Monday, June 30, 2008

June 28, 2008 - Darwin Dash

Yesterday, while we waited for the wind, we took advantage of the sunny day. Before it got too hot we took a walk in the village. This is the first French village we've been anchored near in Vanuatu. It was depressing looking - concrete huts with tin roofs squatting in the mud. It was like nothing had been touched since the French pulled out 30 years ago. But the kids, playing volleyball and soccer in front of the church-run school, seemed as cheerful as in any other village. The steamy tropical heat got the best of us, so we cut our walk short and did a bit of snorkeling around the anchorage to cool off. During the afternoon Sten finally installed the dinghy wheels we've been carting around since the Caribbean. We'll need them to haul the dinghy up the beach in Darwin, where the tides rise and fall 8 meters twice a day.

This is the most fly-blown place we've been. The flies drive Sten crazy, but provide me with endless hours of amusement as I watch him wield his fly swatter like a kung fu fighter. The flies don't bother me, but the flying ants are another story. The last thing we need on board is an ant infestation.

We woke up this morning with still no wind in the anchorage. Looking at the latest Grib file, it showed the wind sitting about 100 miles to the west of us. That wind line wasn't going to get any closer over the next four days. So we decided to motor out to it. With Darwin 2200 miles away, which is at least a two week sail from here, and the start of the Sail Indonesia rally less than a month away, we just can't wait around Vanuatu for an ideal weather window.

It took about two hours to get the boat put away for passage. We had a pleasant day motoring in calm seas. We cleared the northern point of Santo and turned west towards the now falling sun. We were towing the big marlin lure just to see what might be out there. It was getting towards sunset and the reel gave a quick yelp. I was down below reading, and missed the beginning of the action, so here is what happened next, in Sten's own words:

"I turned just in time to see a huge marlin come clear out of the water in our wake. I stood and watched in awe as the fish spent the next 30 seconds tail walking and greyhounding in an unbelievable aerial display. By the time the fish stopped jumping, 3/4 of the line on the reel was gone and I was seriously concerned about getting spooled as the fish first appeared to me to be in the 400lb class and way, way too much fish for my equipment. I cranked the drag on the reel down all the way in an attempt to break the fish off before I lost the entire line. The fish just kept going and made a big circle off to the right. It is a strange feeling to see you line going into the water directly astern and then see the fish surface way off to the the side all the while with a deep bend in the rod. It goes against logic that the two can still be connected.

I recovered some line and for the first time thought we might have a chance of getting the fish to the boat. As soon as I started to feel a little better about the situation, the fish made a second long run against the max drag of the reel. 20 minutes later, after much grunting, sweating and swearing, we saw the fish below the boat. The problem became what to do with a big marlin at the transom of a high sided sailboat. This is the largest fish I had ever seen in my life and contemplating going down onto a narrow swim platform within a foot of a very upset animal with a very sharp bill and a long way from any medical help was not the most appealing of scenarios. In the end it went perfectly: I grabbed the sandpapery bill in my right hand and was astounded when the hook came right out. I lowered the fish's bill back into the water and after hovering at the transom for a moment, it turned and glided into the deep.

Having never actually seen a marlin before I'm not the best judge of its size and weight. However, we feel conservatively that the fish was close to seven feet long and at least 250 lbs. From the seven or eight vertical bars on the flank of the fish we are guessing the fish was a striped marlin rather than a pacific blue marlin. We'll post pics when we get to Darwin."

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