Remembering Independence Day 1968
By Jack May
Over half a century past, on my second summer spearfishing safari of 1968, I took along one of the closest friends of my life, my pal J. N. "Nebby" Anderson, III. I had been earlier that year to spear in Isla Mujeres, Yucatan, Mexico. I had enjoyed great success, spearing at least five huge jewfish, varying from 200 pounds to perhaps 350 pounds. My success had given me ambitions to establish a world record for jewfish, which I believed to be 820 pounds.
My fishing guides assured me that they knew the lair of a monster fish. They claimed it weighed at least 400 kilos, or 880 pounds. Like Ahab, I was determined to bring in that grande animal. I had the equipment, determination and skill to accomplish my mission, so I had returned to Mexico. Nebby was the perfect partner with whom to share this goal, foolhardy as it was.
On the morning of the 4th of July 1968, Nebby and I set forth in the fishing boat I had booked for the week. It was an old wooden hull boat, with a single mast and a sail that we seldom unfurled. Instead, we puttered along with the underpowered inboard motor, making at most 6 knots. Rounding out our crew of three was my experienced captain Ramon with whom I had fished many times. Despite clear and sunny morning skies, the day, like many in summertime Yucatan, promised to harbor an afternoon thunderstorm. The early sea was rough with an offshore breeze, so we stopped at a secondary reef and commenced our dive. The water was churning and roiled up, with poor visibility. Reluctantly, after an hour of fruitless diving, we headed back to our hotel. Disappointed in our lack of good fortune, we had snared several lobsters and several conchs for ceviche, both of which were plentiful and easy to harvest.
Nebby and I were staying at a five-story hotel, the Zazil-Ha (meaning in the Mayan language "luminous water") on the north end of the "Island of Women." As a frequent guest, I had become great friends with the chef.
Because there was no dock, Ramon drove the large boat (perhaps 35-feet long) gently into the white sand and anchored it. We waded ashore, lobsters in hand. I delivered half a dozen of these delectable creatures to the chef with instructions for dinner. He typically grilled the split halves of the lobsters with a small amount of olive oil and hot pepper. Nebby and I aroused our chicas friends and enjoyed a light lunch and delightful nap. By mid-afternoon, the sea had calmed, so we decided to venture forth with the ladies and do some line fishing in the huge bay that separated the island from the mainland (where now stands the huge development of Cancun. It was not yet begun at that time). We had lightweight spinning rods, so we began to troll, cigars and beers in hand (a local beer, Carta Clara, no longer made). The girls were happy, cheerful and laughing as we caught a few insignificant panfish with much fanfare. We were having a great time and decided to head back to the hotel, because the sky had once again become stygian dark. Thunder boomed, lightning strikes were frequent, and the sea began to roughen with whitecaps everywhere. We continued to troll in when Nebby had a great strike. A huge barracuda was on the line! Despite pleas to release the fish and hurry in, Nebby insisted on landing the monster. The fish refused to yield, and Nebby was determined. The rain began to pelt down, then turned into a deluge. Neither man nor fish would give up. The girls were begging to return to port. They both fell to their knees, crying and began to pray, rosaries in hand. I looked at my pal, and he just grinned, water-soaked cigar clenched in his teeth.
We safely made it ashore, the prize barracuda proudly displayed. The lobster dinner was magnificent, the company delightful and thankful to be alive.
A great and memorable Independence Day!
Later in the week, Nebby and I speared a jewfish estimated at 450+ pounds. This remains the largest and last of my underwater goliath grouper hunting exploits.