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Freediving N.36 - Jan / Mar 2004

In English.

Published on International Freediver and Spearfishing News, n. 36, Jan / Mar 2004, pg. 20-21.      

My first ever cover!

Cape Verde: the South Islands


This year the usual summer expedition was again in Cape Verde islands, 600 km west of Senegal, on the Atlantic Ocean. We were there last year for a short time, just to taste and try the place. Beautiful wahoos, not huge ones, maximum 25 kilos of handsome streamlined body.

This time our target are the Islands of the South, Fogo and Brava, where we were told there are huge Almaco Jacks, massive wahoos and a fabled “baixo”, a bank, far away, known only by the anglers where they took giant marlins but never ever fished by a spearfisher. High hopes.

Three days of travel from Italy, because Brava, the last island, has not an airport and can be reached only by a ferry. And this ferry timetable seems to be a well guarded secret because when I asked about it to an “official” character he told me, laughing as in a joke, that the only way I could be sure of the timetable was… being there! OK, Africa way of life again.

Brava is surely an out-of-the-way little island. Too much in effect because, arriving, it was impossible to find a pousada, a house, even some rooms to rent in the harbour for our stay. To tell the truth we are still not Portuguese speaking people so perhaps we asked the wrong chaps. We ended on the other, far away, side of the island in a room packed full of biting mosquitoes but finally we were there.

This year I lived a revolution: I left home my life-long beloved, powerful, night-kissed air guns and took a definitive plunge in the arbalete world. The reason was my growing awareness that air guns are of course compact and powerful with their 9 mm spear but in the blue water they simply cannot reach that elusive prey five or six meter away. That is, they COULD reach it, but the charging exertion, all in a single effort, becomes way too hard. And so I’m here with a brand new, sleek, beautiful 130 cm C4 carbon monocoque. And as if I dearly hope not to lose too many fish without my old gun, I’m sure this one can really reach that elusive prey five, six etc. But what I certainly hope for is not to hurt myself (not too much, anyway), charging it!

In this land, constantly beaten by the Trade Winds, under a churning sky full of grey clouds, finding a flat ocean and a sunny day is a difficult feat to achieve. For our first fishing day in Brava therefore it’s not a surprise to find choppy waves and stiff winds just after leaving the shelter of the mountain defending this poor excuse for an harbour.

Our fisherman seems not too knowledgeable of the best spots because after some jerky time in the little wooden boat stops her just where other fishermen are. The remarkable thing is that there’s not a single protest, only polite curious stares. Well, this is new and delightful!

The water is not too clean, almost 12-15 m of viso. A lot of drifting plankton, above all fat Venus’ Girdles (Cestus veneris), so big and so elongated to repeatedly distract for its likeliness to a wahoo shape for an instant the continuous searching for a fish under us.

Finally a blue shape, fast. I dive and indifferently swim in a direction almost parallel. He nuzzles the flasher, turns in my direction, a single flip of the tail and the wahoo is here. Without looking him directly in the eyes I extend the gun and fire. Totally missed! And what about taking some kind of aim, please? Probably the excitation of the chase and surely old habits with another gun took charge. But here I cannot lose a fish in so a demented way! In any case, on the good side, the white shooting line sailed well after the fish. OK, the hoped for distance is in the gun.

We try again, patiently, but there’s not much movement. Finally, a couple of wahoos enter the arena. They arrive fast on the flasher and then seems to lose interest but they return when I reach their depth. I close my eyes, almost, because it’s right to hide our ferocious predator eyes but in blue water fishing it’s not always a good idea lose contact with the surrounding Ocean. I turn my head so to keep them on the upper corner of the mask, and wait. I’m already in the falling zone, my lungs contracted from the depth so I lose more and more floatation, but now they’re here. Now I take my time, I point the gun muzzle toward the nearest fish, thinking, this time, about what I’m doing, and squeeze gently the trigger. The spear disappears from the gun and appears for an instant in the fish side. Then wahoo and spear disappear in a cloud of bubbles.

When I resurface the red float is already vertical and streaming away in a double foam wake. It’s combat time now. I tie the gun to the clip connected to the float so to have free hands and try to haul the orange line from the depth. Good news, the fish is there and I feel him struggling and bumping against the bungee. Bad news, the fish is somewhat smaller of what I was hoping for (pssst, people, there’s someone, somewhere, feeling differently every time fights a fish?) so I can pull him almost easily.

In a short time I have my wahoo in my hands: I swiftly dispatch him and give him to the fisherman. Alas, this was the only wahoo in that long day. A couple of them showed themselves in the grey-blue under our fins but they disappeared fast in the abyss.

In that obscuring mist of a language not understood the fisherman seems to say that, far away, in the south-east of the island, there’s a “baixo demais grande”, a bigger bank, with more fish.

Ok, this is another day, here we are in that other “baixo”. As yesterday our fisherman seems not so familiar with fishing grounds because, again, he seems only to search and find the nearest anchored fishermen to drop us just there. But, again, unbelievably, only white smiles and detached interest.

In the water, hoping today for a better catch in a much cleaner water. However, not a single fish shows his beauty apart little trevallies and a visiting languidly soaring Mobula. Today we voice our protests and meekly our (now we have really doubts) “fisherman” approach the thinnest of fishermen and, in a storm of reciprocal milling of arms, seems to receive directions for another “baixo”.

There’s this to say in blue water fishing, and it’s that when someone point into the water and says “here”, if you don’t have by chance a sounder up your sleeve, you have to go and hope that “here” is actually associated with a bank somewhere down. OK, we go.

Flasher in the water, a deep breath, and here I am, slowly floating down. And immediately a wahoo appears. Not even the time to stare that a meter behind his tail a shark follows. It’s not big, two meter, two meter and a half of a Carcharinus of some kind, so I ignore him and try to concentrate on the wahoo. That in the meantime promptly vanishes. Not so the shark. Here it comes, with that perfect triangular shape of the dorsal and the two pectoral fins framing the body of a shark aiming directly at you. But deeper there’s another silhouette, no, two. Other sharks, but these are strange, I do not see them clearly, the water is murky… then they come near and they’re unmistakable: two hammerheads. The wahoo is nowhere to be seen so I ascend. The Carcharinus and one of the hammerhead follow me to the surface but after a while they bother me so I charge the first one, moving deliberately a lot of water. Even if not fluent, my shark-language achieves the effect. The pressure wave is correctly interpreted as a “stay away” and the shark sinks with still fins (look, don’t dare to think I feared you!). The hammerhead is still here, nervous, but I ignore him and dive again, even now searching for my elusive wahoo. Nothing but the shark that seems to think that deeper we are more courageous he is. Shark-language again and he runs but not far away and soon stops to watch my ascent, slowly moving his head. It’s fun, he behaves exactly like a puppy following a piece of bread kept out of reach by a rising hand.

No other fish around so I call the boat to try to take a picture of this guy but, predictably, the engine noise is too much for him and he sinks.

I do not think it’s a good idea to remain in this island. Tomorrow the ferry leaves at dawn and for three, four days, who knows, it’ll not be here again. Moreover, Checco will arrive in Fogo, the nearest island, tomorrow.

Hard seas the following day while sailing there, uneventful, apart flows of vomit from capoverdian people around us, some of them reaching truly athletic heights, but fortunately all is washed by the huge waves that bathe the decks and, sometimes, ourselves.

Next day we’re fishing in Fogo. Another typical capoverdian day, low grey clouds, lot of wind.

In the meantime it’s disappeared any hope, in our remaining time, to go fishing in that fabled and far away bank, known only by the anglers… etc.

Yesterday we had a really hard day. After welcoming Checco we discovered someone that not only knows very well that bank but took there by line twenty days before a HUGE marlin of 600 kilos. I drooled over the pictures, it was an unbelievable creature, a dinosaur of a fish. I can’t even imagine how it was to see him underwater.

The bad, truly bad, news were that the weather, the winds, the moon phases and I don’t know what else, perhaps even solar flares, were against us. It was impossible to go there before at least ten days. Not to say about the huge price he charged for the big boat.

And so here we are, in a windy and choppy morning in a possible beautiful place but always with fresh in mind that galling thought: we could be there instead of here. However, with that almost mind-blowing optimism of (almost) all blue water spearfisher, not before long we all fish with concentration even if not with peace.

We have a new guide, Ghighinho, that they told us is the best spearfisher in Fogo. He boasts huge fish, both underwater and by line. He seems to know almost every bank, rocks and boulder underwater, he has his personal sounder in the boat and soon firmly takes charge of our diving for the day. The problem is that he knows nothing of blue water fishing so he guides us in beautiful places but certainly not for blue water fish and not really suitable for our gear with trail line and floats.

Anyway, with long, very deep glides, we manage to take bulky Enforcados (Black jack - Caranx lugubris) and some good trevally but nothing better.

This is another rock, deep in the water, with a steep incline from the top of about 15 m to more than 35 m. I swim somewhat lazily, without that sometimes ferocious concentration. A deep inspiration, the diaphragm down, one fin high to the sky, I dive. I drop slowly towards the unseen bottom, gliding easily, almost sleepily, the gun in both hands. I feel in the handle the vibrations of the bungee transmitting me, here, the little jumps and constraints of the float against the rough surface while being towed downwards. I drift smoothly, slowly, down, concentrating not to move any unnecessary muscle. Now, gradually, I can see something of the bottom, deep under me. I’m already deep and well in the falling zone but I angle my head down and try to descend faster. In the gloom I try to perceive something other than the usual little trevallies when a roaring thunder engulfs me, squeezes my heart, jolts every nerve and muscle of my body like an electric shock, rises my hair stiff against the hood.

Jumping I turn, sure to find here, almost to me, the monster fish that snapped its huge tail. Nothing. The Ocean is empty. Jerk by jerk I search again, I peer towards the luminous and far away surface but there’s nothing here. Nevertheless I’m sure, it was a fish tail. I cant’ believe it was a bomb, as I found in other places in the world. Not here. I resurface slowly, still looking around.

Checco emerges some meters away and excitedly takes out the snorkel and says: “Have you see them? Have you seen what monsters they are? Unbelievable! They are as big as trucks!”. And so I finally unravel the mystery. That explosion really was a fish tail and the guilty was the notorious African red snapper (Lutjanus agennes), strictly related to the Cuban Cubera. A giant bottom fish reaching and sometimes surpassing sixty kilos. Checco saw two of them, huge ones but distant, slowly strolling in the deepest reaches of the bank. And their tail flick was that apocalypse of sound that shocked me.

Ghighinho knows them very well but point to our guns and condemn them as “demais fracos”, too weak. I contemplate doubtful this silky concentration of power, with the double, strong, rubbers and, perhaps for the last time, I regret the 9 mm thick spears of my homebound air gun.


Riccardo A. Andreoli

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