Sundowner Sails Again… When you’re cruising, you live with a much greater understanding of the temporary nature of things – and this leads to relationships which form and strengthen remarkably quickly. Because, inevitably, one of you will sail away. Our friendship with Sundowner has been no exception.
It helps, of course, that Tate is a promising spear fisherman and than Dani is an all-around awesome chick who plays chess closer to my level (when I’m sick of getting my ass kicked by Tate). It also helps that Tate drinks good scotch. And that they are funny. And that they are in their 30’s (at least 20 years younger than the average cruiser). There has been much laughing, some dancing, much fishing, much diving, beach fires, and a fair amount of drinking. All in all, it’s been great.
It’s probably not much of a surprise that Tate and I did some great diving.
At some point the wind and waves calmed down enough for us to “get outside” to the good fishing. Tate knew a spot, I knew a couple of spots – and together we were in great shape to land quality fish.
The outside reef in The Swimming Pool is accessed through cuts in the reef – some can be taken when the waves are 1 meter or less, some can be taken when the waves are up to 3 meters. But ain’t nobody wants to go outside when the waves are stacking up to 3 meters. So on our 1 meter day – we all went outside.
The girls have the spearfishing bug as well. They’re sometimes more excited about spearfishing than I am. All the gusto of a beginner in an adrenaline-filled sport. Ana shot her first Dog Snapper the other day. Impressive stuff, all around.
On the day in question Dani stayed back with another of our friends on Meridian (hey Dom!) to do some snorkeling. That left Ana, Dez, Tate, and myself on our voyage. We made it outside the reef and then I tried to find the familiar landmarks that make up one of my favorite spots on the outside of the reef. I found the landmark, but our first dive produced nothing but a couple of swim-by’s (Tarpon and Permit). So I swam back to the dinghy, picked everyone up, and repositioned.
On our next dive we found the spot. Huge caves in the bottom where Grouper and Dog Snapper hid and hunted. Sharks too. Lemon sharks and Blacktip sharks and Grey Reef sharks all competing for your fish. But where there are sharks there are fish, so this is a good sign.
On my first few dives I scored two large Dog Snapper. The sharks were active, so I returned to the dinghy with the fish. Restringing my speargun in the dinghy I heard Tate yell, “HELP!” – and when I looked over at him I saw his speargun floating next to him and I knew he’d speared a fish. He had, and the fish was in the process of thoroughly kicking his ass. Tate’s a big guy. So as I jumped in and kicked towards him I was hoping his struggle involved a giant fish.
I was not disappointed. When I saw the flash of the fish I knew immediately he’d shot a respectable Cubera Snapper. And when I saw his shot placement I loaded my speargun and prepared to shoot the fish again. Tate’s spear was precariously lodged just under the skin of this huge fish who was literally fighting for his life. By the time I reached the fish and got my hands in it’s gills to secure it, Tate had mostly recovered and the fish was largely under control.
We high five and Tate tried to tell me the story of the fish between gasps and between waves. I was mostly concerned with landing the fish so I pulled it back to the boat and let Tate recover. That’s when I noticed the second fish on Tate’s shooting line.
The story goes like this: Tate had shot a couple of nice Dog Snapper and on his way back to the dive spot (from putting the fish in the dinghy) he spotted a few nice Dog Snapper and then something larger in a cave. He dove to the bottom, sat there, and threw a few handfuls of sand up into the water column. Which is when the Cubera’s curiosity got the better of him. The fish approached Tate, and as the fish turned to give Tate the shot – a smaller Dog Snapper got between Tate and the Cubera. Tate took the shot and his spear passed through the Dog Snapper into the Cubera. At which point the Cubera went apeshit.
The Cubera ducked back into the hole (as they do) and refused to come out. This is a large fish, at home underwater and in caves. Tate is less at home underwater and in caves. Which is why Tate and the fish had such a disagreement about where they were going next.
To make a long story slightly less long, Tate’s shooting line wouldn’t let him get back to the surface without dragging the fish out of the cave. Which left him with two choices: get the fish out of the cave so he could return to the surface to breathe, or let go of his gear and lose the fish and the gear. Tate managed to wrestle the fish out of the cave, which is when he hit the surface and yelled for help.
Here, it would make sense for this story to end. Alas, there was more in store for us.
With the Cubera secured in the dinghy we all laughed and congratulated and back-slapped. But I knew we were in a hot spot, at the right time, and that this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. So I apologized for not sticking around and then jumped back in and kicked toward a hole I hoped would hold a nice fish for me.
I was kicking hard when I saw the tail. I knew it was a grouper, but couldn’t see the body and had no idea how large it was. Just a tail that vanished into a hole. That, though, is enough to dramatically raise my heartbeat.
You see – in all of the time I had been diving San Blas I still hadn’t shot a Black Grouper. It wasn’t an issue of seeing them – I saw them. It wasn’t an issue of freediving skill – I could get down to them. It was an issue of their spookiness. They bolt, I mean HAUL ASS, whenever they see a diver. You can chase them. You can follow them to a hole. You can search the entire labyrinth of the cave they swim into – but you won’t get within range. They’re incredibly difficult here. In the Bahamas they are relatively easy. In Mexico they’re an achievable goal. But the Kuna Indians have been hunting them religiously for hundreds (?) of years here. The Black Grouper in San Blas are a savvy fish. And, as of the moment in question, I needed this monkey (Black Grouper) off my back. Back to the story…
So when I saw this tail, I figured out an approach to the cave that would leave me hidden. Then I dove. And this time, rather than running away the Black Grouper poked his head back out of his hole. Then he turned slightly sideways to begin his escape, but it was too late.
My heart was pounding and in my head I was screaming: No Way! No Way! I’ve got him! I’ve got him! FINALLY A BLACK GROUPER! Nervous and excited in a way that neither Tuna, Billfish, Snapper, Wahoo, nor any other gamefish makes me, at least at this point in my spearfishing.
I squeezed the trigger. When the spear hit him he rolled and twitched. One second the lights were on and somebody was home and the next it was an empty house. Lights out. And then it started to dawn on me that finally, finally, after over a year and a half – I had a San Blas Black Grouper. Jesus H. Christ. So much work.
Line fishing? You can catch three a day. But we work for our fish.
With my prize in my hand I called the dive and we all regrouped at the dinghy. From zero fish to enough to feed the anchorage – in TWENTY MINUTES. When it’s hot, it’s hot. The kind of day that you work really hard for and get rarely. Finally.
To make this fish story more interesting, I’ll tell you that Tate shot this Black Grouper too. You read that right. Tate shot the fish before I did. When I got the fish to Tate he pointed out a hole in the fish’s tail where Tate’s spear had been only a few minutes before my spear stoned him. A crazy day.
Back in the anchorage we made the rounds. We showed off the fish (many of the cruisers here are spearfishermen) and took orders. It’s a longstanding tradition on NOMAD – when we have a good day fishing we clean and bag fish and give it away in the anchorage. That makes friends and brings people together. We had Permit, Yellow Jack, Black Grouper, Dog Snapper, and Cubera Snapper. A great day fishing.
Back onboard we took pictures. Enjoy.
Then we set about the fish-processing. It takes a couple hours to correctly process this many fish. Every boat in the anchorage wanted fresh fish and as we were cleaning the Kuna came by – so they got fish and took all of our fish heads. Not a drop was wasted.