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Entering the water was necessary from the bow.
We were anchored in the lagoon at Middleton Reef (southern Coral Sea). Wally Muller had roped Coralita’s anchor to an antique ships anchor we’d placed on the sand in the lagoon ‘yesterday’.
Now it was time to check the anchor. I was joining deckhand Richard Weir for the inspection and would film it.
All dinghies were either out of the water or anchored on their own elsewhere. In other words, no rescue vessel available.
Coralita was swinging in a great arc in the very strong breeze. Easy to miss getting back aboard as a strong current was also running. No problems. All went well.
It was a cyclone called Colin. Stronger than the cyclone that had wrecked Darwin a few years before. This was 1975. The wreck of the Runic, (pictured above during a previous visit) nearby, was battered by the heavy seas with waves breaking over her – we saw from a distance.
Wally Muller in 1971; Wally Muller underwater with the ship wreck anchor which saved Coralita during a cyclone at Middleton Reef.
Captain Wally Muller navigated using a sextant, the era pre GPS
Divers, John M Harding (senior) and Roy Bisson (on right)
This was the longest voyage undertaken by the famous charter boat in 1971. Newly launched the boat was 79′ in length and had accommodation for 16 divers (later reduced to 12), plus a crew of four.
The lure for such a voyage was shell collecting, a search for the rare volute thatcheri. Half the charter cost was paid by shell collectors. I was sponsored by a tabloid newspaper to write and photograph five stories that could be serialized over one week.
Text written especially for divers would be published in Fathom No.6 issue. Art director and diver, Roy Bisson being on the voyage.
From San Francisco the late Dewey Bergman (Sea and Sea Travel) was scouting on this voyage for what would become regular parties of American divers and underwater cameramen. The world was about to discover diving Australian style. The future voyages would not involve so much traveling time.
Marion Reef was the new inshore destination, still in The Coral Sea and today almost unvisited due to fuel cost considerations.
The Chesterfield Reef trip was our most memorable. Near perfect weather and a good crew of professional divers. For further information, including names of shipwrecks at Chesterfield Reef, see Wikipedia.org
Roy Bisson swim fins (flippers) were filmed simultaneously by my movie camera and another by Richard Ibara. This was Chesterfield Reef at it’s best. Grey Reef sharks were territorial with these displays as they probably had not encountered divers before.
** Seen in \\Reef Safari\\(18 fps video production), 1983**
There was a true 1 knot current running (which seems like three knots when you’re in it). \\Coralita\\ had invited me to a join an overseas team led by **Dee Scarr.**
Our first day was at \\Yongala\\ waiting for Qantas to helicopter out some lost baggage, which they did at considerable expense.
Underwater conditions were perfect. Maybe better than 30 meters of visibility. These large rays were near the ship’s stern where three giant Queensland groper were resting. A school of very large cobia had been near the sleeping rays and were first to leave.
(It’s interesting how cobia (aka black kingfish) and stingrays have something in common).
None of the overseas divers reached the stern. The current was too much for them.
Hostess **Dianne Widdowson** and I got there OK.
I rattled off a couple of Nikonos stills (as above) then switched to filming with a Eumig Super8 film camera. A pity those camera’s were mostly 18 frames per second. Better than nothing though.
The rays slowly becoming disturbed with our presence was the interesting part. One by one they awoke each other and slowly swam away. A good defense mechanism.
After a day and a half the team voted we move to a Coral Sea reef destination – which we did. Nothing else on the trip came close to matching what we saw during those first dives.
The tide varies by some ten meters at Broome. At low tide this beautiful old lugger (a pearl diver’s work boat) will be sitting on the bottom of the dry mangrove creek, right the edge of town just a 50 meters away.
A hard hat pearl diver of the past, surfacing with suspected \\bends\\ would be re compressed in this steel chamber. The lid had been removed for safety. In the background is an air compressor that would have been hand-cranked by a couple of workers – for many hours of a working day.