and watched as long as I could then returned to the surface. These were the first doggies I had ever seen and they were huge and they were deep. I was hooked. 

 


From there we headed to Nairobi to visit some old college friends Keval and Savan Shah. I wasn't sure what to expect but a safe, modern, and bustling city was not it. Uber picked us up from the airport and we saw a Zebra grazing on the side of the road not 5 minutes into being in Kenya. We spent the next two weeks visiting the elephant orphanage the zoos and going on two incredible weekend safaris with our friends. The first weekend we visited Chyulu Hills where we camped on the most beautiful hills I'd ever seen. Lots of wildlife coming in and out of our campsite and the freedom to walk around and explore. Our second weekend safari was completely different. We were confined to a safari truck all day and except for one quick chase of a serval cat I wasn't allowed to leave the truck. This was my first real safari and an actual dream come true. We were in Massai Mara a super famous park that bordered the Serengeti. Keval and his friends had all done this many times so they partied in the back while me and Sam were glued to the windows. The safari was epic. I wanted to stay and live out there with the game wardens that hunted poachers. One of the craziest things I learned there was how bad the poaching problem really is. Everyone hears about the elephant and rhino poaching but we don't hear about the poaching for game meat. The rangers at Massai Mara remove about 4000 snares a month. These are set to catch the antelope, zebras, wildabeasts and anything else that steps through it.

From there we headed to the legendary island of Zanzibar to see Eric Allard of Extreme Bluewater Spearfishing. Eric and I had been talking online for years. It started with a job opportunity as a guide in Zanzibar and developed into a friendship after discovering we attended the same small college in Florida. We arrived in Zanzibar with the full intention of staying no more than a week or two and continuing our travels south. 


We just kind of arrived in Zanzibar with no real idea of where we were going. I was expecting a small island where I'd ask for directions and go find Eric. Not somewhere that took over two hours to drive across. After searching online for the Extreme Bluewater Spearfishing address we headed to Paje not knowing what to expect. We arrived in paradise. Soft sand roads led up to Eric's partner Nigel's beach house. The tide was low and the wide white sand beach turned into a mile of shallow reef and sea grass beds that ended abruptly in a beautiful barrier reef. The local women were wading around in groups dragging nets and collecting octopus. Shortly after arrival the center console carrying Eric's latest group of Latham island divers arrived. A few of my friends were on that trip and the stories they brought back of epic battles with monster fish had me wanting to see this place more than ever. Broken double floppers, trashed shafts, marlin sightings, raging current, deep dives, and monster doggies. After helping them unload, Eric said he had a few spots open for his end of the year trip. I couldn't resist. I called my best friend Ryan Suits and he made plans to join us for what was sure to be an unforgettable trip. We then settled in for six weeks of waiting on Zanzibar. 


Eric invited us to stay in the "guide" house with head spearfishing guide Clinton Sanders and freediving instructor Nico 
Bleeker. Sam and I were stoked to try and immerse ourselves in some of Zanzibars ancient culture. I'm pretty sure the term "Africa hot" was invented in Zanzibar. At 10 am being anywhere other than on the beach was unbearable. Air conditioning just wasn't a thing there. Only the big resorts had it. None of the restaurants, shops, or houses had it. We often joked of hiring a cab to just run the car and let us sit in it with the AC blasting. 


I got offshore a few times a week diving with Clinton whenever he had clients. It was on the local coral atolls of Zanzibar that I had my first taste of hunting doggies. Or puppies as Clinton and Eric kept reminding me. All I had for gear was my Greece reef hunting setups. A 115 Bleu Tec Raptor was the biggest weapon I had and it would have to work. I had it setup with a 80 m reel and wore a belt reel as well. It turned out to be the perfect setup for hunting the deep reefs. I was hunting speckled snapper, jobbies, emperors, and small doggies all at 40 plus meters. I lost a few small doggies and saw a bunch more before finally landing my first one out with Eric. It was about 5 lbs but I was beyond stoked. Their strength and ability for getting off spears is incredible. Over the next couple weeks I picked away at small doggies. All the practice in the world could never have prepared me for hunting the Latham island giants.

 

After a month in Zanzibar we were getting stir crazy and decided to plan a foray inland to the Ngorongoro Crater. We flew to Arusha from Zanzibar then got picked up by one of our friends local guides. Kitoi took us into Karatu and drove us around till we found a suitable place to stay. It was here in Karatu that I first discovered the magic of a motorcycle. We were staying in a hostel about 30 min outside of Karatu so needed some transportation. In Zanzibar I had been renting scooters and they let us really get out and explore the island. I started asking around and someone offered us a motorcycle. I had absolutely zero clue on how a clutch or gears worked having always had automatic cars. Naturally I said sure figuring I would just learn. Some 15 year old kid showed up a few minutes later driving a Toyo. He gave me the key and two helmets and I gave him 20 bucks. That was it no ID, no papers, no signature. I attempted to drive it out of the parking lot and couldn't get more than a few feet without stalling. The kid took pity on me and took me around a field for awhile till I could shift and brake and hopefully not die. Me and Sam then got on and survived the 30 minute ride back to our hostel. We took that motorcycle everywhere for 5 days and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Our goal in Karatu was to setup a cheap safari for the crater. I figured making friends with the locals we could figure out how to get in the crater cheap. I was wrong. Still ended up costing us $1000 for 1 day in the crater. This was about a 1/6th of our entire budget for 3 months but ended up being worth every penny. We saw a pride of female lions kill a wildabeast and feed on it for hours. We also saw a lion cub that was screaming for its mom in the rain. It was an unbelievable experience. We left Karatu with some friends we bumped into from Zanzibar. We were headed the same way so shared a cab to Arusha and planned to take a bus from there. In Arusha we had an extra day so visited a spring in the middle of the desert. It was an absolute desert oasis like you see on tv or something. Desert all around and this little spring bubbling crystal clear water out. Some dude selling beer out of a cooler and some other guys grilling a lamb. I borrowed a mask from someone and had an epic time exploring the spring. I even speared a few catfish with a knife I tied to a stick. We grilled them on the side of the spring. Another highlight of the trip. 

We decided to take this 11 hour bus ride instead of flying as Sam nearly had a panic attack in the tiny plane on the way there. This was a huge mistake. The bus was completely packed like 3 across every seat. The "luxury" bus was actually an ancient school bus thing with no AC. I was furious and Sam was starting to feel really sick. Our guides had assured us the bus would arrive in time for the last ferry of the day. It didn't. We got to Dar Es Sallam took a taxi to the dock and watched our ferry pull away. We spent the night in a hotel and caught the first ferry in the AM. Ended up costing way more for our bus ride then it would have to fly. Back in Zanzibar we were making final preparations to leave for Latham. My friend had arrived with my brand new Aimrite double roller and we were stoked to have a try at some real doggies. Sams condition had only gotten worse and last minute she decided not to join us on the live aboard. 

The crew consisted of Ryan Suits, Dimitri Kollias, myself, and Nigel and Eric as guides. We departed from Kizimkazi everyone was in super high spirits as we began rigging for battle. I was feeling pretty awful not sure if it was the permanent Africa upset stomach or seasickness or what. About 7 hours offshore we were still within cell range and I got a message saying Sam had Malaria. I was pretty upset about leaving her and also didn't know if I had it as well. We all went back and forth on whether I should take the Malaria medication or not but eventually decided against it. The next day we woke up within sight of Latham. I was pleased to be feeling a bit better and was hoping it would stay that way. I was shocked at how small this "island" was I would describe it as more of a sandbar. No trees just a little bump of sand covered in birds 50 miles off the coast of Africa. We took off in the tender for our first day of spearing and it was incredible to dive with so many legends. After just two hours in the water at the warm up spot we had multiple wahoo, a doggie, some job fish, and had even seen a few billfish. This island and group were on fire. We headed back to the boat to drop of some fish before going to the "big doggie spot". At the boat while taking a quick photo Dimitri dropped one of the wahoo on his foot. It was bad. Blood everywhere and a slice 4 inches long and 3/4 of an inch deep. Ryan Suits is a med student and went into full doctor mode. We patched him up as best we could but this would be the end of the trip for him. Eric and Nigel took him the 50 miles back to shore on the tender while me and Ryan waited to see what would happen. Late that night only Nigel returned. From then on it was just Ryan Suits, Nigel, and me in the water. We took turns so that only two float lines were running at a time and were super efficient. The ledge off Zanzibar where the monster doggies live is at 70 meters. It's a sheer wall from 50 m to 70 meters. The current runs at 4 kts right into it and creates this massive upwelling. This is where they live. You have to time your drop to intersect this area on a 4 kt current with no real markers except time and the sound of the reef. It took a few days to get the hang of it but eventually we were landing in the sweet spot on most drifts. Visibility varied from 10-25 m and conditions changed constantly. Sometimes we could see the bait from the surface other times the bait was super deep. The current was always changing on us. Definitely one of the hardest spots I've ever speared. The predators here were massive. Giant Goliath groupers hanging way up in the water column. Bull sharks. Schools of hammerheads. Giant trevally swim around in packs. And then the elusive giant dogtooth tuna. The game was played with a large roller gun, 40-60 m hard float line, and 3 floats rigged in sequence connected by bungees. A big dive 3-4 hundred feet up current of the ledge then drift down with the current for as long as you could. Hopefully you would cross the ledge. The big doggies cruised up and down the ledge hunting. The more times you hit that sweet spot the better chance of running into a monster. Over the course of the week I had 5-6 real good opportunities at 80 kilo plus fish. I failed on all accounts. My first opportunity I stuck a monster low in the gills. Not the ideal shot but it held long enough to completely submerge two buoys. After being nearly knocked out by the 2 atm float on its way up I discovered a pulled crimp. That's pretty much how the rest of the week went for me. Bent shafts, bad shots, and gear failures. The power of these fish was just unbelievable. Nothing keeps me awake at night like thinking about all the kook mistakes I made on this trip of a lifetime. This is why we spearfish and what keeps us coming back. 

 

 

The Latham island trip with Extreme Bluewater Safaris was by far the best spearfishing trip I've ever been on. Despite losing the monsters we landed lots of quality fish and had an absolute blast. This is a no bullshit trip. Out at sunrise back in at dark asleep by 9 and at it again in the morning. Exactly how I like it. 

I returned to find Sam in awful shape. She had lost 15 pounds and looked like death. She said the worst was behind her and she did not think she was going to make it. Luckily Eric's wife took care of her and at one point Dimitri and Sam were both in the small African hospital together. Africa was a truly epic experience both above and below the water. I cannot wait till I get can get back there and have another shot at the monsters. Until then the missed opportunities will keep me awake at night. 

 

 

 

 

 

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