Blue Marlin Got Away ... but not the memory!
by Terrence (Terry) Loat
(Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
Catching a Blue Marlin While Under Sail
This one might sound like the proverbial "fish story", you know...about the "one that got away" but Scout's Honour...it is absolutely true.
I was sailing my Admiral 38 Catamaran, s/v "afLOAT" from Florida to the Virgin Islands several years ago for another cruising season.
With me was my very good friend and former owner of my boat, Jack, who is known to be an expert fisherman. His passion for fishing is legendary and I've witnessed him routinely hauling in any number of fish species anytime we have been ocean sailing together.
My knowledge of fishing is next to minimal but I have experienced something under sail that I suspect very few anglers have ever experienced while sailing. According to my friend Jack, in all his years of fishing off his variously owned sailboats, he never dreamed of catching a Blue Marlin.
After enjoying daily catches of fish (and releasing numerous barracuda which seem to have an affinity for my boat) we stopped to stretch our legs and spear some lobster and fetch some conch in Samana Cay.
Leaving Samana Cay in mid afternoon (Nov 11, 2010), bound for Luperon, Dominican Republic, we were trolling to add another fresh catch for dinner. At 3:45 p.m. the unmistakable "zing" on the reel alerted us to another strike, but what we saw took our breath away. A Blue Marlin broke the surface of the water, squirming wildly and exhibiting its unmistakable magnificent body shape.
Jack was beyond excited and I didn't realize what an unusual opportunity this was for a sailboat cruiser. Jack, who has written numerous articles for sailing magazines and periodicals, said "let's try and land it, get some pictures and then release it".
We weren't optimistic as we had the fish on a 60lb test line. My job, as the boat owner and skipper, was "simple" - keep the boat positioned so the powerful fish would not snap the line and create enough slack for reeling in.
Very quickly during the ensuing struggle, I dropped the mainsail and furled in the jib as I needed full maneuverability of the catamaran.
The Marlin frequently charged towards the boat before demanding more line to be released as it quickly darted away. The chartplotter looked like a child's scribbling as erratic track lines were a blur of zig zag lines doubling over themselves.
My maneuvering objective, in addition to giving Jack some slack line to reel, was to ensure the Marlin did not swim under the boat so the race was on. The twin diesels and the catamaran's ready maneuverability was of great assistance until...... Yep, you guessed it, the fighting Marlin out-finessed me managed to get a pass under the boat. So after an hour and a half trying to wear him down, I was resigned to cut the line as I thought it had wrapped around the port side prop.
My fanatical fishing friend, however, gently pleaded that we not give up just yet. What I allowed to happen next is something that I am not too proud to report as the captain of my boat.
I put the engines in neutral, allowing Jack (at his insistence) to don mask and snorkel and jump overboard in the 7,500 foot depth to attempt to free the line. Incredibly, the line was not wrapped around the prop afterall but rather looped once around the portside rudder. Jack quickly "unlooped" the line and the reel ran out another hundred feet while we caught another gorgeous view as the marlin leaped out of the water again. So the fight was on again!
Another minor calamity had occurred at the outset of this saga. I had another line trolling from the starboard aft rod holder and early on during the zigzag boat maneuvering to deal with the Marlin, we flipped that line back over to the starboard side to finish reeling it in. During that "flip over", the monofilament line wrapped around the wind generator shaft on the elevated wind generator mounted on the port side, immobilizing the blades revolutions as the line got hopelessly wound around the shaft and sucked into the housing.
Anyway, back to Mr. Marlin. We incredibly played him out and reeled him in to the edge of the port side sugar scoop of "afLOAT". Jack was determined for me to capture our prize with a photo so while he incredibly took hold of the Marlin's long bill and I was leaning over this flopping mass of fish and fisherman (Jack getting his arms battered against the inner wall of the fiberglass sugar scoop), I snapped two photos.
Jack quickly lost grip of the fish as the lure became disengaged and our mighty and determined warrior swam triumphantly away. We knew we were as exhausted as the fish and Jack, who has caught undetermined hundreds of fish over his sailing career had, for all intents and purposes, landed his first Blue Marlin and on a sailing catamaran to make it even more improbable and memorable. As the boat owner and captain, I received credit for maneuvering the boat in all kinds of unpredictable and sudden directions to keep the fish from snapping our under sized line.
OK - the aftermath?
1. Much to our disappointment my photos were snapped just as Jack lost his brief grip on the fish bill and the churning water beneath him is indistinguishable as our prized Blue Marlin. It could have been a broom handle the photo showed as the fish slipped determinably back to its deserved freedom. Notwithstanding, I'm sending the photo along with this true account of the highly unique sailing and angling experience.
2. The struggle with the Marlin, once we had it partially on the boat's sugar scoop, resulted in one of the bolts holding the swim ladder coming off and the violent, albeit brief, pounding against the swim ladder enlarged the bolt hole of the swim ladder support causing a small leak into the portside engine room underneath. This was subsequently readily repaired and other than a slight bend in the swim ladder support to remind me of the epic struggle, no harm done.
3. The wind generator being jammed took much more attention as the monofilament line had numerous wraps around the shaft and required a service expert to remove the unit and get it operative again.
4. Jack had some ugly bruises on his arms from being pounded against the sugar scoop walls and steps while holding on to the Marlin. Unlike tattoos, those bruises are long, long gone!
So - the fish won! But his ultimate freedom was always our objective and the experience made us both feel that it was actually a "win-win"!