This video accompanies the previous post about sighting a seadragon in Tasmania.
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Another excerpt from Wandering (published June 2014):
I had one more week until I was supposed to meet Shanti and her family in Cambodia, so I decided to check out Tasmania.
When I was planning, I asked Kawika and Scotty about it, and neither of them had ever been there, nor knew anyone who had been there (which immediately prompted me to resupply my tampon stash while still in the city, I was traveling into unknown territory again). I hadn’t even known it was an Australian state until I started researching. I emailed a scuba company that promised sea dragons and set up a dive, so that was where I reserved a hotel room. All the hostels were sold out, again, and the hotel in Hobart was officially the most expensive place I have ever stayed. Stupid holidays.
As I flew into Hobart, I realized that I hadn’t done any proper research. I was looking for sea dragons and nature; in my mind I saw mountains and lakes and rivers, adventures and surf and scuba. It never occurred to me that I was going to the capital city of one of the Australian states. A big, horrible city.
I was the last drop-off for the hotel shuttle, so I got a small tour of the city. I felt like I was in downtown Seattle, not the small beach towns and backwoods laziness that I envisioned. And I had to walk several blocks from my hotel to find a Wi-Fi connection at a pub. I really need to learn how to properly research destinations.
According to my emails with Sue at Underwater Adventures, sea dragons lived in the harbors around Hobart. On my first morning in town I was supposed to meet her at the docks at 7:45, along with one other woman who was equally excited to find them. I arrived at the dock at 7:40, early as usual, and Georgina got there at 7:43. We waited, made small talk, waited more, and no boat. Finally, Sue motored up at 8:20; apparently a cruise ship motored past while she was loading tanks and the wake knocked two of them overboard and she had to dive for them. A shaky start to the day.
The boat wasn’t very well-kept; it was kind of messy with stuff everywhere, with six tanks sort of bungeed to the sides, but Sue was nice. She didn’t have any crew so she wasn’t going to dive with us, which immediately annoyed both Georgina and me. It’s way easier to find things underwater with someone who’s been there before. Getting directions in Cairns for a colony of clownfish was bad enough; now we had to locate an animal that looks like kelp in darker water.
We travelled 50 minutes to our first site at Betsey Island. The sky was grey and rainy and the wind was picking up. There were dozens of crayfish pots in the area where Sue wanted to drop anchor, so it took us a while to settle in. She gave me a selection of 7 millimeter wetsuits, all of them covered in dog hair. They probably would be comfy to sleep on. After trying a few, I finally found one that fit, which meant I could fasten it properly and still manage to breathe a little. I was worried that in darker water a tight wetsuit might make me feel claustrophobic and I’d freak out, but I continued getting ready – boots, hood, gloves, and 32 pounds of weights. I could barely move. Georgina was using a dry suit; Sue didn’t have one in my size. It took us an hour to gear up for the first dive.
Then came the moment I was dreading – touching the water. It was 16 degrees Celsius. In a 7-millimeter wetsuit, it still felt like 16 degrees. It was fucking cold. Like getting wrapped in ice, then buried in snow. Then stabbed in the head with icicles. I couldn’t remember ever being that cold in my life. Every time I turned my head to look around, some water would channel straight down my back. I just kept telling myself that I was doing this for a good purpose: sea dragons.
The visibility was around five meters in the greenish water. The underwater landscape consisted of kelp forests and a lot of strange plants, but I didn’t find many fish. I saw a wrasse, a box cowfish, anemones, starfish, a rockfish, and a couple crabs, but mostly just plants floating back and forth with the current. I was praying for a sea dragon.
“Please, God, let me see one so I don’t ever have to get back in this water. Pretty please? I’ll be good, I promise.”
The first dive lasted 48 minutes and by the end I was shaking uncontrollably, my teeth were chattering, and no sea dragon. Sue kept asking if we saw the felled tree where some live, or the backside of the reef where others are. That was why we had wanted a guide.
We left for the second dive site, the blowhole in Blackman’s Bay. There was no way I could take off my wetsuit between dives, so I put a jacket over it and jumped up and down to try to get warm, but it didn’t work. I ate half a box of Tim-Tams, possibly the greatest chocolate cookie in mass production, thinking that might help. Maybe it was just a good excuse to eat so many.
On the second dive I was cold going in, and thought I would die the moment I hit the water. I vaguely remember wondering if my nipples could cut through a 7 millimeter suit. This dive was a little shallower and I was too floaty; I had to swim back to the boat after 20 minutes for more weights. I was now carrying 38 pounds; the most I’d ever used before was 14. It was good incentive to start working out again; my legs had a hard time standing under the extra weight.
We saw more kelp and more cute cowfish, but it was 48 more minutes of no sea dragons. As we swam back to the boat, Sue yelled that we should try one more time a little further down, maybe swim until we have about 40 bar of air left. Obviously, sea dragons were way more important than following strict PADI dive rules. We dove back down on the other side of the reef for a total dive time of 63 minutes with no sea dragons. I was pretty sure my fingertips were going to break off.
I was told that we were only doing two dives, and although I was upset that we didn’t find a sea dragon, I was OK with getting dried off. The weather had gotten worse and the sun hadn’t come out all day; it was just windy and rainy. All I could think about was a hot shower and obscene amounts of food.
But Sue felt bad and suggested a third dive. Georgina gave the decision to me since I was the coldest, but not by much since her drysuit had a small leak. I came all this way to Tasmania, was half-frozen, and I’d probably never make it back. Another 20 minutes wouldn’t kill me. Sue’s rationale was that the first site gets battered by storms, the second site had a bunch of spear divers a few days ago, but the third site never gets much traffic. And that was when Georgina got pissed. Imagine an older, shorter, English housewife getting really angry. But I agreed with her. Why did we go to the crappy sites first, especially when the pristine site was only 15 minutes from the dock?
The third site was Boronia Beach. Sue was begging us to dive just a little while, even though one tank only had 100 bar and Georgina had to use her tank from the last dive. We decided to go for 20 minutes or until one of us had no air left. By then we had left PADI standards far behind. I think Sue felt bad because she usually gets in the water with the divers and can find the sea dragon hangouts; maybe her crew called in sick, but this wasn’t a great day for diving. I had been carrying my camera and decided to leave it on the boat for the last dive since it wasn’t doing anything but wearing down the battery.
Sue dropped us at the edge of a reef with instructions, “Go in here where you can see the reef, swim with it on your left; if you go around that corner into the other bay that’s OK, I’ll follow your bubbles from the boat.” Georgina and I swam, freezing. I started thinking that I really was going to die, then OH MY GOD A SEA DRAGON!
It was the weirdest animal I’ve ever seen in my life. It had a snout like a seahorse, a fat little body with teensy, fluttery, useless-looking fins, and a long tail that started off fat and tapered to very skinny. It was a male, carrying eggs. In total, it was about 14 inches long, and every color in the crayon box. The sun had just come out, and every time he moved, different body parts turned different colors in the light. He had two lumps on his head that looked like horns, and two long side fins that just dangled and looked like kelp. There was another set of tiny, fluttery fins where I thought his ears should go. The overall impression was like a flying elephant with a couple tinker-bell wings. Totally ridiculous.
And of course, I didn’t have my camera. I signaled to Georgina that I was going to the boat and I’d be right back. I sprinted in my 7 millimeter wetsuit. By the time I got back I was so out of breath that I had to float on the surface trying to breathe; my suit was too tight for a proper breath. But there was a sea dragon, so I went down anyway.
Georgina and I spent 25 minutes watching him. He just swam back and forth between a couple big rocks and showed off for us, like he was on a sea dragon catwalk. I completely forgot that I was cold.
Watch the seadragon on YouTube.
I feel that today was a momentous day in my career as an author. Or my wanna-be career as an author. I came to Portland for a visit, and coincidentally, the annual NW Bookfest was happening. I was several months too late to get a table at the exposition, but thought I could show up and make some connections, maybe sell some books. Schmooze with other authors.
When I woke up this morning I was actually pretty terrified about going to the event by myself, I find it hard to walk up to random people and talk, especially if I’m trying to sell my work. I considered having a bloody mary or two to calm my nerves but decided to go sober and see how it worked out.
The one thing I hadn’t counted on was that most authors are actually more introverted and geeky than me, which was a pleasant surprise. There were 100 tables of authors selling their books and I had no problem making conversation and at some point, directing the shy people into talking about my book and passing out my cards. Not to say that I didn’t learn about many other authors, but I formed some friendships and traded stories for a good part of my morning.
I only brought five copies of my book to the event, mostly because I was nervous and wasn’t sure that I could sell any without a booth, but I talked five authors into book trades and was able to pick up five books that sounded really interesting. Besides finding five new books to read, five people now own my book and we promised to trade reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I think that’s a win in this situation.
At one point I was stung by a bee as I was chatting up an author. I said ‘Ouch,’ looked down and pull the stinger out of my leg. She asked if I was allergic, I told her that we’d see, and we continued on in our conversation. I didn’t die.
The major thing I learned was what an author’s table should look like at an event. Everyone had giant poster board pictures of their books, which I have, but most had themed tablecloths, shirts, hats, bookmarks, postcards, and giveaways. The giveaways were what drew so many people to the tables, and very few authors had them. At one table, I was asked to pick a card from a specially printed deck, if I picked the ace of spades I could win a copy of the newest book. Any other ace won a copy of an older book. I drew the nine of clubs and got some advice. They were philosophy books.
My favorite table was by Robert R Mitchell, the author of “Only Shot to a Good Tombstone.” He erected a spinning wheel ala The Price is Right, and had several book-themed items to give away. I won a beer coozey. Appropriate. He had a tablecloth printed with his book info that caught the eye, and some tombstone themed decorations. Win for him.
Another booth by CS Blue, a poet, featured a sound system, and he sang me his latest love poem, accompanied by soothing music. I’m not a huge poetry fan but he put his heart and soul into the production. I was a bit uncomfortable nearing the end, as I was the only person at his table listening. And because his love took on some more-than-pg flourishes.
Overall, I was pretty pleased at the event, I met several great people, and learned a lot about book promotion. The books I traded for were The Sum of our Gods by Benjamin Gorman, The One Idea that Saves the World by Laurence Overmire, Island Women by Richard Sessions, Memory’s Hostage by Margaret Pinard, and Sun Wielder by D Wallace Peach. All intriguing books that I’m excited to read.
The next stop of the day was the Oregon Brewfest. I met my long-lost friend Andy Buoni and his co-worker Aaron, and we wandered around a couple hours sampling some of Oregon’s best microbrews. Andy and I spent two years together at The Ohio State University, taking the same classes and doing all the things that delinquent college students do. It’s always great to catch up with old friends, especially the kind that can start right into conversation like a day hasn’t passed. I saw Andy last about five years ago, and before that, about 10 years. Wow, I feel old.
The brewfest featured almost 100 different beers, including a small selection of international beers, ranging anywhere from 5% to 11% alcohol. I tried multiple types that I’m trying hard to remember the names with very little luck. When my phone gets charged I’ll be able to get the info from the pictures I took. The ones I really wanted to try had lines with approximately 100 people and I didn’t have the patience to wait. As it was, Andy and I perfected our line-cutting technique for a good portion of the day; he’s a smaller, inconspicuous type of guy who could melt into the front of a line without notice, and I’d show up as he reached the front. At other times I’d spot a group of single men near the front of a line and strike up conversation, and Andy would appear as I was getting my beer poured. The only objection came when a woman protested ‘cutters,’ and Aaron took the fall for us. Poor Aaron didn’t benefit from any of our ingenious, tipsy line cutting. I did miss out on the dragon fruit beer and the jalapeño beer, those lines were so long that cutting was not an option, but I can find them in the stores.
As the day progressed, the crowd became ridiculous, and I found the shortest line to spend my last token. The shortest line didn’t necessarily mean the worst beer, it might mean an undiscovered beer with bad advertising. After 15 samples, I was happy with it. Then I took my commemorative glass and wandered to a nearby bar to write up my notes.
All in all, a successful day in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been wandering the city for almost a week, shopping, running, and discovering, and I have plans to hike waterfalls and find the hidden natural gems that Portlanders can show me. The next stop is Seattle, for more book promotion and an unexpected wall dive that is apparently one of the best in the States.
Gearing up for a new book…