1 January 2018

Fishers? Kind of, Sort of

We live on the sea.  Of course, fishing is everywhere.  Nets like this in beautiful Mallorca  are some that we need to avoid on the high seas.
Peter and I were keen to make fishing part of our lives on Milly and Peter made fishing one of his many research topics prior to even leaving Toronto in 2014.  We bought two handlines and schlepped them down to Buenos Aires in our multitude of bins and then shopped for lures, hooks, gaffs, etc on our way up the South American coast.  One local in Trinidad sensed our naive enthusiasm and made two beautiful lures that looked like they could fly away with enormous hooks.  They have since been scoffed at by the real fisher-crew we have had aboard.   It was not until the Caribbean that we even put a line in the water.  We had become reluctant.

During the eight months up the coast of South America when fishing probably would have provided food for our stomachs, we felt that we had so much to learn on Milly that fishing seemed just one more thing to add to an already steep learning curve. And then there was the reported necessity of having to slow down - who wants to do that?  And the blood and mess.  And how to get the huge fish we were anticipating on board without a gaffe or net (we still don't have a net).  And how to kill it once on board - we hadn't yet bought cheap Caribbean rum and neither of us relished bashing enormous fish that we intended on catching over the head or stabbing it.  And then we were flummoxed by reports that fish were becoming more and more scarce.  Could we as ocean environmentalists really justify killing fish?  Nary a fish did we catch on the infrequent occasion we tried although once our lure was bitten in half by something big!

We love the life we see in the ocean.  And loved the fish that other cruisers generously shared or the fresh fish, conch and lobster we bought right off the fishing boats as they came into harbour.  We love and will never tire of the sudden appearance of dolphins frolicking at the bow.  Peter has seen six whales, I have seen one.
Dolphins entertain us pretty regularly.  They look like they are having such fun - jumping, spinning, dipping around each other.  We have identified several different types as we have made our way south to north and west to east.

Portuguese-Man-of-War drifted by us by the thousands with their sails hoisted on our Bermuda to Azores passage.  Although beautiful and amazing creatures, we were surrounded by them on our mid-Atlantic swim and kept a close eye on those wandering tentacles.
All is not bliss all of the time though.  A Mauve Stinger jellyfish which looks just like it's name is common in the Med and got me doing aquafit.  A big stinging welt, more painful and prolonged than a bee sting.  Peter had read that scalding hot water compress would take away the sting.  I wonder if I just got burnt.  It oozed, blistered, scabbed and definitely did not contribute to my good looks.
We are always challenged by the small solo fishing boats that sometimes sit in our way and the larger industrial fishing boats that slowly troll, unpredictably changing course and, worse, the tandem boats that haul nets worthy of bending our steering shaft between them.

Single fisher boats in Tunisia are basic.  Wooden, brightly painted rowboats are reminiscent of Brazilian local fishing boats.

A small fishing harbour in Tunisia outside the palace of the previous beloved president, Habib Bourguiba.
Or the large tuny nets marked by yellow-don't-go-there buoys or smaller black fishnet flags that mark either end of an unsupervised net.  Even if we don't fish, fishing and life in the sea is part of our sailing experience.

From Portugal to Cadiz, Spain our AIS showed us (the little black boat on the red line) threatened by a multitude of fishing boats heading home to land their catch.

The same fleet with one or two on collision course.

In Grenada, a local fisherman made us two lures that we were determined to use and be successful with on our passage to Bonaire.  Nope. Our buddy boats each caught one and one was an enormous wahoo that they filleted in their dinghy-come-fishing-bucket.

During the next longer passage to Columbia we caught our first tuna.  It was bloody, small and had big eyes with which I'm sure he/she was saying, "What?  You're really going to eat me when you have lentil stew in the freezer?"
We shared our first tuna with our sailing buddies in Columbia.  A small sushi appetizer.
And then a big barracuda in Belize that we were too afraid of to take off the hook.
Can you see the numerous sharp teeth on this barracuda?  They can take digits off.  And they can carry the ciguatera toxin that, if ingested, can make one seriously, even fatally, ill.  We chose to let this one go.
 We were still reluctant.

Not until we left Florida with Randy, who Michel affectionately called the "fish whisperer" did we have enough fish to stock our freezer.  Only one mahi, though, on an 8-day trip.  Maybe Milly was the problem - impossible!  We did not put our lines in again all the way across the Atlantic.
Randy with his Mahi Mahi.  It was delicious and enough to feed our freezer.  But ...it was bloody and messy!

Then we got to beautiful Portugal.  Portuguese love fish - they love to catch and they especially love to eat fish.

Fish markets in Portugal have a ton of fish that we have not seen and cannot put a name to. 

Unfortunately, it is so crowded with yammering people speaking a language which is difficult to catch, that we could not ask questions.  Only could gaze about.  It was a feast for the senses, for sure.
This elderly man was fishing with a simple rod and reel at least 100m above the ocean from a cliff on the Algarve.  We were hiking and paused to admire his fortitude as he stood on the edge of the precipice.  He seemed more nervous about me moving toward the edge.

As we walked away, he called to us that he had caught a fish and proudly displayed the tiny thing for the picture.  
One day at anchorage, a Portuguese cruising couple who were on holiday on their boat about 10 km from their home, invited us for a dinner of lingueirao or razor clams.  They had harvested so many that they needed help to eat the delicious stew she had made.  The next morning they took us out to teach us the art of razor clam digging.  No blood, no mess.  A pleasant time of walking the beach, albeit with a slight crook in the neck by the end of two hours.  Easy prep and cook up.  And yummy, sweet shellfish.  We did not feel guilty, razor clams are prolific in season.

This kind Portuguese couple not only fed us but taught us how to "catch" razor clams.  First you have to find the right spot.  This was in a river estuary where we were anchored on the Algarve coast.  As the tide went out the sand banks were exposed.  We had to harvest just after low tide.  We looked for a rectangular hole, as opposed to a round hole, just under the water.

Then you put very concentrated salt water into the hole....

and wait for the white, anemic looking head of the clam to poke it's head out of the hole in disgust - it doesn't like the salty solution.

And you grab it and pull.  It's surprisingly unhappy about being pulled out, requires a real solid tug.  (Those are not my fingers, by the way.)  The foot of the clam is suctioning solidly against something or other.  

Our catch...actually our teachers gave us a few.

Weird looking things.  I cleaned them which involved basic rinsing.  Some I fried in olive oil and garlic for dinner.  The rest, I quickly boiled - seconds - until the shells opened and froze for treats at a later time.

They were odd creatures with limp heads.

Steam.  Remove shells. Ready for the freezer. Eventually, thaw, remove midsection of dark guts etc. and serve with garlic and olive oil on rice in typical Portuguese fashion.
Our Portuguese fisherman friend was surprised and a bit disgusted that we didn't fish.  He introduced us to the idea of squid fishing.  This we could also do without guilt - cephalopods are doing well in today's ocean.  We bought a squid hook, an especially nasty looking lure with 360 degrees of multiple hooks around it.  When we bought it after some guidance in broken English from the salesman, he said, "Good luck, you'll need it!"  We each lasted about ten minutes jigging.  It's a tad tiresome.

Jigging involves slowly and evenly pulling the line up about 20 cm and then letting it fall. Repetitively. The hooks then move up and down just above the bottom.  Tom rigged it so he could sit comfortably with his beer but still only lasted a few minutes.  So far we have not caught any squid although...

this one caught us.  We found it on the trampoline one morning, dried up in the sun and therefore inedible.  Amazing to think that he/she had jumped high enough to land on Milly.
And so began our slow progression into fishing.  We are surrounded by it on land and on sea, on trips and on Milly.

One doesn't have to fish to be surrounded by fish.  In Tunisia, fish are a good luck sign for a home.  This Berber home in a cave in the middle of the Sahara has a fish above it's front door.  Must be really good luck in such an arid place!

The hamsa, or the Hand of Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad protects against the evil eye.  The fish inside must add super duper good luck.  Attractive mosaics, too, at someone's front door.

Unwittingly, we have a shark/whale (I prefer to think of it as a whale but know it is not accurately drawn)  woven into our sliding screen door.  A chosen symbol that alerts people aboard to the fact that the screen is closed and, please, don't walk through it as both Peter and I have done on numerous occasions.
Even the landforms look like sea creatures.
When Tom arrived for a week's visit in Spain, he too, was disgusted at our lack of fishing. Our slow progression accelerated exponentially.  As soon as we lifted the sails, Tom would throw out the lines.  We, I should say Tom, caught a fish a day.  Tuna and two unknowns that we promptly put in the freezer for later identification.  We enjoyed tuna sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi every day.

Tiny Tuna made sashimi snack.

And another one.

Unknown fish barbecued at a cruisers potluck in Monastir, Tunisia.  I took the fish to our local restaurant where they promptly identified the fish - in Arabic.  Unhelpful but at least they recognized it and, through mime, reassured me that we could, indeed, eat it.  Still no idea what it was.  Tasted good though.
Since then we, I should say I, have put out the lines pretty regularly and we have caught two more tuna.  I think we are now fishers. Limited and beginners but fishers, nonetheless.

Gutted, plopped in a bag and frozen for at least 24 hours.  Not much blood or mess.  Easy!

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