mornings are quiet in Prony Bay in New Caledonia. Occasionally we hear the
song of a solitary bird, but mainly there is silence. Today was different.
At precisely 6:20 a.m. a loud bang roused me out of my bunk to see what was
happening on deck. I had never heard such a loud noise coming from the
forward deck and could not imagine what could possibly be responsible for
the racket that interrupted my morning slumber.
Perhaps we had dragged anchor and run into some rocks. Maybe something fell
off the mast and hit the deck. Whatever it was, I was not expecting
I quickly hopped out of the bunk, went through the galley, up the stairs
into the salon, out into the cockpit and moved forward on deck. When I saw
the front part of the catamaran, I was surprised to see a one meter long
mackerel lying on the starboard trampoline. The mackerel was flopping
around violently trying to escape, but to no avail. The trampoline was
flexible and the large fish could not gain sufficient leverage to flip
himself off the trampoline and back into the water.
drew closer, I saw dark stains where the Spanish Mackerel landed on deck
just behind the trampoline. As he flopped around, his body would
occasionally strike thumping and banging blows against the hull next to the
About one-hundred feet away, another boat, Tyche, also heard the noise of
the fish hitting the deck. They had gotten up at sunrise and were sitting
in their cockpit enjoying the morning quiet. They could not see our
trampoline or front deck to tell what was going on, but they could tell by
the noise that something big had happened. They wondered if there had been
an accident of some sort on Exit Only.
I shouted to Ted on Tyche and told him that we had a one meter long Spanish
Mackerel flopping around on the trampoline. At first he didn't believe me.
He thought it was a joke because yesterday he had promised to clean any fish
that I caught. He even came over to Exit Only with his filleting knife the
previous afternoon to tease me because I had not caught any fish.
All of the flopping and commotion must have finally convinced him that the
mackerel really did exist because he got into his dingy and rowed over to
our boat. When he came to the bow of Exit Only and saw the large mackerel,
he could hardly believe his eyes. He was as surprised as we were.
It was fortunate that the mackerel landed on the deck and trampoline where
it did. At the time of the mackerel kamikaze attack, I was lying in my bunk
with the hatch open over my head. If the mackerel had landed six feet to
the left, he could have come right down the open hatch into my bunk. The
thought of that fish flopping around on my bunk snapping its rows of sharp
teeth sends chills up and down my spine. I would have departed my bunk at
the speed of light.
For those who have
trouble believing this fish story, take a look at the mackerel lying on the
trampoline after it stopped flopping around and expired. You can also see
me holding it up by the tail and there is a picture of me in feeding frenzy
with the mackerel in my hands.
Ted, the former disbeliever, was now fully convinced that I did indeed have
a mackerel and true to his word, he put the fish in his dingy and took it to
shore where he cleaned it.
I did not have a scale on which to weigh the fish. I estimate the weight to
be between ten and fifteen pounds. There was plenty of meat for both Tyche
and Exit Only. When we cruise with Tyche, I catch the fish, Ted cleans it,
and we split the meat between our two boats.
At this point, we were a little perplexed as to whether we should eat the
fish. The large fish found in New Caledonian waters sometimes have
ciguatera which is a type of fish toxin that can kill you if you eat fish
affected by it. Ciguatera is tasteless and there is no way to tell whether
the fish has the toxin until you eat it. We needed to find out if it was
safe to eat the meat. We used our Iridium satellite phone to call a friend
in Noumea and asked if it was safe to eat the kamikaze mackerel. He said it
was safe. So we had a mackerel feast for lunch and none of us got sick
In the South Pacific you sometimes see large fish jump ten to fifteen feet
into the air and then land back in the water. It's rare to be near fish
when they do their aerial acrobatics. It's even rarer for one of them to
jump and land on your boat, unless they are the garden variety flying fish
that hit your deck on offshore passages. Those small flying fish are
usually six to twelve inches long and weigh a fraction of a pound.
I have been
waiting for a kamikaze attack by another Spanish Mackerel. Unfortunately,
no others have been willing to oblige by landing on our trampolines. If we
are going to have another mackerel dinner, we will have to catch him on a
If you don't believe this story, you are not alone. Many yachties who hear
it think we are putting them on. Truth often is stranger than fiction. But
this story is not fiction. It's true and it tasted good.
JAWS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
look at those choppers. Those are the teeth of a three foot long Spanish
Mackerel. Imagine the size of the teeth on a five foot long mackerel. Now
you are ready to read this story.
When yachties go fishing, they win some and lose some. All of them have a
story about the big fish that got away. Only a few have a story about the
big one that put them in the hospital.
In the Isle of Pines, we saw a sixty-two foot motor yacht hunkered down in
Kunamera Bay waiting for the weather to improve. We admired the yachts
beautiful lines, imposing high bow, and robust pilot house. It was a
serious and seaworthy motor yacht. We did not meet the owners until we
returned to Noumea. When we met them, they told us about the great mackerel
As they were leaving a secluded bay in the Isle of Pines, they hooked a
large Spanish mackerel. It was a heavyweight world class contender that put
up a furious fight. This denizen of the deep was five feet long and was not
going down without a battle. They reeled in the recalcitrant fish until
they could hook him with a gaff and land him on the deck - which was a
mackerel hit the deck, he had just begun to fight. His angry sharp slashing
teeth were searching for a target. Perhaps he might be able to sink his
flashing teeth into the leg of one of his captors. The mighty mackerel
flopped around on the slippery deck until he found the defenseless ankle of
his victim. He snapped his powerful jaws shut and almost completely severed
the Achilles tendon of an unfortunate guest on board the yacht. In due
course, the mackerel died and the person with the severed Achilles tendon
made a trip to the hospital for emergency surgery.
The final irony in this story is that the fish was too large to be safely
eaten. Mackerels that are over ninety centimeters in length have a high
risk of harboring ciguatera toxin which could kill you if you eat the fish.
The fish died in vain, but not without leaving a lasting impression on his
If you think this sounds like another unbelievable fish story, hang on to
your seat, because I'm not done yet.
Several weeks later, two cruisers told us their dead mackerel stories. They
were fishing in the Marshall Islands and caught a Spanish mackerel which
died without incident. Unfortunately, when the mackerel died, he died with
his mouth gaping wide open exposing his razor sharp teeth. The boat they
were on was rolling in heavy seas and the dead mackerel slid across the wet
deck and his teeth slashed the Achilles tendon of a guest on board. That
person had to be flown back to the USA for repair of his severed Achilles
When these same sailors were cruising in Tonga, they were walking with a man
who was carrying a dead mackerel slung over his shoulder. He was holding it
by the tail, and unfortunately, the tail slipped out of his hand. As the
mackerel slid off his shoulder and dropped to the ground, those same sharp
teeth lacerated his leg.
There is a moral to this story. The only good mackerel is a dead mackerel
without teeth. When you're fishing for mackerel, it's never over until it's
I've been thinking about inventing a Mackerel Muzzle to protect unsuspecting
fishermen from the post-mortem carnage wrought by the teeth of the mighty
mackerel. How's that for a fish story!
This site is a companion web site to Outback and Beyond.com.