The ones that got away

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sat 26 Mar 2011 01:15
17:38.468N 61:51.277W Low Bay, Barbuda, Friday night

We're anchored up just off an incredible 8-mile long sandy beach. When you look around, 180 degrees of the horizon is sand and the other half is open sea. We're protected from the waves by the island of Barbuda but a bit of ocean swell is making it in so we're rolling gently but I think we're in for a peaceful night.

We got up early as I wanted to leave at 0800 and, in the end, we were pretty prompt. It was already roasting hot in our anchorage as we got underway. We had to thread our way through a sequence of reefs to get back to the narrow channel into North Sound, then around a few more until we got back to Prickly Pear Island. From there, I wanted to follow a narrow channel out through the fringing reefs as it would cut out a long dog-leg around the rest of the reef and give us a better angle on the wind for the crossing. As it's not that well charted, it was very nerve-wracking as we followed the bearing out into the open sea past surf crashing on the reef to port. I was hugely relieved when we got into deeper water again.

The wind had gone slightly south of east today which is unusual here and perfect for us as we were heading just west of north. We were able to put most of the main and all the genoa out and really get cracking which was a bonus as I expected to be hard on the wind. Andrea and Alden got the fishing gear out with the same squid-alien lure as we had success with the last time. It was only a few minutes before we heard the line shooting off the reel. This was the cue for Cind and I to get the boat head-to-wind and get the way off. We furled the genoa away, headed up about 50 degrees and sheeted the main in hard so we ended up doing only about 1 knot.

Meanwhile, Alden was striking a succession of manly poses as he wrestled with the rod. He was getting excited and Andrea was getting ready with the landing net when the fish evaporated. Suddenly, he was deflated as he reeled in the line with nothing atall on the end. The fish had disappeared with our magic lure. Damn.

They got Andrea's tackle box out and decided to use the sparkly wedge lure which she's had since she first bought all the gear with John Winterton over a year ago. I like that lure as it doesn't try to look like a fish, it just sparkles in the water. I must say I'm very cynical about all these mock-fish. They catch the angler, alright, but I'm not convinced that a fish can tell the difference as it zooms up from the deep with its mouth watering and its tummy rumbling. I reckon, if the fish are there, you'll catch them on a bit of tinfoil and, if they're not, you can at least console yourself by gazing in wonder at your articulated metal fish. Anyway....

Armed with the new lure, Andrea set the rod up again while Cind and I got Saxon Blue underway. We were doing about 7 knots now so we were only going to catch some fast fish. It wasn't long until we had another strike. Head to wind again while Alden started winding in the catch. Again, though, the line went slack before the fish was landed but at least this time we still had the lure. We got going again and then, again, we hove to only to be disappointed. Alden decided that, although the lure was working, the hooks on it were too small so he replaced them with two larger ones and in it went again. Another stike but the same result again - still no fish in the boat.

This precipitated a change of tactics. Out came the big model fish lure with two sets of triple hooks that I bought in Bermuda for Andrea's Christmas present. It wasn't long until that one had a strike so round we went again. This time, though, Andrea did the winding on the reel and, hey-presto, landed the fish beautifully into the net. It was a lovely looking mackerel type fish again. They're such a lovely shape with curved tail flukes just designed to go fast. He'd had a good chew of the lure, though, and it was covered in tooth-marks.

Andrea got stuck right in with Alden showing her how and she gutted the fish, chopped of its tail and then its head. She did a great job and Alden was mightily impressed. Then we finally had one in the fridge. Out went the lure again and then another strike. This time, Alden wound it in and landed it but it was a Barracuda which can be a source of Ciguatara fish-poisoning so he had to unhook it and let it go. Then we had another couple of strikes but, again, they got off before we could get them onto the deck.

By this time, we could see Barbuda to starboard. Another yacht had been closing with us as we went along. We gained on them every time we sailed but then we kept stopping so they eventually crossed ahead of us. They chose a course very close to the shore of Barbuda while we followed one further offshore until I could get a bearing on the beach where I wanted to anchor up. Barbuda is incredibly low-lying. It looks like Thorney Island - just a beach and then low trees. The buildings are higher than the land and look like a series of tiny islands as they emerge from the ocean before the land itself is visible. We followed our line in towards the beach and then I turned north so that we got between the sand beach and a series of offlying reefs. We dropped the hook in 1.8 meters below the keel and that's where we still are.

After all that action, we were famished and Alden was suffering from protein deficiency so we had bacon sandwiches for lunch in some pitta bread. By the time we finished eating, it was blazing hot and we were all tired from our excitement so everyone promptly fell asleep for an hour. I woke up with my cup of tea by my side which was perfectly luke-warm by then. I drank that and then Andrea emerged (she was the only one not to sleep) and asked for some advice in using the bread-maker. With that, we both got stuck in with the instructions and made a loaf which we're just waiting to see how it comes out. I made some yoghurt and then the others woke up so we decided on some expeditions.

The girls wanted to explore the beach so I dropped them off there, negotiating the surf with success but not elegance. This bit of Barbuda is just a strip of sand about 50 meters wide with the open ocean on one side and a salt-water lagoon on the other. A mile away, on the other side of the lagoon, is Coddrington, the capital. It's named after a family who leased the island in the 1700s to use as a slave-warehouse before shipping them off to other islands. Strangely, the island still has stocks of Wild Boar and Fallow Deer left behind by the English who wanted to be able to go hunting.

Once we'd dropped the girls off ashore, Alden and I went out to the reef in the tender. We anchored up in the sand just inside and then split up so he could go chasing lobsters while I explored. The reef was incredible. The corals are the size of trees. The trunks bigger around than you could reach with your arms. The top branches go right up to the waterline while the trunks emerge from a tangle of other branches and boulders below. There are plenty of sea fans and sponges around but the coral is all dead, just white with bits of slub growing on it. Again, I'm not sure what could have caused such destruction. A lot of it is broken so perhaps there have been some hurricanes but the polyps must be able to cope with that so there must be something else going on. I'll have to investigate later.

I spent a lot of time diving down to the bottom. I swam below some of the large branches and then got into diving down into the sand by the side of the big trunks and holding onto smaller outcrops so that I could just stay still and look around. The fish saw me and came over for a good look so I got to see them up close. There were fewer than we've seen in some other places but they were bigger so that made up for it. For a while, I was part of a shoal of brilliant blue fish which looked as though they'd been painted onto the backdrop, so vivid were they in contrast to the monochrome surroundings. I had a great time and managed to get back into the tender before I got too cold. Alden spotted me and swam over. He thought it was an incredible place but hadn't found any lobsters and he didn't know what had killed all the coral either.

I dropped him back onboard Saxon Blue and then went off to find the girls. They were nowhere in sight so I raised them on the VHF to find that, surprise, surprise, they were in the hotel a bit further down the beach having a drink. I went along and picked them up from the surf and they told me that they'd found that we could get a water-taxi over the lagoon to the town so we'll probably give that a go tomorrow. We all got back onboard and had showers to get ready for dinner which is Andrea's fish with risotto made with lobster stock from a few days ago.

We've just got the loaf out and it's a disaster. Looks and smells like bread but with the consistency of MDF so we'll have to look through the fault-finder in the instruction book to try to find out what we did wrong. It all looked so easy when Kali did it!

Got to break off now as dinner is served.

Just had our dinner and it was excellent. The lobster risotto was great and I'm not usually much of a risotto fan so it must have been good. Andrea's fish was lovely - really soft and tasty. We're just looking at some pictures that Alden took of the spotted eagle ray when we were out on the reef. It's been a long day on the water but we've done loads and seen a lot. I think we'll all sleep well tonight.


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