We had been on the water for scarcely an hour before one of our fishing lines was hit hard. The East wind had forced us to sail down the coastline of Great Exuma Island. Now, our fisherman friends from West End had taught us to navigate the drop off from shallow to deep water for optimum fishing, and it just so happened that our course forced us directly along that line. John, recognizing the opportunity that this presented, threw out the lines, and began calling “here fishy fishy fishy fishy” in that…distinctive voice that he uses when he’s bored. Jackson and I had just told him that the fish couldn’t actually hear him and were contemplating the practicability of using him as bait when the reel squealed behind us, bent almost double. Everybody started yelling “fish on”, and a scene transpired that resembled nothing so much as a Three Stooges skit. John fairly leapt up to the rail to begin reeling the fish in as Ellen threw on the motor and sailed up into the wind to reduce speed. Unfortunately, as such things are wont to go with us, the line tangled almost immediately, and John and Jackson were forced to pull the line in by hand, hoping the entire time, no doubt, that the fish wouldn’t decide to put an extra effort into taking the line, and their fingers with it. I grabbed our spear for a makeshift gaff, and ineffectually jabbed it into the fish’s head to help them pull it into the boat. Finally, John and Jackson managed to lay it out in the cockpit, and we all looked around at each other wondering what to do next.
The fish was flopping so much that we were worried about it flipping itself right back into the ocean, so Jackson grabbed a winch handle to hit it in the head and stun it. Unfortunately, the only result of this well-intentioned action was that John, who was holding the fish still, suddenly bore a remarkable similarity to a Celtic warrior, as he was immediately splattered with blood. Nevertheless, the fish did not cease his efforts to remove himself from our presence, and eventually someone shouted “Cut its head off!”(we hope that you interpret this statement as an overreaction to the adrenaline of the moment, rather than as an indication of some latent barbarism in our personalities). Figuring that this would, at the very least, be an effective method of dispatching it, I grabbed our filleting knife, and proceeded to decapitate the hapless fish, though not before we managed to get a measurement of it(roughly 56 inches). We later learned that an easier, quicker, and unquestionably more humane method of killing fish is to pour a bit of alcohol over their gills, but we were in an emotional state at the time, without much room for rational thought. The fish that had been unlucky to find itself on our boat was a dolphin fish, also known as “dorado” or “mahi-mahi”, but lest you worry that it is in any way related to Flipper, Snowflake, or other such cute, mammalian sea animals, I can guarantee that it is, in fact, just a beautiful fish with a misleading name. I fileted it right there on deck over the course of the morning, and as we went into our night shifts, it was with a bit more adrenaline than normal, and the knowledge that we had about 10lbs of fish waiting for us when we made it to Rum Cay.
We still had a small hurdle to jump before we made it there, however. We were forced to beat into the wind all night and through the following morning, and it was a windy, rainy day that we sailed out into. We had just turned the engine on to give us some extra speed when we tacked and heard it sputter and die. What had gone wrong was obvious. When we tacked, the starboard genoa line had conceived to slide overboard(which no one had noticed in the ruckus) and become wrapped around the propeller. Now diving down to address the matter is simple in calm, still weather, but quite another matter in 20 knots of wind and 5-foot waves. We cut the line from the boat and John prepared to dive in, but looked so miserable getting into his wetsuit that I decided to undertake the task myself(truth be told, I rather trusted his driving with me underneath the boat more than mine with him).
It didn’t take long for me to get ready, and before I knew it, I was scrambling down the ladder with a knife in my hand, praying frantically that there weren’t any sharks around to take me for a particularly large piece of bait. The knife turned out to be thoroughly ineffectual, as the boat was heaving so much, and the line was so awkwardly placed, that I was likely to cut through an artery on my wrist before managing to cut the line. The end of the line was accessible, however, so I instead set to unwinding it from around the propeller shaft, using the point of the knife to help pry it out. This was a painstaking process, further complicated by the heaving boat, which often came down to rap me smartly on the head when I wasn’t careful. Fortunately I had a line tied around my body in case I received a particularly concussive knock from our little piglet and needed to be pulled in.
I had to take several breaks to stand on the ladder and gather myself, and I noticed on one of them that, though the water looked depressingly gray and stormy from above, as soon as I put my head into the water, the most vivid, deep blue sprang up at me. This was not the light turquoise of the Caribbean shallows, nor yet the forbidding darkness of the northern ocean. This was a pure, monochromatic royal blue that gave the impression of staring into a boundless cosmos of water. The sight very nearly made me gasp, which would have been unpleasant with both of my breathing orifices under water. This intense distraction aside, I finally found myself with the last little shred of line to unwind and discovered to my chagrin(though not my surprise) that it was stuck between the zincs and the propeller. I pulled, wiggled, tugged, and profaned the offending line, all to no avail, until I finally evacuated the ladder altogether, grabbed onto the line with both hands, put both feet on the side of the keel and heaved it free, just grabbing the ladder in time to avoid getting dragged 15 feet behind the boat. We pulled into Rum Cay that evening, just as it was starting to get dark, looking forward very much to a full night of sleep.