Bubble-o-seven set for take-off
A new underwater toy, exclusive to Fitzroy Island, will bring out your inner Bond
I FEEL decidedly secret agent. Having pulled on a skin-tight, jetblack stinger suit that promises to protect my limbs against any lecherous j ellyfish, I sidle up to a sleek underwater transportation unit bobbing silently on the ocean.
With an exotic, palm-flecked island at my back and the Great Barrier Reef 20m ahead, it’s easy to pretend I’m embarking on a top-secret mission requiring James Bond cool and a cache of gizmos.
Said unit is actually a Seabob, a sort of underwater scooter that you hang on to as it propels you both on and under the ocean.
Usually exclusive to the superyacht set, Queensland’s Fitzroy Island has recently become the only place in Australia where they’re available for play.
Andre Kiefer, a German financial planner turned diving instructor who fell in love with an Aussie and our oceans, has brought the technology from his homeland.
Battery-powered, emissionfree and near noiseless, the Seabob is the perfect panacea to those serenity-shattering jet skis.
Oblivious to the 007 fantasy, Kiefer reveals that before these metal dolphins hit the recreational market five years ago, they were the exclusive sea toys of the world’s military, although he doesn’t reveal in which countries. He tells me they have been designed to fit into submarine torpedo chambers, along with a scuba-clad driver. ‘ ‘ When the hatch opens the army man drives out,’’ he says, adding that a special lightweight breathing kit that doesn’t emit bubbles is worn.
Far removed from interoceanic spy operations, Kiefer’s 64kg Seabobs are used to whiz snorkellers past cities of psychedelic coral and tropical fish, or just for a joy ride. Before I enter the water, Kiefer addresses all my concerns. ‘‘The machine is buoyant. If you let go, it’ll stop. No, you won’t hit the coral; you must stay 3m away from all objects. Yes, they’re easy to manoeuvre by moving your body weight like a skateboard.’’
After 10 days of rain, visibility through the cloudy ocean is less than half a metre. Zooming underwater into a brown abyss brings more trepidation than exhilaration, but I can well imagine how the experience would be transformed with clearer vision. While Kiefer claims novices can learn to ride a Seabob in 60 seconds, putting his teachings into practice requires a little more time and effort. You have to get used to the drag of your body on the water’s surface, and seeing over the wake.
Then it’s time to push the Seabob underwater. On a day with conditions such as these, the only thing left to do is fang it. Maximum speed is 10km/h, but on your first go, the 10-speed machine is pre-set to 7km/ h, and while it can descend as far as 40m below sea level, novices are restrained to a safety depth of 2.5m. Any deeper and the engine cuts out and you float to the top.
Now, 7km/h might not sound much but it’s astonishing how zippy it feels when you’re angling the nose towards the ocean floor. Submerged, my head is slowly wrenched back against the counterforce of the water.
As my body trails behind, arms elongated and tendons stretched, my hands stubbornly clench the handles, unwilling to ease off the accelerator. I attempt to break the surface with MI5 finesse, but I suspect my launch needs some work. The need for speed sated, I discover it’s far more comfortable and loads more fun going slow. As I motor to shore, I throw my imaginary subaquatic archenemies a meaningful backward glance. Fleur Bainger was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.
Riding a Seabob at Fitzroy Island, Queensland