Captain No-Beard and his crew of less than ten merry men got on board of the, smaller than I hoped for, fishing boat at the crack of pre-dawn. We were ready to embark on a day of fishing in the warm, deep, blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Our anxious faces couldn’t hide the hope of a fruitful day without puking. Which is why we have been popping pills like The Desperate Housewives of Everywhere.
If you willingly accept a swig of the skipper’s concoction from hell, which he lovingly calls Neptune-juice, at five in the morning, then you’re either an alcoholic or a pirate. We choose to associate ourselves with the skull-and-bone-black-flag type.
Shortly after getting on board we were cruising out of the harbor, catching the first rays of the sun as it peeked over the water. The wind was blowing in our hair, sea-spray falling on our lips, leaving behind our loved ones and more importantly, solid land. We took with us the dream of catching a big one and the nightmare of seeing a big lawyer of the sea. Excitement filled the boat as the anxious eight chatted nervously with the harbor entrance behind us.
Then we stopped.
I knew we were not that far out as I could still swim to shore if I needed to. We were quickly coerced into dumping lines over board and instructed to catch fish. For a left-handed rookie who’s never been on open water, one might think that using right-handed fishing gear would come pretty naturally. One would be very wrong. I not only felt like an idiot but managed to give an Oscar worthy performance of one as well.
I did manage to catch one or two, albeit the smallest fish you’ve ever seen. The skipper informed us that we were catching mackeral and it was going to be used as life bait. I was releaved because I was about to jump overboard out of sheer embarrassment of my failed attempt at finding bigger fish.
Then we trawled.
Trawling is a type of fishing that is actually not like fishing at all. You fix a few rods to the sides and back of the boat, tying a fake, slimy, glittering squid to the end of the line and tow it behind the boat. All in the hope of attracting some big game fish. Trawling doesn’t present itself with a lot of work for aspiring fisherman but I didn’t hear people complain. I figured it was because people were still not puking and there were an ample supply of beverages to consume. And another round of Neptune-juice.
After two hours the skipper realised that there were no big, stupid fish who skipped school today. Not even one sea creature was fooled by the fake skiing squid.
Then we stopped. Again.
After three attempts we finally found a spot that seemed to have some potential as the skipper informed us we were going to try bottom-fishing.
I felt sorry for the young, buff deckhand who had to drop and lift the anchor in our three failed attempts. The two ladies on board didn’t seem to mind because he had already taken his shirt off. Which is also the reason why none of the other men took of theirs. We didn’t want the guy with the six-pack to feel embarrassed on our behalf.
Bottom fishing is hard work. You drop your fishing line until the sinker hits…well…the bottom. It sounds easy enough, even if it takes around three light years to drop a line through 80 meters of water. The bigger problem would be that if a fish decides to take the bait, you would need to reel everything up again. Just you and your arms. And that is 80 meters of line. When a fish is hooked to the end of that line, it makes everything so much more heavy. And fun. And exhausting. You will experience muscle spasms in muscles you didn’t even knew existed.
Not to mention the exhilarating experience of shoving your hand in a bucket of raw squid that can only be described as handling the snot of a severe sinus infection. Another challenge of bottom fishing is to distinguish between the current of the ocean, the erratic surface below and an actual bite. From the rabied reaction of the skipper and Mr. Please-put-your-shirt-back-on, I obviously didn’t know the difference. I think I must have missed the biggest fish ever NOT caught by a man, judging by their frantic, hysterical screams.
So there we were anchored in one place, rods out, lines tight, backs arched, watching the water as if our lives depend on it. And the little fishing boat goes up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down. This may lead to severe sea-sickness for some. So we popped more pills. The pills were not working for L and C. I, on the other hand, handled the eb and flow of the ocean like a Jack Sparrow wannabe.
C eventually stood up and started to look for land, struggling to keep composure. He fared well. L just gave up completely as her sunny complexion slowly turned into a white/green colour that I never want to see on a human face again. She was also swallowing God knows what, quite a few a times. I knew the chances of feeding our dinner to the unexpecting fish below would increase exponentially as soon as the first one started hurling food overboard. I watched her with all the sympathy I could muster but couldn’t keep myself from saying: “Don’t puke, please.”
The skipper realised our predicament and he probably had a flash vision of cleaning the vomit of eight people, so he told her to lay down in the cabin. Even though this meant she wouldn’t be able to fish, we couldn’t have cared less as we were just happy to have her removed from plain sight. C felt better and joined the torture party.
We did manage to score a few Soldiers, King Soldiers, Skippers, Rockards and a few other unpronounceable species of fish. The big one evaded the crew. So the skipper decided to use our life bait.
The next moment all hell broke loose on the boat. It probably would have been better if the rookies were informed in advance that in the event of a tuna on the line, all other lines have to be pulled up. Quickly. We knew we were not acting fast enough as the skipper lost all control and turned into the Wicked Witch of the West. When the lines were up eventually, we were chased to the back of the boat like a bunch of army recruits signing up for duty. It would have help if we were not already standing at the back of the frigging boat.
Long story short, someone caught a tuna. It wasn’t me. I was hiding in the cabin which was at the front of the boat. I was trying to figure out what happened to the jolly old man who used to be our skipper.
In his defense, he had suffered through several missed opportunities, a trawling of nothingness, a line tangle that made a crows nest look like a penthouse suite and one very sick lady. What I would like to call a real dream crew. After the tuna was safely stowed, composure returned to the deck. Our skipper and Mr Don’t-you-own-a-goddamm-shirt was offering apologies and quite a few swigs of Neptune-juice was doing the rounds. Soon we were all laughing, drinking and fishing again. Crisis averted and no-one died, except for the tuna off course.
Eventually we all had enough and the skipper opted to trawl back to shore. I think he realised by the expressions of the now-not-so-merry men that we had enough. We did cover almost 180 km, after all.
On the way back, Captain No-beard climbed on the cabin roof, dangling over high waves of the deep blue sea. I didn’t shit my pants and will stick to that story until the day I die. It was all worth it as I sat high and powerful, gazing at the horizon, beer in hand, reminiscing about another splendid day in Africa. I also took my shirt off. F*ck deckhand boy. He will grow old too. After a while I realised I still had to come down from my high. Figuratively and literally. So I did.
We docked, tired but fulfilled, 12 hours after leaving the harbour that morning. But like the sign in the cabin said: A bad day at sea still beats a good day at the office.
Life is so good.