Usually 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 something good.

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.

As I 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 trampoline.

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 fishing line.

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.


Take a 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 attack.

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 mistake.

When the 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 victim.

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 tendon.

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 over.

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!

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