April 22, 2012

A fillet to remember

I HAVEN'T FISHED from sailboats as much as I would have liked to.  I have often trailed a spinner, which has caught various kinds of fish from salmon to barracuda, but those catches have been few and far between. All too often I find myself too immersed in the sailing of the boat to bother with fishing. And there's always the thought lurking in the back of my mind that if I do put out a lure and catch a fish, I'd better be prepared for blood, guts, and fish scales everywhere. Mucho messo.

And there's also a story that put me off fishing for a long time. When I was a teenager I met Jean Gau, one of the post-war pioneer singlehanded circumnavigators.  He was taking leave from his job as chef at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, and he was sailing Atom, a 30-foot Tahiti ketch.  He was famous for having ridden out Hurricane Carrie, which sank the nearby sail-training bark Pamir, with the loss of 80 lives.  Gau said he lashed Atom's tiller to leeward, stripped her of all sail, and left her to her own devices in 120 knot winds while he shut himself below.

But his fishing story concerned his crossing of the Indian Ocean, from Australia to Durban, South Africa.  On this passage he grew interested a  group of fish that followed Atom day after day, in the shade close under her stern.  Every morning he would look for them, and soon began to recognize the bigger ones.  After 10 days or so, with his fresh stores running out, Gau decided to try to catch one of them.  He tempted them with a spinning lure, but none of his faithful band of followers was interested.

Then he tied a small piece of white cloth to a large hook and immediately got a taker.  He hauled in a nice-sized fish and sprang into action straight away with his chef's knife.  There was no point in trying to keep the whole fish because he had no refrigeration, so he expertly cut a large slice from one side and threw the fish overboard. He enjoyed a delicious fish supper that evening.

Next morning he went aft to check on his companions and there amongst them, swimming steadily along,  was a fish with a large white gash where his side should have been.

Gau said that butchered fish continued to swim with Atom for another few days.  "He haunted me," said Gau.  "I was continually aware of him out there, keeping station so faithfully." Then all the fish disappeared together, and Atom was once more alone on the wide ocean.

Today's Thought
Can the fish love the fisherman?
— Martial, Epigrams

Did you hear about the sailor who drowned in a bowl of muesli?  A strong currant pulled him in.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Oh, John, what a sad story. I did a similar thing to a Dorado keeping station 4ft off the beam for days. I shot it with my speargun but when I landed him and removed the spear, it flapped out of my hands and fell overboard, only to continue to keep station for a few days more with a gaping hole in it's side. My shame still lives with me. That was the last fish I caught. Now I'm a farmer and kill cattle all the time, - go figure.