info (at) xiphias.it
Round the World 2005
Italy - Novembre first, 2004
Round the world underwater spearfishing trip!
I still can't believe I have, maturing it over the years, with a snail-slow approach, reached, even if not yet taken-taken, this fantastic decision!
I'm actually still hesitating about when. I have two different options. One at the end of this month, one in January of next year.
It looks like the odds are shifting towards the second ...
Italy - January 15, 2005
Today I submitted the application to my principal, asking, indeed, communicating, that I intend to avail myself of my right to earn not even a dime for the next x months but to be free to roam the world and the Oceans that the Great God Poseidon has spread out on this planet.
It seems that the news did not go down so painlessly. Let's hope that someone won't find some quirky quibble to stop me.
The communication is that I intend to be released from work commitments from Friday 21 January.
Italy - January 20, 2005
Today is the last day of work. Colleagues are divided between ecstatic and envious. The ecstatic are wonderful , the envious, reading them with a bit of malice, even more...
Moving, in the sense that I too was moved, the greetings of my students . Despite abandoning them before the exam. They gave me the party, they bought me a gift, they wrote me a BEAUTIFUL note, they filled me with confetti, they hugged me tightly and cried on my shoulder, they wanted as a souvenir the pens I used to write every day, there in front of them. Finally, they gave me THEIR pens in return as a memory. As if you could forget! Hello girls and boys, you will be a beautiful memory on this journey but above all beyond. Those pens are ALREADY in my luggage and I will carry them as a good luck charm for the whole trip.
Italy - January 21, 2005
Loooong session at the travel agency. To "squeeze" the Round the World ticket to the maximum, try to stay within the same airline pool. The pivotal point of the trip seemed to be the direct flight Los Angeles - Tonga, of Air New Zealand, for which we selected the Star Alliance, of which Air New Zealand is part.
I will discount it anyway because, if the departure is quite normal, with a Milan - Caracas flight with a stop in Frankfurt, then things get damn complicated. In the words of Kipling in Captains Courage, "it would break a snake's back to follow his wake".
For example, from Caracas to Los Angeles, among several options, the most "normal" one was Caracas - Toronto - Los Angeles. Night in Los Angeles, day after Los Angeles - Tonga.
But it's NOT over, then from Tonga to Fiji a bounce is more or less a must in New Zealand, in Aukland ...
Why is this madness? Because with Round the World ticket you have 64 kg of baggage allowance included in the ticket. Absolutely essential to carry all the equipment for the trip itself. Mind you, almost exclusively technical equipment: clothes, apart from the old sailing wax, are not talked about if not smear
The moment you step out of the Star Alliance pool, AND YOU HAVE HEAVY BAGS, overweight kills you . The very kind employee kept shooting me prices like 27.5 euros for every kilo of weight over twenty. With the risk, more often than not, with an optimistic estimate for my luggage of ONLY 10 kg more than the permitted weight (still to be verified), of paying for the luggage two or three times the price of the ticket .
Italy - January 22, 2005
Luggage, luggage luggage, computer computer computer. Things to tidy up, equipment to select, email storms.
Just yesterday evening, directly from the president, Terry Maas, the wonderful news that I have finally become a Governing Member for Italy of the IBSRC, ( International Bluewater Spearfishing Records Committee ), the international committee that gathers the most exclusive spearfishermen, those of the Blue.
I want to interpret it as a sparkling omen.
Caraballeda - Febbraio 2005
Venezuela, February 1th, 2005 - Caraballeda
First days in the Caribbean Sea. Not much fish till now. I have the distinct impression that, lacking aggregation points, the ocean floor is too deep, that, using the flashers, I only scratch the ceiling of a huge ballroom, almost totally ignored from the inhabitants, roaming at their leisure all around it.
And the big fish is here! I've seen a giant swordfish of more that the hundredth kilo mark taken by the boat fishing offshore near us, a couple of tunas for two hundred kilos taken by that other boat moored at our left. A beautiful Marlin jumping around our boat.
BUT, the moment I dive, all seems to evaporate. I tried also the big-game lures, trolled behind the boat, but all I gained from this is a fun tan with the shadows of the hood and the mask. The only big fish I've really seen underwater is a big yellowfin tuna but, I’m sure, only because it was under, and associated with, the school of dolphins all caroling around us at that moment. I hope to tell more happy stories in the (near) future
Venezuela - February 5th, 2005 - Caraballeda
Near the end of the stay here in North Venezuela. Not a wonderful time, to say all the truth. Virtually every day we searched the depths of the Ocean searching for the elusive BIG CATCH but it was, as said, it remained elusive. We tried the Banks with a bottom of “only” 50 fathoms (from the Admiralty nautical charts, around 90 m) but with every probability it was too deep for the flashers to work properly. We tried the currents crossroad, where two waters of different temperature and consequent density meets. We tried every floating object bigger than a tree branch. TO NO AVAIL.
So, I changed technique and tried instead the big-game lures, trolled behind the boat. Hours under the Caribbean sun, with a full wetsuit on (probably, really, a mistake), with the big tuna gun loaded, the fins at my feet, ready to dive if something happened. Looking with a hawk eye at the lures. The only respite was the mask, not directly on. Loads of water poured down the wetsuit, studying the best next moves when (if) the Big Fish struck. Hoping, always hoping. TO NO AVAIL.
But the worst was at the end of a weary day, when we rolled up the lures line and... there it was! The deep scratches on the new nylon line, undoubtedly the mark of a billfish trying to catch his "prey". And nobody onboard, three persons looking, we believed, with avid eyes every twitch of the lures, saw ANYTHING! Oh, we saw interesting things. Curious dolphins, both Tursiops and Stenella, some little dorados, a curious, single, Hammerhead. Some unknown, BIG, shapes jumping and splashing on the Ocean surface...
Yesterday we went even, for the second time, to the Centinel, a rock 45 nautical miles from Caraballeda. It should have been, on the paper, one of the most exclusive places to dive but in reality it was the most heavily fished place I've seen here in my stay in Venezuela. It's relatively near another harbor so it's not difficult for a dedicated spearfisher, try the Ocean and reach this place. The Blue water fish "expected" there should have been wahoos (petos, here in Venezuela) and, sometimes, even sailfish.
And, TOTALLY INEXPECTED was the fact the flashers here are NOT working. With them I've seen a scant and disinterested fish in a couple of hours. When I discarded them, on the sharp suggestion of our host, Ricardo Bisdikian, and started using the sardines, both to throw away on the surface and looking them dropping to the bottom or to crush in your fist, THEN, the wahoos started to appear! I'm happy to say that my cousin Michele so took his very first blue water fish and his very first Peto
Venezuela - February 6th, 2005 - Caraballeda
Tomorrow, early in the morning, I leave Venezuela.
I want to thank here Ricardo Bisdikian, Venezuelan Spearfishing Champion, for his kindness and for all his support. His was the boat used for all this trip.
My next destination is Tonga, South Pacific, with a complicated trip. First Caracas to Toronto (Canada). Then, after some hours, Toronto - Los Angeles. I already booked the hotel there. Next morning a little shopping for (I hope) the connection cable between my GPS and the laptop I forgot at home. So, I SHOULD be able to show the trips I've made here in the Caribbean Sea and, hopefully, those I'll make in the Pacific Islands (capitals are mandatory!).
Then, a flight from Los Angeles to Tonga, the longest of all (on the paper). Start evening of the 8th, arrival very early of the 10th of February! You know, the date changing line stuff.
See you, hopefully, from Tonga!
Kingdom of Tonga
Tonga - February 11, 2005 - Atata'
First of all, a surprise gift for my pupils, at home.
I'm sure you did NOT believe that your parting gifts would travel half the World around to be photographed at dawn in a lovely Tongan beach
Now I'm waiting for a couple of friends that should arrive tomorrow. With them we should be able to take the boat and go spearfishing. Hoping to find some beautiful fish! The only diver is Massimo Scalambretti, an old hand of Pacific trips and tropical seas.
In the meantime, I'm lazily recovering from the Caracas-Toronto-Los Angeles-Tonga trip.
I'm now at Royal Sunset Resort, in the Atatà island.
And here is my home, hopefully, for the next month, a Tongan Fale (hut).
I took the picture with my feet INTO the Pacific..
Tonga - February 14, 2005 - Atata'
Not VERY good news. We're in the queue of a couple of tropical hurricanes, Olaf and Nancy. They’re north and north-east of us, luckily moving away from us, but at a sluggishly 3 knots, even if the winds inside them are fierce, around 100 knots, more or less 180 km/h. The baric gradients are anyway steep so here we have harsh winds and some fast squalls of rain.
A couple of nights ago the wind was blowing and howling so hard that the palm tree leaves were almost all horizontals.
So, we decided for a tour of the island itself. One day running around Tongatapu with our wonderful guide, Paea Tohi of Supa Tours (See the Kingdom… Where Time Begins).
Gorgeous sightseeing, interesting big and little things of the Kingdom, ancient and modern traditions of the Tongan people itself.
Not diving time but BEAUTIFUL
Tonga - February 15, 2005 - Atata'
STILL blustery days. Rain squalls, very fast but with fierce winds, every day.
Anyway, we managed to dive almost every day. And, of course, I keep track of EVERY dive we made: all are registered on the GPS and later stored in the computer. So here there’s yesterday dive.
In bright red the Atata’ island where we are, in green the reefs we dived upon, in blue the GPS track made by the boat.
We’re still at an explorations stage so I inserted in my GPS all the reefs that on the sea map were charted with a steep drop-off and we’re steadily checking them all out. In the easternmost of them we managed to see a decent sized dogtooth tuna (Gimnosarda unicolor).
Hopefully more bright, and sunny!, news in the future.
Tonga - February 16, 2005 - Atata'
Today I’ve been attacked by a shark. A sharp, clean attack. Just after jumping in the water, the gun obviously still unloaded, there was already a shark in midwater. Not even the time to think about what kind of shark it was and it was already accelerating with decision towards me. Without even slowing down, with the tail slapping the water, it arrived at three-four meters from me. I had the time only to point the gun in his direction that it swerved away and disappeared, sinking towards the bottom.
With every probability a territory defense attack. Even if I did not observe those well-known revealing signs, the pectoral fins down, the back hunched and so on. Boh?!
The day was born with squalls every hour or something along that line, rains and harsh winds starting from the night.
Taking a boat was a problem because of the necessity by the staff to use all the available engines to tow an old boat for reshaping her engines.
Eventually, we found a boat, a driver and here we go. One hour and a half of banging our ass in an old flat-bottomed boat and then in the water for the shark attack. After that some uneventful hour of drifting till we lift our head from the water to see a disappeared world, a viso reduced to about fifty meters, the rain pounding hard on our back and filling with that sudden not-salted flavour our snorkels, the wind howling ferociously, the Ocean surface flattened. Our driver asked to go home so we picked up all our gear and returned home with a GPS suggested route. Only suggested because of the complexity of the reefs blocking a straight-line route. Under another still squall.
Tonga - February 18, 2005 - Atata'
Unfortunately, there are no good news. Here in Tonga tropical hurricane Olaf is just now leaving the outskirts of the archipelago, leaving behind strong winds and very poor visibility in the water due to the big swells.
We dived even today, tricked by the sunny day and the somewhat reduced wind but it was a bad decision. A couple of disinterested small Dogtooth Tuna in dirty water, a couple of beautiful Greenjob Fish near the coral drop-off was all.
The only charming thing, a huge school of surgeon fish, deep brown and silver, perhaps each forty centimeters long, that started swallowing me up. Each fish nose to tail with others in the school, each curious, eyeing me through the lens of the mask, each searching eye contact. I’m enchanted and so I play the familiar game of being part of the school itself, they turn you turn, they dive you dive. And so they arrive truly near, twenty centimeters from you. You can see the scales on their little sides flexing when they accelerate, when the tail slaps the water an insignificant amount faster. A genuine I-belong dive amid them. Beautiful
I'm planning, if the weather keeps good and, above all, if the wind slows FINALLY down, a long trip (30 nautical miles) to an active volcano island north-north west of Tongatapu.
Not anyway till Monday because here the deep religiosity of the Tongans suggests them not to work on Sundays.
Massimo just now returned from an afternoon try at shallow waters fish with some nice catch. This evening we’ll have FISH
Tonga - February 21, 2005 - Atata'
Still, still, still, storms, rains, harsh winds. The Ocean surface almost white, whipped up like whipped cream from the continuous winds.
Tonga - February 22, 2005 - Atata'
This evening arrived the fateful news that Massimo has to leave. By a mixture of lies, words told but never kept and sheer bullying his bosses reduced his vacations time from one month, as it was always been, by half. A last desperate try was meet with scorn. So tomorrow, Massimo Scalambretti, by now fast friend, has to return home.
A REAL, REAL pity. We had already planned a side trip to Vava’u, one of the northernmost island of the archipelago...
The only, meagre, satisfaction today has been a night dive. I accompanied a couple of guests of the resort. They were scuba diving in shallow waters (15 m) watching soft corals and drowsy fish. I was dancing around them in my apnea-diving liberty, with long fins and no-weight freedom
Tonga - February 23, 2005 - Atata'
Last day in the Ocean for this Tongan trip for Massimo.
We discovered just yesterday, reading a guide and then a magazine, the existence of a FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) in Tongatapu waters. No one before told us about it. So today we tried.
Waters, finally, of incredible clarity: 30 meters from me Massimo was waiting, clutching the chain of the FAD and it was crystal clear from the fifteen meters dive I was intent to.
Massimo there, with a little gun, speared a beautiful Mahi-mahi, local name for the dolphin fish (Coryphaena hippurus).
We moved aftar that on the Duff Reef and there I've seen a good-sized, but totally disinterested, wahoo.
Tomorrow I leave for the North, the island of Vava'u.
Tonga - February 25, 2005 - Vava'u
First day in Vava’u, one of the northernmost islands of the Tongan archipelago. The plane, contemplating it in the turf, is a monument to human hopefulness and faith in its mechanical abilities. It’s an OLD (1943!!!) Douglas DC 3, that is older than me and probably it was also part of the Pacific WWII.
The fly itself was uneventful, IF NOT for the panorama below us! It was what around the world people visualizes when thinking about South Pacific. Little coral islands of all the conceivable shades between pale turquoise to indigo blue.
At the airport a fast connection the my accommodation, Adventure Backpackers Lodge. Immediately, as always both sufferance and hope mingling together, in the harbour a massive Blue Marlin of about 180 kg!
Sufferance because that magnificent fish was not mine, hope because there IS this kind of fish, here in Vava’u.
Tonga - February 26, 2005 - Vava'u
I can’t just today book the boat to go out spearfishing because there has been a tournament and the boat it’s not free. I’ll dive tomorrow.
Today instead I rented for half a day a taxi and I roamed the island.
Incredible sightseeing! The island is utterly different from Tongatapu. Here they have serious hills, even if they call them mounts, of more that 100 m. The landscape from the Mt. Talau top (131m) for example is simply breathtaking.
And around the island the flowers are of a fierce, wild beauty.
The challenge now will be to identify each species!
Tonga - 27 February, 2005 - Vava'u
Today is the day!
I’ve booked the 27 foot Target One owned by Henk Gros, owner also, with Sandra, of the Backpacker Lodge. I've to thank them here for their kindness and professionality.
I’m the first wild Blue Water Spearfisher Henk has seen so some introduction of the fishing technique itself and of the IBSRC association with which I’ll like to claim a potential record is in order.
After that we leave. The plan is to go out in the west side of the island, under the high cliffs, so to be out of the harsh winds that even today are blowing. There, where the current and the wind create a sort of funnel between the rocks, it’s altogether possible, even if not perhaps probable in this season, to find a Marlin lurking in the deep waters waiting for some fish.
The trip out of the harbour is long, almost one hour, but finally here we are. I’m eager to be in the water. The blue marlin seen a couple of days before is itching in the back of my mind.
In the water finally. Totally, completely alone with the Deep Blue .
As always, the foremost thought is oneness with the water, dissolving in it any thought. I dive repeatedly, slowly.
I’ve really not a clear idea of how much the water is clean. Without bottom under me it’s always difficult to say. But I keep up the concentration. Every dive I keep slowly forming in my mind an image of the marlin coalescing from just what is all around: water. And I’m in peace. All the bustle to be here, the hope for the fish, the obsessive check of all the gear to be up to the challenge, all, are surface worries, lost there. Here, in the blue, there’s no space for them, only the slow thump of my heart and the endless underwater glide.
The trouble is that sometimes I have to go back to the surface to breath. And there I found the wind, the agitated surface, and the harsh sounds of all of this. And, almost disappointing, Henk telling me to move because the birds were not anymore above my head.
And so I wander on the Ocean surface, sometimes above it, in the boat, following those hints of the fish presence the surface itself give away, sometimes, for blessed minutes, under it.
To no avail. No marlin ever appeared to match my image of it underwater.
As a last try I made three drift around one of the FAD, but there were only mahi-mahi (dolphin fish), a couple of bulls of relatively good size, around 15 kilos. I was not interested. I didn’t need a kill there and then. And so the day finished. There’re still Blue Marlin in Vava’u to take.
Vava’u west coast FAD approx position, with a southeast wind: 18 deg 33.6 min South – 174 deg 3.9 min West.
Tonga - March 1, 2005 - Vava'u
Two days cycling around the island, with a camera on my back, the old faithful GPS recording every turn I took (and also, unobtrusively, every position of every picture I took!) and bringing me home even out of the thickest bushes, a plastic bag to put the camera inside for the frequent, hot, showers from the sky.
My aim? Flowers!
Tonga - March 2, 2005 - Vava'u
Last day in Vava’u, wonderful island.
The fly is six hours late and so in Lupepau'u, the Vava’u International Airport, under a wild rain, I’m just now updating my site.
Yesterday night, dinner at Ciao Italian Restaurant, just under the magnificent St. Joseph’s Cathedral, very good pizza and pasta restaurant, owned by Franco, kind and well travelled, originally from Tuscany.
Tonga - March 6, 2005 - Atata'
Back to Royal Sunset Resort, in Atatà island.
Feel free NOT to believe it, but there’s around here another Cyclone. The FOURTH (!!!) after my arrival.
Yesterday we tried for some windsurf pictures in a almost-never-surfed reef but we had to flee because of the harsh rains and the buffeting wind.
And, from that time, it rained almost without interruption for eighteen hours!
A tropical downpour, with big fat drops hurtling down from the sky to pierce the ocean surface.
This night I had to lower and tie in position the wooden shutters, big like tables, so to prevent the rain to reach my bed. In the bathroom some leaks dripped almost musically and continuously directly inside the water closet.
Only this morning, at dawn, a bruised sun revealed between and behind huge grey clouds.
Almost final considerations after a month in Tonga.
February it’s NOT the best month to come here, if you’re not interested in wind sports, like windsurf. In a full month I’ve seen only a couple of days without wind.
For spearfishing, the southern island of Tongatapu has almost no organization for helping you take big blue water fish.
For this, the best place to try is in Vava’u, where there’re plenty of boats and skilful captains to help you.
In any case, again, February is not the right month. The best months for big fish are July, August and, better still, September and October.
The news that Blue Water fish can be tackled already have been spread there, by me and by some few guys just before me, so the road is now open.
A last word on my next leg.
I’ll leave for Fiji tomorrow in the afternoon (the check-in is at midnight and the fly departs at two o’clock in the morning!). I do NOT know if I’ll be able there to keep so a rapid-pace update of my site. The crushing news are that just yesterday went broken my brand new Iridium Cellular phone.
So I lost my personal, independent and dearly paid for connection to the Internet.
From now on I’ll be reduced, like all common mortals, to the presence of Internet Points along the road.
So it’ll be OK for the emails. For the update of the site, instead, I’ll have to find one of those can let me insert a CD or a USB pen with the pictures in their precious computers. Not so common, alas…
Ah, anyone out there, interested in a beautiful book on gorgeous Tongan flowers?