If you ever go out in a boat, in salt water, at night, maybe you should read this…………………………………..I’m pretty sure that everyone has heard of GTMO, or as civilians refer to it as Gitmo. That’s a military acronym for the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Not everyone has heard of Leeward Point. Leeward Point is the name of the island about a quarter of a mile out in the Bay across from GTMO. That’s where the Marine Corps base is located and the military prison now housing the terrorist.
The rocky bottom on the stretch of water in between is the best area you ever want to see, for Longustino. Longustino are Caribbean lobsters without claws. Their favorite place to hide from predators, is under rocks. The locals call them “Longusta”. The best way to catch them is at night from a boat, in shallow water, using a lantern and a gig.
Between the Naval Base on the mainland and the Marine Corps Base the current can run pretty strong, depending on the tides. The Navy ran a ferry service to the Island, 24/7. At night the ferry used search lights, bells and whistles to warn boaters to stay out of the way.
One summer night my Dad had checked a 14 foot dinghy with a 25 horsepower motor, out of Special Services. Dad wanted to take my little brother Gary and I out gigging for longusta. Dad used a bent piece of re-bar that he placed in the bow of the boat, to hang a kerosene lantern. My brother and I would maintain a watch in the bow for likely places to turn over rocks in our search, with a potato rake. Dad stayed in the stern until we got to a likely spot, then he would turn off the kicker and cast out the anchor. We would turn over the rocks and gig as many of our fleeing prey as we could, then up anchor and drift a little ways, then cast out the anchor again.
The moon sunk behind a cloud for a few minutes and we started to hear what sounded like claps of thunder, all around the boat. Mysterious large splashes of water would drench us, followed by more claps of thunder.
The moon slid back out from behind the clouds and we could see the cause of all the commotion. We were in a sea of motion, but it wasn’t from the waves, it was from giant manta rays, 12 to 15 feet across, wider than our boat was long. The humongous rays were performing a mating ritual by jumping out of the water, sailing through the air and slapping their powerful wings on the surface of the water to attract a mate.
We were right smack dab in the middle of a large pod. Our boat had drifted out to deeper water. The deafening noise and roiling water had distracted us for a minute or so that we lost our focus on what we were doing. The anchor had gotten caught in a bunch of rocks and wouldn’t pull loose. It was terrifying. The giant mantas would come so close to the boat, that we were afraid of capsizing. Too many to count, there were more than a dozen and maybe two dozen. Dark as it was, who’s counting?
To make the situation even more dramatic we heard the horn from the ferry and the warning whistle, it seemed like it was right behind us. We had drifted right in the ferry’s path. We were so close to the ferry that the search lights didn’t shine on us, but over our heads, illuminating the airborne Manta rays, our boat with the anchor rope stretched taunt and poor old Dad yanking on the pull rope, trying to start the kicker.
The ferry was right on top of us, the loud engines chasing the Manta Rays away and churning the water so bad that the lantern came off the hook and smashed when it fell on to the bow of the boat, starting a small fire that spread on top of the bilge water in the bottom of the boat.
With no time to spare, Dad dove out of the boat and followed the anchor rope down in the dark water and pulled it loose. Just as he did, the splashing waves caused by the oncoming ferry pushed us to one side, out of harms way, and putting out the fire. The ferry was still churning alongside of us, when Dad pulled himself back into the boat. Fearful that we’d be sucked under as the ferry passed, Dad decided to give the motor one last try, he tugged the pull rope on the motor and it started first pull. Oh what a welcome sound. In a matter of seconds, we were speeding away, out of harms way and back on dry land.
Everything turned out for the best. We had a boat load of longustas and a story of a lifetime. I just wish that my Dad and my brother were still here to help me tell it.