A week before going to this year’s World Free-Diving Championships, I do my last underwater training in the Adriatic. This time for a change in the northern part of the Kvarner Gulf, between the islands of Krk and Cres. The desire to go even deeper grows day by day. We are quickly far enough from the shoreline and it is time for the first serious test of my new Highfield Patrol 660 inflatable boat with aluminum hull adapted for free-diving and spearfishing.
The idea of this kind of boat was being formed a couple of years already, because the specificity of the sport requires some adjustments. Climbing from water into the boat is virtually impossible for a fully equipped diver, since only the most skilled among them can climb over the edge of the boat. If four fishermen repeat this every hour day after day, injuries can happen in no time. Very sensitive equipment for free-diving and fishing usually lies on deck while driving. When catching balance, one can inadvertently lean on fragile carbon fins or a mask, while sharp arrows pose a danger to the crew and the boat. When putting them down, lead weights are constantly falling from the height of the belt to the floor of the deck. If you plan to fish for several hours, a cooling box is essential, so it should be carefully considered in the functionality of the deck as it is taken off the boat at the end of the day. Smooth sailing through the waves, low power consumption, high speed and a large fuel tank are already a requirement of any passionate underwater fisherman.
In the autumn of 2018, we started designing a new Highfield inflatable boat from the Patrol series with Andrej and Dane from Burin Boats. The aluminum construction offers ideal options for a number of modifications that standard fiberglass boat construction does not allow. In addition, aluminum boats are lighter and more durable. The whole project was confirmed by Highfield’s management at the end of January at the Düsseldorf fair and joined by Honda Marine.
THE FIRST VOYAGE
Already at the first departure, we could sense a lot of enthusiasm over the usefulness of the boat.
The drive from Vodice to Malinska passed in a blink of an eye, Neža and I were ready for our first training. The amount of space for a boat of this length really surprised me, so I knew that the first serious test would be a few days after, when we would go fishing with top underwater fishermen, and a day later when we would do a free-diving training with a group of six people.
UNDERWATER FISHING GUN ATTACHING SYSTEM
In the morning, we went for a refuel with a slight tramontana, which worried me for a moment. But the perfectly designed refueling position at the bow of the boat allows for a quick refueling of a 140-liter fuel tank lying below the deck along the center line of the boat. Fishing gear was rapidly accumulating and deck space was still abundant. An underwater harpoon gun has a special place for every fishermen, so we assigned it a space in the aft area right in front of the engine on the Highfield Patrol 660. A special attaching position on the floor and on the roll bar allows for the vertical attachment of four harpoon guns during navigation. At this point, the harpoon gun is subject to the least amount of oscillation and shock, while freeing up space on the deck it would otherwise occupy. This solution offers the ability to quickly access and store the harpoon gun when you finish fishing at a specific location and drive to a new location.
The rubber floor protects the deck from impact by weights and other equipment
I opted for a special reinforcement on the floor of the deck, with which I can defy the ruthless use of the most aggressive users. The durable rubber floor soothes the shocks of lead weights while putting them down and navigating through larger waves. The floor is easily laid down and removed for cleaning purposes. This time, we were equipped for shallow water fishing, which means 15 kilograms of weight for each diver.
The robust console offers a stable support while driving
On our way from Krk to the far north cape of Cres, we sail in the morning tramontana. Gentle navigation through sharp waves is the result of the deep geometry of the V-shaped hull. Even at the extreme aft end of the hull, the tilting angle is not smaller than 27°. This gives excellent transverse stability in sharp turns and outstanding navigational properties for both displacement sailing and gliding. In underwater fishing, the pre-gliding phase is very important, because we sail this way as we are approaching the fishing site.
Reinforcements protect the edge from sharp objects
Upon arrival at the first location, we prepare to jump into the water at the stern part of the boat. There is a lot of space for all the underwater fishermen gear and their bags. Below the 1.30 m wide rear bench, there is a large dry space, suitable for storing a variety of equipment. Edge reinforcements further protect the hypalon from sharp fishing gear tips, weights and fish spines.
Additional equipment is of great importance
An hour and a half later, the first underwater fisherman joins us on the boat again. Gilthead seabreams, white seabreams and sea bass made an impression on us. Which was also true for the stern platform for boarding the boat. This part is impossible for many fishermen and eventually ends up with a damaged edge, cords and handles. That is why we have paid extra attention to this solution. Thick aluminum pipes give a sense of robustness and safety when climbing the boat. The lower step falls almost one meter below the water level, making it easy to board the boat over the high edge. In combination with the roll bar, we have plenty of places to hang on to the point where we are already standing on the boat. The steps are fixed to the platform and covered with an anti-slip cover. This is big enough to sit and jump into the water. Lifting the steps is easy, as is their attachment.
The cooling box is also an additional seat in front of the console
The cooling box is an integral part of free-diving and fishing equipment. It is intended to be positioned in front of the console, where it is secured to the deck by means of fasteners. The attachment system makes it easy to disassemble and thus remove the box from the vessel. The box also serves as a seat in front of the console, so it has a soft anti-slip foam. The 55-liter box was filling up fast, because the sea was in favor of fishermen that day. This was followed by a trip back to Krk, where the 150-horsepower Honda engine easily powered us at 23 knots with 3800 rpm.
I was a little more careful in fishing, as catching fish for many hours is extremely tiring and not the best fit before the World Championships. That is why on Saturday, we went for an underwater training with a company of free-divers towards the town of Omišalj on the north side of Krk. Finding the right depth is quite difficult in this part of the Adriatic. Many people laugh at the fact that we understand 60 or 70 m as a shallow position. We anchor the boat every time we come training. This often means dropping the anchor even a hundred or more meters deep. There are two reasons for this. The first is the fear of abandoned nets, which requires at least an extra 30 meters of ”space” in addition to the depth for training. The second reason is in the currents and winds that move our boat much faster than our diving buoy. Such a current results in the tilting of the training rope to such an extent that the dive is no longer feasible. That is why the ability to anchor, and even more so to raise the anchor, is extremely important to us. In addition to the anchor, we also lift the training ropes, which are weighted with an additional 15 kg. The Highfield Patrol series has a very handy front bollard for this, and we’ve added a front platform with a pulley to lift the anchor. The system has proven to be very useful as the spacious front of the boat provides for sufficient support to the rope hauler.
Ergonomic design of the steering wheel
A large console with high vertical glass gives protection to the driver and those sitting behind him. This is why navigation is comfortable, since one can be in the perfect lee side. The driver’s seat is made of aluminum construction and allows for sitting or standing, and under it, there is additional storage for bags or any other items. Robust hoses around the console provide a stable support for boat navigation and walking. The position of the console is such that it allows for walking on both sides. The bench behind the driver’s seat is extremely spacious. It offers enough of space for preparing equipment and relaxing before diving for a large group of free-divers. In practice, the connection between the steps and the rest of the deck has proved to be extremely good. Holding and support positions are optimally arranged and allow the equipment to be moved easily from the stern to the bow. When transporting such a large amount of wet equipment, efficient deck drainage is also crucial. Large drainage pipes allow for very quick drainage of water from the deck. It drains automatically even when stationary.
Last training before going to the World Championships
In all these days of using the boat, I almost forgot about my training. In order to dive deeper safely, one must be very focused, especially when approaching their personal record. That is why, just before the official start of the competition, I will be leaving for Honduras, where this year’s CMAS World Championship will be held between August 6 and 11. Autumn will be dedicated to discovering the hidden corners of the Central and Southern Adriatic coast and underwater fishing.
WRITTEN BY SAMO JERANKO.