With our engine finally working as it should, we made our (hopefully) last and final plans to get to Nassau, Bahamas to celebrate my birthday on Friday, February 1st.
We were planning to leave a day earlier to go down to Cat Cay and anchor overnight before heading across the Great Bahama Bank, but as we’d now lost a day to a leaking coolant hose, we needed a new route, and preferably a short cut. Which we found through Barnett Harbour just south of Turtle Rocks, allowing us to cut east across the bank in mild, southerly winds, hopefully carrying us over to Nassau before the winds came round to the north.
Once we got onto the bank, any worries we had about messy waters dissipated, as we motor-sailed smoothly at 6.5 knots in 12-knot winds. And once the winds got up to 22 knots, we cut the engine and sailed on a beam reach at a nice 6.5 to 7.0 knots.
Cutting through 10-15 feet of clear blue water, I could see every rock and piece of algae on the ocean floor, which didn’t worry me as much as fascinate me. I was used to it now from our week in Bimini, where the water was so clear I could see old rum running bottles lying on the harbor floor. But now, instead of scanning the floor for rum bottles, I was looking for fish.
Yet there wasn’t much of anything out on the bank. No boats, no birds, no fish, no land. Just an endless expanse of topaz blue. So we sat back in the cockpit, put our feet up, lathered on some sun screen and reminisced about the good old days on the ICW, when we were wrapped from head to toe like mummies, taking turns to sit by the camping heater, wishing the scenery would change to distract us from the fact that we were freezing. Thankfully, we knew back then that there were warmer, prettier waters somewhere in our future.
The only worry for today was a narrow section on the NW Channel passage flanked by shoaling, which we were told was marked by the NW Channel Light. Except, as far as we could tell, the channel light no longer existed, or at least it was submerged. And since we’d be arriving in the dark we decided it was best to anchor just off the channel and make our way through the passage at first light.
So, at 7:00 am Thursday morning, we were up and raring to get to our destination. And with calm waters and 58 nautical miles of deep blue ahead to Nassau, we thought we’d experiment on the way with our new dolphin fish (mahi mahi) lure and troll our line behind the boat.
With no action whatsoever on the line all day, though, I’d pretty much forgotten we were even trying to catch a fish. Which would explain our complete lack of a game plan for what happened next.
About 5 miles from Nassau, Ryan heard a buzz-click sound he didn’t recognize and looked behind him to see our fishing rod bowing towards the water. “Fish on!” he screamed.
I ran up into the cockpit and towards our rod, which was spinning line out the back of the boat much faster than I could think. I stood there, watching, trying to remember what Von, our fishing guru, had told us to do once we’d hooked a fish. I seemed to remember him saying to let the line run for a bit and then reel it in, the idea being that I should tire the fish out before trying to pull him on board.
I looked at Ryan, hoping he’d have some advice, but he was a mirror image of me, standing frozen in place, staring at the spinning reel, trying to decide what to do. And while we both stood there, mouths agape, watching the spool of fishing line grow smaller and smaller, it suddenly disappeared. No line, no hook, no lure and, most importantly, no fish.
We looked at each other in disbelief and I smacked myself in the forehead. “I can’t believe I didn’t stop the line!” I shouted, horrified with myself.
“We got a fish!” Ryan exclaimed, looking delighted.
“We didn’t get a fish; we lost a fish!” I said, smacking myself some more.
“No, but I mean, this is great! This means we can get a fish!” Ryan said, still smiling.
“But we don’t have a fish,” I shouted, frowning. “I just stood there, like an idiot!”
I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. “I thought the line would be tied off and it would just stop! But it disappeared!” I whined.
Ryan patted me on the back, smiling. He seemed pleased enough with just the prospect of catching a fish, while I was lamenting my loss and ineptitude.
But, together, we scrolled through our mistakes and our should-haves in this ridiculous situation… like we should have stopped the boat, we should have grabbed the rod, we should have tugged on the line, we should have locked the reel off and we definitely should not have just stood there staring at our fishing rod like it was going to reel in, pull up, gaff, clean and fillet the damned fish for us. We should have done something! Anything!
But so it was. Somewhere out there, there’s a really really big fish (as are all the fish that get away) with a brand new lure and a spool of 50-pound test strung from its mouth, swimming around Nassau laughing at us.
Luckily, we had time to get over our fishing disaster before we pulled into Atlantis Marina, our destination for my Bahamas birthday weekend, though. We were busy eyeing up our kitschy, glitzy weekend hideaway as we made our way through the canal that led to what looked like a waterfront Las Vegas. The weekend game plan was to enjoy a gluttonous amount of casino cocktails, water park rides, Starbucks, craps tables and shimmying our tiny, grungy-looking sailboat between the sparkling multi-million-dollar mega yachts.
And just as we were docking our humble “yacht,” we looked over and saw what was probably the second smallest boat in the marina — a sport fisher called Knot Yet, whom we’d met on Facebook, but had never met in person. So when Kerri and Ean came over to give us a hand with our lines, we quickly introduced ourselves and told them our sad fish story.
“Oh no! You got spooled!” Kerri said, laughing.
I just nodded my head sadly and said my birthday shopping trip would have to be to a tackle shop for some more line and a new lure.
Happy birthday to me and one damned lucky fish.