Sailing Through the Trade Winds

The Trade Winds Falter (continued)

Something took the lure and ran with it; what could it be?  

Just before noon, the fishing reel sang out and David came on deck to fight the fish. At first, the reel kept singing, and singing, and singing—the fish took the lure and ran with it. David though it might be a big fish, and he asked us to stop the boat. Automatically when we get a hit, I furl the jib to reduce our speed and use the autopilot manual helm control to turn into the wind. This left the fishing line trailing in a difficult position, so we had to turn the boat around. In its new position, there was too much drive from the main, so David requested we drop the main. Marcie and I let it down in a heap then used a hank of spare line to secure the sail to the boom to keep it from blowing into the water.

Meanwhile, David kept reeling in the fish. That is, it looked like he was reeling in the fish, because he was cranking away at the reel. But in fact, the fish wasn't coming in yet and no line was reeling in. David cranks the reel just in case the fish gives him some slack, then the slack line will immediately be reeled in so the fish can't run with the slack line and break the line when it gets taut. David must have been cranking and cranking for 10 to 15 minutes before the fish grudgingly gave up some line and came in closer. To make this happen, David would haul the pole all the way in one direction, with the tip of the rod bent almost double, then rapidly move the pole the other way to generate a little slack and reel it in.

We were all peering into the water to see if we could spot the fish and see what it was. So far, we didn't even know if it was a "good eating" fish, or one that most people don't eat and throw back. Finally, we caught a glimpse of something white glimmering and moving about under the surface of the water. We all thought the fish looked small though edible, but once David reeled in more line we saw that we were actually looking at the fake rubber fish that had been part of the lure. Somehow, the rubber fish had become separated from the hook and had moved up the line.

Now that the fish was closer to the boat it started fighting again. David says they fight with renewed vigor when they get close enough to see the boat. The fish was swimming in large circles off the aft starboard quarter of the boat. When it got close to the boat, the line would plunge vertically into the water, and David would hold the rod way out from the boat to pull the fish out from under the boat to keep the line from fouling on the prop or rudder. Now and then we would get a glimpse of something big well under the surface. The clear water gave us great visibility but the wind waves and ripples distorted the image enough that we couldn't quite tell what it was, except that it was big and moving about. When the fish would roll, we'd get a flash of brightness from a light-colored underbelly, then we'd see a dark back come into view as the fish rolled upright.


After 15 to 20 minutes of hard work, with the pole frequently bent way over and David straining to hold it and reel in the line, the fish finally came to the surface, albeit involuntarily. It was a good-size tuna, tasty eating, and a terrific catch. Now the problem was getting the big fish into the boat without the line breaking or the hook pulling out. Marcie wielded the gaffing pole, which looks like a boat pole except for a wicked barbed end with two big curved hooks. David lifted the tuna out of the water using the fishing line and Marcie gaffed it in the flank, then the two of them hauled the fish over the lifelines and deposited it on the deck.

It was big and it was pristine, with all the characteristic features of a tuna laid out in perfect detail way better than a diagram or photo. Portions of the fish were a beautiful iridescent rosy-blue color. But you could look the still-living fish in the eye and see the total lack of intelligence or feelings, just a simple animal governed by base instincts. After landing the fish, David used his fisherman's scale to hoist the fish up off the deck, and it weighed-in at 23 lbs. Surprisingly, the fish didn't flop around at all—no doubt it was tired after its long, vigorous, but ultimately futile struggle. Alas, poor fish, tonight you will be dinner!

Using some light line, David rigged a sturdy slipknot around the fish's tail then ran another line through its gill and mouth. Using these lines, he suspended the fish over the water from one of the dinghy davits. Using his filleting knife, he bled and gutted the fish then neatly sliced off huge hunks of prime tuna fillet. These he placed in gallon ziplock bags, accumulating six or seven bags, each of which would be a hearty meal for three people. Finally, the stripped carcass was released back into the sea, with thanks to Neptune. David cleaned up and stowed the fishing tackle, since we wouldn't need another fish for quite a while.



The wind was quite light that afternoon and most of the time the boat struggled to reach four knots. We were getting a light wind from the east, with a modest swell from the same direction, but we were also starting to get a big slow swell from the south, and perhaps from the southwest, too. The southerly swells were not well organized and were so slow (that is, long period, perhaps 30 seconds or so) that it was difficult to tell where they were coming from. When the swells happened to superimpose their crests, the boat would be raised up on a broad hill of water that would then move out from under us and lower the boat back down. If you looked around the immediate vicinity of the boat, it was hard to tell this was happening. None of the swell waves was steep, in fact they were very smooth slow undulations (with small wind waves on top). To really see this happen, you had to look off into the distance at the horizon. Periodically the far horizon would be obscured as a low mountain of water rose up and smoothly and silently moved under the boat. From the mountaintop, you could tell you were getting a much better view of the seascape. Then the boat would lower and you'd see the broad back of the swell undulating away into the distance. It was quite mesmerizing to watch the slow swell because it was rather subtle but quite astonishing once you recognized it and observed it. According to the GPS, the combined effect of all the swells raised and lowered the boat about 12 feet, but like I said, it was hardly visible unless you looked for it.

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