Princess Alice Bank
news about this Bank I had in the far away ’97 in a French magazine. In it
there were pictures of an Amberjack to have fit about and the story of a Bank in
the open Atlantic Ocean from which jumped sharks, tunas, Wahoos and a lot of
Amberjacks of different species.
on a sea map the Princess Alice Bank is a truly Dream Spot. It’s 50 nm SW from
the Central Group in the Azores, almost mid space between Europe and America. It
comes to –30 m from deep abysses all around: 1 nautical mile from the Bank and
the bottom is already 500 m deep; not even 3 miles and the depth has reached
1000 m, 5 nm and is 2500 m! Whales and deep diving Sperm Whales are common in
the zone. A place that simply HAS to be frequented by every kind of fish…
in ’98 Paulo Gaspar took “in the Azores” his World Record Yellowfin Tuna.
year 2000, let it be Azores, then!
trip however was a complete, total, dark failure. Horrible weather, a full July
of gales, dirty and very cold water (15 degrees!). The old fishermen were
appalled like us; they did not remember a month like that in all their lives. It
was only possible to dream about the Bank.
summer 2001, Azores again! Weather definitely better. Clear waters, a good 22-23
degrees the water temperature, our contact there, Victor, with a brand new 8
meters Faeton Moraga with diesel engine, a boat to dare the Ocean: Princess
Alice Bank, we’re arriving!
Day finally is upon us. We’ll be three spearfishers on board, my old pal of
many adventures around the world, Francesco (Checco for all), a Portuguese
friend, Fernando, good diver and me. First day trip, 20 nm, from S. Jorge, the
island were we stay, to Faial, the island nearest to the Bank. Uneventful
journey, except a not so close encounter with wary Risso's dolphins (Grampus
griseus). We sleep at the picturesque Horta harbour with its lot of
trans-oceanic sailboats and their sometime unusual crews. That is, we TRY to
sleep because, unmistakable fact, the wind is blowing. Obviously the weather
forecast had predicted flat sea!
day, August first, at 5.30 a.m. we more or less wake up in the fathomless night.
Victor, at the helm, is lighted only by the electronic glow from the instruments.
Out of the harbour the wind is strong, and from the nothing before our prow a
restless sequence of breakers hurl themselves against us. The boat groans and
creaks at every blow. We have a 50 miles trip of that in front of us: will
Victor decide to go back? If the weather is so settled at 6’o clock a.m. what
will it be at 9’o clock?
the dawn lights a grey and restless Ocean. But, even if more slowly, the GPS
writes lowering miles to the Bank. So Victor has decided to reach our
destination. Really, really we’re going to the Princess Alice Bank! After
years of dreams and one full year waiting for it! I take shelter in yoga and
wait, suspended in the rhythmic respiration…
highest point of the Bank is at –30m. We arrive there, dutifully guided by
Victor’s cartographic GPS, full equipped. My high hope for monster fish has
forced me to use the Steve Alexander tuna gun with 30 m bungee and high-density
foam float. Checco has a powerful air gun with a 10 m bungee and 20 m floating
line connected to a couple of Rob Allen round floats. He sports our latest gear
improvement: a beautiful slip tip for the air gun. It’ll work more than nicely.
is the only one with a reel. He has build himself an excellent European style
gun with 2 rubber bands and almost 100 m of very thin Kevlar line on the reel.
This however will later demonstrate a mistake.
the water! Not even over with the loading of the bands and already there’s
fish: three little Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) six-seven kg arrive investigating the
invasion. I can’t shoot yet and so they quickly fade away. Good, there’s
life around after all!
start with my routine of diving around 10-15 m, waiting as long as I can, the
gun ready. Soon I realize the water is not really clean. Even from my hunting
position I can’t see the bottom so at best there’s not more than 15 m of
viso. Some dives later a big dark shape appears. Then another and another one.
After a short moment of doubt I recognize them as Mantas but not “classic”
black-and-white tropical Mantas (Manta birostris) we are used to but
Atlantic Mantas (Mobula mobular). They seem to share the dull colouring
of these waters: dark green above and dirt white underneath. They fly around me
for a short while then slowly disappear in the blue-green of the Ocean.
other fish around…
has vanished. As a rule we fish together but this time I lost him almost
immediately. I hope that things are better with him but I never heard the sharp
noise of his hyper charged air gun so I reckon that he never fired too.
dives with nothing to disturb the colours of the Ocean then the boat suddenly
comes to take me, Checco already onboard. Victor tells us that he has anchored a
float on the top of the Bank and that the sounder is signalling fish only around
There we go. With a fixed point to refer to we suddenly realize that the current
is strong. We cannot, with floats and bungees, swim against it so we start
fishing with the current, three dives, and then we take the boat to go
some trace of life really exists. A huge school of barracudas, with some massive
specimen on the bottom, comes near but I’m not even thinking about shooting
one, even the big ones. Because… where are the Tunas? And the large Wahoos
that last year have been seen here? I start worrying about an empty bag. Here,
of all places!
in the meantime fully exploits his light gear and dives very deep. He shows me
his depth-meter: -28 m and there finally he discovers the Amberjacks. A full
school of them. With my tuna-gun I’m not able to keep with his unhindered
strong swimming and slowly I’m being swept away. I see him rise the fins to
the sky and dive. I start swimming toward him, perhaps he’ll need assistance,
it’s a deep dive. After a short time I see something dark and then, below it,
a white sparkle. It’s Fernando and he has caught something! I swim faster but
suddenly I realize that something’s wrong. He’s surfacing way too slowly and
now he’s starting to use his other hand to try to swim faster. I see now what
the problem is: the reel is jammed and the fish, a beautiful Amberjack, is still
swimming toward the bottom, keeping down the spearfisher. I’m almost on him
but behind his shoulders and he can’t see me. His movements are now jerky and
he’s still too deep. Now I’m worried. I dive, extend my arm, I’m a hand
span from him when he suddenly open his hand, let slip gun and fish, and dart to
the surface. I follow him there; he breathes a huge gulp of air with an
inarticulate bellow. He’s not in the best of shape but he’s now breathing
hard but regularly and so I can think again about the Amberjack. Too late!
She’s now a little white glimmer down below. Lost. A real pity.
in the meantime keeps regularly to fish with the current and to use the boat to
be lifted up-current by a rope tied after it. In one of the round however Victor
shouts: Fish on the sounder at –25m. Checco, very fast, gulps down a huge
mouthful of air and dives. We see the red floats slip to the surface approaching
to the point of his immersion… slow down… we’re holding our breath as well…
and Checco resurfaces with a big shout: caught! Then he grasps the float line
and is promptly swept away by the unseen fish. The speed is so high that white
foam rises all around his body. But he manages to tie his gun to the last float
so to have both hands free to work the fish. To the anxious questions raining on
him he’s only able to confirm that’s an Almaco Jack (Seriola rivoliana)
and that the shot is a good one, then he’s been again carried away.
but surely Checco reaches the 10 m bungee, and starts working from there the
fish. Generally a good signal: the fish is being pulled to the surface. A lot of
line and bungee is floating around him when suddenly dives: he’s going to
catch the fish a couple of meters below the surface to shorten the time of the
fight and to avoid the usual mess of splashes and savages tail strokes on the
surface still trying to take a firm hold on the fish. He re-emerges, an able
swift knife stroke and the Amberjack stills.
we can approach and admire the fish. She’s a beautiful, even if not huge,
Almaco Jack of about 30 kg. Checco is positively beaming.
tell the truthful truth I should report now that some time afterwards a tiny dot
on the horizon revealed itself as a big boat, surely from Horta, that dropped
anchor, of all the huge, open space in the Ocean, at a spit distance form
Victor’s boat. And promptly vomited some ten Bubblers to whiten the Ocean
this is, sadly, all the story. The huge Igloo tank full of ice that in our wild
dreams had to be filled till the brim was too little for the Almaco Jack that
had to lie on the deck covered by wet sackcloths, and so remained absolutely,
totally, desolately empty…
On the Azores in general: in the islands you fish well, Almaco Jacks till 15-20
kg are relatively common. A lot of barracudas and Atlantic Bonito everywhere,
even in shallow water. There are Bluefish also, even if not so easy to catch.
Some are really huge.
Alice’s trip: on the gear’s side, the new slip-tip we made for the air gun
worked very well indeed: both the holes, in and out, are clean ones, without any
sign of the lacerations always to be seen in fish that fight so hard. A success.
the fish, was perhaps the choppy weather disturbing and keeping them in lower
layers? Was really true that an almost full moon could perturb them? We do not
It’s certain however that not a single Tuna was seen in the whole day. The biggest Wahoo was a beautiful but wary 20 kg specimen too far away even for my long reaching tuna gun. I never pulled the trigger in the whole day. I knew it was a daring decision to use the tuna gun but I REALLY hoped in Big Blue Water fish moving around. Even when nothing was showing up I kept expecting a school of something spectacular at any moment. Madly optimistic or in the true spirit of Blue Water Hunting?
Riccardo A. Andreoli