Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Life Can Suck - When You're Ten

We don't fish at most of the tropical islands that we visit. Either there is fish poisoning in the vicinity - ciguatera - or Alisa and I, being the concerned marine biologists we are, cannot stand the idea of adding one more insult to some over-exploited reef ecosystem or another.

So Elias' tropical fishing has largely been confined to the very passive undertaking that is trolling on passage.

But here at Ascension Island (we're at Ascension, by the way) things are different. Everyone tells us that there is absolutely no ciguatera here. And the water below Galactic, just off the town pier, is HEAVING with fish. Most of these are trigger fish that would not excite a gourmand, but there are also any number of jacks and groupers below the boat.

And those wonderful fish are desperately happy to snarf up any lure that is inexpertly dangled off the side by a 6- or 10-year-old sailor.

Elias has been sooo happy at the idea of providing meals for the family through his own efforts. On our first day here he kept me busy clubbing and butchering fish. I even got into the act and speared a nice something-or-other while standing on the jupe.

But on that first night, when I moved onto the third fish that had made it onto the table - the larger of two grouper that Elias had caught - something funny happened. My lips went numb. Ever so slightly, but definitely.

This is one of the first signs of ciquatera exposure.

So the fish went over the side.

I heroically forewent my second beer of the evening. (Alcohol is verboten in situations of ciguater exposure.) But I showed no other symptoms. And no one else had eaten of that fish yet.

I'm pretty sure that the there isn't ciguatera here. But Alisa and I, having gotten this far by relying on our own judgement, were not going to ignore the evidence of our own experience. So grouper are now off the list of permitted species for anyone catching fish from Galactic.

And of course, you can guess. Elias spent most of today trying very diplomatically, for a fish-crazed ten-year-old, to talk his parents into a reconsideration. And then when we came back to the boat this afternoon, he brought up a very fine grouper on a handline. I used the pliers to get the hook out of the fish, but it didn't go well. The fish was hooked in a gill, and went drifting off lethargically when I finally had it back in the water.

It was too much for Elias. He retreated to his cabin in tears. To have fishing *that good* and to not be able to keep the fish! When everyone knows there is no ciguatera at Ascension!

After he'd been shut away in his cabin for a while I called him out and had a try at a comforting paternal talk. I commiserated with him over how terribly unfair the situation was. And then I patiently explained that things would occasionally suck like that for the rest of his life.

I hope it helped.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!


  1. Hi guys! I am with you all the way across the Atlantic. Somehow I got overwhelmed with memories of the boat heaving wave over wave and the comforting rhythmic sound of water splashing against the side of the bow, ... when I knew you were off and followed the posts.I was in awe how potent those memorie were even though I hadnt been at sea for near 20 years!

    I feel for Elias. I love triggerfish, never liked Grouper.

    Winter in Namibia is passing. No more deeply cold nights and some days that make you want to look for a pool.

  2. Please advise you are ok - saw news of earthquake on Ascension Island
    Love you all - Prayers for your safety

  3. Chuck let me know today that you sent word you are okay & sailing...I'm so thankful you are safe. I'd never even heard of Ascension Island before reading you were there on Saturday & then to get the earthquake notice the next day was disconcerting to say the least! Continuing to keep you in my prayers for smooth sailing. You are always in my heart & thoughts. Love you all...Hugs!

  4. Hey Mike,

    I remember in your book that you wrote that you got very sick a couple of times. Do you think you may have been infected with ciguatera then and when you had the fish it you developed the symptoms again?. I remember in the book you saying you didn't know why you were so ill. Just a thought Paul.