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Champagne and Strawberries

July 12, 2011

Today’s Noon Position (Marquesas Time): 13.15.070S by 142.00.243W Course: 204t
Speed: 5 knots, average over last hour
Wind: ENE @ 4-7 knots

141 miles last twenty four hours.

Winds were steady from the ESE at 12 to 16 knots the first two days out of Nuku Hiva, and we scooted along quickly and easily under working jib, reefed main, and even a reefed mizzen when the wind eased a bit. By noon today we’d knocked out the first 280 of our 500 mile run to Makemo. I had done little except tweak wind vane.

But the forecast had called for diminishing trades the next two days and as if by order, the breeze fell and fell all morning until by early afternoon we hardly had five knots across the bow. Still Murre slipped through the blue water at a pace that felt respectable, and tonight the gentleness of the swell means we ride more smoothly than many a commercial airliner, certainly more smoothly than we did at anchor in Nuku Hiva.

It has been a great relief to get to sea again, the bright, warm, and open sea, and conditions have been such that this feels like a champagne and strawberries cruise. When I am not outright relaxing, I spend much of my time daydreaming–staring at the waves, staring at the clouds…

Yesterday, between beauty swoons, I rigged a new lure purchased in the village and plunked it over the side. It is of the type used by the local fishermen–a bright red plastic squid nearly a foot long under whose wavy tentacles hide two mean hooks. It is almost the only lure sold on the islands, and I take this to indicate that fish are plentiful. Compare Baja where marine stores dedicate entire walls to lures of nearly infinite variety, this beside a sea whose resource is dwindling due to over fishing.

I had no expectation. I have already fished too much with no reward to have expectation, only hope. But within the hour I had aboard a sleek, 31 inch Wahoo. Shaped like a torpedo with a beak sharp as a birds and black tiger stripes. The fish is typically silver, the stipes being saved for “when it is agitated,” said my guide book. And if being dragged through the water by a steel hook only to be hoisted up into a cockpit where he is beat to death isn’t cause for agitation, I don’t know what is.

I tossed the lure back in the water while I figured what to do next.

The fish cleaned easily, one half making two meals (sautd with rice that night and leftovers eaten for breakfast) and the other I cut into strips for drying. Fish will go off in hours in this heat, and lacking refrigeration, drying is really the only option. Drying instructions call for the fillet to be cut into “one inch strips half an inch thick”, a near impossibility with slippery flesh already unevenly shaped. My neat “strips” looked more like torn scraps of jerky.

About this time I remembered the lure and went to retrieve it. I didn’t need a second fish as I already had fish bits draped over any available space. But when I grabbed the line it was rock hard. I put on gloves and pulled for all I was worth but could not budge it–Murre was moving too fast or the fish was too big or both. I spilled wind out of the main and mizzen, reducing our speed by half, and only then was I able to real in the fish a mere six inches at a pull.

I should explain that my fishing get-up is fairly plain: heavy line wound around a two foot piece of plastic pipe. The lure is lowered over the side, and the extended line is cleated off to the stern. No fancy machinery to maintain. The disadvantage (I learned) is that when one has hooked a big fish, getting him in is all elbow grease.

It took half an hour to bring alongside a heavy Wahoo of over five feet in length. He fought little, having already drug so long behind Murre he was nearly drowned, but his weight and the speed of even a slowed boat made it rough heaving.

Just when I’d got him under our stern, and just as I was leaning over with the gaff, he drifted away. Fish and lure simply dropped astern, and I was left holding a piece of line dead ending in a clip swivel. On examination I saw that the clip had pulled out of its lock but had not straightened. As long as there was pressure on the line, the fish was mine. But that one moment’s pause at the stern allowed slack, and the leader slipped over the top of the open clip.

I was sad to lose the lure and sad to leave it buried in the mouth of a beautiful fish. But what if I had needed that fish–what if my survival depended on it?

I have removed the clip swivel from the tackle system.

And back in Nuku Hiva, I had bought more than one lure.


  1. Cap'n Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    July 12, 2011 5:03 pm

    Ah, yes, The Young Man and the Sea. Seems like I read a story sorta like that once. I guess this is an example of “be careful what you wish for,” because what would you have done if you had gotten that monster on board?
    Great reading this morning, Randall. Thanks for taking us along.
    Looking forward to hearing how you like the Tuamotus, particularly Rangiroa. Say “hello” to the bartender at the Kia Ora Resort for me. She makes a mean G&T.
    Cap’n LMK

  2. July 13, 2011 2:09 am

    I was just going to say almost exactly the same thing…the “Not So Terribly Old Man and the Sea” was going to be my sendup, but I see I need to post here faster if I’m going to sound fresh. Now rewrite your blog post so it is over a hundred pages of short, choppy prose and you’ll have the next Great American Novel.

    Yeah, LMK is right… what would you have done with a fish that size? I think your “marketing” department is outrunning your “manufacturing” capacity. Niche markets for you, son!

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