Saturday, December 22, 2007

Something Fishy

As planned, we departed San Juan for Culebra on Tuesday evening around 6:00 p.m. In a straight line, the trip is only about 45 miles, but knowing we'd need to do some tacking, we planned to travel a distance of about 90 miles, which meant about 14 hours underway. Recalling the bumpy experience the last time we'd attempted to make this trip, I doubled up on my trusty sea sickness medication, and off we went, out of San Juan Harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean. By the time we cleared the last channel markers in San Juan, it was already very dark, and I was beginning to get pretty sleepy, even though it was only just after 7:00. "I'll just close my eyes for a minute"....or for two hours. Next thing I knew it was after 9:00 and Kevin was on the radio with the Coast Guard. Not for anything related to Cielo, thankfully--but rather because the Coast Guard had announced on the VHF that they'd received an "uncorrelated distress signal" in the area, which means they'd received a call for help, but then were unable to reconnect with the troubled vessel to get either their position or the nature of their problem. Kevin had called them because while scanning the horizon, he was sure he'd seen a strobe light, which may have been the vessel that had called in distress. I managed to discern that the Coast Guard was attempting to verify the position of the strobe (which was later identified as a one-second flashing marker by a passing tanker) before falling back asleep until 10:00.

When I woke up for the second time, Kevin suggested that I go below to try and get some (more) sleep, before getting up to stand watch. In the days before I starting taking sea sickness meds on passages, I tended to sleep quite a bit while we were underway, but I haven't done that in months. Regardless, I was pretty out of it through the following morning, and only able to stand watch for a grand total of two hours over night. When daylight arrived around 6:30 a.m., we were hoping to have made more progress, but for some reason our speed was pretty low (less than 5 knots for most of the trip) and Cielo was having one heck of a time pointing into the wind. The third problem that was causing a slower passage than expected is that our engine wouldn’t rev above about 2400 rpm's (when motor sailing, we generally keep it around 2800 rpm's).

Despite my catatonic state and our various problems, we continued to make slow but steady progress towards Culebra and Kevin even managed to get the trolling lines out, determined to catch a fish before we made landfall. As morning turned into afternoon, I was starting to feel more human. Then, right around noon, Kevin noticed that one of our fishing lines was pulling taut. He began to pull in the line, and at the end of it was an unidentified 8-10 lb fish, still very much alive. "Grab the vodka" he shouted--not for a celebratory drink, but rather to pour over the fish to stun him before pithing him. I scrambled down to grab the vodka and Kevin gave him a good dousing. The fish still squirmed around and we both felt badly about killing him. I am completely aware that I eat animals every day that someone else has had to kill, but never having done it myself, it was a little bit of an unsettling experience.

Following the directions out of the book that's become our fishing bible; we ended his life as quickly as possible and then proceeded to bleed him, which is supposed to prevent the lactic acid in his body from turning his flesh to mush before he could be eaten. We don't have a separate fish cleaning area, so our cockpit turned into the bleeding and gutting station. It was more than a little gross, but something I'm sure I'll get used to over time--and as we were catching the fish for food, rather than sport, I felt better...though I'm sure it didn't console the fish any.

With our first (edible) catch of the trip packed in the freezer, we tacked towards the main harbor in Culebra and entered a Caribbean paradise. San Juan was pretty, but the view of Culebra and the surrounding islands from our boat just about defies description. The green of the islands and blue of the water are absolutely spectacular. We motor sailed all the way into the anchorage and dropped the hook in about 35 feet of water.

By the next morning, the remaining mysteries of our trip were solved. I was running a low-grade fever, confirming that I wasn't just being lazy during the trip. Kevin, after much research, determined that our dinner from the night before was a Blackfin Tuna, the first of many we hope to catch in the months to come. And as for the slow travel time and engine problems? Both were due to the 1/2" of barnacles that had grown along Cielo's underside and over her propeller while the boat sat in San Juan for three weeks.

As always, more pictures can be found here, under the Photos section of our site.


Blogger kyle said...

good work on the black fin tuna! does the vodka really work? It seems like an aweful waste if it doesn't!

December 27, 2007 at 5:38 PM  

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