The Boys And The Hunt
By Shangri-La - Published March 15, 2008 - Viewed 2277 times
The sun is just beginning to rise over the calm anchorage. We had an early-morning squall that woke me, but the boys are still asleep. This was the first night in three that Sam didn’t rouse me with all his tossing and turning. He’s been really good-natured, helpful, and upbeat about everything lately, but I think some negative juju is messing with him at night. I’ve been trying to stay up later playing Boggle, but by 8:30, the eyelids get pretty heavy. Nicholas, always the relaxed and laid back one, sleeps the nights through and says there’s something wrong with me and Sam. But now, Sam is still asleep. Perhaps, the physical fatigue from yesterday’s activities has suppressed the mental chatter.
Last night for dinner, we had rice that Sam cooked, a cabbage salad I made, and a bunch of deliciously fresh red snapper. A man on another boat in the anchorage harpooned a 28-pound monster on the outer reef. We went to check it out on the beach where he was filleting it. The fish had tried to drag him into its cave, he said, but he’d managed to wedge the harpoon across the entrance until his wife came down to his rescue. A little while later, he delivered a baggie for our dinner. Yum.
At the table, the boys talked…
“My hands are so scratched up,” says Nicholas.
“You always make me do the dirty work,” says Sam.
“What dirty work?”
“You harpoon the lobster, then I have to go down and grab it, and that’s where all the sea urchins are.”
"No, Sam. It has to be that way. And you’re on top of me, too, kicking me with your flippers.”
“What, are you kidding me?”
“You should’ve seen it, Mom. Sam, do you remember the one . . . .”
“Yeah . . . and that spider crab I got . . .”
I’m living in a hunter’s world. We’ve been in an anchorage called the “swimming pool” in the San Blas Islands for five days now. As can be deduced from the name, the waters are turquoise over white sand. We’re surrounded and protected by sandy islets covered in coconut palms and barrier reefs. It’s a beautiful, popular anchorage in these parts, and at the moment it’s kind of crowded. For me, that came in handy when I needed some advice and help in figuring out an electrical problem.
We met a couple who’ve been living aboard and cruising for six years now and I’ve picked their brains. They know about SSB weather stations worth listening to, deep-cycle battery banks, inverters, converters, alternator regulators, and the systems that monitor it all. I figure electricity is like another language. You can’t understand anything at first, but if you keep trying, studying, asking questions, the fog will begin to lift and all of a sudden, one day it’ll lift away completely and you’ll break through to this other place where you get it. I’m still waiting for this to happen, for the “Aha!” moment where suddenly it doesn’t seem so complicated anymore. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, but some hands-on instruction was very appreciated. I know a lot more today than I did a week ago.
I also know more about shaft-seal systems. The bearing on Shangri La’s is shot, and because I figured out Sailmail on the SSB, I’ve been able to order a new one to be mailed to Panama and now we have another upcoming haulout to look forward to for installing it. But that’s another story that wakes me in the wee hours of morning, and I won’t dwell on it here. Hunting is what it’s all about right now.
Last night, as we were sitting around the table having dinner, the conversation was entirely focused on the boys’ snorkeling adventures. They’d been dinghying about the lagoon, scoping out new spots, and jumping in the water all day. Since three days already, neither one can wear his flippers. Even with socks, all the blisters hurt, so they wear their sandals out to the reef in order to be able to stand on the rocks sometimes without worrying about what they might be standing on. Listening to them go through excited blow-by-blow descriptions of each catch, near-catch, and could-have-been-caught-if-the-other-hadn’t-gotten-in-the-way-or-listened-better, was better for me than any sitcom. I love hearing them talk, remember, start putting into words the experiences that’ll become the stories they’ll tell later.
It’s like with the way paintball turned out back home. For a good year, I was adamantly opposed to the whole concept, refused to let the boys buy any of the equipment, even if it was with their own money. A bunch of kids running around and shooting each other with balls of dyed vegetable oil felt to me like the end of civilization. In a world where there are still people going hungry, where kids have to work to support their families, where there is still so much misery and suffering, paintball was the ultimate in decadence. I have a whole rant here about the culture of crap and waste and social responsibility that the boys had to hear after each renewed plea for me to reconsider, but they didn’t care. I even offered to take them to India, or somewhere else in Southeast Asia, to show them another side to the world they lived in that might put my argument in a perspective that made sense. Nope. Didn’t want that either. Only wanted to have a paintball gun and why did they have to have such a stubborn mom?
Then, they came home from their fathers’ one day and informed me he’d said they could get paintball guns. Then, the neighbors’ son, and their best friend, said he was getting one. And, my battle was lost. I had to give in. But, I then thought, perhaps I could still inject some wisdom into such folly. I insisted they scour the classifieds, buy used equipment. They didn’t need to support an industry of decadence more than necessary. So they did, the guns broke prematurely, requiring more trips in for repairs, on top of the missions to buy more paintballs and to have the gas tanks filled, and they started buying new equipment that worked. Slowly, paintball became their thing and me and my words were reduced to chauffeuring mosquito status.
This past summer, just before we left, paintball had reached a fever pitch. Almost every weekend, they were organizing wars, in the forest behind our house, behind the neighbors’ house, on Grandpa’s land, on other friends’ land. It didn’t matter where, just as long as a war was being planned. They’d have these afternoon skirmishes, and then, and only then would come the big payoff . . . days and days of debriefing. Several hours of running around the woods with a bunch of friends hooting and shooting at each other could turn into weeks of discussion, of who did what, where and when and how it could have been done differently. The car, the breakfast and dinner table, and at all points between, conversation was centered around tactics, skill, who would be on who’s team the next time around.
Several times since they’ve been on Shangri La, talk of all the excellent paintball they might be missing has come up. But now, in the past four days, they’ve been introduced to a substitute war, the underwater war with real quarry they can bring to the table. It’s the hunt at its most pure and primal. It’s kind of funny because despite the paintball zeal, neither boy has expressed any interest in hunting ashore, even though we live in a hunting culture at home in Vermont. But, here, it’s all about blood lust, how many langoustes they can catch and release if they’re too small, or bring back to the boat to eat. I guess underwater bugs are aesthetically easier prey than furry or feathered mammals. Plus, it’s more fun to be snorkeling around a reef checking out a whole new sunny world instead of shivering in a tree stand while holding a loud gun at 4 in the morning.
We have three sticks with pointed spears at the end, not spear guns, but they seem to work for pinning the helpless victim by one boy, while the other dives down to fetch it. Yesterday, they did schoolwork for a couple of hours, and for the rest of the day, they were in the water, refining their techniques, seeking newer and better hunting grounds in the dinghy. The whole anchorage could hear their battle cries all the way out on the reef, the grunts and hollers issuing forth from their snorkel tops. This area has been kind of overfished by the local Kinas and the sailors, but persistence will pay off. They came back from one foray with three langoustes, the next with one more, to put in the net bag we have hanging overboard—today’s lunch.
The sun is getting higher now, shining down on me in the cabin. The boys are still sleeping, but not for much longer because there’s no wind and the day is getting heated. I’ll make them a big breakfast and all fueled up, they’ll take off for their last hunting expeditions. We’re leaving for Panama tomorrow and there won’t be much swimming or hunting going on there, not with all the Canal transit paperwork and haul out that needs to happen. I wish we could stay longer, but there’s a schedule to keep and possible delays in the offing to anticipate. This is their last chance to gather fodder for all the dinner conversations that’ll have to hold them over until we reach the next hunting grounds in the Pacific. I’ll go wake them up now. It’s 7:45 and we haven’t got a minute to waste.
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