Re­al­ity Bites

The true story of a fish­er­man, a bar­racuda and the in­flat­able that got be­tween them

Soundings - - Dispatches - BY CAPT. LOU BOUDREAU

My wife and I com­manded the Har­bin­ger from 1994 to 1996. She was the epit­ome of a clas­sic sail­ing yacht, with enough brass and var­nish to keep you go­ing full­time. From the long bowsprit to the grace­ful counter stern, her sheer­line was per­fect. Her 120-foot-tall main mast seemed to pierce the sky. At 117 feet long with a ton­nage of 105, she was a big, heavy, ketch- rigged yacht. Stow & Son in Shore­ham, Eng­land, built her of teak in 1913 for a Scot­tish duke. The fact that she lived so long is a tes­ta­ment to her builders. She has out­lasted them all.

With a crew of seven, I sailed Har­bin­ger to Venezuela in Au­gust 1994. My wife, SarahJayne, flew out a month later from Eng­land, and we spent eight months at a ship­yard re­build­ing her. Af­ter ma­jor work on her hull, the painters sprayed white on her top­sides, which glis­tened in the trop­i­cal sun. Skilled trades­men worked on rig­ging and sails, and re­paired or re­placed faulty equip­ment. Fi­nally, af­ter a me­chan­i­cal re­build, she was ready for sea tri­als.

While we were there, the own­ers de­cided to re­place the ag­ing in­flat­able Avon speed­boat. On a yacht, the ten­der is an im­por­tant piece of equip­ment. It car­ries pas­sen­gers and crew back and forth to shore. It goes gro­cery shop­ping and brings laun­dry aboard. It takes guests wa­ter- ski­ing or fish­ing, and fer­ries them ashore for drinks or din­ner. Although the Avon was a good make, our poor thing was just worn out. It lost air all the time. De­spite con­tin­u­ous patch­ing, there was no stop­ping the bow com­part­ments from de­flat­ing.

With the owner’s bless­ing, I se­lected a 17foot Caribe RIB with a 60-hp out­board mo­tor. It was a real treat to ride in this splen­did new boat with the steer­ing con­sole amid­ships. The owner of the yacht loved it. It was his per­sonal toy. He would speed around for hours, go­ing nowhere in par­tic­u­lar.

In De­cem­ber 1995, we took the own­ers and their friends on a cruise around the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, stop­ping one day at the pic­turesque Bit­ter End an­chor­age on the is­land of Vir­gin Gorda. Hans, one of the owner’s friends, was keen on fish­ing, so I or­ga­nized an ex­pe­di­tion.

Early the next morn­ing, we took off in the in­flat­able to­ward the reef sur­round­ing the north end of the is­land. The sun was ris­ing into a clear blue sky. It took us only 15 min­utes at full speed to reach the out­side of the reef, and then I slowed down. We could see the sandy bot­tom through the crys­tal-clear wa­ter as it joined the edge of the coral, while far­ther out it sloped gen­tly into the deep. Small fish near the sur­face darted away as we cruised along, and deeper down was the oc­ca­sional larger fish. I had a good feel­ing as I set the rod up for Hans and we be­gan trolling.

Hans was the im­pa­tient type. Af­ter only a few min­utes, he be­gan to give me a bit too much un­so­licited ad­vice on how to catch fish. “This is crazy, you go too fast.” I slowed down. “Cap­i­tan, now you go too slow, we will never catch zee fish.”

I sped up. “You should know you must use zee lure with zee green spots in the Caribbean, not that one with a red stripe.”

Hans had never been to the Caribbean, but I changed “zee lure” any­way.

Af­ter about half an hour of steady in­struc­tions from Hans, he got a big strike. The fish bent his rod over and peeled off yards of line. “I get zee fish!” he shouted. “Great,” I replied. “Just reel him in nice and slow. That’s it, don’t rush, just keep him com­ing nice and steady.”

Hans didn’t like to be told too much about how to catch fish in the Caribbean. Af­ter all, he was the ex­pert now.

As I gave Hans un­wanted ad­vice and helped him with the drag, he slowly reeled in his catch. It was heavy and pulled line back out ev­ery mo­ment or so. Af­ter 20 min­utes, we could see a long, sil­very shape in the azure depths. “Look, look, cap­i­tan, I can see zee fish.” It was a bar­racuda, per­haps 5 feet long.

“Good go­ing, Hans,” I said. “You’ve caught your­self a big bar­racuda.”

“What did you say? A bar­racuda? It is very dan­ger­ous, no?” Hans sounded a lit­tle con­cerned. “No, Hans, he’s not dan­ger­ous, just as long as you keep your fin­gers out of his mouth,” I said, smil­ing to my­self.

Hans con­tin­ued reel­ing, and I steered the boat un­til the bar­racuda was just be­low the sur­face. I grabbed the gaff.

“Just bring him up a lit­tle more, and I’ll gaff him,” I said.

Hans wiped his brow with the back of his hand and cranked a few more turns on the reel. Sud­denly, the bar­racuda dis­ap­peared un­der the boat. A mo­ment later, we heard a loud hiss­ing sound. Then, a fizz of bub­bles came up from un­der the boat, along the side. The damned bar­racuda had bit­ten at the rub­ber pon­toon and drawn air, which was now rapidly es­cap­ing. Hans looked over at me, con­fused.

“What hap­pens, cap­i­tan? Look, there are many bub­bles com­ing.”

I cer­tainly didn’t need Hans to tell me that bub­bles were com­ing. I was more con­cerned about whether or not we were go­ing to drive or swim home. The air was es­cap­ing at a sur­pris­ing rate, and the port side of the Caribe was de­flat­ing.

I opened the com­part­ment un­der the seat and pulled out the air pump, then plugged the hose into the in­take port.

“Hans, you pump this as fast as you can while I try and drive us home,” I said. “What about my fish?” “I wouldn’t worry about the fish,” I said. “You just con­cen­trate on putting air back into this boat be­fore we have to swim for it.”

I stuck his rod in the holder, and he worked the pump han­dle as fast as he could. As we limped back to the Har­bin­ger, Hans kept glanc­ing over his shoul­der to see how far we still had to go. I couldn’t go fast be­cause one side of the boat was drag­ging. At some point, I noted that we were go­ing to make it, but I said noth­ing.

“Keep pump­ing, man,” I said, feign­ing a wor­ried look. Hans had worked up quite a sweat, but he re­dou­bled his ef­forts. I con­fess that I was hav­ing a lit­tle fun with him to get even.

We came along­side Har­bin­ger to find the owner and his friends, as well as the crew, lin­ing the rail. My boss wasn’t too happy about the ten­der. He had spot­ted Hans’ fran­tic pump­ing from a ways off, and now saw the bub­bles. I had man­aged to put a hole in his new speed­boat.

“You just won’t be­lieve how this hap­pened,” I said. “Hans caught a huge bar­racuda and, well, it came right up un­der the boat and bit a hole in it.”

I re­al­ized that I sounded ridicu­lous, and as I looked at the owner, I could see that he was think­ing the same thing. He turned to Hans and spoke rapidly in Ger­man. Luck­ily, Hans saved the day.

Smil­ing, he grabbed his fish­ing rod from the holder and started to reel in. The rod tip twitched and bent again, and as the last 20 feet came in, the large, limp bar­racuda ap­peared at the end. Some­how, it had stayed hooked.

Hans pulled his mon­ster up with the gaff and proudly dis­played it for all to see, mak­ing sure he kept his fin­gers away from the wicked-look­ing teeth. He glanced at me with an “I told you so” look.

“You see cap­i­tan, zee lure with zee green spots was cor­rect, ya?” He then be­gan talk­ing in Ger­man with the owner. I man­aged to pick out a cou­ple of words. “Cap­i­tan Lou” and “bar­racuda” popped up reg­u­larly.

We hoisted the speed­boat back on deck to re­pair it and found an inch- long bar­racuda tooth em­bed­ded in the edge of the rub­ber seam. I pre­sented it to the owner as a sou­venir and he was pla­cated. He was even hap­pier later in the day, when we put his patched toy back into the wa­ter.

It’s prob­a­bly just as well that he was aboard when this in­ci­dent took place. I won­der if he would have be­lieved me had I called on the phone to in­form him that a fish had bit­ten a hole in his speed­boat.

A new RIB was a poor match for a tooothy fish.

When a guest hooked a bar­racuda off Vir­gin Gorda, things got in­ter­est­ing.

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