Men to boys
I WENT HUNTING WHERE SOME OF THE OCEAN'S FASTEST AND BIGGEST PREDATORS LURK, AND CAME BACK WITH A MASSIVE PRIZE, AND THE REALISATION THAT BOYS WILL, OCCASIONALLY, BE BOYS
‘FIsh on!’ the captain screamed, his voice breaking on the last note, betraying his excitement. I was observing the scene from the top deck of our little fishing vessel, as the anglers below scurried and shrieked.
A fishing boat is one of those domains to where grown men like to abscond. In this domain, it is perfectly normal for fully-grown, hardened men to act like giddy teenagers, chug copious amounts of beer, and bellow obscenities at inanimate objects, uncooperative fish, the gods, and one another. It is an escape from the daily grind, work stress and domestic life. The only other place where men act similarly dim-wittedly is in a sports stadium.
I don’t mean to sound judgmental or scornful of such behaviour – I am a fully paid-up member of the Idiots Club – I merely want to make it known that I understand and appreciate how stupid we must look from the outside.
On this occasion, I had just such a bird’s-eye view as I stood on the bridge and looked down over the mad scene unfolding below. Moments before, the boat’s crew of six had been lulled into a bored, sleepy state; we had been trolling lines behind the boat for a good few hours in the hope of crossing a school of tuna. We were around 50 km offshore, and Cape Point was no longer visible, when the reel on the port side started to squeal.
The captain barked instructions: ‘Get those other lines up so they don’t tangle! Someone, cut the engines! You, up there, get down here! This is your fish!’
When I realised that he meant me, I tumbled down the ladder to the lower deck, and suddenly I was amid the action, fumbling at the rod with white knuckles.
I’m not a complete rookie – I’ve caught my share of tuna in Cape waters – but when the captain handed over the rod, I wasn’t ready for the weight and sheer force on the other end of the line. Why hadn’t I hit the gym more often? I cursed my winter indolence.
‘Are we sure this is a tuna, and not a whale?’ I asked, seriously. ‘Start cranking, boet!’ the captain laughed, while the rest of the crew began hurling a combination of insults and encouragement at me.
I heaved on the rod and slowly started to gain back some of the line that the tuna had screeched off the reel. It was slow work and for every two metres gained, one was lost as every shake of the tuna’s powerful tail threatened to wrench me overboard.
After an hour, I was covered in sweat and my arms were screaming, but we could finally see the first flashes of the yellowfin tuna as it circled below.
‘That is a monster!’ the captain whistled, which breathed some life into my leaden arms. I started cranking the reel furiously, and finally, after another half an hour, the tuna surrendered and we were able to haul it on board. It was a monster – certainly the biggest yellowfin we caught that day. I collapsed in a heap, dog-tired, but proud. With backs slapped and beers clinked, we made our way home just before the first pink signs of dusk.
‘89.7 kg’, the scale read once we were back in Hout Bay harbour. The biggest tuna I had ever caught, and a truly epic fight I would never forget.
Looking proudly at my bounty, which would feed a rather large portion of the Hout Bay community who had gathered at the harbour (I kept a fillet for myself, of course), I realised something: It’s okay for boys to be boys.
And, of course, being male isn't a prerequisite to act a little stupid and childish in pursuit of a hobby, although you’re more likely to (we are slightly less evolved). As long as said boys (or girls) behave respectfully towards nature and each other, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a bit of escapism; whether it’s to shout at total strangers kicking a ball around a pitch or curse at obstinate fish, if it makes us better and happier people in our daily lives, I’m all for it.