Coco Banderos

S/V NOMAD in Cocos

S/V NOMAD in Cocos

After setting up our trampoline-tent-thing on the front of the catamaran, we chilled and read.  It was semi-entertaining just watching the insanity of the uber-rich, taking full advantage of their weekend.  But as it neared sundown, I got bored and decided to head out for a quick dive.  Chels was game, but Damo wanted to get his evening stretch-session in – so he stayed back.

Diving in Cocos

We were running out of daylight by the time Chels and I got out to the reef.   So the vis wasn’t great, but there was a little life.  I started working my way around the ledge, but there wasn’t much home.  I lost Chels pretty early on, as she was distracted in the shallows and I was swimming out to the deeper water.  I managed to see her head back to the dinghy, so I knew she was find – but we weren’t being great dive buddies.  So I came back.

I was giving up on the idea of decent fish at this spot, and the water was turning darker as we lost sunlight.  I switched my attention to trying to find lobster, or the elusive Channel Clinging Crab. I love those crabs.  I’d been searching for one the entire trip, thus far, and hadn’t found one.  They’re delicious.

Here’s me searching for them:

Searching for Crabs in San Blas

Searching for Crabs in San Blas

Anyways, after spending some time with my head deep into holes – I managed to catch a glimpse of a giant pincher a couple of inches from my nose.

It surprised me a bit, but excited me even more.  The trick now was to get the damn thing out.  But he was big, deep in the hole, and it was getting pretty dark.  I signaled Chels to show her, but it was so deep into the hole and so dark – she couldn’t see it.

I quickly decided not to try to wrestle with him, those pinchers would maul me.  Which left me trying to angle a giant speargun into a tiny hole, and then trying to shoot at the area where I suspected his body would be.  Well, I tried and missed.  So I spent the next 15 minutes diving and trying to recover my stuck spear.  With the spear out, I was out of daylight and the crab was out of sight – deep in the hole somewhere.

So I made one quick round on the ledge and came back to the hole.  Lo and behold, when I stuck my head into the hole again – I got a face-full of pincher.  Stoked!  This time the angle was better, but the light was worse.  I took a deep breath, lined up and pulled the trigger.   The hole erupted in a mass of legs and pinchers, which meant I’d won.

Naturally, the crab made himself pretty big in the small hole – which made getting him out tough. But another 15 minutes and I had the crab out of the hole and was completely stoked.  I won.

Crab Dinner in Cocos!

Crab Dinner in Cocos!

We hauled butt back to the boat, narrowly missing a reef in the waning light.  When I got back to the boat Damo wanted to know how we did – I was all smiles when I showed him the crab.  Those damn things are hard to find.  Even harder to get out of their hiding places.   And this one was a fine specimen, much larger than any I’d seen before – including those in the Kuna boats.  Damo didn’t really care as he couldn’t eat shellfish, but I was stoked.

Pincher to Hand Comparison

Pincher to Hand Comparison

Back onboard I had a celebratory drink and got the pressure-coooker going.  It was crab-time.  A little while later we pulled him out, cracked him open, and found only a tiny amount of meat.  We were stunned.  So much work for such a small reward!  I’ve literally seen more meat inside a small Blue Crab, and this one was 5X the size.  Crazy.

Nonetheless, it was super tasty.

Cooked Channel Clinging Crab

Cooked Channel Clinging Crab

Long story short (after the long story) – the Channel Clinging Crab is delicious.  But it’s a lot of work for a small reward.  As such, I’m not making nearly the effort in bringing them onboard next time.  A single fish could supply 10X the meat at half the effort.  Of course, there are very few fish that equal the taste of these particular crabs.

By nightfall, every single motor-yacht had left our anchorage.  It was peaceful.  We all slept soundly, woke up early and went for another dive.

Broken Spears and Big Fish

I had a couple of locations marked to revisit, and we did so (thanks Mark, I kept your secrets).  It was beautiful diving, but it wasn’t incredibly productive.  That said, I did have an interesting experience with a big fish.  Typically not a game-fish – but out here with no Ciguatera…

So I’d been investigating holes and ledges for a half-hour.  Nada. There were some small snapper – but I’d been hoping for some big Dog Snapper, a nice Grey Snapper, a Mutton,  a Grouper…  Hell, anything tasty.  And flirting with the idea of not bringing home fish led me to my next decision.

I was hiding under a ledge at 50 feet when I noticed a shark coming toward me.  I kicked toward him to get a better look and realized it was a massive barracuda.  Like really big.  And we see some true monsters in the Gulf.  This one was bigger than anything I’d seen before.

I knew shooting him would be something akin to a bomb exploding in the peaceful water around me.  Things would go from peaceful to chaos instantly.  But he was massive.  And I honestly didn’t think people would believe how big he was.  And we had some friends around to share the fish (we eat them here, there’s no cig).  So I sat there, holding my breath and pondering the situation.

He was the same size I was, minus my fins.  Massive.  And toothy.  Clearly not worried about me.  In fact, he started pressing me a bit – getting in my face and a little territorial.

We used to shoot them for chum (burley) in the Gulf.  And some real monsters too.  They have a tendency, when they get larger, to charge you or anyone else in the water after they’re shot.  I’ve dodged a couple of these toothy missiles, post spear-in-fish.  So I looked around and I was alone, which was good as I’d only have to worry about him charging me.

Then my first contraction brought the issue to a head:  shoot or not.  Make a decision, Nate.   I aimed for his head, hoping for a stone-shot – but he was even larger than I thought, making him a little further off and my shot a little off the mark.  Good visibility does that to you.

When I pulled the trigger, it was like somebody had pressed a big, red button – labeled “Shitstorm.”  Immediately he charged me.  I was on my way up already though, and managed to dodge the spear as it whizzed past my face.  Then the line started screaming off my reel.  I tightened the drag.  It was still going too quickly – so I grabbed the gun as tightly as I could.  I was expecting a little water-ski adventure.  Then nothing.

NOTHING.  I pulled on the line:  nada.  Following the reel line through the reef I found a tiny piece of what had been a brand-new 7.5mm spring-steel shaft, neatly parted.  Dammit.  That has literally never happened to me, despite landing tuna, wahoo, marlin, amberjack, etc.  Crazy how powerful this fish was.

I spent the rest of the time diving and following around fish with the camera.  Which was surprisingly rewarding.

So – again, after the long story – long story short:  I lost the biggest barracuda I’ve seen yet.  To a broken spear.  Jeez.

Subscribe to get notified when there’s new content!