04 February 2006

So Far, The Fish Are Safe, At Least From Me.

Three years ago I traded in my 1987 model 25 foot Grady White Walk-around for a 30 foot Grady White Center Console. The former had a cabin in which one could sleep,cook, wash, etc. Pinks and I actually spent a half dozen or so nights on the boat. Not bad, except Grady White built that boat for people under 5'10", and when I lay down, my head was in the sink, which is better than it being in the head.

The Center Console is purely a fishing machine, no cabin , no stove, no sleeping (except subway style, i.e., standing up). It does have a toilet, but I forbid anyone (except MRFL) to use it. It has lots of macho stuff,--outriggers that look like aft-skyward pointing anti-aircraft weapons, rod racks known as rocket launchers ( I am not kidding), and an electronics panel that, at the touch of a button, rises out of the helm to reveal very sophisticated toys, such as radar, a GPS, which shows a chart (Please, only a landlubber would call it a map) of the local area, with a symbol for your boat, and can compute and show you graphically how to get anywhere from anywhere, and tell you how long it will take to do it, and if you screw up, it tells you so. There is also an echo-sounder, which sends sound waves to the bottom of the sea, and then computes how long they take to bounce back, all of which is illustrated on a ten-inch color screen. If some poor fish is unlucky enough to be underneath the boat, the fish too is illustrated on the screen, with information as to its depth, size, and whether it is married or single. This is all basically stuff developed for the military (they call it sonar, the civilian version is called, for obvious commercial reasons, a Fish Finder, but it is the same basic device.)

Isn't this unfair? Where is the sport? What chance does the fish have?

Well, I am a sportsman, and I give the fish all the chance in the world to survive. I do this by remaining totally ignorant as to how to work this stuff. I can do the basic things, so I can get home, but beyond that, the machines are impossibly complex to all of us born before 1990, the year the United States Congress passed a bill requiring all male children henceforth to be born with a computer gene so they could instinctively operate any electronic device without reading the 128 page manual.

I have been required to read the manual. And read it. And read it. I have worn it thin. It is incomprehensible . The echo-sounder is made in China, and distributed by a Japanese company. So the manual is written in Chinese by a semi-literate computer genius, translated into Japanese, and from Japanese into English, all by engineers. I am certain there are zero English majors involved in this process. The result is sentences like: "Fix range steps that accord with gain preference for maximum functionment." And, "Open adjustment page pressing rightful soft key." You get the idea.

Of course, all that is really irrelevant for my first SBH fishing trip, because I went with Dofie, and he has no use for this stuff anyway. He knows where to go, what bait and lures to use, and that's that. When it's time to go home, you point the boat at St. Barts, large on the horizon, and advance the throttles. Period. How simple is that?

I was to pick up Dofie at the Corossol dock at 11 AM. I rowed out to Fish Faster at 9:30, secured the dinghy, (no mean feat in the wind) climbed aboard Fish Faster ( no mean feat if you are a large klutz) turned on the switches, lowered and started the engines, tied some tackle on the fishing lines, and mentally planned my approach to the dock situated about 400 yards away. Eisenhower's planning chief and I had something in common: we both knew the whole world was watching. When Dofie appeared, I approached ever so slowly and nevertheless humiliated myself with a crunching arrival. Happily the sound of splintering wood was the dock, not my hull. "Ugly" was the only word for it.

Off we went. The spot where all fish loiter, just waiting to jump into 30 foot center consoles is where the island shelf ends, and the depths increase precipitously from 150 feet to 1250 feet. One then trolls along this depth gradient (it's on the GPS chart) and simply hauls in the eager wahoo and mahi-mahi. Up north we call the latter dolphin fish—no, not Flipper, a fish.)

The drop-off is about 8 miles offshore. Sounds ridiculously close compared to the Atlantic Coast canyons which are 50 miles offshore. But once you are out of the flat Corossol Bay ( which is virtually closed on three sides and well protected from all but west winds, and those are rare hereabouts) one encounters 8 foot seas which make progress slow. It took us 45 minutes to get to the drop-off, we worked the line for a couple of hours, and caught zilch. We spied some working birds, but they quit when we approached. I also got my first sighting of flying fish. Amazing creatures. At first I thought they were small birds. They come out of the water, fly for about 10-12 feet at an altitude of 6 inches, then slip back into the wave. Huh. We snagged some barracuda, a mean looking toothy creature, but that's like hooking sea robins or sand sharks back home—just trash fish bait stealers.

On the way home, we had a following sea on our starboard quarter, so we made decent time. We did take on a lot of spray, but the water is 79 degrees, and the only real nuisance is salt water on the glasses, which makes one effectively blind until you can manage a fresh water rinse. Wiping salt water off glasses leaves a greasy smear and is not an effective tactic.

No, during the trip I did not eat either of the two sandwiches I brought aboard, or any of the four that Dofie brought. Had I gotten sick on this trip, it would have been in the island newspaper the next day. Or at least the talk of Corossol.

Word had spread that I was coming back to complete the destruction of the concrete and wood dock upon which this fishing community relies, so there was a goodly number of loiterers making believe they weren't watching my second approach of the day. But even I learn some things. The wind was off the dock (i.e., blowing the boat away from the dock), I had fenders out, I put the nose within inches of the splinters remaining from my previous attempt, reversed the port engine, and voila, a neat docking experience. A landing like that takes a lot of the sting out of coming home with an empty fishbox. If the wind were blowing onto the dock, I would have made Dofie swim for it, rods, tackle box, and all.

But I was not done yet. Now I needed to re-attach the boat to the mooring block, which was downwind of the dock. The one inch mooring lines extend from the block on the seabed to a basketball sized yellow float, from which was extended a 30 foot half-inch line downwind to my dinghy. I went directly from the dock to the float, put the engines in neutral, snagged the half-inch line with the boat hook, and grabbed the line with my hand. Really dumb move. The wet line simply burned my hand as it slid through my fist before I could wrap it around a cleat. I had neglected to consider the force of the wind on Fish Faster. There I was, trying to arrest the forward progress of an 8,000 pound boat propelled by a 20 knot wind, by squeezing a wet half-inch line in my fist. Duh. Happily, I lost only a thin layer of skin before cleating the line. Once the boat was no longer moving forward, I was able easily to haul up thbuoyuy and attach the one inch line to the bow cleats. When the engines were shut down, raised out of the water, the switches turned off, I sat in the sun in my fishing chair and ate my jambon et fromage sandwich and drank my bottle of water. It was at that moment that I learned the last lesson of the day: Have a six-pack of beer on the boat at all times.

Wind is up today.. Rain squalls and sunshine, more of the former, and I've decided today is bill-paying day. Why do they keep sending bills? Don't they respect the fact I have no more money? Or at least will not after next week's plumber's bill—which is yet another island story for another rainy day in Paradise.

We'll have market-bought mahi-mahi for our Super Bowl dinner. Wish I cared who won.

A bientot.

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