It started out a day like any other. I awoke to find my very strange wife Dani taking pictures of me as I slept. I brushed it off to hormones, got up and relaxed in the cockpit with my morning coffee and pipe. Undeterred by my suspicious facial expressions she continued to follow me around with the camera. Oh it’s just going to be one of those days I thought to myself.
As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temps got warmer…Ahem, I mean as the deck started to cook the bottoms of my feet I developed an exit strategy from my peeping tom wife and the heat, I called it “work”, something Dani likes to see me do. I began, what I tell her, the painstaking job of scrubbing the bottom of the dinghy and our boat. It mattered not that the water felt superb and I spent most of my time harassing the small crabs and tiny lobsters that have made the undergrowth their home. No this was work gosh darn it!
Still unable to escape the lens of my brilliant though slightly deranged photog I take up an offer to go fishing with my old buddy Steve…remember Steve from SV Tango? He taught me to spear fish in the wild waters of Providencia back in June. Not only did he and his wife Vicki decide to join us in the Swimming Pool, the two other boats that we met and hung out with for weeks on that lush green mountainous island in the middle of the Caribbean sea, SV Motu and SV Nimue, also came.
Steve back in Providencia getting me hooked on fishing.
It was a very happy reunion and many sundowners were had. I guess sending them all emails of my tasty catches here in the Holandes was motivation enough for them to leave the comfort of marinas in Bocas del Toro, Panama and head 270 miles east to the wilds of these little Kuna Islands.
I bid Dani goodbye and Steve and I headed back out to a hot new spot we found the day before. It was a very long distance from our boat outside the reef where a huge partially submerged winch the size of a 25 gallon drum marked the steel work boat shipwreck and the reef area we remembered. The debris scattered along the San Blas reefs is a constant reminder of the importance of navigation due-diligence and precaution…There’s nothing quite like seeing a diesel engine at the bottom of the sea.
We jumped in and separately started the reef hunt in 15-20 feet of water. After about 15 minutes of scouting these two tunnels connected by a cave in the middle I swam under and saw the biggest Dog Snapper I’ve ever seen out here, about 25 pounds. Unfortunately when he saw me he swam up and away only giving me his narrow profile to take aim at, which I resisted hoping for another, better shot. That better shot never came though and I was left fishless and out of breath.
A bit frustrated we continued our hunt on this section of 2 mile long reef, pulling the dinghy as we canvassed the uncharted waters. An hour and a half later I was once again swimming on the surface in 15-20 of feet of water scanning the bottom when my eyes focused on what I thought was a rock but ended up being a 20lb Black Grouper. In the second it took my brain to make a plan the Grouper shot off under a rock. Damn! I slowly swam to the bottom hoping to find him hiding under the ledge but like a ghost he was gone. ARGH! Today was just not my day.
Totally defeated now and after having giving up on getting anything to bring my ever fish hungry wife I swam away from the reef and out to sea, just snorkeling and taking in the sights. About a quarter mile straight away from the reef I found the ever familiar 25-30 sandy bottom “ledge” that follows the reef line here in the Holandes. Swimming on the surface following the drop off I saw two Permits swim by roughly 5 feet under the water.
We don’t really like the Permit so I pass them up but give the ledge a good look over with my 15 foot exploration dives. On the next dive down I see a group of now FIVE Permit swim over the top of me. Wow that’s unusual, I wonder what’s going on? I swim down yet again and suddenly from my depth I see above and away from me in the far distance two shimmery, almost mirror like creatures swimming in a pair. I can’t quite make out what they are but they are beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like them. I give the pair the old “cold shoulder” and turn away which of course makes them more interested and they swim closer to me.
I get my gun orientated out in front and I turn upward at what now look like Pompano though I’m confused because the Florida Pomapano doesn’t get this big nor do they have the long flowing dorsal fins that decorated these fish. At a range of about 8 feet from the end of my gun I take my chances and fire at the larger of the pair above me. BAM! It was the longest shot I’d ever landed! Up to the surface I swam as the unidentified rooster looking fish hung, stunned momentarily from the impact. I got a breath of sweet fresh air and saw that I had shot the fish through the ribs, or gut if you will…it’s a bad shot. The middle of the fish below the spine is softer and it’s easy for them to flip around and rip off of the spear and shooting line.
Just about the time I got a breath or two the fish came back to life and starts fighting like hell, swimming with all it’s might straight down to the bottom. I try my best to stay on the surface while holding onto the gun but the fish is pulling me under. This fish is fighting harder than anything I’ve ever encountered and I almost drop my weight belt to keep from being submerged but resolve in my heart to not lose this fish or my gun, Dani after all needs to eat. I take the deepest breath I can and take off under the water pulling hard hand over hand down the shooting line and to the fish on the end of the spear. Finally at about 20 feet I am able to grab the end of the spear and I control the fish by the gills and swim to the surface.
I am really tired by this point. Not only had I cleaned the bottom of the boat and the dinghy earlier and had been swimming for hours in the brutal sun but I had just wrestled this crazy fish all the way to the surface. Once saturated with oxygen I “dispatched” the fish as quickly as possible. WHEW! What in the Mother of God had I shot I thought as I gazed upon this alien being? Thankfully Mr. fighting fish had given up the ghost and I was free to swim back to the dinghy, which was “conveniently” still a full quarter mile towards the reef. It took all the energy I had to carry this 15 pound shimmering mythical creature back to the dinghy and once I finally had it and myself back onboard I dropped all my gear and sat in the rolly waters trying to regain some life. I was BEAT.
Ten minutes later Steve came back to the boat and I shared my experience with what he calls a “Rooster Fish” as we head back on the outside of the reef looking for an opening to get back into the anchorage. Not feeling safe in the breaking waves we opt to head all the way back around to the large opening we trust. Just as we cross behind BBQ island, where the boats are anchored on the other side we see a couple bottle nosed dolphins jumping out of the water. I had heard other cruisers talk of the dolphins in this area but I hadn’t seen any until now.
A bit nervous but filled with excitement I donned only my mask and naturally jumped in the water. After all swimming with wild dolphins had always been a dream of mine and while I wasn’t sure how they would react to me I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me up. Steve turned the motor off and drifted while I had my wildlife encounter sans Go Pro of course!
I didn’t see any dolphins at first but the sea was alive with their loud clicking, whistling and squeaking so I knew they were close. I try to mimic a dolphin’s swimming motion with my body and legs together and I saw one start coming towards me head on before he was joined by ELEVEN others…In a group like synchronized swimmers all twelve dolphins swam horizontally around me with their headed cocked to the side like an inquisitive dog in a large 12 foot circle. There were ten adults about 8 feet long (400-500 pounds) and two calves at 4.5 feet sticking closely to their mothers. It was as if a group of people were watching me and the noises as they chattered to each other were jaw-droppingly awe inspiring. So foreign, loud and diverse it’s something that will forever fill my memory unmatched.
They split up from their large circle and surrounded me still keeping about 12 feet away. At this point I started to swim down under the surface, like a dolphin and I saw a mother and calf come down from behind me and swim directly underneath me, my outstretched hands brushing the tops of their dorsal fins as the passed. Once in front of me they both vertically oriented their bodies to me so I could see their full white underbellys and tilted their heads looking straight at me. As they floated there almost not moving they spoke back and forth to each other and I could hear the distant noises from the rest of the pod. After about 10 minutes in the water they swam away and I got out back into the dinghy. Completely shell shocked and in a state of disbelief at what just happened.
Nearly speechless Steve and I made it back into the anchorage where Tom aboard Gris Gris informed me I had landed an African Pompano and it’s the first he’s seen out here (10 years).
A little research online showed this fish to renowed for it’s fighting ability and prized as one of the world’s best Shashimi fish. Dani was bound to be ecstatic! I was hopeful during my time away from the boat that she would have let the camera cool down but she had not. Promptly upon my arrive she thrust a Booker’s Bourbon on ice with a slice of orange into my hand and demanded a photo. Still in a dream like state and not being able to formulate words I hold up my catch and smile for the pretty lady.
She had not forgotten that it was my birthday that day, I had turned 34 and that drink was my gift…well that as well as a huge pot of chocolate colored roux gravy with meatballs and sausage that she had been cooking all day for a party later with the original group from Providencia. I have the BEST wife!
I doled out large pieces of the Pompano to our friends in the anchorage and we headed over for my birthday dinner aboard Britts Michael and Anne’s SV Nimue, a Contest 44 (Google it). We were joined by Steve and Vicki on SV Tango and Stephen and Marja from SV Motu. It was a fantastic party and I entertained our friends with my tall tales of the sea while my wife shared our delicious Louisiana home cooking making for very empty bowls. It was eaten so fast and thoroughly there wasn’t time for photos. Sorry baby.
Now you see I’m a very difficult person when it comes to treats. I don’t like candy, chocolate or cakes. I told Dani the best thing she could do was stick a candle in a piece of sausage and call it a day. Marja however stole my heart as she baked me a RUM cake. A incredible soft, unsweet cake similar to pound cake that was inundated with rum. Now this…this is something I could eat! Working with what they had I turned 30 instead of 34 and we all partook of this mouthwatering desert.
How could I had asked for a better day? I had landed a prized fish, swam with dolphins and had a party with some dear friends of ours we met in another country months ago. To boot Dani wrote this memory for me. This will be a day to always remember…a day for the Tate history books.
Providencia, Colombia June 2015
I will always wonder though if Dani picked up that shiny red telephone to Neptune and asked for a favor. Gotta love this girl. <3