Free Beer & Sex by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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17 Humphrey's narrow escape

Humphrey was a rock cod who lived on the Yongala wreck just south of Townsville.  He had a huge mouth, built for suction, and would have weighed in at about forty kilograms.  Humphrey was big, spotted and friendly towards people who fed him ... and there lay the root of his problem.

The Yongala was a passenger ship that sank during a tropical cyclone (hurricane) in 1911.  I used visit it as a divemaster.  The wreck lay in deep water.  That meant we could allow no more than three well-spaced dives a day.  The last was usually after dark, following a light evening meal.

Night dives are fun.  You see things that aren't around during the day and the colours are different.  I'll tell you about them in another story.  Here, I'll stick to Humphrey and the trouble he caused.

It wasn't his fault.  The blame lay with the delinquents who thought they could feed him.  As I explained in my pre-dive briefs, fish feeding is strictly out.  It's bad for the fish and could attract sharks and that could be bad for the divers.

The delinquents never listened.  While I was explaining the importance of safe diving, they were stuffing dinner scraps into the pockets of their buoyancy vests and hiding them about their persons.  I confiscated those I found but rarely had time for a proper search.  The odd chicken scrap usually got through.  One night the greater part a cooked chook escaped my search.

Humphrey must have smelt us coming.  He arrived the moment we hit the deck and made straight for one of my female charges.  She was a buxom girl with a bulging wetsuit which she began to unzip.  Divers with cameras gathered round, evidently aware that something spectacular was about to happen.  Lights flashed.  The zip went down and a plastic bag popped out, followed by two pendular breasts ... sucked from the suit by Humphrey.

Fortunately, he lusted for the chicken and not the girl.  The camera lights continued to flash as bits of chicken vanished down his huge gullet and the wetsuit was zipped back up.  We continued the dive and returned to the surface in good spirits.  The camera shots were first class and proved to have excellent publicity value.

The following night, I took extra precautions to ensure that nothing was taken down for Humphrey.  His exploits were entertaining but involved an unacceptable level of risk.  If I'd stopped to think, I might have realised that failure to satisfy his lust for chicken could also raise problems.

The big cod was clearly delighted to see us.  He arrived with a rush and fastened his huge mouth onto one of my female charges before any of us realised what was happening.  The terrified girl panicked and inflated her buoyancy vest in a frantic attempt to break loose.  She would have rocketed to the surface if I'd not managed to grab her ankle.  Over-rapid ascent can be fatal.  Air expands and lungs can be burst.

The other divemasters agreed that the whole thing could have ended very badly.  Sitting around after the dive, drinking beer, we decided that Humphrey had to go.  We had powerheads to deal with sharks and had used them to protect our divers.  We had no inhibitions about shooting Humphrey, even if he was a lovable character.

At this stage, I should explain that a powerhead is an explosive device that can be fitted to a speargun.  It's as lethal as a 303 bullet and is definitely not the sort of thing to be used at night after a couple of beers.  We decided to go down and get Humphrey the next day.  By then, a storm had blown up and we were forced to return to port.

Warnings about Humphry's dangerous ways were issued to other divemasters but no one had the heart to shoot him.  Cods can live to a ripe old age.  For all I know, he is still on the Yongala cuddling up to divers.