If I have been most unusually verbose in writing three posts in three days it is because it rains like hell here and the internet cafe is a good place to shelter. Plus, stuff has been happening.
Today is the first day of octopus season. For some reason a federal permit is required to fish pulpo, the first I have heard of any kind of restriction on commercial fishing in Mexico.
I have long had an interest in octopus so I wanted to go out with the fleet. What other creature is jet-propelled, defends itself with ink, is unusually intelligent, grasps with suction cups, can squeeze through tiny holes, changes colors at will and has eight legs. Today I helped kill a whole bunch of these amazing animals.
Jose, the fellow playing air guitar in the previous post, was our captain. He, Ricardo and I set out at dawn in a specially prepared lancha carrying a small dinghy athwartships similarly equipped. Under the bridge and out to sea with such an outpouring of other lanchas as I have never seen. I counted 82 such craft within sight at one point. We went out about four miles and put the dinghy overboard and Ricardo got in; there we left him. We went another few hundred yards upwind in the lancha before stopping ourselves.
The lancha had been prepared by fixing to it two long, thin saplings which had each been peeled and had 5 eyes screwed into it spaced yard or so apart. Through these eyes strings were threaded with lead weights near the ends. To each string runs a “control string” by which the first string can be pulled in towards the boat. We tied a dead jaiba, the ubiquitous coastal sand/mud crab to the end of each string and threw them over the side. along the length of the boat we tied four more such strings. We now had 14 baited strings along the whole length of the craft, a lancha of 28 feet stretched by poles out to a usable length of something like 55 feet.
Lanchas and dinghies drift side-on to the wind; we used no anchor so as we drifted our arrangement raked the bottom about 7 meters down with a line of crabs. To slow our drift we dropped a sheet of canvas weighted at the corners with two concrete blocks over the lee side. Every now and then a small octopus would grab hold of a crab and though I said they are unusually intelligent they are not actually smart enough to let go of a crab as it is slowly pulled upwards. One leans over the side and grabs them before they break the surface. We could see by the tension in the lines whether a line needed pulling up or not, but we also had to check bait regularly for it was frequently taken by large fish which would also follow it up to the surface. The going was slow, long periods would pass between catches. There was often comedy because and octopus in the hand folds itself over and crawls up ones arm, sticking on with its suction cups and being very difficult to remove. Ink squirted everywhere and covered ourselves and the boat.
Way back years ago (this was before I lost my leg) I worked on a few Bering sea longliners and we would catch octopus up to six feet in length by accident whilst fishing cod or halibut. Being rubbery they make excellent long-lasting bait, so we would keep them for that purpose. But we had a problem – they stick like glue to raingear and a man thus stuck could not get unstuck – too many legs. When another guy came along to help peel the monster off a couple of legs would grab him too, then a third guy would come and he’d get stuck as well; the now 14-legged monster would totter helplessly around the deck. There never was a fourth guy involved – he’d be laughing so hard he was useless for anything. So we developed what we called “The Octopus Manouver”. Gaff them through the head as they surface (didn’t seem to faze ’em at all) and lift them in a fast arc above the deck and overhead, then down into the hold without touching anything at all. The Octopus Manouver. I tell you this to explain my title and because you never know when it might come in handy.
The lancha drifted faster than the dinghy so we would eventually catch up with lonely Ricardo in his tiny craft. Because our luck was ill we five times reloaded the dinghy and sped off to other locations, with similar results. Every fishing boat I have ever worked on (this is the sixth) has had poor luck. We needed to be fishing over rocky terrain which is patchy here; when I dived to the bottom with the headcam on I found sand. Jose says the pulpo migrate and can be found sometimes over sand in groups, then you are really “in them” and can make “billete“, bills. The water was cloudy and we could not see deep enough to know sand from rocks and the people do not have GPS’s nor were we close enough to shore to use landmarks so it was random, until that is as the day wore on and the other lanchas started to gather in groups, these in places where people were having enough luck not to move on. So we joined a group but it did not seem to help. Our catch, dumped into a sack which their suckers cannot grip, squirmed around and made gasping noises and died slowly in a soup of their own ink. I did not feel good about this but it made little difference whether I was there or not. Jose, good company, has been fishing all his life and can handle the work alone with his eyes closed. He was amazingly skilled at handling the lines without entangling them.
At one point we were swarmed by bees which Joselito had warned me about a week ago. We were at least three miles out to sea at the time. No, don’t ask me to explain the mind of a bee.
FIshing is more complex than it seems. In this case the poles must be cut and delivered, stripped, eyed, lined and fixed to the boats. Much string, weights, and a permit are needed. Jaiba must be obtained requiring a completely separate process and in turn different bait. The 75hp Yamaha outboard needs maintenance and for the day, 30 litres of gasoline mixed with oil. Ice is carried to cool the catch in a big insulated box when the sack overflows. This day in nine hours we caught maybe 70 small octopuses/octopi (both are correct) weighing around 35 kilos total. At 30 pesos per kilo, that’s around 1000 pesos or 85 bucks. take out the gasoline and spare parts, then give half to Andres who owns the lancha but no longer fishes. It does not leave much for Jose and Ricardo. But they may have better luck tomorrow. Octopus season lasts four months.
I learned something not related to octopi. A rainstorm, not quite a thunderstorm, came out over the sea and loomed a mile away. To avoid it, Jose did something I never would have thought of. He headed stright for it! By the time he got there it was somewhere else! (ok we did get a little bit rained on) This tactic probably works at least three times out of four.
I hope to raft Desesperado out of the lagoon tomorrow at dawn. We have daily northeasterlies ( I am heading northeast and therefore must tack) and thunderstorms so progress towards the nest town Champoton is likely to be slow. I will post an update when I can.