Have you ever found yourself day dreaming about how you might survive marooned on a deserted Island in the South Pacific or floating in a life raft at sea? Your first concern should always be fresh water, then you might think food will be no problem. At worst, you can just eat fish, right? But what if you happen to be the worst fisher-person in the world? This blog post is for you. Captain Andrew and I have prepared a three point plan for ensuring that even the Fish Challenged can stay flush with healthy Omega Threes.
Lest you forget: Captain Andrew and I are not the most skilled deep sea fisher-people. In two and a half years of full time ocean living, we have caught a total of nine fish. Three tuna (one skipjack and two yellow tail), two mahi mahi, one flying fish that jumped aboard Sonrisa during Andrew's night watch and...these guys who sometimes get stuck on the beach in Vanuatu. I count them as only one in the aggregate.
It's not that we never catch anything at all. Sometimes we catch something, only to have the line snap or the fish get away right before we haul it aboard. Sometimes, we catch a whole fishing line of seaweed or jellyfish. Before we left, I bought Andrew a book about fishing and he has studied it! To no avail. Benevolent fishing souls have tried to help. One friend generously gifted to us a speargun (read about the adventure of retrieving our speargun from Saten here) and our friend Murray on S/V Jams even took us shopping to get the line rig and lure set up he used to catch these bad boys. We were so jealous of Murray's on board fish smoker. Andrew wanted one, but what for? I guess we could smoke vegetables.
*Credit for these lovely photos and the expert helms work to land the fish goes to Murray's helms-woman and lovely wife, Carol.
Wondrous, indeed. But, we have had no greater luck even after Murray tried to convey his secrets. No need to fret; we Oddgodfreys evolve and adapt. There is more than one way to feed this cat.
It wasn’t until ten p.m. that we were able to push Sonny’s boat off the Kangean beach into enough water to make it float. Sonny, his wife, his daughter and youngest son, his brother, and the neighbor girl who spoke English all helped us push, climbed aboard, and accompanied us out to see Sonrisa. They hop aboard for a quick tour under a rising full moon. I quickly made some friendship bracelets for my new pals, Sonny chomping at the bit to return home, put together his fishing supplies and start his midnight commute. Dawi reaches across the water from her Dad’s boat to grab my hand one last time. “I love you!” She tells me. I blow her a kiss as she goes.
Then, Andrew and I tapped out. A 24 hour sail, with poor off-watch sleep, followed immediately by fifteen hours in the village left us pretty tired. We spent the next day doing a work out, reviewing the weather, planning our next leg, and relaxing while we up my success status on beating Andrew at Cribbage.
The next morning, we cast off to sail another 36 hours to our next destination: Bawean.
Bawean is striking on approach. There something picturesque about the crescent shape of the bay, the lush green of the hillsides, and the people dabbing bamboo fishing poles on the reef. A full moon rises directly over the center, just as we settle in to a “new anchorage” beverage.
POINT ONE: MAKE FRIENDS WITH FISHERMEN
The fishing boat behind us sends crew members to shore, their dinghy filled with fishermen taking selfies with Sonrisa as they pass nearby her hull. We wave, they wave and shout. I point my camera toward them and the dinghy-full bursts out with happy cheers as they pose.
The next morning, they watch us from their boat as we plop Grin into the water. I look back and they wave with two arms over their head, then swoop their arm forward with the “come over here” scoop at the end. “Come over, come over!” They say.
“They want us to come visit,” I tell Andrew. He looks over and sees five or six fishermen standing on the bow of the boat waving “come over!” So, we do. As we pull up to the side of the fishing boat, it’s remarkable how tall the freeboard is. Standing in Grin, the side of the Fishing boat is still taller than me. Piles and piles of fishing net sit drying in the sun. The smell of sun dried fish, salt, ocean and a little bit of diesel tickles my nose, but it’s not entirely unpleasant. “Come up! Come up!” We hand Grin’s tether to one of the crew to tie him up, and I push myself up and onto the pile of fishing nets. Andrew follows me. We shake hands in the local custom: a shake of the right hand, followed by a quick tap to my heart with my same hand. I love this tradition, it's used to express an especially warm greeting, and with my general sense that good energy can flow between two people I love to imagine that warm greeting being scooped up and placed into my own heart. I’m probably going to use this tradition in my own life going forward, so if I shake your hand and touch my heart, you know what it means.
We take the requisite selfie photos, and they show us their pet birds: two parrots who are rather camera shy and one giant white cockatoo who is happy to pose for a photo and sit on Andrew’s shoulder. I ask if they have names, and the crew looks at me as if this is an absurd question. “No, it’s a bird.” They reply.
Then, they open up the giant ship’s freezer, a space spanning the entire underbelly of the ship. One crew member goes down into the hold and tosses up two giant bags of frozen fish and squid to a crew member waiting on deck. The deck crew ties the plastic bags with a knot at the top and extends his arms to us, both arms, weighed down by twenty pounds of seafood, each.
“Ooooh! Tidak, tidak, Terimah Kasieh!” Andrew tries to say “no, thank you” explaining that we don’t have a large freezer to keep all this seafood. They shrug and say: “It will keep for a few days with ice.” At this point, they will not take “No” for an answer. They place the bags in our hands and shoo us off the boat to put everything away.
POINT TWO: CLEAR A SPACE FOR FISH IN YOUR SHIP’S STORES
Back aboard Sonrisa, we find ourselves with the challenge of emptying the freezer and Tetris packing fish with what seems to be thousands of eyeballs starting us in the face: “We gave our life for you! You can’t let us go to waste!!!” I’m always the naysayer in the crowd. I stand aside hauling our bag of rice and flour away into another cupboard (kept in the freezer to keep weevils at bay) and grumbling: “this is never going to work, it is never going to fit” until Andrew declares he has achieved victory. And the bottle of rum can stay in there, too. Now, when I pop open the freezer hatch, half the former fish population of Bawean Bay stares me in the face.
We decide to hunt down a gift of clove cigarettes to offer as gratitude for the gift of fish. This gives us an excuse to explore town. We head to the beach and start walking along the road. The village is stunningly beautiful. The houses are colorful, and often include windows with stained glass etchings. The rice paddies glow a neon green in the sun. The women, all adorned in batik fabric walk the landscape as living, breathing art.
POINT THREE: NEVER TURN DOWN A RIDE TO FIND A LUNCH OF MORE FISH
We are not on the road for very long when a man in a truck stops. “Where are you from? Where are you going? Would you like a ride? No money, no money, just a ride.” We certainly don’t mind paying for a ride, that isn’t the issue, but we also like walking to explore. He’s so keen on giving us a ride, we hop in. Soon, we are going in the exact opposite direction of our goal. We can’t understand him, he can’t really understand us. So, we settle in and see where we are headed. The old truck grumbles up a mountainside road so narrow it seems to be sidewalk. Our driver deftly maneuvers around curves and twists, the tires must be curling their toes to cling to the sides. At the top of the hill, we stop at a house where the people offer us ice cold punch to drink while our driver unloads several bags of rice. He is the town's rice delivery driver. We try to help unload, but that is absolutely not allowed, so we drink our punch in the shade and tease the family’s three scared but curious children. “How old are you?” I ask. My question is met with a squeal; the child flees.
With our driver’s project done, we turn around and head back to town, our original destination. Our driver shows us the shops we need, instructs us to buy some crackers that are the local favorite to taste later, then he asks if we would like lunch. We stop at a restaurant for Ikan Baker (grilled fish), rice, and two different types of the local “sambal” chili sauce that is smoky, sweet and HOT AS HELL. I can hardly believe I am eating a grilled fish while twenty pounds of fish are sitting in my freezer, but fish is good for you. We enjoy conversation and photos with the restauranteur and her little son who is excited to show us his handsome hairdo until we are finished and our driver scoops us up to go. We stop by his house to meet his family, then he delivers us back to Grin waiting on the beach.
Fast forward two weeks, and I can assure you my coat is shiny and my breakfast is always staring me in the face. When I'm done, I give my leftovers to the dock kitty. Did you know your house cat (or at least the Indonesian version of a house cat) can eat the entire skeleton, head, and tail of a fish this size - no problem? I learn something new every day.