Lets boil life down to its essence. Life is about keeping your family safe, happy, fed and setting your kids up for future success. If you carry a Y chromosome, imbedded deep in your brainstem is the desire to hunt and provide food for your family. Something deep within us men makes us feel connected to the world after communing with nature and bringing back the Earth's bounty to our table. While sitting in Chris's cockpit in Port Louis Marina, we were talking to a local fisherman, who was trying to sell us lobster. Chris and I decided we needed a little adventure in our lives. Catching lobster sounded a hell of a lot more fun than buying them. We asked our new fisherman friend, Kaylon, "Instead of buying lobster, will you take us lobster hunting with you?”. “No problem, Mon”, he said.
Two days later we were hailing a bus, which is just a guy with a van for hire, heading for the fishing camp in Bagati Bay. It was a typical bus ride in the Caribbean. The driver was blaring soca music and driving hell bent for leather up and down winding streets, dodging dogs, cars, women with strollers, and school children. Miraculously, the driver stayed out of the gutter, which was literally 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep, where the shoulder should be. A little hair raising for the uninitiated. Finally, we arrived at the end of a rutted dirt road that passed between the airport runway and the medical school. Chris and I really didn’t have any idea what we were getting ourselves into. How hard could it be? You just dive down and grab the big bugs. Caribbean lobsters don't even have claws. Well, it became a little more challenging in a 23 foot open boat, 12 miles off shore, diving 70 feet deep, in 6 foot seas and the wind howling.
Bagadi Bay was a small beach with only a handful of local wooden fishing boats. These are very common up and down the island chain, as every fisherman has one. Every time we saw one bobbing at sea, we would say, "Man, I wouldn’t want to be out there in that.” It was obvious at that point we weren’t taking out a modern dive charter boat to get our catch. Nope, this was the real deal, as it has been done for centuries in these islands.
There were about twenty guys scurrying around getting ready for the day, while Chris and I stood around kicking the sand, talking, trying to look nonshalant and less useless than we were. Guys were loading gasoline tanks, scuba tanks, spear guns and lobster snares into the boats. Pretty soon we were motioned into one of the boats so we could leave. All the small fishing boats in the leeward and windward islands are painted orange or pink inside. I was told it makes them easier to see when they are out at sea. Some even had a cool paint job to match the outer hull as well. Not our boat. Lets call our boat well seasoned. It was a 23’ boat made out of plywood, epoxy and rusty nails. Any orange paint inside of her hull had worn away at least ten years ago. The outside was a little better, there was still a little green paint left in a few spots where it hadn’t flaked off yet. There were four wooden benches and a center console for the skipper. The gas was in a blue jug with a hole cut in the cap for the fuel line that was held in place with a rusty screwdriver. Chris and I gave each other a look that said, “Holy shit”. Kaylon and a couple of his fishing buddies, Simone and Glen, were in our boat. Glen then pulled the cover off the V6 Yamaha 200hp engine and wraped a rope around the flywheel and gave it a yank. Electric starters were clearly a luxury that these guys couldn’t afford and frankly were not needed. About this time it was becoming clear that we were in the presence of real men.
The engine fired to life after a few pulls and we were off speeding into the fresh morning air and sea. Kaylon told me to get my wetsuit on as he put on a full length yellow rain slicker. Within a minute it became clear why. We were one of seven boats that fanned out into the bay together. We passed a small island just outside the bay and we were then in the open ocean. We sped due south through six foot swells and 15-20 knot winds. The waves were crashing over the bow, drenching us and filling the boat. The spray stung my face as our boat surged into the sea heading for our hunting grounds 12 miles off shore.
The boats split up into smaller groups as we motored through the rolling waves. None of the boats fished alone as a safety measure. We were clearly on the ragged edge. These guys didn’t depend on ANY technology for safety, but they trusted and depended on each other if anything went wrong.
When we arrived at our destination, I told Kaylon that no matter what happened, from then on I had already done the coolest thing I’d done in years. I live on a boat with my wife and three girls and I don’t get many chances to hang out with guys doing guy stuff. This was about as manly as it gets. Simone stayed on the boat as we prepared to dive. Chris and I strapped our tanks to the BCs and got our gear out and basically looked ridiculous as Kaylon and Glen plunged into the ocean. We had bearly stopped the boat in 70’ of water when Glen had donned his round Jaque Custeau mask and tied his tank to his torso with some kind of nylon strap/rope. He flipped over board in his polo shirt and cargo pants! Time is money and these guys were efficient. Meanwhile Chris and I struggled to put on our mask, flippers, snorkel, BC and tanks. The weights in the BCs made the BC tank combo so heavy it was hard to put on in the rolling boat. We eventually threw the tanks overboard and put them on in the water. Let me add in here that I am not dive certified. Kaylon was not concerned at all when he asked me this 2 days before. Chris is certified and I have done a couple of dives with him. That's it. Glen also mentioned to us that he was not certified either. After a couple of dives he told us "I am not certified but I am qualified". Chris and I turned to each other and said in unison "yep!".
By the time we started descending to the ocean floor, Kaylon had a lobster and several lambi (conch) that he was putting in the lambi basket. The Ocean floor was flat and featureless with a lot of small corals and rocks scattered about. Chris and I searched for lobster but didn't see any. There were, however hundreds of lambi and we went about collecting what the sea would give us. I managed to keep barf out of the bilge by throwing up overboard between our dives.
We were told before we left that no matter what, don’t let go of the Lambi basket. Chris and I both said "okay" without having any idea what a lambi basket was. It turns out that it's a basket tied to a rope and drug across the ocean floor by our boat. Ours was about 2 ft wide and about 40 inches deep and made out of rusty chain link fence and old rope. After the basket was full, we all went to the surface and climbed in the boat. The basket had a large buoy tied to it that the last man up had to fill with air to float it to the surface. Then a couple of the guys would haul it up beside the boat and start unloading it. Once the lambi made it into the boat, Simone took a hatchet and cut a hole in the base of the shell. He then passed it off to Glen who stuck a knife into the hole and cut the lambi’s attachment to the shell. The conch was then easily removed from the shell and tossed into a 5 gallon bucket. Eventually our bucket over flowed and the lambi started falling into the bilge to mix with the salt water, paint chips, rust, gasoline, sweat, blood, scuba tanks, and bare feet. That’s where your conch fritters come from folks.
The boys did a total of four dives, while Chris and I did two. Our boat only returned with two lobsters. Unfortunately, we were hoping to catch more of the critters we were in search of. However, we were able to buy some more lobsters from the other boats so we wouldn't return short handed. On top of that we split the catch of lambi and speared fish, which was quite a haul. At the end of the day we had a ton of fun, hangin’ with the local fisherman learning how things are done in the islands.
From left to right: Chris, Glen, Simone, Kaylon and Craig
Getting ready for the day
Kaylon shivering from being cold and Simone starting the Motor
Simone would say, "OH Noooo" every time the engine quit. Here he is starting it again, for the 5th time!
Cleaning up the lambi (conch) after we returned
Your basic plywood and drift wood fish cleaning station
Learning how to skin the rest of the lambi back at the marina
Conch (lambi) shell
Liv gets into spirit
Kate helping out, or horsing around. You be the judge
First night: Mmmm, Lobster, plantains and callalou (similar to spinach) cooked with onions and bacon
The Ladies are proud of their men!
Happy, well fed kids
Making conch fritters
Second night: Conch fritters, conch chowder and grilled snapper