The other use for the Pier Head is as the focus of the island’s fishing industry. On our first full day Edsel and I were looking around Georgetown and ended up at the Pier Head just as a couple of boats were bringing back their catches. Trays of fish were being hauled up, and on a stone slab to one side of the quay, the fishermen were skinning, gutting and filleting the fish, mainly yellow fin tuna. We watched them for several minutes; for me it was interesting to see the skill, but for Edsel it tugged at his heartstrings. Like most West Indians, fishing is inbred into your culture, and he was obviously reminiscing about trips in boats, or dangling a rod off the rocks.
He made up his mind there and then that we needed to go out fishing. After making a few inquiries, he found out that one old Saint, a guy called Noddy, was happy to take tourists out for an afternoon’s fishing. We persuaded Anselmo, Tara’s husband, to come with us, and a young American guy from the base was keen on it too. We turned up in our shorts and t shirts and met this old small wizened guy dressed in green overalls. We were taken out in a small launch to his fishing boat just off from the pier and sat back and watched the preparations by him and his assistants First we gathered up some bait from the inshore waters, and then chugged off under the stern of the US supply ship. Immediately we headed out from the Pier Head we were targeted by a flock of frigate birds who circled overhead like vultures. Noddy set up a few rods and handed them over to his four paying guests. I had never fished in my life but had watched so many films and TV programmes which had fishing involved – how hard could it be? We got to put on the support belts for the rod round our waist. He showed me how to let the reel out gently, and simulated a fish being caught and showed me how to reel in and lock the wheel so once you pulled in it was not pulled out again. Nothing too it, the mechanism worked with ease and was no trouble.
Eventually Noddy decided this was the best place to hold position. Nothing appeared to us as particularly favourable, but he must have known that at this time of the afternoon (about 4pm) the tuna were coming into the shallower waters to feed on the shoals of juvenile fish in the area.
Nothing happened for a while then Edsel got a bite. I was watching from my limp rod position (no sniggers) as he pulled hard back into the boat to lift his rod upwards but he struggled to wind in the reel. He repeated this several times but the strain was telling. With a fag nonchalantly hanging out of his mouth, Noddy reached forward and tried to assist Edsel keep hold. He motioned for me to take over and help Edsel and we pulled with all our might. Our American friend had also got a fish and was similarly struggling. After what seemed like ages the shimmering silver body of a yellow fin tuna broke the surface, but the fish was still not giving up. He tried to head for the stern of the boat and we had to change angle to bring him back close to our side. Noddy reached for a boat hook and hauled the creature in. I was amazed to see how easily he manipulated the huge fish, flinging it down into the boat, but when his overalls were unbuttoned you saw the sinewy hard muscle that has come from 40 years fishing in these waters.
Once aboard I had a quick chance to assimilate the beauty of the creature we had brought aboard. Forty pounds of sheer muscle, tightly packed into an aerodynamic sleek body. Long thin tail and dorsal fins, couple of other fins, anal and pectoral, also sleek on the lower side. and the perfect coloration for a ocean hunter – deep blue above to stop predators from the sky, silvery underneath to confuse the prey. And little yellow features on the fins and along the centre of the trunk. And at its head a huge pair of eyes to see in the gloom and the most vicious set of jaws for a creature this size.
There was little time to take this all in , as Noddy moved the fish around on the end of his fishhook then bashed it over the brains with a cosh. In my naivety I had always thought bringing a fish out of water was enough to kill it but when I saw these tuna bash around in the well of the boat with brutal force, I realised you had to take more affirmative action.
With a bit of help from Noddy, we managed to haul out a few more fish. It was all a bit of an act. I posed for photos with the rod bent right over; the American guy asking me “Face the camera”, and “Where’s the flash” and all I can say is “Take the fucking photo” through gritted teeth. In about an hour we had six heavyset tuna in the bottom of the boat. Noddy was getting bored with us though, and flung a load of bait into the water. The tuna started jumping immediately – we were slap bang in the middle of a school of them, Noddy waved a fishhook over the water like a lance, one tuna jumped up and Noddy speared it and with the tuna still moving forward, he used its momentum to bring it into the boat. I was astonished. He did it with one arm. In the space of the next fifteen minutes he matched the catch that four of us had managed to achieve in two hours. Bait in the air, tuna jump, fishhook in, tuna somersaulted into the boat. He was not always so lucky; when he threw the bait in the air, it was a competition between the tuna and the frigate birds as to who got there first.
With twelve huge fish in our catch, we headed back to land. It was nearly dark as the catch was hauled on to the hard. While Noddy and his crew cleaned up the boat, we posed with our catches. I could barely lift mine for more than a few seconds. We weighed them, the heaviest was 55lbs. That is a lot of cans of tuna. But we did not give them all up to Noddy. We paid him to fillet one for us and Tara agreed to cook it up for us at her house. An hour later we were sitting down to barely seared tuna steaks, so moist and fresh. Edsel arranged to have some of his catch frozen. Somehow he managed to get it back not just to the UK but also through US customs to his house in Nashville.