To say that things have been going well for us here in the Swimming Pool (yes, still) would be sort of an understatement. It seems like the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of all of our favorite things. We loved this place before but add in a few good friends and it turns into a life changing place.
I mean honestly, just look at Nate from The Nomad Trip. His face just screams paradise.
No but seriously, we’ve been having fun. What does fun mean for us out here? Most of our days start around 10am when Dani puts the coffee on and I claw my way out of bed. I usually arrive in the cockpit just in time to greet Nate who has brought his dink over. Dani serves him up a cup of tea and we begin the morning ritual. Chess.
We play chess to get our noggins kicking. We talk about what we’re going to do or not do during that day. We have coffee and tea and sometimes a beer. In my defense though, the beer was had at 2pm… Dani and Nate were so engrossed in one chess game that THREE hours after they started it they finished and Nate says, “Lets go snorkeling at 2:30pm.” I have to break the news to him that it is three o’clock. Neither he nor Dani believed me and both had to consult multiple clocks, the sun, and each other before coming around to the realization that a chess game can take all afternoon.
So many people wonder, “What do you do all day out there?” We don’t really have an answer but it takes all day.
Eventually the girls will climb into their swim suits and Nate and I will gear up to go fishing.
Des, Ana, and Dani have become fast friends. They are two crewmembers aboard the Nomad. They come with Nate and I as we fish. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes all three.
Nate is an experienced spearo who has been hunting for years. He has speared marlins and tuna, all manner of reef fish, and knows a lot about the game. I was anxious to “test my metal” against a known quantity. Not to say that I haven’t been around some good spear fishers but this guy is sponsored!
So we head out. For those of you back in the “real world”, take a quick peak at this video of what its like to transit a reef cut. It is a lot of fun but can be a bit scary too!
We find spots. We shoot fish. Sometimes the fishing is really good.
The “big day” was one where I landed this cuberra snapper and Nate shot a black grouper. Actually we both shot the black grouper. 😉
You see, as the story goes… From Nate on Nomad:
Tate had shot a couple of nice Dog Snapper and on his way back to the dive spot (from putting the fish in the dinghy) he spotted a few nice Dog Snapper and then something larger in a cave. He dove to the bottom, sat there, and threw a few handfuls of sand up into the water column. Which is when the Cubera’s curiosity got the better of him. The fish approached Tate, and as the fish turned to give Tate the shot – a smaller Dog Snapper got between Tate and the Cubera. Tate took the shot and his spear passed through the Dog Snapper into the Cubera. At which point the Cubera went apeshit.
The Cubera ducked back into the hole (as they do) and refused to come out. This is a large fish, at home underwater and in caves. Tate is less at home underwater and in caves. Which is why Tate and the fish had such a disagreement about where they were going next.
To make a long story slightly less long, Tate’s shooting line wouldn’t let him get back to the surface without dragging the fish out of the cave. Which left him with two choices: get the fish out of the cave so he could return to the surface to breathe, or let go of his gear and lose the fish and the gear. Tate managed to wrestle the fish out of the cave, which is when he hit the surface and yelled for help.
Here, it would make sense for this story to end. Alas, there was more in store for us.
With the Cubera secured in the dinghy we all laughed and congratulated and back-slapped. But I knew we were in a hot spot, at the right time, and that this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. So I apologized for not sticking around and then jumped back in and kicked toward a hole I hoped would hold a nice fish for me.
I was kicking hard when I saw the tail. I knew it was a grouper, but couldn’t see the body and had no idea how large it was. Just a tail that vanished into a hole. That, though, is enough to dramatically raise my heartbeat.
You see – in all of the time I had been diving San Blas I still hadn’t shot a Black Grouper. It wasn’t an issue of seeing them – I saw them. It wasn’t an issue of freediving skill – I could get down to them. It was an issue of their spookiness. They bolt, I mean HAUL ASS, whenever they see a diver. You can chase them. You can follow them to a hole. You can search the entire labyrinth of the cave they swim into – but you won’t get within range. They’re incredibly difficult here. In the Bahamas they are relatively easy. In Mexico they’re an achievable goal. But the Kuna Indians have been hunting them religiously for hundreds (?) of years here. The Black Grouper in San Blas are a savvy fish. And, as of the moment in question, I needed this monkey (Black Grouper) off my back. Back to the story…
So when I saw this tail, I figured out an approach to the cave that would leave me hidden. Then I dove. And this time, rather than running away the Black Grouper poked his head back out of his hole. Then he turned slightly sideways to begin his escape, but it was too late.
My heart was pounding and in my head I was screaming: No Way! No Way! I’ve got him! I’ve got him! FINALLY A BLACK GROUPER! Nervous and excited in a way that neither Tuna, Billfish, Snapper, Wahoo, nor any other gamefish makes me, at least at this point in my spearfishing.
I squeezed the trigger. When the spear hit him he rolled and twitched. One second the lights were on and somebody was home and the next it was an empty house. Lights out. And then it started to dawn on me that finally, finally, after over a year and a half – I had a San Blas Black Grouper. Jesus H. Christ. So much work.
Line fishing? You can catch three a day. But we work for our fish.
With my prize in my hand I called the dive and we all regrouped at the dinghy. From zero fish to enough to feed the anchorage – in TWENTY MINUTES. When it’s hot, it’s hot. The kind of day that you work really hard for and get rarely. Finally.
To make this fish story more interesting, I’ll tell you that Tate shot this Black Grouper too. You read that right. Tate shot the fish before I did. When I got the fish to Tate he pointed out a hole in the fish’s tail where Tate’s spear had been only a few minutes before my spear stoned him. A crazy day.
And you know after a day like that, you have to ham it up.
Not all days are so magical, but most of them are. I got another African Pompano, a big one, just as our fish ran out from the first “big day”.
We gorged on sushi that night.
It usually takes Nate and I the hours of dusk to clean the fish. Des or Dani or Ana cooks it up and we then play Hold Em into the wee hours of the morning or if the moon is just right, we all load up in the dink and head to Quinquindup island.
We make fires for fun, we make them for warmth, we make them to keep bugs away and we make them to burn our trash. But I think mainly for fun.
Something about sitting around a beach fire and poking at it with sticks brings everyone back to that first discovery of fire as a child.
Once we have enough beer poured in us we commence with the hermit crab races.
Sometimes you can have a star fish race too. You flip them upside down and see which one can turn over first. But that race isn’t nearly as fun as a hermit crab race.
Dani and I at night in San Blas.
These days and nights have been so profoundly busy and yet peaceful. Friendships were forged. We draped ourselves in nature. We ate from the sea. We were drunk on life and beauty.
And now our time here dwindles. Nomad and Sundowner must part ways, though we promised to try to meet back up. The Pacific is calling, but San Blas makes it oh so hard to leave.