Topic: Mystical Mauao

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Mystical Mauao by Ann French

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Sunlight pushed back the covers of darkness and it was a beautiful day, “Perfect for fishing,” said my husband Chris. “Come on. I want to be out to sea in half an hour.”

I groaned. Gone were my thoughts of a morning in the garden or even reading the book I’d taken out from the library the day before. Now it was packing a lunch, digging out tatty fishing clothes and buying smelly bait.

We drove to the marina where our boat ‘The Annie’ was moored. I enjoy fishing, but I also  have  a  healthy  respect  for  the  sea.  The  boat  we’d  bought  three  years  before seemed  like  an  accident  waiting  to  happen.  Several  times  I  had  slipped  on  her  ‘slip-proof’  deck,  spraining  and  bruising  legs  and  arms.  More  than  once  the  motor inexplicably cut out at inopportune if not dangerous moments, ‘The  Annie’  was unreliable  and  I  always  suspected  that,  knowing  I  wasn’t  a  good swimmer,  she  would  choose  her  moment,  develop  a  leak  and  sink  like  the  ‘Titanic’.

Although  we  mostly  fished  inside  the  harbor,  I  dreaded  going  out  past  Mauao  as  it meant facing the ‘real’ ocean. I got seasick just thinking about it. “We’re going outside today,” said Chris, and my life flashed before my eyes. “Why can’t we go to Hunter’s Creek?” I said. “We always catch fish there.” He gave me the look men give women when they are trying to explain something that is so blatantly obvious it should be apparent to an earthworm. “It’s the wrong time of the year inside the harbor. There are no fish, only weed,” he said.

I  sighed,  feeling  like  a  sailor  who  was  about  to  sail  around  the  Horn  and  face  his doom. Waiting until Chris started the motor, I cast off and jumped aboard. I was careful as I sprang through the air, now wanting ‘The Annie’ to accelerate suddenly as she had been known to do, so that I landed in the water. I wondered what she had in store for me today!

Slowly, creeping out through the marina with its 5 kph speed limit, we reached open later. ‘The Annie’ accelerated and away we flew, carving a wake through the sea. We Mystical veered to the right to access the buoys, aiming for the entrance, and joining the convoy of other small boats all jockeying for position to reach the outer harbour.

At  the  entrance,  on  a  rock,  stands  Tangaroa,  God  of  the  Sea.  Cast  in  bronze,  he holds  a  taiaha,  challenging  the  unwary  and  strangers  to  beware  when  entering  his world. Whenever we passed, I offered a gift – sometimes a rock or shell from the beach, sometimes a few flowers from my garden – and we never came home empty-handed.

I leaned over the side of ‘The Annie’ to allow the handful of shells I’d gathered to slip through my fingers into the green froth of the sea. There was a tug at my wrist, and the paua shell bracelet I always wore floated for an instant on the surface. A mooring cleat had  snagged  the  catch  and  torn  it  open. I  made  a  grab  too  late,  and  it  sank  into  the green depths. I  told  Chris,  but  there  was  nothing  we  could  do.  My  children  had  given  me  the bracelet many years ago, and it was one of my prized possessions. I usually took it off when I went fishing, but in the rush that morning I had forgotten.

The sea was like glass and for once there was no swell to make me feel queasy and seasick. I baited my hook, sat on the stern and let out the line. It trailed bubbles of silver as it descended into the depths, and I was settling in for the inevitable wait before the fish came round, usually up to half an hour or more, when I felt a tug. My rod bent over and I began to wind up rapidly, holding tight to the rubber grip.

“Keep  the  tip  up!”  yelled  my  husband,  as  though  I  had  never  fished  before;  but  I realised he was as excited as I was. This fish was huge.
I tightened the bail and hung on, winding furiously as the line came up inches at a time. Chris found the net and stood ready to grab whatever broke the surface. It was a huge snapper, about 10 kg, and I almost burst with pride.

There were other boats around and some of the men clapped and cheered. “Great fish,” shouted the man in the boat next to us. “Hope we get one or two like that.”

Within  the  next  twenty  minutes  I  had  caught  two  more  huge  snapper,  and  half  a dozen tarakehi and gurnard. No one else had caught a thing. No one else had caught a thing. It became embarrassing and I was aware that every time I pulled a fish on board or started to wind up my line, a hush descended on the surrounding boats. There were no more calls of ‘great fish’ or ‘good catch’.

After a while my husband decided to move to another spot as my fishing ability was causing a certain amount of unrest among the other boats.
This  time  there  was  no  one  else  around.  I  continued  to  catch  huge  fish  of  every variety, and Chris, who had by now given up, merely baited my hooks, then removed fish when I caught them. “The old fella must have loved that bracelet,” he said.

When we returned later that day, Chris slowed down ‘The Annie” as we came abreast of the statue of Tangaroa. I took the snapper I had first caught and slid it over the side of the boat into the sea.

“My gift to you,” I whispered, as we made the run for home.

This page was archrived at perma cc January 2017

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