Dolphins!

Fish and Other Good Things

It’s been a little while.  Sorry about that.  It’s just that since we started chartering, my focus has been elsewhere. But here’s an update and that makes us even again, right?

Cool. 

The upside of waiting so long to update (see what I did there?) is that there is so much to share.  The downside of long periods between updates is that there is so much to share.  Might as well get started.

We had a charter, it was kind of last-minute on our end so we were scrambling.  But it worked out well and I couldn’t chosen a more awesome couple.  We did some diving and spearfishing and some fishing and some sailing and then they were leaving and we were cleaning – getting ready for our next charter. 

Fish In San Blas

On our way back to the area where we would pick up our next charter (my buddy Dan) we were trolling behind the boat and we hooked up with a giant Spanish Mackerel.  I mean giant.  I’ve went back and forth and forth and back on this and I’m convinced, 100% it’s a Spanish Mackerel.  That means this fish is double the current all-tackle world record, which currently stands at 12 pounds.  The fish we caught, pictured below, weighed in at 24.5 pounds, 26 pounds, and 25 pounds.  Our scale isn’t that accurate and is really for larger fish and/or reference purposes, so an exact weight wasn’t an option – but no matter what weight you choose to accept – this fish was the world record Spanish Mackerel for sure.  Of course we caught him on a Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain (we lucked out that he didn’t chew through the mono).  Almost all of our good fish are taken on Sterling Tackle. 

World record Spanish Mackerel?

World record Spanish Mackerel?

The picture isn’t great because we were getting our ass kicked by the ocean, I was having trouble with one engine, and Marissa was seasick – but you can just make out the yellow speckles on it’s side that make it a Spannie.  It’s hard to imagine this fish is a Spanish Mackerel – but I studied and studied and I really believe it is.  I’ll hear arguments otherwise – but really, if it’s got the spots, it’s a Spanish.  Anyways – it was tasty and it was double the standing all tackle world record.  That’s pretty cool. I suspect if we had the gear to register the record, this record would have stood for my lifetime and likely beyond.   It tasted like a world record. 

Moving on. 

So then we cleaned and cleaned and moved the boat and towed some Kuna and Marissa went to Panama City in search of more good food.  Here in the islands we can’t get the good stuff and we cook the good stuff for our charters.  So every so often we make a run to Panama City and get good food, it’s expensive and time consuming – but we do that for you guys because we love you. 

Helping out our brethren Kuna

Helping out our Kuna brethren

Then, suddenly Dan was here with Jonny and Kristen and Ale. We picked up our last fresh vegetables and we were off.  At our first spot I grabbed a grouper and we were already set.  Then Dan wanted to fish a bit so we hung a line off the boat.  We got to eating and drinking and playing Cards Against Humanity and forgot about the line and then we caught a shark on it and he wrapped himself up on our anchor.  I swam down the anchor chain the next morning and that scared him enough that he freed himself.  It was an interesting way to wake up in the morning but it was only a Nurse Shark. I have a short video of the whole thing that one day, when we have a decent connection, I will probably not post. 

We take celebrations seriously!

We take celebrations seriously!

Then we moved to The Swimming Pool where we did a bunch of diving and more diving and more diving.  I took a couple more fish and Marissa rolled sushi for us.  We gorged ourselves and then ate a little more for good measure.  Then it was Dan’s Bday and he got a cake and it had candles on it but we had a stiff breeze so lighting them was out of the question.  The thought counts. Also, please look at the shirt Dan is wearing in the second picture.  

Sushi 'till you drop

Sushi ’till you drop

Lobster 'till you drop

Lobster ’till you drop

Nomad's conch operation

Nomad’s conch operation

Dan love barracuda (and I hate them)

Dan loves barracuda (and I hate them)

That night we had barracuda and a sea turtle around the boat, coming into the green light.  Dan was really intent on catching them (not the turtle).  Alas.  The next morning Jonny and Ale left and we were back to diving constantly.  Then we moved to another area and we took the outside route and were rewarded with two slightly seasick ladies and two tuna for some very, very fresh seared tuna steaks.  I consider that winning as the ladies were good sports and Kristen even brought in the larger Blackfin.  Dan brought in a tiny tuna, but it was in rough shape so we kept it and ate it, rather than feeding the sharks.

Dan's tiny tuna

Dan’s tiny tuna

Kristen's upside down tuna

Kristen’s upside down tuna

The next morning Dan went diving again, we explored the islands, etc.    Then they took the afternoon launcha back to Panama City.

Marissa and I were completely exhausted.  Completely.  Exhausted.  Chartering is fun, I enjoy it.  It is also TON of work and you earn every single cent. Being the captain, the boat owner, the mechanic, the tour guide, the dive leader, the taxi driver, the fish provider – it adds up. 

We had a couple of days to recuperate and then it was on to Colombia.  We were sailing the boat to Cartagena as I have a remodel going on in Medellin at the moment and I needed a massive amount of boat work done.  The last time I checked out of Panama for Colombia, I simply sailed the boat to Porvenir and checked out – Immigration and the Port Captain were there in the same building and the entire thing took about an hour. 

This time we sailed to Porvenir and found that only Immigration was there and that the nearest Port Captain was 50 miles in the opposite direction.  That was beyond disappointing and rather than go back the way we came, we decided to bounce down the coast through the more remote parts of Kuna Yala and then jump to Colombia via Sapzurro and then from there to sail up to Cartagena.  It was a long trip, turning what was a 36 hour sail into a 5 day ordeal – but we got to see some truly beautiful, untouched country. 

Sapzurro

Sapzurro

So one morning very, very early we left The Swimming Pool on our journey – our friends were up and we waved goodbye and the night before we’d had The Last Supper with some new and amazing friends on the catamaran C-Level.  Immediately, outside the reef, we hooked a large Yellowfin and I wasn’t fully prepared so I overtightened the drag and we popped a 100 pound test line (which indicates the line was frayed/worn, meaning this wasn’t entirely my fault).  The fish ran off with my favorite cedar plug and a couple hundred meters of heavy mono.  Jerk. 

Moving on, we sailed through a couple of very remote San Blas islands and then did a couple longer hauls – through Los Pinos and then some other unnamed island where I was attacked by a flying cockroach (who thought it was in his best interest to kamikaze through our hatch in the pitch dark) after 3 hours of sleep over a 48 hour period.  I’m not afraid of most things you are supposed to be afraid of, but I am terrified of cockroaches and the incident sent me smashing through the boat, half-asleep in the pitch-black.  After that I was well awake and badly bruised so we left.  Lesson learned about anchoring too close to shore.

From there we dropped into Sapzurro and did our checking out, one guy was supposed to be there and wasn’t.  Another wouldn’t be there until later.  Then there were the military guys who needed all of our info.  Then there was the Port Captain who asked for an inspection, complete with military escort, and then proceeded to tell me I needed to get married and asked for our Facebook and Whatsapp contacts and has been messaging us constantly since.  Panama and Colombia are full of ridiculous things and (like any other part of the world) they are also filled with ridiculous people.   But the world would be boring if everyone were well behaved and acted intelligently.   

Mistakes

Mistakes

Then we were off again.  Marissa and I were engaged in some kind of discussion when the drag on another of our reels started screaming.  It was another Yellowfin (a decent one).  It peeled line off of our reel until I got him turned and then I started gaining line on him and then the reel handle just broke off.  Literally broke off. Just like that.  Naturally, without the ability to reel I couldn’t keep tension on the line and again I lost the fish.  Completely heartbreaking.  I hate gear failures.  I fail enough without gear failures.  We did get the lure back this time, which was a relief as it was a Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain – a very valuable lure.

So we were back underway – low on diesel and the wind that was supposed to be on our beam was on our nose (as it always is).  So we were a few hours behind and our diesel situation was becoming precarious.  We chugged on, pounding into the seas and wind.  We caught alot of fish on the way.  Here’s another.

Blackfin Tuna in Colombia

Blackfin Tuna in Colombia

Then the drag started screaming on another reel.  The line was moving off the reel in a way I’ve only seen once before, when we had a 1/4 ton fish tail-walking behind the boat. We had about half a kilometer of line out before I got the boat turned and we started gaining on him.  Marissa was fighting the fish and I was moving the boat toward him when he breached and came fully out of the water.  Marissa didn’t put the screaming reel and the whale-sized fish (now breaching consistently) together right away.  When she did she didn’t believe it.  I did. 

Fighting Marlin in your underwear

Fighting Marlin in your underwear

We fought this fish for the better part of an hour and finally got him turned and under control.  At this point Marissa couldn’t reel anymore, she was completely worn out.  So I put the boat back on autopilot and took control of the reel – gaining a little line here and there just to lose it.  Over an hour into the fight we are sweating and cursing and burning in the sun and the brute is finally coming to the boat.  I’d put the fish in the 500 pound range, could have been 100 pounds on either side of 500 – he was jumping and tail-walking, but we didn’t get a look at him close to the boat. With 100 meters of line out, the tension on the rod disappeared.  I began a string of curse words that would make any other sailor blush.  Another good fish lost. Bummer.

The food chain

The food chain

We hooked the Marlin (and the tuna above) on a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar (again), but because we’d had so much action on these lures, I’d run out of the higher-quality hooks and used a lesser hook.  Had this been your run-of-the-mill Yellowfin or smaller Billfish, I’d have been alright – but this was a good sized Marlin and he bent the hook straight.  More gear failure.  Very frustrated, I brought in the rig, dug until I found an appropriate hook then crimped the heavier hook onto the lure and set it back out.  Then we saw whales and forgot about the rig for another 15 minutes while we watched the whales.  We were brought back to reality by the drag screaming again and I turned around just in time to see a smaller Marlin – I’d say 200 pounds – jump just behind the boat with our the Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar in his mouth.  I ran to the reel and started tightening the drag and the line went slack.  Again.  This time our stranded wire leader broke.

 

Broken stranded wire leader...

Broken stranded wire leader…

At this point in our trip I’d had one reel seize (don’t talk to me about the Shimano graphite reels), heavy lines snap, wire leaders shred, hooks straighten, and reel handles fall off.  I was down to two decent reels, absolutely zero patience, and not enough line.  One thing that this trip did for me was to remind me how woefully under-gunned I was in this firefight.

The ocean houses some powerful animals. 

Needless to say, now I have solved many of these issues – but we lost good fish and it cost me a fair bit of my dwindling sanity.  Since then we’ve upgraded to a Penn International 50W, upgraded the drags in my remaining Senators, purchased a heavy 30W 2 Speed (Quantum makes them?), and purchased what I believe is my favorite reel on the market right now – the AVET 2 Speed SDS 50.  All of these are on quality rods with heavy mono wind-on leaders which sit on top of heavy, high-quality braid.  There are kilometers on line on these reels and my wire leaders are now heavier, double crimped and I’ve thrown/given away the marginal hooks.  We are solidly in bear country, and so we are justifiably loaded for bear.   

Which brings me to my next point – we’re taking the offshore fishing very seriously.  It’s something that our charter guests appreciate, and even the ones that don’t care to fish – certainly do appreciate the amount of can’t-get-fresher-than-this sashimi/sushi we feed them. We catch fish.  Lots of fish.  More fish than anyone in this area, by a landslide.

We arrived in Cartagena very low on fuel and very tired and very late.  Sailing on a schedule sucks. But we were greeted warmly by old friends (thanks Kenny for everything!)  We dropped anchor and went to eat at a real restaurant and had a bit of rum and passed out.

The next day we started arranging for the boat work to be done and made plans for getting to Medellin where I’d be overseeing the remodel of my condo.  Marissa flew out to visit family/friends, I moved the boat to a rough part of town to start the dirty work, and then flew to Medellin. 

Our time in Medellin went quickly.  Suddenly we were back in Cartagena and I was fighting with boat laborers about prices and painting engines and cleaning fuel tanks and cleaning the entire boat and fumigating it and converting our salon table to a bed and getting my fishing gear up to snuff (fool me once). We finally got out of the rough marina and moved the boat back to Club Nautico where we were to do our final shopping run. 

Once there the anchor windlass failed to go down and so I had to manually drop the anchor, which is only a PITA because it has not once been done in 17 years.  That sucked.  Then I checked switches and connections and then decided it must be the solenoid, which I purchased at the very last minute to the tune of $250, only to shortly thereafter find it was a tiny wire which connected to the solenoid.  All of this delayed our departure by a couple of days and so we were again in a rush to get back to San Blas for our next charter. 

Then I went to fill the diesel tanks and the guy at the fuel dock said:  ‘sacabo’  which means:  we’re out.  Which  means I’m SOL.  When I asked when they would get more diesel he shrugged, and then said ‘posible mañana?’  When ‘mañana’ is phrased as a question, it means ‘not now,’ and it could well be a week or a month.  So we left Cartagena with about 1/2 a tank of fuel in each tank.  That gave us enough fuel to make it about halfway – which was fine because the weatherman told us we would have wind on the beam. 

The weatherman is a pathological liar.  To be fair, I know this now and I knew this then. 

Somewhat unrelated, but  on the way back we found this.  For my Namibian friends – a fridge floating in the middle of the ocean with no fish under it.  Tell your friend he’s wrong.

floating fridges

floating fridges

So we slogged through the sloppy seas and I kept praying for wind that never came.  It was on this trip that I learned the following:

  • Diesel engines like it when you talk dirty to them, treating them nicely to them gets you nowhere.  Loving abuse.
  • Gas engines like to be pleaded with and coaxed (especially four-strokes).  Be gentle. 
  • Weather responds best when you curse it with all of your might. Plead with it or pray to it and you will be ignored or (even worse) punished for your transgression.  Don’t get punished. 

So we were in the middle of the ocean between two countries running out of fuel and had a charter waiting on us and the wind wasn’t doing what it was supposed to (old news, right?).  So rather than go to Portobello to check in there (further) – we dropped into San Blas (closer) and fueled up, took on our charter, and put off our check-in and immigration until post-charter.  Not ideal, but largely out of our control. Truth is, nobody cares about anything in Panama anyways…

We rested for a couple of hours and then switched our SIM cards in our phones and began answering emails and arranging transport and then we started cleaning and prepping for our guests. 

And that’s probably enough for now.  I’ll try to update again tomorrow, but please don’t hold me to that…

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8 replies
  1. Dani McDaniel
    Dani McDaniel says:

    Nate, this is awesome. Funny, well written and inspiring. We miss the sailing life and San Blas. Thanks for posting this and giving us a reprieve from our work life.

    Tate and Dani

    Reply
  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    Really glad to hear that while exhausting the charter is also rewarding for you. I wish you the very best and look forward to the next update.

    Reply

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