Postcards From Cruising #2—A Big Fish Story

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We were anchored off a small fishing village only 30 miles from our Base Camp here in Nova Scotia, and I had got up early to go dinghy exploring with my camera.

Just as I left the boat, a small weather-beaten fishing boat steamed into the harbour and tied to an equally aged wharf. I putted over to have a chat with the three guys aboard, all much closer to retiring from the sea than in the first flush of youth but still full of that bubbling enthusiasm that even the most jaded and experienced fisherfolk get when they score big—a slammer trip as the pros call it in Maine.

Turns out that when fishing for something else, it escapes me what, they had hooked into a huge tuna, and not any old tuna, but one of the types highly valued by the Japanese—blue fin, maybe, although I don’t remember and it’s not important to the story.

Anyway, they were smiling ear to ear, since catching this one fish alone was a serious payday, even though they allowed as how their aging backs would never be the same after the effort of landing the monster. And, best of all, one of them still had a much coveted licence to harvest tuna, although I got the idea that it had not been used much in recent years.

I took the above photo and many others during the hour or so that we chatted while waiting for the monitor—the government-licensed inspector—who had to be present before the monster tuna, or any and the rest of the catch from the overnight trip, could be unloaded.

Waiting for the monitor

After said worthy arrived, complete with the obligatory clipboard and hard hat, unloading operations commenced. But it quickly became apparent that it had been many a year since the aging derrick had to deal with a fish of this magnitude.

First the wire slipped off the sheave under the wharf, so the youngest guy jumped into the chilly water up to his nuts to jam the wire back in place—not young but still plenty tough.

What the hell jammed?

But even then the derrick strained to lift the load, so the same still-dripping fisherman grabbed the tuna in a bear hug and assisted the derrick with a massive heave—as someone who has suffered lifelong back problems, all I could see in my mind’s eye was compressing disks.

A disk crusher


Finally the fish was on the wharf, but still the payday was far from certain since the scale was nowhere near big enough to weigh it, a requirement before the monitor would let the fish head for the buyer, a freight aircraft, and eventually Japan.

Pull dammit!

The monitor suggested cutting it into pieces, but quickly retracted the idea when the three fishermen pointed out that this would decimate the price the Japanese buyer would pay; a change of mind assisted by scowls of anger and the presence of razor-sharp filleting knives.

The monitor, monitoring

In the end the monitor relented (smart move) and got permission from the authorities to weigh the fish at a nearby plant, thereby restoring good relations all around.


It had been a great morning, not least of all for me: A reminder that you don’t have to cross an ocean or sail to Greenland to meet great people, learn interesting stuff, get some fun snaps, and have a wonderful cruising experience.

Good night.

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Meet the Author

John Harries

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

11 comments… add one
  • Steven Hodder April 29, 2020, 12:49 pm

    Great story John, it takes me back. These guys remind me of a lot of the guys I worked with. I fished out of East Ship Harbour, NS as a teenager and we caught a lot of odd ball fish over the years, but never tuna. Judging by the look of the butchering job on that tuna, I’d be surprised if they got little more than money for bait!

    • John Harries April 30, 2020, 8:48 am

      Hi Steven,

      Glad you enjoyed it. I know the Ship Harbour area well, a loverly part of the world the Eastern Shore and much under appreciated.

  • Matt April 29, 2020, 3:22 pm

    I am trying to imagine what a tuna that size would cost after 11,000 km of refrigerated air freight. I’m glad to see they still exist, even if they are rare enough to trigger a dockside adventure like this one.

  • Robert Tetrault April 29, 2020, 4:18 pm

    Was it April 1st John? I think the boys put one over on you. Looks like a Porbeagle shark to me. Often sold in the market as Mako Shark. Both are in the Mackerel Shark family but Porbeagles are much larger and the lateral line is not distinct like on this specimen. Also tuna are sold head on and dressed out meticulously. This one looks like it was caught in a gill net.

    • John Harries April 29, 2020, 4:33 pm

      Hi Bob,

      You know me Bob, what I know about commercial fish you can write on a postage stamp, a small one! Anyway, I’m pretty sure they thought is was a tuna judging from all the fuss about getting it to market and not cutting it up.

  • Richard Broadhurst April 30, 2020, 7:33 am

    Nice photos and story John. I know you said the type of fish is not important, but I just have to say that I’m pretty sure you’ll find that is (should I say was) a swordfish.

    • John Harries April 30, 2020, 9:11 am

      Hi Richard,

      Could easy be. As I said to Bob, I personally have no idea, and this was over 10 years ago so my memory may easily have failed me.

  • Ralph Rogers April 30, 2020, 1:39 pm

    Ah, nothing like a good fish story.

  • Deborah Lloyd April 30, 2020, 1:50 pm

    A charming story from the home of my ancestors. One of whom was a Gaetz after which I presume the Gaetz Brook in the area is named. The family lived in Three Fathom Harbor and used one of the islands in the harbor as the family burying ground. As of the 1970’s the family home overlooking the harbor was still standing, and being fixed up as a retirement cottage. I have a picture of my grandfather Lloyd at around age 12 taken in the 1890’s standing by the barn. The parents died in a flu epidemic – reminiscent of today – and the children were farmed out, my grandfather eventually making his way to Boston. Just a few years ago I was unable to find any mention of this community but located a marker in the East Coast Pilot named Three Fathom Harbor. Today this old community is described on Wikipedia. Beautiful country there, especially the lighting, but maybe I’m just partial to it. Thank you for your stories!

  • Robert Tetrault April 30, 2020, 8:19 pm

    John, I agree it could be a Sword. The skin and gill cavity resemble a Sword. Regardless of the species it wasn’t taken care of and was probably of very little value because of the mishandling. The boys probably got a citation if the inspector was on his game. No one would mistake that fish for a tuna, even you.

    • John Harries May 1, 2020, 7:45 am

      Hi Bob,

      Now I think about it, a Sword makes sense. I could easily have mixed it up in my memory given that it was over 10 years ago. You give me far too much credit in saying I would have known the difference, at least with no head on it, I can barely recognize a Cod…on a good day.

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