The Summer of 1969 by Roger Knight
Where the remote Bermuda’s ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespy’d,
From a small boat, that row’d along,
The list’ning winds receive’d this song.
The Summer of 1969
When I recall all the different summer jobs I have held, some of which, were somewhat tedious, the one that stands out, above all the others, by far, was working as a fisherman’s mate.
Kenny Minx was a robust and swarthy Bermudian, with a confident and unassuming demeanour. The years of working as a fisherman, were etched into his face and hands, which were scarred, from holding fishing lines under the strain of fish, fighting for their lives.
Early each morning, in his open wooden boat, that couldn’t have been more than 20 feet in length, with an ageing outboard motor, we would head out through the Cut from St. Georges Harbour into the open sea.
Apart from a couple of flares, that were not properly stored, there were no life jackets, no ship to shore radio, no shade from the relentless sun, and no other safety equipment on board. Instead, we kept a machete to decapitate any errant moray eels, a baseball bat to stun sharks with, as well as several buckets of sand, along with anchovies to chum with, and of course our fishing tackle and bait.
All of this at the time, was of no consequence to me. Why would it be? I was working in paradise; with all its sought-after elements. The sun warming my bare back, the sea spray in my face, skimming along on a turquoise and emerald coloured sea, that was so clear, that any undiscovered gold, from sunken treasure, would glint up at you.
We would soon be joined by flying fish, who would glide above the water for vast distances, before splashing back into the sea. Occasionally, some would even land in the boat and become live bait. Our day would start by checking on all the pots, some deeper than others and haul them up to inspect their contents. What we hoped for, would be groupers, parrot fish and lobsters, as these were preferred by the restaurant that Kenny supplied his catch to.
We would balance each pot on the boat’s gunwale, to shake the fish out, that we wanted into the boat, and other unwanted sea creatures, back into the sea. This was easier said than done, particularly if there was a moray eel inside. Typically, they would disgorge the fish they had eaten earlier, as this would enable them to defend themselves more effectively. The stench from the decomposing fish was quite overpowering.
On one occasion, a large green moray eel managed to slither into the boat and latched on to Kenny’s ankle. Even after decapitating it, I still had to prise it’s jaws apart to release its grip on him. Having emptied and re-baited all the pots, we would line fish for the rest of the day. This was mainly for larger fish, such as Bonito, Dolphin, Mackerel, Tuna and Amberjack who were at shallower depths. We would chum first, which would entail making a tight ball of sand with the anchovy and dropping them overboard, where they would disperse at about a 20 to 30-foot depth.
Whilst this would effectively attract larger surface fish, it also attracted sharks, which were a nuisance to us, as they kept the other fish away. Once we had a shark on the line, as we drew it closer to the boat, it would zig zag from one side to the other, making it difficult to gaff it and land it into the boat.
I remember trying to gaff a hammerhead shark and slipping on a bit of squid bait on the gunwale and ending up on top of the shark. Fortunately, Kenny hauled me out in time, with only minor abrasions.
There would be some days, that we were so far offshore, that the Island would drop out of sight, and it was just the two of us in a small boat, with the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean around us. Sometimes, the outboard motor refused to start, and it would be a long way to row back, and I don’t think a small open boat would have lasted long in rough seas and could easily become immersed from a rogue bow wave.
But no matter. At 18 years old, I was up for anything, and that youthful invincibility was all pervading.
To recall all this has not been difficult, and still uplifts me, as an example of kinship, harmony and a co-existence with the sea and its inhabitants. Nostalgia would probably elevate this experience to a level of pure sublimity; however, I remain forever grateful for that summer job of 1969, whose impact still resonates with me 50 years later.