Words by: Ryan
Lat: 17 degrees 20 min S
Long: 075 degrees 25 min E
The sight of slivery clouds of flying fish bursting from the crest of ocean rollers and skitting along the surface is a sight familiar to every open ocean sailor. These unlikely flights are executed with varying degrees of success, some launching completely clear of the ocean, from the top of the wave crest, into the wind and gaining significant altitude and distance (sometimes as much as 100m); others time it poorly, launching downwind and from the depths of a wave trough and piling headlong into the wall of water of the next wave, clocking flight times of less than a second. Based on the fish size to flight length ratio, it is definitely some that can be learned it seems! Larger fish have much better launch timing, the smaller ones are invariably the ones that either launch straight up, or straight into a wall of water. One can just imagine their adolescent glee of finally clearing the water, letting out a whoop of triumph, only to slap straight into a vertical wave face and getting a large mouthful of water! Stupid fish.
You’ll appreciate my disgruntlement in a second…
The other thing about flying fish is that they stink. Imagine the worst fishy smell you can, double it, add a massive dose of smell tenacity and you have what will be on your hands if you touch a flying fish. One thing I am sure a flying fish does not count on during its flights is the possibility of a sailboat being directly in its flight path. And one thing the crew aboard that sailboat does not count on is being in the flight path of a stinky, fishy, high velocity, airborne projectile! On contact, the scales seem to smear off their bodies onto the deck, your clothing, the cushions etc, leaving a stinky blue fishy smear. The fish will then proceed to flap around, spreading its fishy goodness on anything it touches. Cardinal rule – DO NOT attempt to catch it with you hands, as they are slippery and wriggly as nothing else, and you’ll end up with blue stinky fishy coating on your hands and probably face and arms too. Recommended tactics are to use a Frisbee (always in the side pouch in the cockpit), the winch handle or Bryson or Hugh’s coffee mug to get it back into the ocean.
Needless to say, unexpected flying fish collisions are a source of unending amusement aboard s/v Khulula. Up until last week, there had been three memorable ones:
1) Bryson was sitting in the cockpit, recently showered (a slippery and delicate procedure in itself – think canting and lurching deck, slippery soap and soap in the eyes), all toweled off, with a clean shirt, sipping a beer and marveling at the beauty of the sunset… when WHAM a flying fish comes over the rail like a kamikaze pilot from the kingdom of stinkdom and smacks him square in the chest! Wow, it was funny! I almost peed my pants.
2) I was on deck in the middle of a squall, in the middle of the night. We were reducing sail, and flapping away trying to get things under control. Brys was in the cockpit controlling sheets and lines, while I was moving tracks and travelers on the foredeck. Things were tense, and we were on the verge of having minor humor failures. I was getting whipped in the face by the headsail sheet (the rope that controls the foresail) and pelted with rain when WHAM, I get a stink missile right in the ear. Brys heard my yelp of surprise, and collapsed in a hysterical heap in the cockpit when I told him. I took a little longer to see the humor in it.
3) Hugh was sublimely sipping tea on his midnight to 3am night shift, gazing at the stars and contemplating life when all of a sudden there was a foreign wriggling in his crotch… what the? His newest little blue stinky friend was doing his best to coat the his entire lap with his blue stinky goodness. Brys and I missed this one, but we sure did smell it…
The south Indian Ocean has more than it’s fair share of flying fish. Often a school of 100 plus will burst forth from the ocean and wing away into the distance. The sound of a school of these hitting the side of the boat is like a machine gun going off, THUD THUD THUD THUD…, and will cause the cockpit occupants to dive for cover. Each dawn brings a morbid scene (for flying fish) with the windward rail being covered with the small carcasses of nocturnal sacrifices.
Through all this, collisions have been few and far between… except, for me. I have no idea why, or what has given me such good timing, but in a 40 hour period I got nailed no less than four times! First time was in the dead of night, sitting in a pretty exposed part of the cockpit, I took one right in the crook of the armpit. I moved locations, to a totally protect spot, away from the windward rail. 20 minutes later I get hit again, and from a VERY unlikely direction and through a hole in the splash cover not 4cm in diameter! The next morning I was happily drinking tea watching the sun rise when WHAM, one hits me right in the neck. Grrrr @#!@$# !!
Now I am really not amused. I have already gone through two shirts. Two hours later I am off shift and decide to head for a nap, get into my PJ’s and move thankfully toward my bed, when I spot the final straw…: Against all odds, one of the little blue $(#!’s has landed on my bed, leaving a wriggling blue trail of scales and stink all over my sheets and pillow. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Closer inspection of the tell tale scaly blue marks revealed his entry point: He launched 10 ft out of the water, hit the mainsail, fell straight downwards, through he hatch, and as the boat rolled my bed rolled beneath him and he fell onto a nice warm, dry and fleecy heaven. Grrr….
Needless to say, the bed has been stripped, the shirts and sheets quarantined until the Mauritian Laundromat, new sheets laid and humor returned! All this occurred about three days ago and thankfully, the fishy bombardment appears to have ceased.