Peter Wright es­tab­lished the first dive boat char­ter out of Port Dou­glas in 1982, an oper­a­tion that grew into the Po­sei­don busi­ness. He talks about those days — and now – with Pam Wil­lis Bur­den

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

Peter Wright charted a round about course to be­com­ing a pi­o­neer of the reef dive in­dus­try.

He had al­ways loved sail­ing and div­ing, but com­ing to Aus­tralia, after ad­ven­tur­ous times in East Africa and the Caribbean, to buy a dairy farm in Ma­landa in 1974 was some­thing quite dif­fer­ent.

Peter and Bar­bara, with their two daugh­ters, stayed there for five years while Peter and his farm­ing part­ner com­pleted a trial to grow cin­chona, the qui­nine tree whose bark is har­vested for use in anti-malar­ial drugs. Al­though it grew well, Aus­tralian labour costs were too high to sus­tain the project.

So the fam­ily came to Port and bought Whis­per­ing Palms, which he named. For­merly called Four Mile Beach Hol­i­day Units, it con­sisted of a small house and six units in Lan­g­ley Road, which was then a dirt track.

Peter re­mem­bers Port was a very nice lit­tle town in the early 1980s. “There were only a few hun­dred res­i­dents so every­body knew each other. Shoes were op­tional,” he said.

The Post Of­fice was the meet­ing place be­cause there were no mail de­liv­er­ies.

There were prob­a­bly 15 fish­ing trawlers op­er­at­ing and a few mack­erel boats, but there was no ma­rina un­til the Sher­a­ton got up and run­ning.

The main restau­rants were Is­land Point, Nau­tilus and Catalina. Then Pier 319 was built and be­came a thriv­ing venue and Peter re­mem­bers go­ing to its night­club, a so­cial hub.

Peter de­signed Scheherazade, a 55 ft alu­minium yacht which he put into char­ter­ing in 1982. Divers would spend 7-10 days on the Rib­bon Reefs and ven­ture into the Co­ral Sea.

“The boat was spar­tan by to­day’s stan­dards with one toi­let and no air-con,” he said. “But the food was very good and the div­ing su­perb. We took a max­i­mum of six divers who were gen­er­ally more ex­pe­ri­enced then, when div­ing was an ad­ven­ture sport and not a so­cial one.”

They did a great deal of ex­ploratory div­ing and Peter found the best sites for them.

Peter’s was the only boat in Port Dou­glas ded­i­cated to div­ing. The only other dive boats were based in Cairns.

From Port Dou­glas, Quick­sil­ver II vis­ited the outer reef with snorkellers and the Martin Cash had been op­er­at­ing since 1979 to Low Isles. Manny Sims ran Doreen Too on ex­tended fish­ing trips right up to Cape York.

There were no moor­ings then, and no per­mits. “All you needed was a boat in sur­vey and a li­censed skip­per,” said Peter. “You could go wher­ever you liked, and do what­ever you liked.” Boats an­chored right on the reef and sites were un­lim­ited.

Peter’s first per­mit ar­rived in the mail after he had been op­er­at­ing for sev­eral years, and it was free.

Now per­mits can cost up to half a mil­lion dol­lars, but only the ex­ist­ing moor­ings can be bought and sold.

Peter ex­plored all the reefs and made notes of the good ones be­cause there was no GPS then. “You worked on dead reck­on­ing and made ac­cu­rate ob­ser­va­tions of where you were.”

When he went into the Co­ral Sea he used a sex­tant and ta­bles for nav­i­ga­tion.

Every­body swam year round. ”We never wor­ried about Irukanji stingers, we’d never even heard of them in the early 80s. We were aware of Box Jel­ly­fish on Four Mile Beach but peo­ple didn’t seem to worry about them very much and there were no recorded stings. There were def­i­nitely more tur­tles in those days and they do eat jel­ly­fish, so they pos­si­bly kept the num­bers down.”

Now Peter wears a ly­cra stinger suit even on the outer reef, but for 20 years he never both­ered, and just wore his bathers.

Peter ran Scheherazade un­til 1992. “I had ran aground in the Tro­briand Is­lands in New Guinea and the boat was to­tally stripped by the lo­cal is­lan­ders be­fore it could be re­floated.”

So Peter re­turned to Port Dou­glas and drove other peo­ple’s boats, in­clud­ing Nim­rod, and Chal­lenger and Co­ralita out of Cairns.

In 1994 he started the Po­sei­don brand with a 16 me­tre alu­minum cray boat from Fre­man­tle. He brought it round the top of Aus­tralia to Port Dou­glas and be­gan daily snorkel and dive tours to the outer reef, tak­ing 30 pas­sen­gers.

His next boat, Po­sei­don II, was a 20 me­tre cata­ma­ran, cus­tom built by Alu­minum Marine in Bris­bane in 1997, car­ry­ing 48 pas­sen­gers. Peter had no­ticed a slid­ing rear plat­form on the live-aboard Un­der­sea Ex­plorer in Port and re­fined it for Possi II. “It was the best thing that ever hap­pened to a cata­ma­ran be­cause it gave you a re­ally good wa­ter­level work­ing plat­form which was fully re­tractable up to deck level when you were trav­el­ling. All the boats use that sys­tem now.”

In 2001 Po­sei­don III was launched, a 24 me­tre cata­ma­ran that could take 80 pas­sen­gers.

The co­ral at the Cod Hole and Osprey Reef was hit by Cy­clone Ivor in 1990 and there was 30-40 me­tre deep dam­age. But Peter says it re­cov­ered 4-5 years ago, even the soft corals did. “Osprey’s a bril­liant reef but very badly needs pro­tec­tion from po­ten­tial fish­ing threats.”

On a re­cent snorkel, Peter ob­served “The co­ral is just as good as prior to bleach­ing. A lot of it has re­cov­ered. There are patches of dam­age but it’s noth­ing like the scare sto­ries in the press for the ar­eas that day boats visit.

“It’s im­por­tant to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity by re­duc­ing run off. The Reef is re­silient but it can only be re­built after crown of thorns or bleach­ing events if the wa­ter is healthy and not too loaded with fer­tiliser or sed­i­ment.”

Peter says that CoTs de­stroy them­selves even­tu­ally after eat­ing out all the co­ral. They starve to death. The co­ral re­gen­er­ates after the next spawn­ing but he says “bad wa­ter qual­ity is very ad­van­ta­geous to CoT at the ju­ve­nile stage, which ben­e­fits from in­creased pho­sph­er­ous and ni­tro­gen in the wa­ter. They’ve only be­come a prob­lem be­cause of the slight de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in wa­ter qual­ity and the re­moval of the tri­ton conch shell which is a proven preda­tor. Some snap­pers and maori wrasse oc­ca­sion­ally eat ju­ve­nile CoT, so any fish­ing pres­sure is bound to have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the bal­ance.

“The great­est threat to the reef has al­ways been cy­clones be­cause they to­tally dev­as­tate any reef in their path, but a healthy sys­tem will re­gen­er­ate.”

He’s been bumped in the body twice by sharks but for­tu­nately never bit­ten. Once, his pas­sen­gers were sit­ting un­der­wa­ter wait­ing to see sharks. Peter dived down with a yummy yel­low video cam­era and the shark came out of the blue and tried to take it, but hit him in the stom­ach. Iit’s the big­gest fright he’s had with a shark.

In May 2014 he sold his Po­sei­don busi­ness to Quick­sil­ver. “I was 74 years old, I’d had over 30 years of char­ter­ing full on, so I felt it was prob­a­bly time to move on.”

Peter re­marks “I per­son­ally hope that Port Dou­glas doesn’t de­velop to be­come a sec­ond Gold Coast, or move into high­rise build­ings. The qual­ity of the re­sorts here al­ready is ex­cel­lent and I’d hope that any new de­vel­op­ment would main­tain that qual­ity.”

All you needed was a boat in sur­vey and a li­censed skip­per. You could go wher­ever you liked, and do what­ever you liked

Peter Wright

Main photo: Peter Wright to­day. In­set, bot­tom left: Peter with grand­son David in 1997. Top right: Po­sei­don III. Right: With a gi­ant po­tato cod

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.