(I didn’t have a picture of a turkey)
This is Fidel, a main character in my new book.
The evolution of fishing equipment mirrors the advances in society’s technology- from the steam car to the space shuttle. Dr. Gerald Millistein, a south Florida angler shared some of his eighty plus years of experience with me over a daiquiri at the El Floridita bar.
At age six Doc began angling with a hand line off the seawalls of New York City. Over the next eight decades, Doc landed ten pound bonefish and thousand pound marlin. From Patagonia to Siberia, Doc’s fishing tales include a history of tackle refinement, fly, conventional and spin.
I caught up with Doc in Cuba attempting to retrace his last visit to the island in 1955. From 1951–55, Doc fished the north and south shores, first in rowboats, then powered by a five-horse outboard brought via ferry from the U.S
Off the Isle of Pines he waited for the flood of tarpon filing out between mangrove cays by the thousands. Doc had solid fiberglass rods. As he describes, “They were the latest breakthrough, but had no backbone. We had thumb-drag Pflueger reels and linen thread line. Three threads equaled nine pounds breaking strength. We only had one plug – a red and white floating Mirrorlure.”
“We would jump a tarpon and he would throw the lure or break the line, the plug would float free and we retrieved it to use again. We lay down in the bottom of the boat and slept. Hell, I was in my twenties, I could sleep standing up.”
“Off Cayo Romano we had clouds of bonefish,” Doc explained. “We quickly ran out of Joe Brooks jigs.”
“Incredible.” Is how Doc describes the advancements, not only tackle, but technique and knowledge. “We know so much more about the fish’s habits. The ancients knew their patterns, but now, we know where they move and why.”
“And don’t forget the advancements in weather forecasting and satellite imaging. You can check the radar and get tide information off your smart phone as well as keep a fishing log complete with position and pictures.”
Doc fishes his home waters around Stuart Florida in a Hell’s Bay skiff and a 23 foot Pathfinder. Both are examples of progress in boat design and construction. Doc declares. “My skiff floats in 5 inches of water. There’s no need to wade.”
Doc is off to Cat Island this week to fish marlin. Then it’s back to Cuba for a live aboard trip to the Archipielago de Los Jardines de la Reina “Garden of the Queens”- a group of pristine islands on the south side of the island. There he’ll revisit his bonefish and tarpon memories in real time.
He’ll be armed with custom carbon fiber rods, a Calcutta bait caster and Penn spinner, both spooled with braided line and boxes of jigs and plugs.
For flyfishing, G.Lomis tip flex rods, long casting weight-forward line, large arbor smooth drag Tibor reels, a selection of 70 or so flies.
Oh, and wearing spf clothing.
Only the fish haven’t changed, but that’s why he still chases them.
Looking to avoid winter’s chill, I sought refuge and Bonefish on San Salvador Island Bahamas, a sixty square-mile limestone deposit lying on the eastern rim of the Atlantic Ocean.
Surrounded by thousand foot abysses, only a handful of shallow water flats and one pristine creek provides suitable bonefish habitat along the rocky shores of San Sal, noted for its spectacular wall diving and wahoo fishing. But, in addition to fishing, I was looking for solitude, and the friendly family island with a population of eight hundred was just the ticket.
My sojourn would be a low budget affair with extra cash for fishing guides not practical. Budgetary restraints would preclude transportation except for foot and thumb as well. As my cousin the undertaker would say, “If this was a funeral, it would be a fast driving, shallow digging, no singing affair.”
I hitched to Russell’s store in Cockburn Town, across from a two hundred year old Almond tree dominating the intersection, a protective canopy for the settlement’s hub of actively. On a shaded bench at the roads edge, the island’s official troubadour Pop, sat drinking a coke soda, his ever-present left hand strung guitar by his side.
Pop, approaching seventy, is a regular at the San Sal airport and Riding Rock Marina serenading arrivals from Canada, Europe, and the U.S. with his raspy voiced repartee of island melodies.
An authority on the shallower waters of the Island, Pop spends off hour hand lining small snapper and grouper off rock formations and in deep holes reachable from shore. He targets Bonefish in the deeper dredged channels of Riding Rock Marina and Government Cut. To Pop, as with many Bahamians, Bonefish are highly prized table fare.
“Did you catch any fish today?” I ask, looking for an icebreaker to start the conversation.
“Naw, I couldn’t get no con fish.” Pop replies, referring to small baitfish he uses to con the larger Grouper and Snapper into biting.
When I emerge from the small island store with an extra can of corn beef and present it to the bearded balladeer, an information conduit is established.
Following Pop’s directions, I gathered my gear and set off to explore the closest X marked on my satellite photo, French Bay.
Falling in love with a fishing-hole is as old as the hook. Even before unsheathing my Thomas and Thomas nine-weight, or seeing my first tail, the wild beauty of French Bay seized me. Rolling breakers from an Atlantic swell curled on rocks a half-mile from shore, launching a soft crescendo of ocean sound that bathed the isolated cove. Only the squawks of the resident osprey, protesting the intrusion, and the shrill call of the Kingfisher broke the soft thunder of the waves.
At low tide, vast expanses of water carved rock, backed by lush mangrove lay exposed, broadening at the entrance to a small tidal creek, a mile farther down. Beyond the creek a pearl sand beach stretched another two miles, ending abruptly at the white limestone bluffs of Sandy Point.
Adding drawing power, the creek halfway down is a Conch nursery, a natural baby conch farm, and the Bones loved them.
My most memorable day at French Bay occurred on a most unlikely excursion in less than perfect conditions.
Billowy clouds moved in and the rising wind built to twenty knots, the normally calm water chopped by remnant waves fetching over the reef on the high tide. I made straight for the nursery hardly scanning the flat rock muddy shallows leading to the cove.
I spotted the tails waving along the mangroves, the largest tailing bones I’d ever seen. Easing closer, I took cover behind a solitary mangrove precariously rooted to the rocky point outside the cove and watched the fish working tight against the roots.
These fish were feeding voraciously, heads down, tails at times completely above the water, forcing the mudding fish’s mouths deeper into the sand. From time to time scattered splotches of sunlight swept across the cove and in the swift moving shafts of light, I made out the small group of nine to twelve pound fish, all trophies.
This school I had seen before, but they were smart, spooky, always on the move. Now I had them cornered and distracted with the wind a double-edged sword. On one hand it would hinder casting, but it was noisy and together with the cloud-cover restricted vision between the mediums of air and water.
Choosing a heavier crab pattern to counteract the puffing breeze, my first cast landed much too close to two tailing fish. Not deterred in the slightest, the larger of the two pounced on my offering in a mad fit of feeding. I striped set the hook and the fish blazed out of the cove, skirted the mangrove bush, headed to open water. Within seconds the reel was down to half the backing as the fish streaked across the rocky flat and into deeper pot holed bottom. Rod held high, wading and winding as fast as humanly possible, I made it to the edge before the fish took off on another drag burning run. Before the fight concluded he would have three more burst well into the backing until in a tired and somewhat confused state of mind, he ran aground.
Largest bonefish of my life, somewhere around twelve pounds and no one to witness or take a snapshot.
Although no photo or eye witness account of the banner bonefish exits, the image is etched in my mind,cemented in the solitude of the moment and can be revisited instantly, by simply closing my lids and drifting back to French Bay.
When discussing the Florida Key’s worm hatch, people become wary, suspicious. Even with close friends cred wavers. Stories recounting the phenomena fall short and, when accurate adjectives are found, they’re doubted, disbelieved.
The doubters aren’t short on ammo. Take the namesake worm for instance. The lowly Palolo’s size alone would preclude any serious thought of tarpon food. What does a hundred-fifty pound prehistoric creature see in a small red worm? Certainly not sufficient sustenance to gather by the thousands and feast like there’s no tomorrow.
Maybe it’s the taste that drives the frenzy. Perhaps, to the tarpon the worm is candy. The answer might lie in the nutritional value of the small meal. Some scientist propose the worm has an aphrodisiac effect on the fish who are at the start of their own spawning cycle. Or could it be the worms give the fish a narcotic buzz – gets them higher than a hippie in a helicopter.
Whatever the draw, on calm nights in late spring or early summer – with the right combination of tide and moon – the tarpon gather then rise to slurp the floating worms.
One guide attempting to deliver the scene said. “It’s like you threw two handfuls of M-80s in the water. Bucket size explosions, everywhere. Most times we fish the sound.”
Each spring massive numbers of tarpon pass through the Keys, returning from their winter haunts to summer and spawn in estuaries along Florida’s east and west coasts.
When one of the mile long schools speed north through the Yucatan channel, riding the three knot current, the only objective is to cross mid ocean. With no food and an abundance of predatory Hammerheads and Tigers, the tarpon move fast, gulping air constantly, their light blue Caribbean color shining. When seen at sea, the columns of rolling fish flash with the brilliance of a million mirrors.
Once back in the USA, the fish take on a greener hue, another chameleon of nature. Water temperatures to the north determine how long the travelers remain. During the season, which can be weeks or months, the fish filter out into the winding channels of the backcountry and patrol the beaches of the Key’s Atlantic side.
The fish sell themselves. In Key West they travel against the tide, up and down the harbor, cruising Mallory Square like silver signboards. Come catch us they tease. Tourist watch amazed, then lay their money down. Bets are, this international crowd of anglers will spend more dollars catching this leaping trophy than any other non-edible fish on the planet.
As good as Key’s migratory tarpon fishing is, the climax comes with the worm hatch. Night fishing reigns supreme. As word spreads of the hatch, the sea off the Keys harbors and channels are dotted with running lights and flashes from high beam spots. Shouts and splashes ring out from the darkness….the hatch is on.
Captain Travis Rolan, long time Key’s fishing guide notices a change in the daytime feeding habits of the fish as an indication of the hatch, which he claims can occur as early as late April. “Previously successful fly patterns suddenly don’t work.” He says. “When I see this behavior it tells me they have changed their focus. They have worms on the brain.”
Another sign of the hatch Rolan looks for is the absence of large fish in the backcountry, on the Florida Bay side of the Key’s island chain. “The juveniles will still be there. The large adults have left, headed to the Atlantic. They know what’s coming.”
Asked about the best hatch fishing excursion Rolan grins, “Jumped 22 on fly one evening, in about three hours.” Veterans of the hatch don’t spend a lot of time fighting fish. After a couple of jumps they break them off and go after another. “You don’t want to spend an hour married to one tarpon. Once the initial flurry of acrobatics is over, it’s time to hook another.”
“I take the voodoo out of the hatch equation.” States Captain Steve Lamp. Owner of Dream Catcher Charters. “I have it marked on my calendar.” Lamp is a fifth generation Floridian and has fished the Keys since childhood. Lamp too, sees the hatch coming by the tarpon’s behavior and the gathering of fish on the Atlantic.
“We’ve developed a special tube lure just for the hatch.” He says. “We use a small hook that seldom sinks into the hard boney mouth of the fish. We measure success by how many we put in the air, not to the boat.”
According to Dr. Dave Vaughan, leading scientist at Mote Marine’s Keys research center, the spawning habits of the worm are filled with wonders. “The male worms have oversized heads and eyes which are distinct from the females. The females release a segment of their bodies filled with eggs before sunset. This released segment is bioluminescent but it takes 45 minutes for the male worm’s eyes to adjust to the lowering light and spot the glowing target floating above them. The male then charges up and fertilizes the eggs.
Ask why the tarpon go wild over such a small morsel, Dr. Vaughan believes in the narcotic theory. “I think it’s like the tarpon are doing shots.”
Dr. Vaughan research reveals the hatch is ongoing from March through July with peak periods reaching a crescendo around the first part of June.
When fishing the hatch an imitator style jig or plug is most effective, next to a red fly. When asked about the intensity of the bite, I relate the following: “Just after sunset one evening, I made a long cast directed at an approaching school of worming fish. I jumped off a tarpon, another wacked the plug and missed and I hooked a third fish, all in one cast.”
So even if the exact day or week cannot be pinpointed for your bucket list tarpon excursion, that’s just another reason to spend more time in the Keys. Or, check with Capt. Steve Rogers co-host of the popular show, “In the Blue” who says. “I can tell when the worm hatch is on. There’s no Humus or Coconut milk left on the store shelves. The fly-guys have cleaned them out. ”
He’s the descendent of a Wampanoag whaling captain… the son of a modern-day waterman. And, at age five, a seasoned angler.
“I’ve been fishing since I was three.” He will inform you matter-of-factly. After watching him in action one summer morning, I’ve no reason to doubt young Xavier (Xavie) Clarke’s word.
Xavie’s ancestor’s portrait hangs on a bulkhead of the ferry plying between Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth Massachusetts. Captain Amos Haskins, a Wampanoag Native American – renowned for his expertise in whaling and skill harpooning broadbill swordfish – captained ships at a time when most men responsible for piloting the barks and brigantines were of European lineage.
Xavie’s Wampanoag blood flows from the maternal side. His beautiful mother Nya is of the “People of the Dawn”- a tribe long settled in Martha’s Vineyard when the first English arrived in the 1600′s. The Gay Head Wampanoag were fishermen and farmers, a matriarchal society where land rights were passed from mother to daughter.
Some say these are the people depicted in the first Thanksgiving. No doubt they provided the settlers with food, shared their expertise in farming and taught them the fine points of harvesting the sea. For their trouble, they were annihilated by disease and sold into slavery.
Today the tribe is flourishing on the Vineyard and reclaiming much of its’ ancestral lands.
Mark Clarke, Xavie’s father is a waterman as well. Off the docks at Oak Bluff, Mark’s company, M.V. Oceansports provides an assortment of waterborne adventures on Vineyard Sound during the 100 days of summer. Mark’s an avid angler, raised on the Vineyard – two loves he’s passing to his young son.
It’s five in the morning at the harbor, the tourist still sleep in their rented rooms. By noon the crowds will descend in massive hoards, attempting to fill each vacation hour of this short summer with sun-soaked activities before the first cold blasts of the long Massachusetts winter signals a return to work and study.
While we convert Mark’s para-sail boat by duct taping rod holders to the rails, Xavie scours the dock pilings armed with a long-handled net, in search of crabs.
We’ve gathered early for the start of the Albacore Tuna run, which typically begins in late August, coinciding with a drop in water temperatures. Mark, Drew Arcoleo, Bob Grey, myself and of course Xavie, who’s catch list includes bonito, fluke and a bass list of striped, rock, and largemouth. He’s yet to land an Albie, a pursuit now guided by a determined father.
Yesterday, word came down from Coop, proprietor of Coop’s Bait and Tackle – the epi-center of fly fishing on the Vineyard. “Albies at the Hooter.” Coop told us. “The first of the season.” Coop is excited by the return of the Bay Anchovies, the bait-fish responsible bringing the tuna inshore. “The anchovies reappeared two years ago.” Coop explains, “The Albies love them. Find the bait and you’ll find the fish.”
Mark invites the man along. “You’re more than welcome Coop, we have plenty of room.” Coop ponders, tempted. “No thanks.” He finally replies. “I’ll wait for them to show up off the beach. I’ve gotten picky with age.” Coop pretty much fishes from shore with his 9 weight fly rod. He says, “ there’s nothing like the speed of the strike, and that first run of an Albie.”
Idling out of the marina and unto a windless Vineyard Sound, the late August sun brightens a clear eastern sky, highlighting the few wisps of morning clouds in pink and orange. To the west, the evening stars blink their last, dying in the growing light.
Unlike most five year olds awakened before sunrise, Xavier is quiet. Drawing his hoody tight against the morning chill, he crawls into my lap and settles against the bounce of the light chop, awaiting the adventure ahead with a patience unusual in one so young.
We’re headed to the Hooter (Albie alley) some forty minutes away, hugging the Chappaquiddick shore. The high clay cliffs slope away, replaced by long-deserted beaches, glowing gold in the new day. Xavie shifts for a better view of the coast, climbs into the helm seat behind his father and studies the shore with quick, intelligent eyes. Nya believes Xavie’s earth spirit is that of the Redtail hawk.
Our destination’s namesake is a moaning buoy marking Maskeget channel, where the flood pushes the current through the narrow pass reaching the velocity of a Colorado gorge. On the inside, Seal Island bar is a rest stop for a dozen monk seals crowding close, inching together as the sand shrinks with the rising tide. The recent return of these blubber-rich mammals is spawning an increase of inshore Great White sightings, a widely discussed topic among the beach goers on the Vineyard and all along Cape Cod.
On the outside edge of the cut, an undulating, washboard sand bottom rises and falls between thirty and fifty feet – up to the sixteen on the top of the bar. The depressions hold bait in the current breaks.
“The key here is the speed.” Mark explains as we set our first lines. “Slow, below six knots and you get bluefish. Faster than six and the Albies get to them first.”
We’re dragging thick lipped Yo-Zuris on 40 pound braid. A light tackle swivel connects the 30 pound flora carbon leader and the plug is tied with a uni-knot, the loop left open, giving the artificals more action. The loop will slide shut with a strike, providing shock strength.
Within minutes a rod bends and Xavie goes into action. Holding the over-sized pole, the cute smile dimple on his cheek disappears, replaced by the battle face of a determined angler. With Drew holding the strap of his life vest, Xavie pumps and winds. After a short but hard-fought scrap, the fish is at the boat. It’s a bluefish…nice fish, wrong species.
Mark increases boat speed. Multiple bluefish battles ensue until one rod bends and the drag scream signals a strong run. Mark slows the boat. “Take it Xavie, I’ll bet that’s an Albie.”
The boys’ technique is flawless. Never winding against the drag, he waits until the spool ceases giving line, then pumps and winds. He drops the rod tip and raises it smooth, all in silence. The D.N.A. of his ancestors springs forth in the quiet purpose of those born to hunt and fish.
As the Albie is brought alongside and netted, another species is added to Xavie’s growing catch list. The smile dimple on his left cheek reappears.
Xavier is the young offspring, the littlest Wampanoag.
His demeanor is that of a silent hunter, his technique sound, well-developed in so few years. And Xavie displays an inquisitive connection with the natural surroundings. He’s an “island boy”- of the Vineyard – growing and learning a land his people have inhabited for ten-thousand years. A land the Wampanoag call “Noepe.”
“In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to love.”
Schools of spawning permit join the procreational pursuit at a most spectacular of gatherings. In multitudes of silver and gold they mass, holding over a few picturesque spots suspended in crystal waters of the outer bar. Trinity is one such site, a name coined by divers in deference to three coral peaks rising 20-25 feet above a white marl bottom.
Located on the outer reef or “bar”, this ridge of coral disappeared beneath the waves at the end of the last Ice Age, millennia ago. Running east to west, with an average relief of 10 feet, this outside reef is a phenomenon, occurring nowhere else along the Florida Keys chain. Trinity is a deep spot, 55 feet, and sits inside the Atlantic drop-off due south. Bathed in nutrient rich currents, often by the Gulf Stream itself, the ledges, walls and sea-fan forest of Trinity draw resident fish and traveling schools, layered at times from surface to sea-floor. On clear water days the sandy bottom reflects the tropic sun, lighting an outdoor aquarium.
By the second week of April, on rare calm days, spawning permit rise above the corral pinnacles bathing their egg laden bellies in the warm sun. Often, pin prick fins spike the surface giving up the school. In sun, the mother-permit flash golden, ripe with the next generation. When flushed, they file beneath the boat matching numbers and moving with the herd mentality of buffalo. Seen from below, they flow over submerged ridges like Hollywood Indians sweeping down on circled wagons.
We’re aboard a powder blue Yellowfin 42 with four high horsepower Mercury’s strapped to the back. Eight minutes out of Key west Harbor, a new Trinity record. Only Popeye’s fried chicken boat made this run faster, and he was on the outward bound leg of the world powerboat championships.
As one friend Jim Butters put it following a furiously fast ride in the behemoth center console, in less than calm seas. “This isn’t a boat, it’s a carnival ride.”
Captain T.J. Ott is at the wheel. A young man mid-twenties, T.J. is beyond his years in fish miles. T.J.’s a professional tuna harvester, a skill learned from his dad. Six months of the year he battles thousand pound blue fins with rod and lance. Winter months he’s at the family home in Key West, ranging his ocean rocket west to Dry Tortugas then east to Cay Sal Banks, relentlessly pursuing a tug on the line and fish in the box.
An early morning phone call from key’s captain Steve Rodgers was short and to the point, permit on the bar. Rodgers, a native son Conch captain is privy to inside info, always one of the first to know. We’ll have a day or two before word spreads and boats flock to the site. Secrets don’t last in the southernmost city.
Nikie and I join T.J. and Diesel, a fish hound black Rottweiler weighing in at eighty pounds. Constantly in the shadow of our captain, Diesel stakes out a spot at his master’s feet, daring any challenge. He’s veteran crew and knows where the ride is softest and dry.
The spa-size live well teems in crab. Some, half-dollar size baby blues imported from Miami, others corral colored sand crabs caught this morning by Nikie, wading a shallow bar. All are declawed.
We’ll hook these squiggling crustations thru the pointed end of the carapace on a half-ounce plain lead jig. Thirty pound leader connects the weighted offering to twenty pound braid spooled on Shimano spinners, Flora-carbon of course. Seven foot Star graphite rods, in tandem with the lead jig provides casting range with backbone enough to muscle a fish. Unlike wreck or tower fishing these permit have no close cut-off place to flee to, a common occurrence around structure. Given enough head they will scrape the hook across the sand bottom or dash under a sharp edge overhang, attempting to rid themselves of the bothersome tug.
There is reason to horse these hard fighting members of the jack family in. Sharks, most often the Great American Hammerhead lurk just out of sight. Shadowing the schools these anvil-headed monsters run large, over 10 feet, some eight hundred pounds.
While conjuring a plan for a first drift a shout and splash turns every head. Our informant Steve Rodgers, leading a charter has been fighting a fish since our arrival. Now, the tan tail of a 12 foot shark slaps the side of his Conch 27 while the other end devours his angler’s twenty pound permit. The fisherman freaks. Not used to seeing a tail the size of a grown man waving at eye level he seems convinced the shark wants him.
With engines at a quite idle, T.J. eases up to a school. We cast our crabs into a group of tiny points directly above a cloud of milling, flashing shapes. Reacting to the splashes, the fish move forward and down. Free-lined off the spools our baits sink with them. Two of the three crabs are eaten. I strike and miss, Nikie’s reel is whining her rod bent double.
The bent rod sends Diesel into frenzy. He covers the length and breadth of the Yellowfin barreling by any unfortunate bystander, barking his excitement, cheering Nikie on. Paws on gunnel Diesel watches for the fish, if he’s disappointed not seeing a giant tuna it doesn’t show.
Nikie fights this fish like the seasoned pro she is. She holds the spool and lifts the rod smooth, never jerking, then winds down even and fluid. With skills honed hoisting Halibut in Alaska, this beautiful bartender-angler is a fish in the boat kind of girl.
The action is fast with multiple hook-ups and our luck with the sharks holds thru a few close calls. We release nine hard fighting permit, missing a dozen more. Low light brings our slugfest to a halt when wispy clouds gather blocking out the lowering sun. Fueled by cooling air over warmer water these late afternoon formations are common in the spring, the fish disappear with the light.
Another eight minute ride, then a slow swing by the Mallory Square sunset extravaganza ends the day. We watch “The great Rondine” wiggle in chains. A high wire artist balances on one leg and twirls plates. Cat man directs a pride of felines thru circus routines climaxing with a leap thru a flaming hoop. Nowhere else on earth does this land and sea dichotomy exist. But what to expect when one boards a “Key West carnival ride?”
Miami Boat Show Thanks to Gaff and Coastal Angler Magazines for helping to introduce
“With Money the Monkey Dances.”
Writing a book and getting it published, even if it’s self published, becomes a maddening chore that starts out as a love affair of the most exhilarating kind, but when it’s finished and the book is in your hand you’re proud to have made the journey. Phil’s Acknowledgements attest to the peaks and valleys of the aforementioned. Phil, from all we’ve heard about him, is as experienced on the water in just about every way possible: sailor, coastal fishing guide, big game tournament fisherman, ocean racer and diver with an intimate knowledge of Cuba. His story stays in bounds with his expertises. The only person missing in Phil’s intriguing descriptions of Cuba is Hemingway and Santiago, but he did meet 102 year old Gregorio Fuentes, Ernest’s captain. From Key West the adventure unfolds for a crew of American anglers who sail across the Straits of Florida to Cuba with the prize, a giant blue Giant Blue Marlin. Tournament fishing in the Gulf Stream is not without hazards, as is navigating thru the socialist society of the western hemisphere’s only communist government. Spies, informants, a powerful secret police coronel combine to assure the visiting Americans spend their dollars without spreading the taboo dogmas of capitalism, democracy and most threatening of all free speech. Amazon review said: “Classic cars, centuries old cities and breathtaking mountain vistas, off limits to U.S. citizens, masks the struggle the average Cuban faces to feed his family. Morality battles necessity for a people living on the most fertile of all Caribbean lands where a three meal day is rare, the black market a risky requirement.” Pete’s love of Christina invigorates the tale and the excitment in reading comes with the perils they face. The vicious border security police – El Guardia would imprison and probably kill Pete and his found love Christina if caught. Pete defies the rules of a communist country, tests an angry ocean – and the United States Coast Guard in a rescue dash for his gorgeous island love. 97 Miles South is a good week-ender read if it’s too cold, rainy or you’ve got a “bug” – like I had. I hope Phil comes up with another book.