Bub­ble-o-seven set for take-off

A new un­der­wa­ter toy, ex­clu­sive to Fitzroy Is­land, will bring out your in­ner Bond

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - FLEUR BAINGER

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

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