Sunday, December 07, 2008


Long Lines - aka Hazards at Sea

Even on the giant expanse of the open ocean, there are hazards that we have to try to avoid. Some are natural floating objects like turtles, logs, and weeds flushed out of the mangrove swamps. Some are man-made such as small fishing boats without lights, larger seine-fishing trawlers, the enormous commercial freighters, the occasional passenger cruise ship, and trash of all sorts of disgusting plastics. Then there are the “Long lines”.

Long lines are exactly that – a single line, often over a mile long that has fish hooks attached every few yards or so. The line is kept afloat every 50 yards or so with trash buoys – empty soda pop 2-liter bottles, plastic laundry detergent bottles, etc. The local fishermen use these to efficiently catch larger fish such as tuna, sharks, and other tasty species. The lines are often set, then retrieved hours later or even the next day. This fishing method is also illegal in Mexico. Whatever – they are everywhere!

These lines also efficiently catch hapless other sea-going critters such as sailboats. Oh yeah. On our passage from La Cruz, Banderas Bay to Santiago in Manzanillo Bay we were prey twice, and narrowly avoided a third capture. Because these particular fishermen used polypropylene rope in places, and this rope floats, we got our rudder snagged before we even saw the floating pop bottles. Can you imagine trying to see something as small as a pop bottle in a gyrating ocean? Next to impossible.

Anyway, the first time we got snagged that day, the fishermen were nearby. We “honked” our canned boat horn at them (these guys don't have VHF radios) and they came on over and cut the line so that we could leave. This meant of course that they then had to repair their line. I felt a little bad about that – but then I was also tremendously relieved that we did not get their lines wrapped around our prop! That would have at the very least meant diving down with a knife to cut the line off – and at the very worst could have damaged the prop and/or the prop shaft which would have required a haul-out to dry land and expensive repairs!

Back on our way…this time we saw the floats ahead of time as we were scanning the sea with our binos continuously. Okay. We stopped. Now what? Where was the end of this long line? Sometimes they will mark the first and last buoys with a long pole in the air and a black flag (plastic garbage bag) on top. Not these guys. From over the swells we saw a panga (small, open fishing boat) coming towards us. Yep – another set of fishermen were on the scene and this time they led us around the end of their long line.

Several miles later…we’re snagged again. No pangas in sight. We used one of our big-hooked fishing lures on a strong leader to pick up the line which was caught on our rudder. No easy task. I had to hang over the stern of the Niki Wiki while Jonesy held onto my ankles to reach the line. I was just about to cut it myself when the tension on the line increased suddenly! Yikes! I saw the long line rope dive down deep into the sea below which meant that we could clear the rudder. Go! Go! Go! We dropped the line (and my beautiful lure) and started the engines – zoomed out of there. Behind us we could see the pop bottle floats getting carried away. Apparently a large fish had just taken a bait and was swimming furiously away. Did my jerking on the line attract a fish? Saved by a shark…or was that tuna? Whatever, I’d eat it.

Great story, reminiscent of "Embarrassment of Mangoes." One of my favorite books.
Talk about bad luck..that sucks! Well at least you are pass it :-)
How awful and dangerous. Glad to see you made it safely out of that zone. Have you encounted this problem before heading south?
Hope you kids are having fun. I have turned Wally Willmott on to your blog. He was Bruce McLaren's first mechanic. He also lives on a sailing yatch called the Zora II.
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