Thursday, October 29, 2009

No More Sangria!

After word of our arrival became village knowledge, there was a constant procession of visitors honking car and truck horns in the driveway, or coming up the stairs to knock on the door.

The morning of day two was no exception. Guests started arriving right after breakfast. I had taken it upon myself to do the morning cooking, which was a lot of fun, and was an opportunity for me to show my gratitude to be invited into the established three-way friendship. It was fun meeting these folks, who universally had smiling eyes, a warm grin, and very pleasant manners. The conversation was always from the heart and genuine.

I was the first to wake up in the morning, normally before first light, and was quickly followed by Stan, who made the coffee. On that 2nd. morning I went surfishing, and on the first cast hooked a fish, but lost it when the hook pulled free. Later, another fish grabbed my jig and tail combo, and was also lost without seeing it. Nothing but fish stories.

After breakfast, we decided to do some work on the house. All of us had packed something extra for the trip together with our normal baggage. My extra was an indoor/outdoor fan for the new screened in porch. Once the electricity was sorted out, charged to the switch, and the fan put together for hanging and wiring, it only took a few more minutes to have that baby running. Sleeping on that porch with the cool circulating air from the fan, and the sound of the waves to go to sleep by and wake up to, was intoxicating.

The third morning found us up early, and after a filling breakfast, we jumped into the gear-filled pickup, and headed to a dock to meet our guide. On the way there, we passed a flock of Flamingos grouped together in the middle of a small bay. The sunlight illuminating off their feathered bodies shone a beautiful shade of pink. We stopped to try to photograph them, but they were pretty far away, and no one had a telephoto lense. At the landing our guide pulled up in his pickup, and we began to unload his fishing gear, extra motor, extra gas cans, etc. In no time we were ready to go. The boat's engine was running nice and smooth, and we took off for an outer Cay.

Once we reached the cay, and pulled the boat up onto the beach, we donned our camel packs, grabbed our hand rakes, and started hiking into the brush. I don't think 15 minutes passed before I saw the gleam of purple glass. Rushing over to the gleam, and pulling back the brush, I was greeted by two pieces of a beautiful amethyst float. The rest of the float was nowhere to be found. Finding an amethyst float was my second goal. I guess finding two pieces was apropos.

Finding the hurricane debris line and the walking were so much easier than our first foray into the brush. It was hot, but the cay was surrounded by water, and not that wide. A sea breeze was easy to find. There were bottles, and plastic floats all over the place. In no time we were separated-each covering a different part of the debris lines. Bottles, plastic floats, light bulbs, more bottles, then suddenly I saw the round side of a green float. I took my time walking up to it. Looking throughly at everything between the float and me, and not wanting to miss seeing another float, I reached my find. Stooping to pull it free from the sand, I was dismayed to find that my float was in reality the bulbous end of a sangria bottle. Fooled! That episode was repeated at least a dozen times before our trip ended. We all were all victims of the ruse-over and over again.

Hours of walking only yielded lots of bottles and plastic floats, but no glass floats. What happened to that promising beginning? Finally, working my way to the beach, I could not resist the cool inviting water, took my clothes off, and jumped in. Man! That felt good. Stan emerged from the brush, asked me how the water felt, but declined to get in because the dry salt on the body made him uncomfortable, and we still had most of the day ahead of us. Having lived with a salt-caked body for more than a week on a month-long Baja trip, a few hours of salt on me was nothing to deter me from a great swim.

A short while later, together with our guide, we met under the Casaurina trees for lunch. In front of us, with low tide wavelets lapping at its emaciated body, lay a dead half-grown Sperm Whale. The sharks had cleaned the flesh off most of the body, and there was no odor.

Lunch was terrific. After lunch we decided to walk a bit further, and soon came to a high coral bank where a "Great One," was smashed to smithereens.

"Great One," is the name given to the large Japanese floats that are sometimes found in the Carribean. Of all the places to beach. That "Great One," pounded on a rocky cliff, and that was all she wrote. A short time later, Stan found our only whole float of the day, a nice blue/green unmarked Euro. I believe that it was made by Fabrica de Gijon Fabril which produced the "Scrolled 65," or the "GF in the boat". Coming to an impenetrable Mangrove forest, we decided that float hunting was over for the day, and it was time to go fishing. We were also on a bit of a timetable.

The preceeding afternoon, we had arranged to have dinner at a local restaurant after our guided trip, and didn't not want to keep the cook waiting. Piling into the boat, and stowing our float hunting gear, we broke out the fishing tackle. We had two fishing rods, and four guys, so paired up, and made a deal to give up the rod to our partner after each fish.

Trolling plugs through the outlet of the coral reef, we were in purple water when a big one grabbed my lure. I could feel the strength of that fish's body as it took line, and quickly knew that there was not enough line on the reel to weather it's run. There was no turning the boat to chase it either. As the line disappeared, there was nothing left to do but clamp down on the spinning reel's spool with my hand, and hope the fish would give up its run. Quickly the line parted. What a fish.

We had a great time after the big one got away. Blue Runners and Rainbow Snappers grabbed our trolled lures every 5 minutes, and we soon had a nice mess to eat. The conformations of the inland cays were beautiful, lime/green with growth, and varied in shape. There were caves created by the eons of crashing waves, and rocky points that hung out over the water resembling half of a bridge. Two of those points had collapsed into the sea, due to eons of undercutting of the rock by the surf. The waves crashed over the fallen points as we trolled by.

Entering the inlet of the creek leading to the boat dock, we had to help our captain by keeping watch for rogue waves coming at us from the side. The tide was coming in, and the waves behind us were big and pushing us forward. The rock wall to our right was only 10 feet away. Wouldn't you know it? A really big fish grabbed Jim's lure.

There was no moving that fish, and we could not stop to fight it. Line was melting off the reel. Jim tried to battle that fish, but it was just too strong, and another monster got the better of us. Then Stan hooked up with another brute. That fish was as strong as it gets. We lost it coming through the gap, and when the lure was retrieved, one hook was completely pulled off the plug-including the O-ring. The other hook was straightened, and its O-ring was just about pulled open too. The lure had been crushed, with holes in the tail, and water inside. Great Barracuda, King Mackeral or Wahoo? We'll never know. But we negotiated the entrance safely. The ones that got away!!

Our guide was the best, and we thanked him profusely for a great day. Luckily, he is a good friend of our host, and has since become someone who I admire and like very much. He visited us twice more, and filled hours with stories of his family, and life. On our last day on the island, he and his wife invited us over to see the treasures he had found while diving for Conch and Lobster, and beachcombing.

The four of us were still high on excitement, and all talked about the day as Stan and I quickly filleted the fish, packed and refrigerated them. Then everyone showered and dressed for dinner. It was an amazing dinner. We were the only guests at the restaurant. Conch had been caught that afternoon, and was as fresh as is possible to eat. Our chef presented us with a starter of Conch salad, a fresh vegetable salad, followed by a boneless filet of Grouper, beans and rice and Conch fingers. All was washed down by cold beer, and the owner's wife joined us for dinner and great conversation. We were promised Conch fritters too, but that is another story. It was great not to have to cook that night.

To be continued...

Monday, October 26, 2009

We're Still Alive

On the morning of our second full day at the Carribean Island house, the four of us were loading the pickup for an easy trip. I blurted out the title above, and jokingly said that would be the heading of our 1st. story on the blog. Lusty, testosterone laughs were followed by a barrage of witty quips. We were in Paradise, knew it, and shared the same feelings about the day before. Thursday was a day to recover.

Our planes had landed 20 minutes apart at Miami International. Getting off the plane and through the C gate, I was greeted by floor-to-ceiling installations of beautiful fiberglass molds of all the popular sport fish in Florida's waters. Each species of fish was arranged in an artistic design of 4-10 fish with about 2-3 levels of designs per wall. They were beautiful, and I took a few photos as I waited for my companions to arrive. We'd never met before.

Standing in the waiting area in front of the gate, my eyes and the eyes of my host-Stan met. We recognized eachother immediately, thanks to photos shared through the previous year's emails. I had wondered during the many months of waiting for that moment, what it would be like to see the real faces and persons responsible for great philosophical and float-sharing emails. The glad-to-see-you shake and hug answered the question. Followed by two more similarly warm greetings from the last two of the Buoy Brothers Rudolfo and Jim, we were quickly talking. For the next 9 days, the only lull in great conversation, came when we were asleep or reading our books during the short snatches of minutes between adventures.

Needing a lot of hydration was the lesson learned on our first float hunting expedition. Each man carried a camel pack, bandages, net bag for floats, walkie talkie and camera. We had battled thick brush, with little-to-no-shade, over 100-degree temps, and no cooling ocean breeze filtering through the Casuarina trees to relieve us. There were many moments of dizziness, trying to catch my breath and breathe through my nose, and not my mouth. There was a breakdown when I draped myself over the waist-high branch of a 7'tall palm. The top part of my torso from armpits to the top of my head was bent over, supported by the palm's branch, and I wondered if my companions would find me if I passed out? From somewhere deep, came the strength to stand up, clear my head and push on.

Half an hour earlier, while searching for a piece of tideline left over from Hurrican Ike, Stan had called me on the walkie talkie to come see a glassfloat that he'd found. Our two companions were searching closer to the Casuarinas, about a quarter of a mile away.

Stumbling as quickly as I could through the maze of brush, scurrying lizards and bleached Landcrab remains, I found our Buoy Brother standing over an opening in the brush, looking down on a beautiful colorless Euro. Quickly, a few photos were snapped, and Stan stooped over to pick up the float and see if it had a maker's mark. It did...LT. Our fourth float of the day. Rudolfo had found an unmarked amber shortly after we started. Jim had found two throughly broken floats, one a Heye Glass Clover.

Fifteen minutes later, and only a few moments before the draped-over-the-branch experience, I'd decided to walk to my left to see if I could find the tideline again. I found it, and just after finding it, there in front of me was another colorless Euro embedded in the old debris right next to a European metal float. What a beautiful pair!

I called Stan over, and while waiting for him, I snapped a couple of floatos. I'd found an RG Made in Portugal 5-incher. My goal was realized. During the summer months between that moment and the initial surprise invitation, I had tried very hard not to set myself up for lack of float finding disappointment, so kept the hope alive that I would at least find one Euro on this adventure. There it was!

Walkie Talkie conversations evolved into a plan to leave the brush and get back to the truck where cold beer was waiting for us, where we could convert our long legged brush pants into shorts, and get the hot and sweaty socks and hiking sneakers off. That old dirt road was a little piece of heaven when we broke free of the morass. We slogged back to the truck. The only thing comparable to being able to sit down as we drove back to the house, rolling the cold beer bottles on the sides of our throats and faces, and drinking a good long gulp of liquid refreshment, was putting my face up and my body into the cool outdoor shower on the back porch. Nirvanna!

The next day's easy pace, and rehydrating ourselves throughly, was what we all needed, because our third day was planned. We were hiring a guide to take us to an outer Cay for more float hunting, and some afternoon fishing.

To Be Continued...

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Great Invitation

Hope those alarms go off as scheduled! They're set for 3:15 A.M. Nancy and I have to get it together, and make it to the airport by 5:0O A.M. The plane takes off at 6:30. Nancy will be dropping me off, and heading back to begin her long day of work. What a Sweetheart!

This is the first installment of another expedition diary, thanks to an incredible invitation to go searching for glass fishing floats on off-the-beaten-track islands. I am unable to tell the reader more than that concerning the locations.

The invitation came during the later part of spring, and it's been a long wait for this moment to arrive. My bags are packed.

This diary will be written in a different style. There will be no computer access where we are going, a written diary will be kept, photos taken, and upon our return in 8 days, I will invite the readers to follow our day-to-day beachcombing adventure.

What awaits the four of us on those pristine beaches? The summer months have been a delicious blend of anticipation, phone calls, emails, exchanged photos, dotting the I's and crossing the T's. Oh Man!