Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fish On!!

About three days after Blowmagedon, there was yet another little wind storm for which we had to prepare. It wasn’t supposed to be as serious, but the winds were going to be out of the west, so we went back to Big Rock Anchorage.  This time, though, we were both surprised and chagrinned to find that there were a number of people joining us – there were at least eleven boats. Moreover, they all must have figured we had the best spot in the whole anchorage as they all came much closer to us than any of the boats did last time. Seriously, last time there were about seven boats spread throughout the anchorage. This time there were eleven boats in about half of the anchorage. And one of them … well I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say it was WAY too close. But this little wind event is not the story of this blog entry. The story of this blog entry is …
Are you ready? I mean are you sitting down? Are you really ready? Ok, here goes … I, with help from my first mate, caught a fish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A huge fish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I (with help from one of our friends) filleted it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And we are in the process of eating it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Story

There we were cruising down the Exuma Sound on our way to George Town without a care in the world. The weather was decent, but the seas were a little cantankerous, I am guessing 2 – 4 feet. We were trailing two lines, one from each of my rods. At the end of one was a green and yellow cedar plug, a well-known and effective lure when fishing for mahi-mahi. On the other line, I was using a pretty blue thing that had feathers on it; it looked a little different and I thought it might attract some kind of fish or another. I would check out the back periodically to make sure the lures were dancing at the end of the line and looked like the bait they were emulating; the cedar plug really looked like a wounded flying fish and the pretty blue thing looked like … a pretty blue thing skipping through the water. I wasn’t particularly anxious, I was just waiting. Then it happened.
Me in my "fighting chair" on the aft deck
The line started ripping off the reel as the fish launched into the deep blue. Ann shouted “Fish On!” I took the synchronizers off and put the boat at idle speed and headed aft. (Ok, Ok, you caught me. Ann didn’t exactly say “Fish on!” She said something like, “I think you have a fish,” But, come on, “fish on!” sounds better and more professional.) Anyway, after putting the boat at idle speed I turned over the helm to Ann, just as we had planned, and took the reel out of its holder, gave two good jerks to set the hook and started ever so slowly turning the drag up. As I was doing that … I swear … the line starting ripping out of the OTHER REEL!!! Oh My God, I had two fish on the line. Now, remember, before this I had never even caught one fish trolling from Traveling Soul. The first fish appeared to still be on the first reel, so I put it back in the rod holder and headed to the second one. I picked up the rod, gave two big jerks and started slowly ratcheting up the drag. Just then I noticed that the lines had crossed one another. Oh, oh. This was not good. It would be easy for the friction from the lines to break one or the other – or quite possibly both. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I kept trying to land the fish on the port side of the boat. It didn’t seem that hard as he didn’t seem to be fighting that much. I brought him to within sixty or seventy feet of the boat and finally saw color (that is what we fishermen say when we can see, what in this case was a magnificent swash of green, in the water). It was at this point, when he was five or so feet deep and sixty feet from the back of the boat that he decided he didn’t want to come to dinner after all. He took off as only a big-honkin’ fish can, and started taking line again. Lots of line. It was then that two things happened simultaneously. First, I saw the line from the starboard reel go completely limp and start fluttering in the breeze. At the same instant, I felt my line go limp as well.

Now it is possible that I hooked only one fish and that he got tangled in the second line, so when I lost “my” fish, both lines went limp at the same time. It is possible. But I would have sworn that for a few seconds there, I had two good sized fish on the line and that it was only a matter of deciding which one I would bring on deck first.

But I lost them. I was convinced that the story would end there. That’s okay, I thought, it would be a nice blog entry. Not the same as landing one, of course, but what the hell. Each time I hook a fish I am getting a little bit closer to putting him on deck. I knew that hooking a decent-sized fish, let alone two, was not a commonplace occurrence and I figured that had just lost my chance for the day. Oh Well. I sat and tried to figure out what I should do and finally decided that the only way to guarantee I would not catch a fish today was not to put a line in the water. So I dropped another cedar plug in and let it drift until it was about 200 feet behind the boat. OMG, thirty minutes later, it happened again. “Fish on!” (Ann didn’t say it this time either, but I knew that is what she was thinking!)

Again, I turned the synchronizers off, set the boat to idle, turned the helm over to Ann and headed to the aft deck. I sat on the pile of fenders that I used as my “fighting chair” (so I don’t fall off in bumpy seas) and began going through my process. Two big jerks to set the hook, let him run a little further, then   slowly start to increase the drag. So far so good; I still had the fish. At that point it became a bit of a waiting game. He kept pressure on the line and I held the rod in place. I had 30# test on the reel and I would say that he was putting just about that much pressure on the line. For the next twenty minutes or so, all I could do was hold on. After a while, my forearms began to ache, just a little. It had been a long time since I had lifted weights and my forearms aren’t quite as strong as they once were.

The fish tried a few tricks during our little chess match. At least twice, he dove. Although not nearly vertical, the line was at a fairly steep angle. The water was 2000 feet deep. Well, he wasn’t going that far, but I am sure he got down a couple of hundred feet. He couldn’t get away. When that didn’t work, he tried running faster than the boat. My fear was that he would get under the keel and the props would cut the line, so when he started moving, I called “forward,” to Ann so she would speed up the boat a little. As soon as we moved ahead of him, I asked her to put it back in “neutral.” This went on for a good ten minutes—“forward,” “neutral,” “neutral,” “forward” – but every time we put the boat in gear, I could generally reel in some line by cranking as fast as I could. I actually started bringing him closer to the boat. At fifty feet away, I could see color. Unlike the last fish, this one had worn himself out during the fight; he had nothing left to put in a final sprint away from the boat.

Now tell me that's not a big honkin' fish. I am 5'11", his nose is touching the deck

Now, the moment I had dreaded was almost at hand. How the hell was I going to get him in the boat. As I reeled him even closer, I could tell this was going to be an even bigger problem than I had thought. The fish was big. He was at least five feet long. I pulled him closer and closer and even got him up on the swim platform. Ann was trying to get our net around his huge damn head. We figured if we could get the net around his head, that between the fishing line and the net, we could be able to muscle him on to the boat. Nope,  no way. I then gave the rod to Ann and asked her to bring the fish up as far as she could. I lay down on the deck and reached as far as I could to get my hand in his gills. It kind of worked, but I couldn’t get any leverage. Finally, I asked Ann to bring it up as high as she could, and I would grab hold and bring it the rest of the way over the rail. She did a great job. When we got it on deck, I asked for a shot of rum, so we could pour some in its gills – a guaranteed way to make sure the fish doesn’t suffer any more.

Now I am not going to speak for Ann, as I am sure she will have something to say below, but while I love fishing and catching fish, Ann doesn’t feel the same. She doesn’t like killing the fish. Yes, she does like to cook and eat them. Yes, she knows this doesn’t make a lot of sense. No, she still does not like fishing and catching fish. So, while I was very happy that, through teamwork, we had managed to put the fish in the boat – Ann did not feel the same. Nevertheless, we had the fish; it was on the aft deck.

Russ and I filleting the fish. Note that I am holding one of a
 couple of bags of pure mahi meat. MMMMM
Now, what were we supposed to? (I should point out here that I have cleaned hundreds of fish, most of them trout or bass, with a couple of catfish, pike and stripers thrown in. But I had never filleted a five-foot long, 30+ pound fish. And there is a world of difference.) We were en route to George Town, Great Exuma. I asked Ann to call our friends Russ and Lori, who were already there, to see if either of them knew how to fillet a fish. It turned out that Russ had filleted a fish once before – and he still had the book that he used when he did so. Well, that was good enough for me! I offered half of the fish if Russ would show me what to do. Russ and Lori are great friends and agreed to help, but didn’t really want a whole half-fish; maybe just a piece or two. When they arrived at our boat, Russ was a little surprised by the size of the fish; he pointed out that the fish he had filleted was between two and three feet long. Oh, well, he STILL had more experience than I did.

Well, we laid out the fish on the large chest we have on the back deck – it was the only five-foot long platform we had. We watched a video, read the book, looked at the pictures, made sure we had sharp knives, then started cutting. Lord, I wish I could say we filleted that fish, but I am afraid we came closer to butchering him. It took us about an hour, and, even with our butchery, we managed to put about 14 individual meals into baggies. We gave four to Russ and Lori, ate some of the very small individual pieces that evening and put ten meals away for later. The pieces we had that evening were scrumptious – all the more so because we had caught the fish ourselves.

The Statistics
Russ and Lori's first glimpse at the fish they had promised to help fillet.
·         Dollar amount of fishing gear I have bought recently (not including boat, fuel, etc.) … $500
·         Cost of the gear I have lost recently … $50
·         Cost of the fish … $550
·         Size of the fish … 5 feet
·         Cost per foot … $110/ft.
·         Meals from the fish … 14
·         Cost of fish meal … $35.71 per meal
o   Now, in any really good restaurant, freshly-caught mahi will cost you almost that much!!

Ann’s NOTES:  Well what can I say, I am a team player even if I don’t want to be. Michael was so excited and he really could not do it by himself without the possibility of him actually falling in the water with the engines running. * note…I NEED him to captain the boat…although I do know now how to go from neutral to forward* All I can say is that it was a big ass fish, and heavy to lift out of the water. I hope next time he will catch a normal size fish, I do know there will be a next time. I still will not like it but it is what it is.

The days have been rather normal, not much to report. If you like hot and humid, this is the place to be.

Traveling Soul…OUT


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

BLOWMAGEDDON I: The Story of a Cat, Her Staff and the Wildest Wind in Over a Week

Have you noticed that a snow storm in Denver, Buffalo, Indianapolis or just about anywhere else in the country is just a snowstorm, but when it occurs on the East Coast near some of the self-important media personalities and politicians, it becomes SNOWMAGEDDON. Well, to be honest, Ann and I agree with the general principle, though not as it is currently applied. We believe that BLANK-MAGGEDON title should be given to weather events where WE are. Thus, while our son and many of our friends may think they have just been through a weather event, they have not. For they were not in the Bahamas during (this must be said with a deep resonate voice) BLOWMAGEDDON.

If you will recall, we had just replaced the membrane for our watermaker and been told that we would not be able to stay at the marina another day. (Actually, we already had a pretty good idea that, because of the coming winds, they were not going to let us stay.) About 1710, we heard the sailing vessel Strava calling the marina. Well, at 1700 everything marina-connected closes at Staniel Cay. When we called and told Strava that we believed the marina was closed for the evening, the captain told us that he had made reservations for two nights to hide from the coming weather. I really don’t like to be the bearer pf bad news, so I just pointed out that we had been cast off the dock starting tomorrow and that he might have to re-think his plan. However, since we don’t work for the marina, Ann and I helped ho with his lines and helped him tie up to the dock.
Because both Ann and I were pooped, we had decided to go to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a celebratory hamburger and beer.  While there, we met the folks from Strava, and a young lady, Heather, who writes an adventure blog. Heather was quite a looker. In fact, if I were twenty OK, thirty, OK darn it, maybe forty years younger …

Anyway, we left Staniel early in the morning. We intended to visit each of the three anchorages we had reconnoitered the previous day to see how full they were. If there were a lot of boats in all of them, we would proceed another ten miles to an anchorage we knew would have enough room for us, Bell Island. Before continuing, however, maybe we should let you know what, for us, constitutes a good anchorage in potentially bad weather. In good weather, of course, a good anchorage should be near a beach, a town, a snorkeling site, etc. When hiding from the weather, however, everything takes a back seat to protection.

·         Holding. Anchors generally hold well in sand or mud and less well in weeds and rocks. Because no one can afford to have their anchor detach from the seabed when things get dicey, we always look for a bottom that can hold an anchor VERY securely. That is almost Rule Number 1.

·         Wind Protection. Generally, usually, almost always, the reason folks move from one anchorage to another is to get better protection from the wind. In the Bahamas the prevailing winds are from the east and luckily, the islands are on the western side of the very deep, very open Exuma Sound. One can usually hide behind the islands for protection from the prevailing winds. When the winds shift, however, as they do in low pressure systems and in cold fronts, there are not that many anchorages that provide protection from westerly winds, so all of us try to find somewhere that will place something – preferably an island – between the west wind and our boat.

·         Current protection. In some anchorages, tidal currents, particular when sneaking around an island can lead to a great deal of surge which can make boats roll.  When current and wind combine, they can make for a particularly uncomfortable night. (See our discussion of Hawksbill Cay two years ago. That was probably our worst night at anchor anytime, anywhere).

·         Other Boats.)One thing that makes us different from many boaters is that Ann and I will sacrifice a lot to be away from other boaters. It is bad when your anchor drags, but at least you have some control over that. However, the results can be just as catastrophic when your neighbor’s anchor drags anchor – but, over that, you have zero control. Now don’t get me wrong, we love other boaters, but neither Ann nor I like to anchor near other boaters when we are concerned over weather. We just don’t trust their anchoring skills.
With that as background, let me go on.

There we were. Traveling Soul had just left the marina and was innocently cruising north trying to get to the anchorage called Oz—just over a mile away – and thirteen sailboats stood in our way. With scowls on their bows and masts pointed toward the sky, it was almost as if they were daring us to try and get through. Spot, of course, likened them to flies and wanted to chase down each and every one of them. With our 1100 horse power engines (VROOM, VROOM) and Spot at the helm, we just might have been able to do it. But, for some reason, Ann didn’t think it was a particularly good idea. I then considered slaloming through the boats, jigging left, jigging right, fainting where I had to, and plowing ahead when necessary. I really thought I could do it. But wait, we all realized that there may be a better solution. I looked to my left and the Big Rock anchorage was open – there wasn’t a single boat there. I could do it. I could faint to starboard, get al the sails thinking we were heading that way, then turn hard to port and enter the anchorage and maybe, just maybe we could leave the sailboats behind.

We entered the anchorage, looked for a place where we had sufficient protection, then dropped the anchor. We then backed down on it, first using the starboard engine, then the port engine. Both looked good, so we went ahead and tried both of them at the same time. Was that a waiver? Did I see the speed indicator indicate that we might have moved? I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t going to take a chance with serious wind coming, so we brought up the anchor, moved forward a hundred feet or so and tried again. This time the anchor stuck unequivocally. I tried each engine separately than both together. The anchor was in. I was reasonably certain we weren’t going anywhere.
Initially, the anchorage was very rolly, I mean VERY rolly. Spot at one point went into her special “underway” place behind the sofa to keep from falling over. It seems that the tide in conjunction with the normal easterly winds make boats roll back and forth. We braved the roll, however, and a couple of hours later, the winds began shifting and the tide turned. No more roll.

The first night, the winds were more or less from the south, so, although we had a little protection, we did not have a lot. But it didn’t make that much difference as the winds weren’t that strong. During the second day we started to get a little company. By the evening, we had about six boats in the anchorage, but it was okay – the anchorage was big enough to handle a number of boats and people were smart enough to spread themselves out so that there was probably 500 feet between most of us. Certainly, we didn’t feel concerned.
The second night was a different story. I started sleeping down below with my anchor dragging app, “Drag Queen” on the table beside me. However, the app wouldn’t stay on and the winds seemed to be picking up, so I decided to move up into the salon so I could see more and know what was going on. At about 0230 I heard this enormous whoosh! And looked at the wind speed indicator long enough to realize that the wind speed had just hit 37 knots – that is gale force on the Beaufort Scale (and remember, we were behind and island that was absorbing at least some of the wind’s force). At the same time the boat began pivoting around the anchor. Within what seemed like minutes, the boat spun in almost a 90 degree arc and was facing the direction of the wind – due west. A few minutes later, the winds decreased – if you can call it that – to 20-25 knots, with gusts up to 30. It was definitely a windy night.

We did not drag, nor, as far as we can tell, did anyone else in our anchorage. And, while it was windy, it was not at all rolly. So, while we could hear the wind blowing up a storm outside, inside the boat we were very comfortable – though starting to go a little batty from sitting on the boat for two days.
Other boats were not so fortunate. Remember the thirteen masts through which we were not sure we could slalom? Well, there appear to have been a lot of movement among them. On the radio we heard of at least three boats that dragged their anchor. One apparently kissed another boat, but there was no actual damage to either boat as far as we know. In the second occurrence, a boater was watching the first incident while his boat dragged about 35 feet before the anchor re-caught and stopped his rearward movement. And in the third, the boat was not anchored very well and just drifted about 65 feet backwards. How do we know about these things? Ok, we’ll tell you one of the many dirty little not-so-secrets of boating.

In marine radio, Channel 16 is the international hailing and distress frequency. You are supposed to call your interlocutor on Channel 16, then shift to an agreed working channel to discuss business. Well, when we are bored, as is often the case when on anchor watch, we listen on other peoples’ conversations. So, when they agree to shift to channel 17, many of us who are listening to Channel 16 do the same. Now, it is not as bad as it sounds. Everyone knows that you should not be spilling state, family or even personal secrets on VHF radio because, well, everyone is listening. Moreover, it can be useful and important. If someone in our anchorage had been dragging, we would certainly want to have known about it! Ok, now you know that every boat is its own little NSA listening to other peoples’ conversations. Shhhh!

And in the next issue?? YESSSSSSSS I caught a fish!!!!!!!!!

Ann’s Notes:  I really do not have much to add to this blog, besides all the excitement that Michael described so well.  That being said, it was an experience and  just confirmed that our thought pattern and communication skills are becoming very much alike.
This blog has been reviewed and approved by the First Mate…ME