I am not talking about sailing from San Pedro to Caye Caulker on a pleasure trip. I am not talking about you on board a cruise ship sailing to Belize. I am not talking about you stranded at sea on board a wrecked ship or boat.
No, I am talking about you actually being in the sea for four or five hours and then coming on board for a rest and a little snack. I am talking about skin divers hunting for lobsters along the reef peeking into the crevices of the rocks and corals hunting for lobsters that would be sold to the fishing cooperative. It is about the daily activity that was the way of life 25 years ago.
Back in the 1960’s when fishing and lobster catching was the one and only industry on this island, there were those fishermen who set fishing traps and dealt with whole fish.
There were those other lobster fishermen who made lobster pats or traps and set them in their fishing grounds. Then there were those skin divers who pretty much lived as follows:
At six or seven in the morning they would set out by boat to some fishing ground, usually a spot along the reef or some area outside the reef. Equipped with diving mask, a pair of fins, and a hookstick he would jump into the sea and skin dived time and time again looking for lobsters. The lobsters would be hiding in the crevices or the corals or rocks or small caves in the water.
A skin diver would remain submerged about a minute or so at times at ten feet of water but at times at 40 to 50 feet. The lobster would be captured with the hookstick as his equipment was called. It was a piece of stick with a large hook attached to one end which would be used to hook the lobster and bring it to surface. This process was repeated perhaps two or three hundred times, so the job of the skin diver was very strenuous. He would burn up all the calories very quickly and would develop a very athletic body, if not for the extra beer he would consume.
After two or three hours of this very hectic activity, a fisherman would climb into his canoe for a little rest and snack. And here is where I tell you that eating out at sea was a very pleasant moment.
The food tasted so delicious! Usually it would be a flour tortilla or Johnny cake with a piece of cheese or a piece of fried fish. This tasted like a gourmet chef’s special after being in the salt water for so long. I don’t think Caliente’s or Elvi’s Kitchen food tasted nicer than this mid-morning snack at the time.
This mid-morning snack also gave the skin diver fishermen a chance to relax his calves that would be very tired and thus preventing muscle cramps in the sea. A drink of water also removed that unpleasant salty taste from the mouth. And then a little chat with your partner gave you the motivation to continue the dive, especially if by mid morning you only had about 25 lobsters.
By this time a fisherman should have caught some 50 lobsters, to make a 100 catch an average by the end of the day. But there were these difficult days when the catch was slow or the wind and water were very cold like these days near Christmas time that the skin diver opted to come on board every hour for a little snack.
Oh, how delicious that bread and cheese or fried fish tasted while out at sea. Every skin diver will tell you that that was like a happy hour today. You really looked forward to that moment twenty five years ago.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist