I was in a grumpy mood yesterday afternoon, failing in my attempt to fix a broken high pressure hose for the water maker, when Lauren suggested I come up and check out a bait ball she was steering Sophie towards. “I will in a minute,” I snapped. “I’m still focused on trying to fix this right now.”
The day hadn’t been totally bad so far. We had seen some dolphins earlier, the first we had seen in months. But the water maker had me down. Again.
I should have listened to Lauren right away. Soon all five of us were up on the flybridge, confronting a spectacle unlike anything any of us had ever seen before.
There were three large whales, a school of tuna, and a towering column of a hundred birds, all attacking a boiling frenzy of white bait fish on the surface of the water, just 300 meters away from Sophie. We quickly joined in on the attack. I took the wheel, Lauren went to the lines, Jenna grabbed her camera, and the kids grinned while watching it all. The tuna were bunching the bait fish into a tight circle, and the whales were swimming straight through it, sometimes rolling on their sides with their jaws open, sucking fish into their mouths. The whales were big and could have been over 40 feet long. We initially mistook the black backs of the tunas for dolphin, but once we saw them in profile we knew they were yellowfin or big eye.
As we steered towards the frenzy, the frenzy turned and steered towards us. Jenna was a little scared we were going to hit a whale, but I trusted they were smart enough to avoid Sophie. There was simply too much food present to be messing around with boats. It all was happening very quickly. As we entered the boil, one of our meat lines just snapped right off. 400 pound test line? Gone. A moment later the fishing pole went horizontal with a big hit. The fish fought hard for 15 minutes. I reeled, Jenna drove, and Lauren gaffed. Soon we had a 30 pound yellowfin – the biggest tuna we’ve ever caught on Sophie – secure on our back steps. We trussed it up with the Melissa rope so it would bleed out.
But we weren’t done.
The frenzy was still taking place only 400 meters away from Sophie. I asked Jenna if we could go get another fish. “Absolutely!” I love my wife.
So Leo took the wheel and pointed Sophie back towards the boil. Jenna was on camera. Lauren was taking care of the first fish, and Hazel was splayed out on the trampoline, looking straight down into the water. It was a little hectic as we re-entered the scene of food chain carnage. As we hit the boil, it spread out around us with the big whales swimming on either side of Sophie. I ran up to help Leo with the wheel and assumed Lauren would grab the pole for the next fish. We could see 40 yellowfins hurtling across our stern, about 20 meters away, when the pole exploded with its second hit of the day. This time time it was pointing down into the water. I could barely get the pole out of the rod holder as 300 meters of line ripped off the reel in 5 seconds. This fish was clearly much bigger than the first one.
The fight took 30 minutes. I had to use low gear on the reel, and my arms kept cramping up. There was a beautiful orange glow in the air as the sun began to set. The frenzy was still taking place just 200 meters away from us, and I was scared it would drift into the area of our fight. The big whales were not quite as welcome any more. The tower of birds occasionally left the boil and flew over to check us out. We were scared they were looking for a place to poop, but they left our decks clean.
In the end, it all worked out. Jenna took photos, Lauren once again did the gaffing, the kids handed over tools, and we collectively landed a 65 pound yellowfin tuna on Sophie’s starboard transom steps.
Please let me say that again. A 65 pound yellowfin tuna. I am complete.
The rest of the details of the day don’t really matter too much compared to yesterday’s transcendent ecstasy of glorious fishing awesomeness.
Our noon position is 05.23.367 South, 153.18.291 East. We covered another 137 miles in the last 24 hours, motoring through light air using just one engine at a time. Kavieng is 226 miles away, and we should get there Tuesday morning local time. The water maker was out of action because the high pressure hose between the pump and the membrane sprung a leak. It’s a relatively standard part that we’ll either find in Kavieng or have shipped up via DHL from New Zealand. When we went to bed we had over 100 gallons of water on the boat, which should have been enough for to get us to our destination.
We had to clear out our fridges and freezer to make space for the tuna, so among other things we had beer and chocolate ice cream for dinner last night. I know, I know, we don’t drink on passages, but yesterday was a special day, we could see Bougainville 35 miles away, and we were motoring across a glassy sea in the warm summer night.
What a day. What a spectacular, wonderful day.
Today? It’s still all good, despite a bit of a hiccup. Early this morning during my shift I realized we actually had no water at all on the boat. During our evening double takedown we had inadvertently left the starboard swim step shower loose on the deck, and overnight it had fallen into the water and drained out 100 gallons of fresh water into the sat water of Planet Deep. The port water tank, which we normally keep full in anticipation for exactly this type of situation during passages, had very little water in it because we used it to clean bird poop off the deck before we realized our water maker was not functional.
So what did we do? Panic? Nah. We had enough bottled water, juice, milk, and beer to keep us from getting thirsty over the next 2 days. We also have an emergency hand held watermaker in our ditch bag. But I pulled off one of my best boat hacks, ever. I took the broken high pressure hose for our water maker, covered the leaking area with rescue tape and hose clamps, and swapped it out with its partner hose which runs from the desalinator membrane back into the pump, putting the good hose from the pump going into the membrane. When I turned everything on, the leaking hose still leaked a tremendous amount of water into the engine room’s bilge, but the watermaker could produce 30 gallons per hour. Our starboard bilge pump could keep up with the leaking water flow. For most of the morning we closely monitored the leaking hose in our engine room, the draining water from our starboard bilge, and the slowly moving needle on our water tank gauge. Within a few hours we had replaced the 100 gallons of water in the tank.
Meanwhile, multiple squalls passed over Sophie, dumping water on the boat. Lauren was out on the back deck, getting soaked as she carved up the 65 pounder. We made a little dam on the foredeck and diverted another 25 gallons of rain water to the port tank. Jenna and Hazel each took rain showers up top as the rain dumped and the thunder boomed all around us.
Spectacular fishing days and then subsequently figuring out how to solve problems any way you can seem to go together hand in hand on this little family adventure of ours. It’s what we do. We also have a freezer full of sashimi grade yellowfin tuna today, and we can see the southern tip of the island of New Ireland off in the distance. Kavieng is located at its northern tip. We will be in sight of land for the remainder of this passage.
Have I told you lately how lucky we are?