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Becalmed

May 4, 2011

Position: 16.35.834N by 119.31.521W
Course: 210
Speed: 2 knots
Wind: 3 knots, NE
Sea: 3 foot swells
Sky: 77% cloud
Bar: 1014

We sailed on genoa and mizzen staysail all night and through to the next day. But wind softened near daybreak, and by 8 o’clock, we were becalmed. An absolute flat calm, and this as we approach the magical 120 degree west longitude line where the trades are said to run freely like great herds of stampeding buffalo.

They are not here.

I took in all sail and Murre, as is her want, rolled while I looked around and wondered what one does in a calm. I spent some time examining the two flying fish that had come aboard the night before. They had leapt onto Murre’s deck at different times, but oddly, ended up on top of each other near the same starboard scupper. One was quite large, 6 inches, and I noticed in the night that its parasites, which looked like common sand flees, were abandoning ship in search of water in which to breath. They too were scattered over the deck and dead by morning.

Blunt head, big eyes and a body whose side-to-side cross section is the shape of an inverted triangle. The sweeping pectoral fins have the curvature of a wing when opened and extend almost all the way back to the tail. The forked tail also aids in flying. The lower lobe is twice as long as the upper, and the fish dips this lower part in the water while in flight to add propulsion. A well thought out animal. I tried to feed it to a passing boobie, but the bird would have nothing to do with it.

Soon after a large school of fish passed below Murre. One’s appreciation of the ocean on a boat under sail is all about surfaces, the shape and size of waves, their white caps, the reflection of sky, one’s attitude on these waves relative to the wind, etc., but drifting as we were, I could begin to appreciate depth. I did not recognize the fish that were scattered below us, some quite deep, so I brought in the trailing lure to see if they could be tempted.

My fishing rig is 300 yards of 150 pound test line on a plastic spool, at the end of which is a lure intended to imitate a wounded herring, or some such. No fancy rod and reel. While trolling the line is simply looped around a stern cleat. My catch, when I am so lucky, is brought in hand over hand.

I undid a length of line from the spool and, Mexican panguero style, I twirled the lure above my head like a lasso and let fly. The lure went out, the line went out, and the spool leapt from my hand and into the water.

I screamed and almost jumped after it. This is my only set–losing it would be disaster. I ran for the boat hook and lunged for the floating spool just as the now sunken lure was grabbed by a fish. All, including a small Dorado, were brought aboard safely.

I regretted tossing back my Dorado catch from a few days ago. Mercy, it occurred to me, is not a concept the sea or its creatures have much use for. In fact, in a fanciful conversation with a passing tropic bird, I was instructed that it’s an idea much reviled by folks in these parts. Opportunities are not limitless. You must catch fish when you can.

So I did. I lowered the lure into the school and jigged, and the Dorado went mad. I had three aboard within ten minutes. The second of these bled profusely while still in the water, and suddenly there was a large, olive colored shark moving slowly through the school. Nothing happened. The Dorado did not spook; the shark did go for my bleeder and did not loop back. But on deck there was a sudden chill. I had thought Murre and I alone out here–in fact we were becalmed in somebody’s back yard.

The bleeder also fought for a long time after coming aboard and made the entirety of the white cockpit look like a blood speckled Easter egg.

I cleaned the fish immediately. Then, more from a sense of duty than desire, ate the smaller one raw. I cut off only a small piece at first, but it tasted so delicious–fresh and soft and sweet and delicately of ocean–that I quickly devoured the whole thing.

Also on the surface of the water was a kind of water skimmer insect. Tiny–the size of a mosquito and white. Two of them. 700 miles from nowhere, water skimmers.

By early afternoon the wind had returned. During the calm I had shifted our rig–the poled out genoa and the mizzen staysail–from starboard to port tack so that we could begin to put some southing into our westing, but sadly the 8 knots we now sail on is out of the north, and our course nearly due south. Such is my luck this passage.

The water is a deep electric sapphire blue; the sky, pale with powdery cumulus, and the easy swell lolls me. I could camp here for weeks, but the Pacific is not a park–we must press on, we must get south. We are in a hurry.

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One Comment
  1. Florence Dodington permalink
    May 5, 2011 1:49 am

    Randall – I love reading your posts. Do you think that eating flying fish will become a delicacy soon? I have always thought that they would be much like other small, thin fishes.

    Take care, keep writing and be alert!

    We are pulling for both of you….Fondly, Florence

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