I have reliable witnesses!
We had been in the Yasawa group in Western Fiji
for several weeks. One of the most memorable anchorages
was the Blue Lagoon
on the island of Sawa-I-Lau. This beautiful Blue Lagoon
is well known for its deep, limestone caves but perhaps more renown as the location for the movie
Blue Lagoon starring Brook Shields and Christopher Atkins. We lived on a very meager budget
by subsistence fishing
. Every day I would go spear fishing
on the pristine reefs
of this lagoon and every night we would leave a fish line hanging from the stern.
From the Log of S/V Rough and Ready:
For the past four nights the line has been found broken when checked in the morning. Each night I have increased the size and strength of my tackle. I started with fifty-pound test monofilament line then switched to hundred pound test and then three hundred pound test monofilament. Every morning I would go out on the afterdeck to check my line and every morning I found it broken near the hook. I tried adding rubber snubbers to the inboard end to relieve the shock of any fighting fish that might swim by. Still I found that my line had been broken in the morning. I was running out of patients and hooks.
This went on by degrees until finally one evening I decided enough was enough and that if I couldn’t catch this monster on fishing gear
I would use anchor gear
instead. To this end I took the three-quarter-inch Dacron line that we used for heavy weather genoa sheets
and shackled this onto five feet of three eighths inch BBB galvanized anchor
chain as line and leader. I took the grappling hook we normally use for a dinghy
anchor which was made of half inch rebar and spent several hours sharpening the points of this to make a treble hook that was ten inches across, point to point. I saved three surgeonfish from the day’s spear fishing efforts and impaled these on each of the points of the grappling hook as bait. I then wrapped the three quarter inch Dacron line several times around the jib winch
and secured it to a large cleat. Next I took a large bite of this line below and tied it to a eighteen inch frying pan that we normally used for beach cook-outs and set this on the counter of the galley
At around 0300 the following morning we were ripped from our sound sleep when the frying pan hit the cabin sole
, banged its way across the floorboards, up the companionway
ladder, across the deck, into the bulwarks and over the side of the boat. The frying pan raced up and out of the cabin
so fast that at first I thought for certain that some passing speedboat had somehow snagged my fishing line.
I sprang out of bed
naked and hurried after it. As I hit the afterdeck I could hear the taught line tearing the surface of the darkened lagoon. I saw in the dim light of the moon where the line lay across the taffrail and tried to pick it up but I was unable to lift
it enough to get my fingers under it and a very good thing that was. As I stood puzzling over the enormous strain on the line it dawned on me that it was probably hooked on the coral
below and that we were now anchored by this line.
Before this thought had fully formulized in my head
the line stretched out thirty feet behind the boat and began singing through the water
. At first it tore from one side of the boat and then it reversed itself and tore to the other. On each pass the line shredded the surface of the lagoon making a sound very much like that of a zipper being rapidly drawn up.
I reached for the line on the cleat and winch
handle just as the line stopped its side-to-side racing
and seemed to go limp. Before I reached either, the line tore through the water
heading directly aft away from the transom. The water squeezed out of the line as it came up tight against the rail and the thirty-ton ketch
was yanked out from under my feet just like the old tablecloth out from under the dishes. I hit the deck bare ass first, at the instant my head
hit the cabin
side. The anchor chain at the bow came taught with a snap as the ketch
dipped her bow and the anchor checked her rapid surge astern. My fishing line stretched thin as it dug into the teak
It was as though I had hooked a tugboat intent on breaking my anchor chain. All of a sudden there was a great upwelling on the smooth surface of the lagoon aft, then the fishing line went limp and the ketch surged forward over her anchor.
Hesitant at first, I slowly began to retrieve the fishing line all the while keeping it around the jib
winch lest this submarine of a fish was still on the other end. Soon my large frying pan broke the surface so I began hauling in the line hand over hand. When I reached the end I found that the three-eighths inch chain had been bitten through. It appeared as though someone or something had used a cold chisel to cut through it. Deep chips and nicks had been driven into the last few inches of the chain. My grappling hook / dinghy
anchor was gone.
The monster from the Blue Lagoon had bitten through high tensile strength chain and made off with my dinghy anchor. I am usually not one to give up on a battle with a fish but I decided then and there that this was the final round and he had won.
We saw this monster several days later while snorkeling for our dinner. We were passing along a portion of the wall of the inner reef, a place where we could just barely discern the floor of the lagoon sixty-feet farther down. All of a sudden what appeared to be a large portion of the coral
reef beneath us rose up a few feet and moved lazily off into deeper water. It looked more like a splotchy painted Volkswagen bus then a fish. I believe it was a grouper of unusual size.
I had read accounts of such fish that inhabited the Great Barrier Reef
. Fish so incredibly large that there have been several recorded instances of scuba
divers that have gotten too close to these creatures and were sucked into their bellies. These fish can draw in several hundred gallons of the water directly in front of them by rapidly flexing their jaw and opening their cavernous mouths.
On seeing this creature I was at first filled with an immediate terror but as I saw that it posed no immediate threat to me, I lay quiet on the still surface of the lagoon and admired him in awe. I have felt this same feeling but twice in my life, once while standing beneath a giant Sequoia in the Redwood forests of Northern California
and once while standing on the deck of the Maid of the Mist looking directly up at Niagra Falls. Here was a life form that was much grander and older then I would ever be, I was overcome by a feeling of grand insignificance. I felt as though I had inadvertently trespassed in the palace of a king. I wish this creature a continued, long and happy life there in his Fijian paradise.
I kept that severed piece of anchor chain on a shelf in the Rough and Ready for several years after this. Anytime someone began a tale about the one that got away I would eventually bring out my bit of chain.