Sailing Stories

I’ll continue adding stories as I have time and  remember them.

when you live on a boat you sometimes wake up to uninvited guests

When I was living on the boat, before we left on the circumnavigation, I kept the boat in the anchorage outside Redhook St. Thomas. This meant the boat was anchored about 50-75 yds off the beach and I used my dinghy to commute back and forth to shore.

My boat has the master stateroom in the stern and has 2 small portlights in the stern. Basically this means my bed was up against the back of the boat with 2 small “windows” just above the bed. These 2 portlights are openable & sit about a foot and a half off the water & about 6″ above the bed. You can stick your arm out the “window” while you lay in bed if you want.

When anchored out I always keep these portlights open because it provides nice ventilation & a nice view. You can see the horses swimming by in the morning when you wake up.

One night I was sound asleep, snoring up a storm I’m sure, when I was suddenly startled awake by the sound of someone breathing very heavily in my bed! what? This was a very odd sensation. I awoke to the sound of someone gasping for air. Imagine the sound of someone who can’t catch their breath, is making gasping sounds and is in the process of dieing. It was pitch dark. I was startled, a little disoriented and half afraid.

I switched on the light and there laying on the pillow next to me was a foot long squid that had jumped through the portlight & was making a ridiculously loud raspy breathing noise while slowly dieing and gasping it lasts breaths.  I can’t begin to accurately describe the noise.

It was very strange.  I quickly grabbed the squid and tossed him back through the portlight. This was a mistake, I should have made calamari out of himfor the trouble he caused me!

Imagine your a squid, you take a wrong turn and wind up in bed with a human snoring like there is no tommorow. What do you do? You immediately evacuate your ink all over the place.

My sheets had a 2′ round “wetspot” of purple ink.  My sheets, pillowcases and one pillow were completely ruined.

For those of you paying attention to the 3rd paragraph, you’re still wondering what? Horses?  Swimming?

Yes, horses.  For the life of me I can’t fathom why, but horse racing is VERY popular here. Why they started racing horses on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean I’ll never know, but they do.

The trainers make their horses swim in the ocean several days per week as a form of exercise that doesn’t tax the animals joints and tendons too much.  It was very common to wake up to the sound of horse snorting or whinnying, what ever that sound they make is.

I would often awake to see a horse swimming within 5′ of the boat as I lay in bed. Now, the horses don’t free swim, they are ridden. They aren’t ridden in the typical sense, but, basically what happens is a local Rastafarian type guy (w/ huge dreads stacked on top of his head in one of those hats/wraps -whatever they are called) hangs on to the horses mane & is pulled along behind the horse.

It is very odd to wake up and see a horse with a Rastafarian in tow less than 5′ away. It is even stranger when you lock eyes with him.

Old Man & The Sea ****

When we were preparing for the trip, fishing for food to save money was an important part of the plan. I had been fishing professionally, part time, on a local charter boat for over a year, becuase it was fun, to prepare for the trip and really learn the ins & outs of deepwater fishing.

In the weeks of provisioning we went to the local tackle store & stocked up on lots of tackle and bait. This cost several hundred dollars and my brother was very skeptical. I assured him that we would be catching fish non stop and it was a very worth while investment.

We left St. Thomas bound for Panama and started fishing as we left the harbor. I was quite certain we would catch fish, at the very least, daily.

Three full days and nights went by without even a bite. I could tell my brother was really doubting my ability to fish at this point, as was I.

During the third night our first storm at sea began to build and neither of us had any idea what we were doing. We were changing watch just before dawn, when the clicker finally went off. For those that don’t know, fishing reels have a clicker you can set so that when a fish starts to pull line off it makes a clicking noise to let you know.  We finally had our first fish on the line, the seas were now 12′-15′ & the wind was blowing a steady 20 kts.
I began fighting the fish while my brother reefed in the sails to try and slow us down.

Between the boat being unable to stop & the size of the fish, about 400yds of line had spooled off before we were able to start bringing the fish back to the boat. I knew that the fish was a tuna because tuna always dive down & swim in circles causing the rod tip to bob up & down. I knew it was very large by the amount of line it had pulled off.

The only thing that likes sashimi more than I do is a shark. Often times if you can’t land a tuna within 20 -30 minutes you will lose it because a shark will eat it. we fought the tuna you see in the pictures for 2 1/2hrs.

I was very worried about catching this fish because we hadn’t caught any fish yet and a large part of our plan was to eat fish to save on provisioning costs. I also felt I had something to prove to my brother.

We finally got the fish to within about 20 yds straight down under the boat and it was swimming slow circles of about 20′ in diameter below us. This is always when you lose them to sharks because the fish is very tired & swimming slow.

The other major consideration at this point is the high possiblity that the line will break. After fighting a fish for so long the line becomes weak. When the line is under so much strain if it so much as touches the boat the abrasion will instantly cause it to break.

When i first saw the fish i was thrilled it was such a nice tuna and yelled at my brother to come back so he could at least see the fish, because I was pretty sure we would lose it before we could get it aboard.

After another 20 minutes or so we finally got the fish to the leader, I took a wrap & gaffed it. The fish was so big and heavy I couldn’t lift it. We were doing this in 12′ seas everything was soaking wet, my muscles were quivering and cramping from fighting the fish for over 2 hrs.

When I tried to lift the fish the leader instantly snapped, now we only have a hold of the fish by the gaff.  If it twists or moves much we will lose it.  I yelled at my brother to grab a rope and when he gave me the rope I had him hold the gaff. My only option at this point was to try to reach over and lasso the fish w/ the rope. Nearly impossible.

The deck of the boat is  between 4′ -5′ off the water. I laid down and told my brother to sit on me. I then slid over the side until he was sitting on my ankles while he was trying to hold the fish. I was trying to lasso the fish with no luck while my brother was slowly losing his grip. Finally I was able to reach into the fishes mouth and thread the line through his mouth and out a gill. Then somehow, I don’t really know exactly, we were able to cleat the line, let go of the gaff & my brother pulled me back up.

We were so exhausted we just laid there for a few minutes with the fish hanging off the side of the boat. Finally, on the second try, we were able to pull the fish aboard. My brother looked at me and said ” that is some serious old man & the sea ****”.

Yellow fin Tuna

Yellow fin tuna. Sushi for every meal.

We rested for about 1/2 hour, got the boat back on course, took pictures, then began butchering the tuna.
We have pictures of me trying to hold the fish up.  I have the base of its tail even with my head and the tuna’s head is still laying flat on deck. I am sure the fish weighed over 150lb. We also have some pretty graphic pictures of the butchering process, where I’m carving off 10lb blocks of meat and filling a large cooler.

After that we developed a pretty standard routine for landing fish, until the night we caught the shark you see in the pictures. It was the middle of the night, we were bored and had a giant shark on the line, so rather than just cutting the line we decided, what the hell, lets land it and try a shark steak.

We got the shark close to the boat, had it lassoed, but it was still very much alive and could easily take your arm off. Finally my brother looked at me in disgust & said ” why don’t you just get the gun & shoot the damn thing so we can get this  over with?!” – Why didn’t i think of that.

Shark caught on passage

Shark in the morning

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