Foolhardy fishing

2016-12-28 10:45
‘The duck almost folded up around me. I felt a little like the patty in a giant hamburger!’

‘The duck almost folded up around me. I felt a little like the patty in a giant hamburger!’ (Illustration: Henry Spencer)

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In my early 20s, I was an obsessive fisherman. On leaving work, the very first thing that I would do before driving home, was to try to establish from which direction the wind was blowing; this to determine whether it was a good night to go fishing — a light southwesterly wind being best.

I had by this time already progressed from surf angling to fishing from a small boat (and here the emphasis is on small!). A companion, Gordon Painter, owned a fibre-glass rowing boat, and I eventually persuaded him that we should row off-shore in it and fish on Limestone Reef, to the seaward side of Vetch’s. We chose our fishing nights carefully, usually favouring those when only a gentle breeze was blowing, or in the lull prior to the onslaught of a Sou’ Wester! These latter occasions were, however, undertaken with a degree of trepidation, being aware that once the off-shore breeze commenced in earnest, we would be hard-pressed to row back into the wind to regain the safety of the land, being more likely to be blown eastwards past the anchored ships in the outer anchorage, and it might then become a case of Australia here we come!

Seeing how it was Gordon’s boat, I would very generously allow him the privilege of rowing, while I assumed the far more onerous role of navigating; a highly skilled function in which I had to issue complex commands such as “Go left!” or “Go right!” Admiral Nelson would have been proud of me. Once we had rounded “The Block”, which only jutted above sea level during the lower tides, we proceeded another 200 metres seawards before finally dropping anchor over Limestone Reef. Weather conditions were always a deciding factor in our choice of fishing nights.

On one occasion we were caught un­awares and proceeded to drift in a westerly direction towards Australia. I had visions of us being blown past the ships anchored a few kilometres off-shore in the outer anchorage; past the Agulhas Current and borne along by the Southern Indian Current, finally reaching Perth a few months later. I immediately took over a skipper’s vital role of admonishing Gordon (my only crew member) to row harder; such encouragement being accompanied by a few choice nautical expletives. We continued to struggle slowly shorewards, buffeted by increasing winds and rising swells, gaining three metres, only to be blown back two. The process of alternatively gaining and losing ground continued unabated until, exhausted, we eventually made landfall.

And then a setback occurred. Gordon’s boat was stolen from the verandah of his Bulwer Road house. So what to do? A year previously I had purchased an inflatable rubber duck from Payne Bros, a large retail shop in West Street. The seven-foot blue and yellow toy boat was actually a present for my seven- and eight-year-old daughters. I initially managed to talk Gordon into continuing our fishing trips in this toy. It was, in fact, so small that we were forced to sit on the rim, with only our feet resting on the inflatable’s floor. Ambitiously we then started paddling out to Limestone, some 400 metres off-shore. It was however a bit daunting sitting so far out to sea at midnight, with nothing but a thin rubberised canvas tube between us and the seven- and eight-foot sharks which often circled our vessel. After this episode, Gordon subsequently refused to venture out with me again, complaining to my wife that I was quite mad.

Unconcerned, I continued fishing alone. An element of nervousness accompanied my newfound solo-sailor status, so I decided to rather launch from the base of Vetch’s Pier, near the sand pumping pier.

Then paddling across a section of the artificial reef, known locally as Henry’s Knee, I would anchor on the seaward side in shallower, comparatively safer, waters — being only 300 metres from the beach this theoretically meant that I should encounter fewer large sharks.

On one such occasion, at 2 am, after fishing for over an hour and a half, I leant forward to pull in the anchor. As I did so the duck almost folded up around me. I felt a little like the patty in a giant hamburger! I immediately cut the anchor rope and sitting back on the rim, in order to try to keep the craft at least partially inflated, commenced paddling frantically shorewards.

Fortunately, the tide was in, allowing me to safely row over the pier itself. I recall paddling straight over Vetch’s only stopping 100 metres up the beach once the craft had grounded in the car park.

And so even I finally realised that to continue my late night off-shore fishing escapades in a toy boat was indeed madness!

About the author: 

Henry Spencer is a consultant on ageing and retirement, a motivational speaker and prolific author. In the early sixties, newly married and living in Durban, he was passionate about fishing and this story describes his (what some considered crazy) efforts to take his bait to where the fish were; ie further out to sea. He was at the time unable to afford a ski-boat and at one stage even resorted to borrowing a very small rubber dingy, which had been a gift to his two young daughters, aged eight and 10.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  true stories of kzn 2016

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