The Fishing Song | William Thomas Online | William Thomas

The Fishing Song

WT drilling a boat fitting in Ulithi

The author and one of the fisherman repairing boat gear on the motu -Will Thomas photo


 by William Thomas


The fish-dependent village was starving. With the disabled trading boat long overdue and no gasoline for their Boston Whalers, every meal consisted of coconut and (pounded-taro) poi, with occasional slivers of protein donated by some unlucky seabird. Which is why I’d invited their two best fishermen to prepare their lures on Celerity's broad wing decks as we sailed wing-and-wing through the lagoon's western pass into the open Pacific.


"What are you singing?" I inquired of the big, near-naked men as they sat cross-legged, happily paying out their spaghetti-thick monofilament lines.


"The fishing song," came their reply. The first handline twanged taut. Followed instantly by the second.


With conveyor-like continuity, the fishers cast and hauled in their lines, as Thea hustled to toss their catch into the bow nets stretched between the hulls. By late afternoon, when we entered the lagoon's southern pass for the long beat home, both nets were bulging with tuna – along with distraught  barracuda whose snapping Skilsaw snouts made everyone dance and shout.


The breeze fell light. With a silent hiss, the ocean swallowed the sun.


The motu we wanted vanished off our port hand as I took a final bearing and ducked below to flick on the masthead running lights and plot our final course change. As Thea held our upwind heading by the binnacle's red glow, I estimated our distance run, leeway and tacking angle… then waited... waited!... and quietly called up to her to tack the boat.


Back on deck, with mainsail and jib strapped in tight, all eyes turned to me as we sailed on into the black void. Minutes dragged. Checking the distance log, I told Thea to drop the sails and stand by the anchor as I jumped aft to start the outboard.


Slow ahead, we ticked on into utter darkness. When the depth sounder showed 30-feet, I softly called, "Drop," before backing down to set the hook in the same sandy seafloor we'd departed that morning.


I hoped.


The bow curtsied as the rode came taut. I killed the motor. In the abrupt silence, everyone onboard peered intently into… nothing. It felt woo-woo eerie, gliding out of nowhere to anchor in the Twilight Zone.


Suddenly, women's bright laughter and excited male exclamations filled the darkness. Bobbing flashlights appeared above us, dipping behind invisible palms to descend onto an unseen beach.


Once again, sheer blind luck and the grace of Tangaroa had saved the captain's reputation.


That night, the sick and elderly were fed first, followed by the children. The next day, the entire community turned out for a feast that will be remembered in local lore. Only after their dying king reached out from the veiled   dreamtime to give his trembling benediction did everyone fall to. Mother Ocean's bounty fed us all. With enough dried meat to stretch to the trader's return.


The lesson for Hornby-Denman fishers is clear. Bless every navigation beacon you see. And the next time you make for Norris Rocks, turn off your fish finder. And sing your fishing song of blessing and temptation.


If you aren't already.



 发件人     William Thomas 2019