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.
In Cuba, I stood on the short cliffs of Cojimar, the village made famous by Hemingway. I remembered a story told to me years before by Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s captain and friend…..he was 102.
The Monster of Cojimar
It came in with the stream one November day, passing beneath Manolo’s skiff….seven meters in length with the girth of two oxen. It ate the broadbill from his line, swallowing it whole.
From that day the shark took what it wanted, the small snappers and the largest marlin. Our livelihood ceased.
The Santeria said it was sent by Chango, to test our manhood. Our priest held a special mass on the beach at dawn where we tried to pray the fish away. Still the shark stayed, cruising the waters at the edge of the drop, a long black shadow, a demon sent from hell.
When it took Tito, the turtle diver – a man to brave for his own good – we decided to kill the beast. Our very existence required it.
Juan forged a massive hook and honed the point. We attached it to a chain used to anchor large ships, shackled to a hawser line, bigger around than a mans leg. Four steel fuel drums were attached, the rig was ready.
Two kilos of squid, ray and barracuda meat covered the hook. We drew lots to see would would deliver the bait. Myself and another drew short and before noon we rowed out beyond the drop.
Ashore, a dozen men held the hawser, waiting. The shark took the bait easily, suspended two fathoms below the skiff. It turned as if searching for more – the dorsal fin a submerged sail, the cold lifeless eye, big as a cars headlight, looking up through the clear water.
We shouted to the men on shore and they heaved against the great weight, driving the point of the hook into the flesh. The barrels flew off the beach and disappeared beneath the sea.
Then, the fish surfaced, thrashing wildly, fighting against the hook that could be seen clearly buried in the massive jaw. Through the remainder of the day we watched the fish, each time it surfaced the circle tightened.
“Why does it not swim off.” one man finally asked. No one ventured an answer.
By nightfall the sea was quite. I was back at the beach before dawn, staring at an empty ocean.
Mid-morning we rowed to the spot where the shark was last spotted. Using a bucket glass we saw the great fish lying dead on the sand bottom, five fathoms down. The drums were wedged under a brain corral head holding the shark like an anchor. The shark’s circles had tightened, until unable to swim, it drowned.
A diver cleared the rope and we ferried it to shore. A team of four stout oxen dragged the carcass up on the beach. By then the entire village had gathered, even the school emptied, students and teachers alike.
A man from the university came to take a picture. He measured it and claimed its’ weight at 3 tons…no one disputed his word.
Online Fisherman E-mag will give away a copy of “97 Miles South”
Monday, Dec.10. Go to www.theonlinefisherman.com to win.