Sharks and Big Wahoo – A Spearfishing Trip

Big Wahoo

A typical catch for Jeremy.

Spearfishing big wahoo is still one of the most challenging things I do.  They’re the fastest fish in the ocean, have soft flesh, are beloved by sharks, and make blinding runs after shot.  Landing a monster takes the right gear, a bunch of patience, and some tactics you can only learn with experience.  I’ve made several multi-day trips into some of the best big wahoo hunting area on earth, but every time I’m humbled.

It was a good trip – solid divers, an epic spot, and (finally) a weather window we could head out (over 100 miles) into the Gulf.  Sharks and big wahoo are the norm here and we love it.

Almost everyone had been to the spot, and we had a captain who could regularly put us on big wahoo (check him out here).  There was a new guy, but he seemed solid enough for a run out there – as long as he didn’t freak out when he saw the sharks.  None of us would blame him if he did, we saw hundreds of sharks and big wahoo and usually had a couple of close calls on every run.  It’s not an exaggeration either – hell, a good friend of ours can’t land a wahoo without it being at least partially consumed by sharks (that’s him in both pics).  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

big wahoo

Jeremy feeding the sharks again.

Getting it Together

The plan started about a month in advance with plane tickets purchased from Hawaii and California to Houston.  Everyone arrived at IAH at the same time and we loaded up enough gear to outfit a small spearing army.  I’ve always wondered what other people at the airport thought as they heard us explaining to airline employees what was in our 7ft long, 100lb bag.  Even worse – if you accidentally let slip it’s a “speargun” or that it’s “spearfishing gear.”

Back to the story – we were going spearfishing and our target was big wahoo.  Our friends were here and we were stoked.  Excited talking, catching up, and rough jokes took all of 3 seconds to erupt – we knew we were going to have a crazy trip.  Nobody ever sleeps the night before (except for our captain) and everyone’s up early (again – except for our captain).   So we’re up, everyone get’s their fishing licenses and we head to the marina – cold, tired, but buzzed with excitement.

Big Wahoo
Prepping the boat.

We load a ton of extra fuel, some tanks (in case a fish gets tied up deep), too much processed food, some beer to trade for shrimp – and we’re off.  The trip runs about 6 or 7 hours one way, if we have a good sea and no mechanical issues.  I try to sleep but smashing through the waves and the constant smell of gasoline (from the fuel on the deck) keeps me awake.  We usually arrive sometime in the afternoon and start getting ready to enter the frigid water.  After a couple of passes we find the fish on radar and the first group makes the jump.

The air is so damn cold that none of us want to wet down our wetsuits to get them on, or take off the 3 layers of outer clothing necessary to don said wetsuits.  It’s in the 40’s (not all that cold to some), but there’s wind and we have to get wet to get in the wetsuit.  Without fail, out come the jokes about cold weather and naked dudes, not original – but consistent.  Then we untangle our gear – floatlines, spears, and giant spearguns are strewn all over the deck like some giant’s sewing kit.
Big Wahoo Gear

Too much gear.

Somewhere in the Gulf…

It’s hard to get the currents right – it usually takes a couple of runs to put us on the fish, but we get there. Somebody sees both sharks and big wahoo immediately.  A diver misses a big wahoo pretty quickly, not judging distance correctly and taking a shot that’s out of range.   The new guy is yelling about giant amberjack and we all secretly hope he doesn’t shoot one – it’ll take a few of us to help him get the fish in. Not that we have anything against amberjack (or new guys), but we’re here for wahoo.  And if you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, you don’t have to look much further than a green spearfisherman, a 100lb amberjack, and a bunch of deep-water sharks.

Then it happens;  someone finally sneaks up on a big wahoo and lands a shot.  And when someone has a fish on, you know it right away.  Everyone yells and at least two divers take off after the float skidding across the water (one diver for the wahoo, another to keep the sharks at bay).  There’s a noticeable tension too – it only takes a moment for the sharks to congregate on the fish.  Now it’s a fight to see who lands the fish – the sharks or us.
Big Wahoo Spearfishing

A float skidding across the water – a good sign.

This trip we landed about 2/3 of the wahoo we shot, only giving away 1/3 of our catch to the tax-man (sharks). No problem, we’ve had way worse odds.  Hell, trip before last we were landing only about 1/3 of the wahoo we shot – the tax man was especially unforgiving.  That’s when things get a little dicey too, after the sharks get the first fish they learn quickly.  And after the finish the fish, they’re in a frenzy and you’re the only thing left in the water.

We finish up the day with a couple of big wahoo, all of our limbs, and an amberjack – the new guy couldn’t resist.

Big Amberjack

Damien with the Amberjack we hoped he wouldn’t shoot.

Nights Aboard

That night we head toward the nearest rig, tie up, and put the fuel on deck into the boat.  God it sucks.  It’s cold, we’re exhausted, and we’re hungry – the last thing we want to do before settling in for the night is get covered in fuel.  But it gets done.  Sleep sometimes comes easy – not always though.

There’s the constant tension of being thrown into the rig and waking up stranded in the middle of the Gulf among the wreckage that was your boat. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the smell of fuel lingers, and sometimes the seas pick up and you spend the majority of the night levitating ~ 2 feet off the deck. We sleep (kinda) and then it’s light outside.

offshore sunrise

The sun is a blessing and a curse. It means it’s time to get up and go get underwater (sweet!), but it means we have to leave the (relative) comfort of our beds and put on our wet, freezing wetsuits (major bummer). We finally get moving and stuff our faces with processed, sugar covered, “breakfast food” on the way back to the spot.  There’s no coffee so some of the guys are chugging energy drinks – I’m tempted but I’m also pretty sure that stuff is toxic.

Getting Wet for Big Wahoo

We’re on the spot and now we’re trying to convince ourselves that we should get in the water.  Finally the lure of big wahoo makes someone take the plunge.

Big Wahoo Spearfishing

Putting off getting in.

Freezing.  The water makes it into my wetsuit and I taste salt, I’m awake now and I’m excited about this again. The blue is calming, exciting, and I really feel at home there.  Damn I miss this, I’d do anything to be able to do this more often.  Sharks pass but there’s only mild curiosity.  A couple of small ones make a pass but a quick poke with the speargun changes their mind.  Funny how chickenshit they end up being after the first aggressive pass.

Getting in the Swing

The flashers are dropped and we’re into full hunting mode.

This is the part I love; for the next few hours nothing else matters – not my job, my bills, my dog… Nothing.

My head’s on a constant swivel, and remind myself to turn around completely every now and then.  I’m watching the other divers.  I breath in quickly, but I exhale and make it last until I count to ten.  My heart rate begins to slow and I can see that we’re drifting over the spot, rainbow runners and ocean triggerfish come to meet me at the surface.

Three purge breaths and I’m down – of course we should be alternating divers but there’s only so many dives as we drift over the spot, and our dives are typically 30-40 feet – too easy.

Fish On!

Suddenly they’re here – we have 100ft of visibility but they sneak up on us.  Like a grey ghost, they materialize out of the blue – torpedo shaped and curiously eying us.  Somehow they always surprise me when they do that. 50ft away and there’s a wall of them – all big wahoo, some in the 90-100lb range.  The closest ones glide past and I angle toward them; kicking slowly, reminding myself not point until I’m ready to shoot, and keep closing the gap.  40ft, then 35ft – and my target starts to turn and increases the gap.  I’m almost a minute into the dive and I know contractions are right around the corner.  I see the other divers angling toward the wall of big wahoo and I have a choice:  leave the fish for them or forget my rule (don’t chase fish) and chase them in hopes of closing the gap. I chose the latter and, to my surprise, he let’s me close the gap.  30ft is my max range, and I’m there.

My lungs are screaming and the contractions have started.  I need to close the gap – just a couple more feet.  One more kick… aim… the recoil disrupts my line of sight.  I manage to see steel sticking out of the fish as he screams out of sight.  And on my way up my float line tightens and my float starts moving through the water. Hit.  Damn that was awesome.

big hammerhead shark

The taxman.

The sharks and the school of big wahoo follow myself and a friend as we chase the float; I’m hoping  he can land a shot on another big wahoo while I’m chasing mine.  The chase was short, the shot held, and now my friend takes a dive to check the shot and fend off sharks while I pull the fish to the surface.  In my experience, wahoo make one blistering run and give up – this one was no exception. At the surface we’re greeted by a hungry (big) hammerhead and another of the divers.  The divers circle me, spearguns facing out while the boat hauls ass to get the fish out of the water.

boating a big wahoo

Loading a small wahoo.

With a fish this size and with this amount of chop, getting the fish into the boat can be a challenge – of course, it’s a challenge I’m happy to face any day of the week.  With the big wahoo onboard, it’s time to take over for the guys on the boat and give them a shot at a world record.

We hunted for the rest of the day and then the until noon the following day.  When we finally started the 6 hour ride back in, we’d boated multiple big wahoo (each), tuna, amberjack, and rainbow runner (which we ate on the boat in ceviche). Everyone is tired and happy.  We’re finally bundled back up for the ride home and we all have something to bring home for sushi, ceviche, or the grill.  More than that, we all have an experience we’ll never forget and stories we’ll tell for the rest of our lives.

When I get back I send some pictures of our catch and let people know that I’ll be bringing them fish.  That’s one of the things I enjoy about these trips – I get to provide family and friends with the best fish, fresher than they could ever buy it.

I hope you enjoyed this, it’s one of many, many spearfishing and freediving stories I have.  I’ll occasionally post these, in addition to notes and progress on my trip preparation.

Nathan's big wahoo

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8 Reasons I Want a Catamaran

my circumnavigation.

The truth is this depends mostly upon budget. Once you have your budget, you then look at your needs, then your wants.

I’m a strong believer that you can circumnavigate in a huge range of vessels.  And that’s not based on my opinion, it’s based on sailors actually circumnavigating on a wide range of vessels.  From this guy who sailed around on a 12 footer to people who have circumnavigated on massive trimarans with full crews (they did it in 48 days, see here).  So what is the minimum size one should consider?  I don’t know.

1a

A friend of mine (pictured above in a local paper) has made a circumnavigation and he sailed on a 46 footer (I think).  I remember him saying that he thought 33ft is a minimum – but not any 33ft:  construction matters.  Some sailboats are made for coastal cruising and some are proven bluewater performers.  Personally, I’m most comfortable on something in the 40ft range (for monohulls).

But I’m actually looking to spend a bunch of time on the boat and I’ve been strongly persuaded by more than one cruiser that a catamaran is the way to go.  I’m pretty sold on it – except that that cost is about 1.75-2X the cost of a regular monohull. So what makes it worth the money to me?

Well, here’s my list:

1.  Catamaran’s are more stable

You spend a bunch of time at anchor (the majority of it) and it really, really makes a difference to be stable at anchor.  Sleeping, eating, entertaining, making coffee, cooking – are all much easier to do when you’re not rolling.  Any good sailor knows this and monohull advocates will tell you that you’re a crappy captain if you anchoring in spot where your rolling.  That may be true, but what’s also true is that there are sometimes limited mooring spots and that waves and weather change.

Equally importantly, while under way catamarans stay upright so walking, making food, keeping beverages upright, and fighting fish (if you’re lucky) are all made significantly easier.

2.  Catamaran’s have a larger salon

I want space to hang out, not in a hull.

Ideally I’d like the galley in that area, as well as some seating, and a bunch of windows.  Something like this (but with more windows – for ventilation in the tropics):

catsalon

 3.  Catamarans are (often) faster

You’ll certainly hear a spirited debate about this subject if you bring it up among sailors.  Monohull advocates will also remind you about how a catamaran really isn’t a sailor’s vessel.  Cool, I have no problem with that.  I’m choosing sailing because it’s cheap, it’s natural, it’s quiet, and it’s not reliant on fuel.  I couldn’t give a shit what is considered “real sailing” and what isn’t.  From what I’ve read and heard – cats are generally faster, and that’s really important on those long passages.

4.  Catamarans have shallow drafts

This one can be hard to grasp, but it’s really important.  If you have a boat with a 7-8′ draft, you’re in a very different mooring situation than one that has, say – a 4′ draft.  The draft is the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the keel (the lowest spot beneath the waterline) and reflects the shallowest water that a boat can safely navigate in.

A catamaran typically has a very small keel because it doesn’t need the stabilization of a deeper keel necessary in a monohull. Instead, for stabilization under sail it has two hulls.  The types of cats that I’m interested in (38-40ft cruising cats), typically have a 4′ draft – while a comparable monohull would typically have a 6-8′ draft.

Why does this matter?  Because a shallow draft allows catamarans to get to anchoring spots that a comparable monohull wouldn’t be able to – say a really protected, but shallow cove.  And if you’re not interested in protected spots to anchor, a shallow draft still allows you to cruise into much shallower waters (like a really beautiful patch of reef).  Or provide you with a bit of wiggle room if you’re cruising through patchy reef.

5.  Catamarans have more deck space

This gives you many, many advantages including: more room for solar panels, more room for relaxing, more room for moving around your boat, etc.  Think of it this way: if you’re going to live in an apartment for the next 3-4 years, would you prefer a 400 sq ft apartment or a 600 sq ft apartment?  Easy choice, but it costs.

6.  Catamarans have more room for a dingy

Correctly outfitted, you’ll be able to store a larger dingy, and (maybe) more importantly you don’t have to stow the dingy everytime you pick up and move.  Instead, you simply pull it up on a couple of pulleys and you’re off.  This makes a big difference – our last trip on a monohull we spent an inordinate amount of time stowing the outboard and the dingy.

7.  Catamarans have more privacy

Catamarans have a ton more privacy.  Instead of all bunking in the same hull, you can have cabins in entirely seperate hulls. Obviously for short-term trips this isn’t a big deal, but for longer trips small things can really start to grind on you when you’re sleeping just feet (or inches) from everybody else aboard.

8.  Catamarans have two engines

Last, but certainly not least -If shit breaks, and it will – you really want to have two.  Engines are pretty important, even when sailing, and being stuck without an engine is way worse than ending up with a single engine (because you have two on a cat). Pretty straightforward but really important.

With all that considered, here’s what I’m considering – a 38-40ft Lagoon, Leopard, Jaguar, Catana, or Fountaine Pajot.  I’m sure there are more, and if anyone has any suggestions I’m open.  Here’s an example of what I’m looking for:

cat

Disclaimer:  these are my opinions, not based upon personal experience.  My opinions are based instead on advice from others and a ton of reading. I’m probably wrong in part of this, please feel free to correct me.

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Getting Here – A Life of Adventure

mypath

The Path

I’m a lucky guy.  There’s absolutely no denying it.  As a matter of fact, I’m so lucky that I’ve suffered serious guilt about how lucky I am.

I’ve survived things that other people didn’t, I have a family that’s set me up for success, and people have given me chances in my professional life.  I’ve experienced adventure that I would never be able to describe in words – from freedive spearfishing over a hundred miles offshore, to engaging in firefights outside of Baghdad, Iraq.  From learning to really ride my motorcycle, to sharing some epic diving trips in remote spots with amazing friends.

There’s been no shortage of adrenaline or adventure.  But it wasn’t always like this.

I bore you with an endless list of issues I’ve had, but in summary:  I’ve lost brothers in battle, had romantic interests violently killed, lost family members (most painfully – my father), and endured a variety of failures both personal and professional.

Honestly I don’t do well with failure and throughout the process there have been periods of serious self-doubt that border on depression.  The earth-shattering, soul-crushing kind of self doubt that makes you question every decision you’ve ever made.

Abandoning “my future.”

Early in college a friend died in a Jeep rollover and I stopped caring about college.  They ended up kicking me out on academic probation – apparently final exams are meant to be attended (who knew?).  That failure lead to a shitty manual labor job, living out of a shitty trailer, in a shitty town in Texas.  The level of people I worked with were illegal immigrants (good people) and drug addicts (sometimes good people).

I wasn’t making any money, couldn’t afford my cell phone payments and my student loan payments were beginning to pile up.

Risking my life for a different future.

Eventually I decided to join the military, not really seeing any way out (and it meant I got that adrenaline/adventure fix). I did alright in the military and really enjoyed the camaraderie and the no-bullshit attitude.  What I didn’t enjoy was the lack of real leadership (commanding isn’t leading), insistence on rules, and lack of genuinely motivated and ambitious people (nothing against any of my friends – you were the exception).  Admittedly, I also have a little bit of a problem with authority.

My career essentially ended when I was offered a promotion, and they resorted to telling me I wouldn’t last “in the real world” (meaning being a private citizen). I declined the promotion. The truth is – I was starting to realize that the war my friends and I were fighting was bullshit.  It was ruining our country, drastically increasing our national deficit, and ruining our credibility worldwide. And we weren’t doing any fighting that was satisfying, we essentially drove around waiting to get blown up. Not cool.

I couldn’t bear that level of sacrifice for a cause I didn’t believe in. So I left.

It wasn’t a particularly hard decision, but changing my view of the world was hard. I was coming from a war zone, where everyone was fighting everyday – thousands of miles from their family.  Suddenly I was dropped back into a world full of feelings, caring about people, and sensitivity.  Political correctness had run rampant and it seemed like even the most innocent jokes offended somebody.  I wasn’t a saint nor soft-spoken, but everybody sure did seem overly sensitive.

Adventure Bet

Betting on me.

I quickly found out that you have to work to be awesome in the private sector – there’s serious competition (scattered amongst complete idiots).  So I went back to school – easily made Dean’s list (until I got bored) and worked hard at learning (easy – I love learning). After I finally graduated I found out about Venture Capital, Startups, and Technology Companies and how they can deliver such a staggering amount of wealth to founders and investors.

One of my professors saw a little bit of promise in me and passed my name along to a neat little startup run by some truly passionate people.  There I met friends that I have to this day, and there I also learned alot about how to not manage people, how to deal with difficult personalities, and the in-the-trenches truths about startup life. It was an amazing learning experience and I loved it, but couldn’t wait to get out of it.

Some time in Silicon Valley.

Stanford is expensive and really difficult.  Really expensive and really difficult. I actually had to study and actually had to do homework.  And sometimes, even with a bunch of work I wasn’t excelling – something I really wasn’t used to.  And it turns out I really need friends and colleagues to work through difficult problems, something I was noticeably lacking at Stanford.  Believe it or not, the people I was in class with weren’t on my level.  They weren’t lacking in intelligence, they were all smarter than me – I’m convinced of that.  They just couldn’t talk about some of the deeper things I needed – like: philosophy, the difficulties of working inside of an early stage startup, and the underlying philosophies that had defined life and death decisions (like the ones I faced in Iraq or 100 miles offshore – fighting sharks off of recently speared fish).

My classmates at Stanford were brilliant kids, with brilliant kid worries, and I was 28 wondering what I was doing there.  To complicate things, the classes I was involved in were clearly taught by the B-Team.  Don’t get me wrong – the professors were smart, well connected guys.  But it quickly become clear that my entrepreneurship professor hadn’t ever built a company (believe it or not) and that my comp-sci teachers were overwhelmed by the amount of student requests.

It turns out that Stanford Summer Intensives aren’t my learning style.  Another failure, not in grades, but in real learning.

Home from Adventure

Home, whatever that means.

So I returned home to find out that there weren’t any developers willing to leave their cushy jobs to work with me on developing the “next big thing.”  And it shouldn’t have surprised me – these guys had awesome work environments already, great salaries, and challenging work ahead of them.  And I was an unproven guy without easy access to capital or any real mentorship.

So I ended up taking the advice of others and took a job.  It turns out I was pretty good at the job and actually had a bunch to contribute.  I found that I understood and contributed to sales, sales strategy, and marketing but wasn’t a huge fan of sales as a career.  More importantly, I brought an attitude of getting shit done – and it turns out that’s a really rare thing in the business world.  The business world is full of meetings, and politics, and hot air.  I was able to bypass most of it and operated by being friendly and nice, but frank and proactive.

The banality of home.

Boredom.  The only way I could stay engaged was to push hard at my job – not sleeping much, not working out, staying plugged in all the time, and sacrificing everything but the job.  If I started to enjoy any other part of my life again – I’d find that my work wasn’t important.  That feeling – that what I’m working on isn’t important is something I really, really couldn’t stand.  I was craving risk, adrenaline and adventure again.

So I started a company on the side, with an amazing co-founder and we decided we were going to attack the construction space.  The chance of failure is remarkably high – something to the tune of 90% or more.  But I’ll be goddamned if that’s going to stop me.  At the time of me writing this, things are moving but we so early that any prediction would be foolish.

Passion.

I had it, but it wasn’t wrapped around what I was doing in my day job. As a matter of fact, the stuff that I was working on (in my day job) was boring by any standard and was only really inspiring as it was a source of learning.  But when I was offshore, sailing, diving, fishing, spearfishing, exploring – I was really in my element.  If I was waiting on a monster wahoo to come in, or fighting off a shark, I was having the time of my life.

And even though I craved adventure,  I wasn’t prepared to make the monetary/professional sacrifice to move to something I enjoyed more.

Another Adventure Event

The Event.

I got a call from my sister, who was working in the Congo.  I had a habit of answering like a complete jackass, we had a great relationship – we laughed alot and  had so much fun that we were actually pretty embarrassing to be around. This one was different though, she was serious and tense – I picked up on it immediately.  Something was really, really wrong. The good news is that she wasn’t crying – so she was relatively composed and her life wasn’t in immediate jeopardy.

I’d prepared for this a million times over, she was in a sketchy situation and I was ready to drop everything, empty a couple of bank accounts, and go over there with the express intent of buying a couple of weapons and finding my sister.   I could operate with the best of them and I really didn’t give a shit – it was a lawless place, the kind I liked…  But that wasn’t it at all.

My Mom had a heart attack.  She was visiting my sister in the Congo when it happened.  Immediate grief and a sudden sinking feeling.

I’d already lost my Dad to work, stress, and a generally unhealthy lifestyle.  I couldn’t lose another parent that way.  The night I received the call, I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t do anything.  Completely helpless, I decided I wasn’t going to let work, other people’s opinions, my projects, my desire for wealth, or anything else stand in my way.  I was leaving to go sail and live a pure, simple life and I was taking my Mom with me.

So here I am, ready and (for the first time) willing to give up money and work to practice what I’m going to preach to my Mom – the value of time, following your passions, and experimenting with better ways to live.

If you’ve made it this far, I really appreciate your attention. I hope there was some value in the preceding words, that you’ll subscribe as I share my experience preparing for this transformation, and that you’ll stay with me as I continue to move forward.

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