Fishing is an important part of the life on Karaka.
A big part of the life on board when we are offshore and in the islands is fishing, where everybody participate in catching, killing, cutting, preparing and eating fish, in big communal meals.
Those activities and meals are the cement of our community. Tom saves the fishing stories for nice evening sipping rum on the aft deck, so here we’ll just describe the way we catch fish on Karaka.
Our main means of fishing are trolling and spearfishing, with some bottom fishing now and then.
Trolling is done at the back of the boat while under way, usually two lines in the water, towing lures that require speed to be effective. We have reels mounted on the rail with hose clamps, spooled with heavy line, wire leader and either a squid skirt at high speeds or a Rapala at low speeds.
When the fish is hooked, we put gloves on and haul it in by hand as there is no rod to fight it. The gear is big enough that it breaks only when very big fish strike.
Trolling like that, we are moderately successful. It takes a lot of attention and care in choosing the lures, depending on speed, weather, temperature of the water, etc. We target mainly pelagic, like tunas, bonitos, dorados, mackerels, wahoos, barracudas, trevallys, with the odd marlin or sailfish, that we usually do not manage to bring on board. The biggest fish we caught that way was a 40 or 45 Lbs sailfish in the north of Zanzibar.
We usually process the fish immediately since we don’t have a fridge. We mostly cook it right away or marinate it for a barbecue once anchored. If there is too much meat, we dry it in the sun after having marinated it in oil and vinegar and rolled in spices. We then hang it outside for a couple days and end up with a tasty snack that keeps for a few weeks without smelling fishy. It is close to jerky or biltong, but with fish. It is much better tasting and smelling than asian style dried fish.
When there is no restrictions against it and where the water is nice, spearfishing is the main mean of providing meat to the crew. To spearfish we use rubber powered spearguns and Hawaiian slings, freediving on the reefs drop offs.
The species targeted this way are mainly groupers, snappers, coral trouts, jacks, breams, and the odd lobster. It is rare but sometime a pelagic will venture close enough to be shot, we landed dorados, barracudas, bonitos and mackerels before.
The threat of shark is taken care off by one of the divers, towing a kayak behind him, so we can get the fish out of the water as soon as possible. The shark protector also carry a hand-spear about 6 or 7 feet long with a sharp bit, and poke away sharks who get too curious. We never had any severe accidents with sharks, but we did have some close calls now and then in remote areas. Fortunately, there are some parts of the world where the shark population is still very active. The real scare was a barracuda encounter in Cuba. Although barracuda aren’t aggressive, they can get excited when there are struggling fish around and they can make mistakes.
One almost killed Tom. Check the story here : Barracuda article.
So we fish mostly for food, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find the activity enjoyable and rewarding.
Vegans and vegetarians
Vegans and vegetarians who do not kill and eat fish would be excluded from this and will be left to be outsiders, especially if they openly disapprove.
On a practical level, it is difficult to simply be vegan while doing what we do while not being very necessary as we are mostly not taking part in the reprehensible meat and fishing industry that veganism is presented as an alternative for. Eating wild caught ocean fish on the boat actually reduces our carbon footprint. We catch our own food, it is healthy, ecofriendly and one could even argue, better than buying imported vegan foods packaged in plastic.
On the boat, we attempt to be ethical omnivores. We eat very little meat other than the seafood we catch because we do not have a fridge to keep it, but we also eat local dairy and eggs regularly. We do indulge in meat when we feel it is justifiable to do so. When we run out of animal products to eat, we sometimes eat vegan dishes, but by necessity, not by choice. We frequently do vegan pancakes in the morning for example when we run out of milk and eggs. We know a lot of excellent vegan recipes that are very practical on a boat. We even have vegan cooking books, We just don’t limit ourselves to vegan foods if we have the choice.
The thing with being vegan on board is that while offshore and in remote islands with no villages and no stores nearby, it is sometimes very difficult to find fresh produce to sustain a balanced vegan diet. It becomes very quickly very impractical to be a healthy vegan on board a small boat in some remote island nations in the pacific for example. A balanced diet is already harder to get as a vegan while traveling, even more so on a boat at sea with no reliable source of fresh fruits or veggies. Store bought cans of fruits and veggies are not that ecofriendly, nor that healthy, nor that tasty, to be honest. It takes a lot of dedication and efforts to obtain the foods necessary for a complete vegan diet (canning your own for example) while doing what we do and it is unlikely the rest of the crew, who are not vegan, would have much motivation for it and go out of their way to accommodate your personal diet of choice. It is a lot to ask. And of course we do not relish the prospects of arguing about this endlessly at every meal with the crew or enduring disapproving looks and comments every time we kill a fish.
It is problematic to have a mixed vegan and non vegan crew in a close-nit community like on Karaka. The boat’s kitchen is small and it is not very practical to cook both something vegan and something non vegan for a meal. At the very least is requires careful planning and some extra work. Non vegan crew who want to be nice (or simply avoid passive aggressiveness from the vegan crew) then often start cooking more and more vegan dishes (which often turn out terrible without fresh products) even if they would prefer not to, and soon non vegan people resent the vegan for limiting what they eat, making them eat more vegan than they care to. The result can be explosive (as a vegan you must have been dragged into long and heated debates about veganism around a table before so you’ll know what I mean) and it is certainly corrosive to group cohesion. It is a normal and common group dynamic, but it is one we prefer to avoid in the context of a crew at sea.
So if you prefer to be vegan, we have no objections, as that is a very viable option to reduce your carbon footprint if you are living in a city or something, but with rare exceptions for exceptional individuals, we have now decided not to accept vegans or vegetarians on board anymore. The main reason for this is that they get excluded from a very central part of our lifestyle and this creates isolation, tension and discontent, negatively affecting the harmony of the crew.
This has nothing to do with the vegan as a person or even against veganism per se, but since fishing and communal non vegan meals are such a big part of our lifestyle, anybody joining us needs to be part of it. Vegans cannot be by definition, so they do not belong on our boat. There is an incompatibility. On the other hand, we feel bad about turning people down for not eating fish, so we are also in touch with vegan boats who sometimes take crew, don’t hesitate to ask us for their contact as we’ll be happy to redirect you toward them.
Not related with being bitten by barracudas but about diving, we have to mention that we don’t have scuba gear onboard. It would be great but considering the costs, we won’t be able to afford that for a long time…we’ve got room for storing the gear though, if anybody want to bring its own. We don’t have a compressor but it is always possible to fill tanks in dive shops.
Tom is certified Advanced Open Water with PADI and logged about 80 dives.
He doesn’t remember ever paying to dive…and learned scuba out of books and used it at first to clean the Ranger’s hull. He got certified by a friend in Costa Rica and dove only from cruising boats since… Most of our diving is done on breath hold. We practice and train and we’ve achieved a decent level. Tom has no problem freediving to a depth of 30m and can stay underwater more than 5 minutes.