Saturday, April 25, 2015


My wife and I were tourists on Grand Cayman because we were going to have our first baby and this was a way to celebrate, and probably was our last vacation alone for some time. She wanted me to go on the Sunset Cruise Catamaran sail that evening.
I wanted to go deep sea fishing. I could never afford the “Marlin’ Darlin” which was at that time $US 1,000 per HALF DAY. So, I asked around and a boat Captain who worked locally as a Volunteer Fireman (from New Jersey), and his First Mate (the Limbo dancer from the hotel) gave me their deal: if I brought $US 100 and a case of beer, I could go with he and his friend to fish for Marlin to sell to one of the chefs at a local hotel.
I told my wife I hoped I would be back by a romantic Sunset Cruise with her on a catamaran, but deep-sea fishing was something, well, guys like me dream of doing.

On the way out to really deep water, the boat men caught Barracuda and cut them up for bait. That was our first blood of the day. Barracuda are flipping and flailing razor blades when caught. The captain cut their heads off and then stood back because they kept biting. We ran out to sea for several hours before they saw “drift”, a 4’X8’ plywood sheet, over which Dolphin fish (not Porpoises) were jumping. We stopped here so the boat men could catch something for home.
So, here I am watching them catch Dolphin fish with hand-lines when, suddenly, the Dolphin vanish. An 8-foot long, Black Tip shark has seen the drift and the Dolphin, too. The Captain says to me, “Hey tourista! You wanna be a fisherman?”
I say, “You bet!”
     The Captain dangles a huge marlin hook with a Barracuda head as bait over the side like my Auntie Ethel, my black Auntie, taught me how to catch Sunfish when I was 5-years old. Then the Captain feels the line as it tightens and the shark takes it in and suddenly, the Captain; a short, stocky man, leaps into the air, gives the rod a gigantic pump, and set the hook. The reel starts screaming, as the shark dives deep. The Captain starts laughing and hands the rod toward me. “Get in the chair!” he said. I climb into the fighting chair and seat-buckle myself in. “From tourista to fisherman! Gonna kill a BIG fish!” he laughs and hands me the rod. He and the limbo dancer unpack sandwiches and iced beers and sit in the shade for lunch.

     The shark has run deep is still ripping line from the reel. I try to tighten the drag and the Captain tells me to “Crank!” so I do. I put the rod in the rod holder. I lean back and lift the rod tip as high as I can and try to crank up the few inches of “slack” when I lower it. Over and over this goes: lift, crank in a few inches, lift, crank in a few inches. One hour. The Captain and First Mate nap. The shark is towing the boat.
Two hours I sit in the tropical sun. I realize I am not well protected on my back and the sun which also reflects off the water. I can feel my skin boiling.  I remember all the sunburns I had as a kid. I want to ask for help, but don’t want to be a wimp.
The Captain wakes and sees the shark is now actually visible below the boat. The shark and I are at a stand-off.
     “Get the flying gaff.” The Captain says to the Limbo dancer. The Captain takes the rod, pumps several times and brings the shark MUCH closer to the surface. I climb out of the chair and out of the way to watch.
The shark surfaces, exhausted. “Hit him!” he shouts to Limbo who swings the pole with the flying gaff and strikes the shark in mid-body. The gaff is a semi-circular blade which temporarily is on a long pole.  Limbo grabs the rope tied to the gaff hook, puts his feet on the side-rail and pulls mightily. The shark is being cut in half with the gaff hook and thrashes mightily throwing bloody water everywhere.
The hook pulls through. I watch as the shark drifts down and out of sight. “You killed a big ‘un! 8-foot! Mebbe 500-pounds!” the Captain says. “Here’s a beer!”
Limbo climbs into the chair. They bait-up for Marlin and head back. I sit in the shade. On the way in they catch a middling-size Marlin, 5-foot, to sell at the hotel.
When we get back, I help them carry the Marlin to their 2-door car and tie it on top. They drive off to a hotel to sell the fish. I miss the romantic Sunset Cruise. I am really cooked by the sun and have a touch of heat stroke. My wife is not sympathetic. “We came on vacation for romance.” She says. “Not for me to be a tourist of death.” My neck and back blisters and peels – even a few days later after I get home.
Our son is born a few months after we return home. Sixteen years later my son and I are swimming at our local YMCA and he reaches up to brush what he thinks is a “leaf” off my back. It is an oddly shaped dark patch – it doesn’t come off. It’s melanoma skin cancer.
Somewhere I imagine Death climbing into a fighting chair. He doesn’t need to buckle himself in. Will I run deep? “Hey tourista!” I say to myself.

© Copyright 2015, Jean W. Yeager
All Rights Reserved

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