Harpooning Swordfish

Working at sea for days on end is grueling and not for the faint of heart.  I learned what it was like while interviewing, Richard “Sarge” Rowell, who has been a commercial fisherman since the late 1970s.  He recalled his first year at sea when he worked for Peter Brown on the offshore lobster boat the Sea Fever. Sarge has many memories of that first season, and he recalls that the endless setting and hauling of lobster traps was temporarily suspended when the crew spotted a sword fish.

It was a flat-ass calm day in July and in the distance they spotted the lazily moving fin of the swordfish.  The crew had missed bagging a swordfish on two earlier trips, but that didn’t stop them from having the harpoon ready to go and the attached rope coiled and secured at its end to two large buoys.  Since the other crewmembers had their chance with the harpoon on the earlier trips, this time they let the greenhorn have a shot.

While Peter Brown skippered the boat toward the 400-pound fish– careful to keep the engine at a constant speed so as not to spook it– Sarge stood excitedly in the aluminum pulpit extending from the bow with the harpoon in his hand ready to fire.  When he felt the boat had gotten as close as it could to the swordfish he reached back with every bit of his strength and threw the harpoon.  It hit the swordfish in the back and the fish dove, line flying off the boat at an incredible clip.  Another crewman had the two buoy balls ready to drop over the rail, and when the end of the line was in sight, he dropped the balls, and away they went, being pulled by the mass of quivering muscle below.

The crew whooped and hollered, slapping Sarge on the back.  As the fish pulled the bright orange buoys through the water, Peter steered the Sea Fever in pursuit.  The men knew that before they attempted to hoist the fish up they must first wait for the buoys to slow down, indicating the fish was played out.  Over the next forty minutes the speed of the swordfish, straining against the drag of the balls and wounded from the harpoon, slowly diminished.  When the balls all but stopped the men used the trap hauler to slowly bring back the line with the swordfish at the other end.  As the exhausted swordfish came to the surface it was gaffed by two crewmen.  Keeping a safe distance from the thrashing sword on the fish, the crew carefully hauled the fish up and over the rail and dropped it on the deck.  It was a great moment for Sarge – and for the entire crew — because they would all split the considerable profit from the sale of the swordfish.  Trips that started out like that were the best ones, and Sarge knew he had found a home at sea.

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