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  • Writer's picturebarthedges

Paradigm Shift, Season 2, Chapter 4 August 21 - 31

I usually wait a month or so to send out an update, but I figured the Wedgeport Tuna Tournament was worthy of its own addition. But before I get to the tournament, we had a couple of really nice nights in Lunenburg, NS and a great night on anchor on the way to Yarmouth from Lunenburg. While in Lunenburg we were joined by our friends Eric and Yvonne Jacquard. Eric and Yvonne are from Wedgeport and were one of the primary reasons we came back to NS this year. We had such a good time with them last year while we were in Yarmouth that we really wanted to come back and spend more time with them. We got to catch up while in Lunenburg and they also introduced us to their old friends and our new friends Lucky and Anne Tanner. Lucky and Anne live on the LaHave River which is a 15 minute drive from Lunenburg. We went to their new house so Eric and Yvonne could check out the new digs and so we could all meet over lunch. Anne made a tasty seafood chowder and we all had time to get acquainted. Their new house is a downsizer from their family home and Lucky and Anne are in the process of renovating. Their view of the river needs no renovation. It is spectacular! If we come back to NS next year we will go up the LaHave River and anchor in front of Lucky and Anne’s for sure. As it turned out, two of the anglers for the tournament dropped out and Lucky was able to join our team.

After we left Lunenburg we were headed to Yarmouth. The total trip from Lunenburg is about 160 miles so we split it into two segments. We had intended to stop in Shelburne but we really wanted to get a bit further on the first of the two days so that we could time our approach to Cape Sable. The currents at Cape Sable are quite strong and if we time them incorrectly we would really be going slow - even for us! We selected Cape Negro Island as our stopping point. We arrived around 5:00 p.m. and dropped the hook. The first time we dropped the anchor we were dragging the bottom so we moved a couple hundred yards and tried again. This time, no problem. We dropped the tender and took Tortilla up to the beach. It was an actual sandy beach! Julia and Tortilla were in heaven. The next morning we departed the anchorage at 6:30 a.m. on our way to Yarmouth. We arrived at Cape Sable at 8:30 a.m. and the tide was just turning our direction and we sailed around the Cape. We were in and out of light fog all day but the sea conditions were excellent. We went through the Tusket Islands and Eric called me on the cell. He found us on Find Ship and he said it listed us as traveling at 11.8 kts. The current was strong and we were flying through the islands. I was afraid the bottom paint might be coming off we were going so fast :). We arrived in Yarmouth at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, August 17. The tourney starts on Tuesday, August 21. We were just in time for fish and chips from the Red Shed, a pop up restaurant right next to Killam’s Wharf where we were docked. On Saturday, it rained quite hard and sort of ruined the weigh-in for the Yarmouth Shark Scramble. The Shark Scramble rules allow for three blue sharks per boat. These sharks are very prevalent in NS waters and they are referred to as “blue dogs”. There were 15 or so boats participating in the tournament and each one took turns backing up to the weigh station where a crane came over the side of the wharf and picked up the sharks to be weighed. It turned out the boats were backing up directly off our bow. These boats are pretty big and the captains certainly know how to drive them, but this is a fishing tournament and sometimes (all the time) drinking can be involved with the fishing and especially during the weigh in. I was watching closely to make sure we didn’t get hit by a drunk boat captain. There were a couple of fairly close calls but no collisions. The department of fisheries monitors the tournament and the sharks are used for research and some are sold to restaurants for shark stew and such. The biggest shark was 348 lbs. Not too bad for a blue dog. Sorry, no pics as I don’t want to offend any of my readers :)

Tuesday came quickly. Lucky and his friend Sydney picked up Julia, Tortilla and me from the boat. Sydney has been friends with Lucky and Eric for 30 odd years. We stopped by Sydney’s house on the way to Eric’s and had a quick beer and met his wife, Claudette, and Lucky and Anne’s daughter and grandson. Sydney and Claudette live at the end of yet another beautiful river in a lovely two bedroom cottage and have a guest house on the property. From Sydney’s we went to Eric’s to get ready for the sendoff party at the wharf. Eric has just finished making clam rappie pie, a local Nova Scotia specialty. Rappie pie consists of starchless potatoes boiled down and creamed. I’m sure there is a lot of butter and other good stuff and Eric adds clams. This was to be dinner Tuesday night. After a couple of hours by the pool with Yvonne, Joel (Eric & Yvonne’s oldest son who is captain of the Atlantic Angler) and his two boys, Lucky, and team member Jordan, we all headed to the wharf for the sendoff ceremony and shot gun start. Exciting stuff!

A few tidbits about the tournament. This is the 15th year for the tournament. It is a real community event. There is a 5k/10k walk/run, a scavenger hunt and Trivia night on Sunday, the sendoff party Tuesday, a weigh-in on Friday and a weigh-in on Saturday followed by the closing ceremony and a dinner dance on Saturday night. All the proceeds from the event go to keep the Wedgeport Tuna Museum open. The Tuna Tournament relies on some of the proceeds to be able to buy tuna quota to allow for the fish to be caught. The quota system in Nova Scotia allocates a certain amount of catch to each of the licenses. It starts at a provincial level and trickles down to a license level. Eric, Joel, and Camille have two tuna licenses that allow for approximately 5,000 lbs of tuna for each license. The Tuna Tournament was able to buy some quota on the market and some of the local fishermen who have a license but don’t use all of their quota donate some for the tourney. Each boat participating in the tournament is allowed one blue fin tuna. The biggest fish wins. There is no selecting a fish. You keep the first one you get to the boat and can gaff/harpoon. Some of the ones you hook don’t make it to the boat for various reasons, and even if they get to the boat, you may not be able to get a harpoon in the fish and it breaks off. Getting a 500-1,000 lb tuna to the boat is tough but getting it leadered and caught is another story.

The fishing part of the tourney starts Tuesday evening with a 7:00 p.m. shot gun start. It was a beautiful night and there was a large gathering at the wharf for the sendoff. There were 16 boats in total participating. I was on the Atlantic Angler with Joel and Eric and teammates Jordan, Marcel, Birdie, Lucky, and Landon. Landon and I were first time participants in the

tourney. We pushed off the dock at 7:00 p.m. and the sixteen boats gathered for the start. Shot gun starts are fun because all of the boats take off at the same time and speed off to their fishing spots. Sport fishing boats and center console boats like my old boat (Volatility) take off and run 30 kts or so after the start. Commercial lobster boats move a bit more slowly. Top end speed for the Atlantic Angler is similar to VAMOS - about 10 kts. The rest of the boats were similar, so the shot gun start was more like a turtle race than a traditional shot gun start, but it was as fun as any I’ve been in.

Atlantic Angler leaving the dock.

The Shot Gun Start

Some of the boats headed to George’s Bank just south of Wedgeport and some headed farther offshore to the Hell Hole, about 100 miles south of Wedgeport. The benefit of going to the Hell Hole is that besides blue fin tunas you may catch big eye tunas and albacore. Big eye and albacore are not limited and do not go against the quota so if you are lucky you bring home some fish to weigh for the ‘total boat weight’ prize. About half of the boats headed to George’s and half to the Hell Hole. Some headed back to the wharf because they elected to fish later in the week and some went straight to the Tusket Islands to get ready for fishing - i.e. eating and drinking excessively. We went straight to George’s Bank to eat clam rappie pie and to catch a blue fin! It was only a two hour trip to the fishing grounds and we spent the time eating, drinking, and getting acquainted. Jordan is a private investment and insurance advisor in Yarmouth. Landon is a commercial fisherman who makes a living lobstering but he does not tuna fish. Birdie retired from commercial fishing after fishing for 50 years! Marcel is a seafood broker who buys and sells lobsters and other seafood locally in Yarmouth. Lucky is a retired scallop boat captain who fished for scallops in NS waters and other for 40 years. There was a great deal of accumulated boating and fishing knowledge on Atlantic Angler. We got to the fishing grounds at about 10 p.m. and started cutting up herring for chum. We had our first fish on by 10:30 p.m. He broke off but Lucky had a good fight for 30 mins or so. I was next in the chair and I didn’t have to wait too long. I was excited to be hauling in a blue fin again. I’d been fishing with Eric and Joel in 2014 and again in 2016 and we had good luck on each of those trips. I had the fish on for 25 mins or so and lost him before we got him to the boat. Next up was Landon. He had never caught a blue fin. There is a good deal of technique to fighting a 500 lb plus fish. If you have poor technique you better hope you are really strong because if not, the fish will wear you out way before you wear out the fish. Tunas are not like marlins. Tunas can fight for hours on end and seemingly not tire out. Marlins will wear out at some point and will even die during the fight if you are not careful. A dead marlin rarely gets to the boat because the dead weight eventually breaks the line. We had to wait quite a while for the third fish to hit. Most of the guys had found a bunk and were sawing wood. When we got the fish on we woke up Landon and got him in the chair. I was awake because I get so excited fishing that I can only take quick naps. Landon fought his fish for two hours and when we got him close to the boat the leader broke, probably from chaffing back and forth across his teeth. Too bad because he looked like a good fish. After we lost the fish I didn’t realize that it was now 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning when Landon finished fighting his fish. I was getting really tired and apparently so were Eric and Joel. We shut down fishing for a couple hours and everyone sacked out for a couple hours while we floated around the fish grounds.

At some point Eric woke and started fishing again. One or two of the guys that fell asleep early woke as well and before I knew what was happening they had two fish on. Normally we would cut one of the lines and fight only one fish because the chances of getting both fish to the boat are not good because there is a good chance to get tangled and lose both fish. However, for the tournament we choose to fight both fish. Marcel was the angler so he grabbed the rod closest to the chair and started fighting. Meanwhile Eric nursed the second fish. About 20 minutes into the fight, two whales surfaced between Marcel and his fish and cut the line. Crazy stuff! Eric gave him the other line and he started on a second “fish”. It tuned out the second fish was a seal instead of a tuna. So much for Marcel’s turn. Jordan’s luck was not much better. He was in the chair for 30 mins or so and we lost another fish. Then we had a dry spell for quite a few hours. One minute the fish were there and then they were gone. We passed the time catching haddock, mackerel and a couple of squid using light lines. It was fun fishing and it turned out that the haddock was very good eating! Finally, we got back into the fish at about 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening. It was difficult to keep track of time because it was so foggy that it never really got light during the day. Birdie was up! Birdie has caught all kinds of fish during his long commercial fishing career and he has been in the tournament several times. At seventy years of age I was skeptical about the chances of him getting a big fish to the boat. He strapped in and was ready for a fight.

The gear we used for fishing is pretty darn good stuff. Shimano 130 reels and eight foot long super stiff rods. The reels are packed with 200 lb braided line and a 100 yard top shot of 300 lb mono. We used herring for bait and chum. The reels can put up to seventy pounds of drag on the fish. That may not mean much to non-fishy people reading this, but I tried to pull one inch of line off the reel using my hand when the reel was set to max drag. Not happening! However, the fish pull hundreds of yards of line off with seemingly no problem. When you apply max drag on the fish, it feels like you are going to get pulled over the side and into the 55 degree water. You probably would if you weren’t attached to the fighting chair.

Birdie sat for a couple of minutes and watched the fish take plenty of line. When the line is going out there is nothing you can do but put more drag on and wait. Usually you just wait and let him take line and hopefully begin the slow process of wearing him out. There is no way to know how much line went out, but it seemed like a lot. I was worrying even more about Birdie getting this fish to the boat. He started fighting the fish and made a good deal of progress during the first 30 mins. Within another 10 or 15 minutes the fish was visible from time to time. He was staying fairly high in the water and not diving deep. Sometimes this is good because a deep tuna is really hard to pull up. But sometimes a tuna that stays high up just turns sideways and makes it harder to pull him. At this point Birdie’s fish seemed cooperative. Ha! That was about to change. The rod that Birdie was using had about 100 feet of mono left on it after one of the fish broke off earlier. Birdie had the fish to the point where the mono was starting to wind on the reel. Then the fish made a run and took a hundred yards at full drag. Birdie got him back to mono and it started over again, and again and again. Eric said the fish will come to the boat when he is ready and not before. We were all getting anxious at this point. Birdie had been in the chair for more than an hour and half and for the last 45 mins he was battling back and forth over 100 yards of line. Every time it seemed that Birdie got the upper hand the fish exerted some effort and out went the line. Birdie was getting tired and a bit frustrated. Finally after two hours, Birdie got him to the surface. Eric grabbed the leader and before you knew it Joel had a harpoon in the gill plate. We had our fish! Before bringing him on board Eric attached a rope through his gill and we let him back out. We drove around with the fish swimming in the water while being slowly towed along. The purpose of this is to get all of the built up lactic acid out of the fish’s system. If the lactic acid stays in the fish it makes for an inferior meat when it is eaten. After an hour or so we had the fish on board.

Birdie with the keeper! Eric's peeking from behind.

The proud team.

Now the fun begins! I described this fishing tournament to Eric as an eating and drinking tournament with some fishing and he seemed to agree. We took our fish and went in to the Tusket Islands. We arrived at Deep Cove Island at 10:30 p.m. in the fog. We tied up next to a friendly competitor that had yet to fish. They had gone straight to the islands to drink before fishing. All was surprisingly quiet. The crew of the other boat was fast asleep. We cracked a beer and celebrated our beautiful fish and then turned in. We woke to fog but it quickly cleared and Thursday was a gorgeous day in the Tusket Islands. We moved about in the islands visiting other crews and drinking all day. We were waiting for the incoming tide at the tuna wharf so we could take the Atlantic Angler to the wharf to the weigh-in on the following day. The water approaching the wharf is fairly shallow so you can only approach and depart at close to high tide. During the day we barbecued chicken and left over steaks and Jordan made creamed lobster! We were not wanting for food or drink that is for sure.

Now the fun begins! I described this fishing tournament to Eric as an eating and drinking tournament with some fishing and he seemed to agree. We took our fish and went in to the Tusket Islands. We arrived at Deep Cove Island at 10:30 p.m. in the fog. We tied up next to a friendly competitor that had yet to fish. They had gone straight to the islands to drink before fishing. All was surprisingly quiet. The crew of the other boat was fast asleep. We cracked a beer and celebrated our beautiful fish and then turned in. We woke to fog but it quickly cleared and Thursday was a gorgeous day in the Tusket Islands. We moved about in the islands visiting other crews and drinking all day. We were waiting for the incoming tide at the tuna wharf so we could take the Atlantic Angler to the wharf to the weigh-in on the following day. The water approaching the wharf is fairly shallow so you can only approach and depart at close to high tide. During the day we barbecued chicken and left over steaks and Jordan made creamed lobster! We were not wanting for food or drink that is for sure.

A georgous day in the Tusket Islands.

The first weigh-in was on Friday at 6:00 p.m. Our boating friends, Beatrice and Bruno, had arrived Tuesday in Yarmouth on ‘Trixie’. They were docked directly behind us at Killam’s Wharf. They had been to Yarmouth a couple years before and enjoyed their stay and they had found Lower Wedgeport and the tuna weigh-in so they wanted to join us for this year’s weigh-in. Eight boats had come to the tuna wharf for the first day of weigh-in. All were tied up in close quarters which made for the party atmosphere. The wharf does not have floating docks and there is a 10 foot tide so you have to climb ladders to get on and off the boat most of the time. This makes for a challenge for some of the ladies and older folks but it didn’t seem to dissuade many from getting on the boats and enjoying burgers and dogs and of course a libation or two. The first couple of fish were modest sizes for blue fin - most were about 500 lbs, give or take 50 lbs. We had high hopes for our fish but we didn’t think it was much more than 600 lbs. When our turn to weigh-in came they brought a fork lift to the wharf next to the boat. The fish had been cooling in the ice box on deck. Joel and Eric used the boom to raise the fish and we took some more pictures. The fish was carted off to the weigh-in station and we all accompanied it to get a group picture. Our fish weight was somewhat disappointing at 561 lbs, but at that point we were in the lead. By the end of the day, we were in a distant second place with the first place fish being 675 lbs. Since we weren’t going to win we decided to root for Camille, Joel’s younger brother who was fishing on Fin Seeker, Eric’s other boat. Our fish was carted off, cleaned and boxed up shortly after it was weighed. Like just about all of the tuna from NS it was headed for Japan and the fish market auction. Since the weigh-in happens over two days and the fish are sent off immediately after weigh-in, they present the day one first place team with the trophy and get pictures in case they are the eventual tournament winners. If a bigger fish is weighed on Saturday then they do the award photos with the winners. This sort of puts additional pressure on the day one leading team.

Saturday was the final weigh-in. By this point all 16 boats were tied up at the tuna wharf. You could literally walk from one boat to the other without any problems. More grilling and drinking. More fish stories and more fish to weigh-in. We were hoping Camille had the winner, but if not we hoped his fish was smaller than ours so that Joel could enjoy bragging rights for the year amongst the Jacquard boys. When Camille’s turn came we waited anxiously for the weight. His fish weighed in at 563 lbs, two pounds more than Joel’s fish but far behind the leaders. Camille would enjoy bragging rights for the year. It looked like we would finish third and that the day one leader would win, until, that is, the last fish was weighed. Once the last fish passed our boat on the fork lift you could tell it was large. They got him to the weigh-in station and once he was weighed you could see on the face of the officials that it was close. The announced weight was 680 lbs, five pounds more than the day one leader. The crowd loved it because it was such a close contest. We finished in fourth place overall but we had a great time and the experience was truly one to remember for life.

Camille and his team - with bragging rights!

The next day the weather was excellent for a crossing to Maine so we skipped the dinner and dance and headed out at 3:30 a.m. The weather was excellent and we saw whales, some jumping tunas and plenty of dolphins and seals along the way. Trixie was right behind us and in radio contact all day long. We crossed the imaginary line between Canadian and US waters at 9:36 a.m. and we cleared US customs over the phone a couple hours later when we were in cell range. We arrived at Southwest Harbor, Maine at Dysart’s Marina at 3:30 p.m. - a 13 hour crossing. Our first time back in the USA since departing on June 5th for Bermuda. By this point we traveled a total of 2,539 nautical miles for the trip. Bluewater, Happy, Gratitude, Liberdade, and April K were all Dysart’s as well. We had a nice reunion happy hour the following day. It occurs to me again that retired life does not stink!

Crossing the border.

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