From 1969 until 1977, Siboney called its cozy slip at the Playa Grande Yachting Club, home. A 45 minute drive from our home in Caracas and 10 miles west of La Guaira, the main commercial port serving central Venezuela, it put the entire Caribbean within a short sail. Whenever my children had a school holiday we’d escape to either Los Roques or Las Aves, all three atolls but an overnight sail.

            The “White Hunter” a.k.a. Neill Martin, a master scuba diver joined us on many of these sails and taught my two older sons how to dive safely to a depth of 100 feet. He was part of the crew on July 20, 1972, when with sons Bill, Jr. and Jim we sailed at dusk for Aves de Barlovento, 120 miles to the northwest. By ten a.m. Siboney lay anchored in the lagoon, the crew ashore beachcombing. Right after noon, with the sun bright and overhead, we motored off, the “Hunter”, flat on a surfboard towed astern, his face mask and snorkel deep into the rushing water. We slowly circled within the lagoon, the helm closely following instructions from “Hunter”.

             With a shout from Hunter, Billy released the towline to the board. The Hunter paddled around, stopped, peered into the depths and gave the order to anchor. The anchor took 90 feet of chain and rope until it touched bottom. The Hunter crawled aboard and announced that he had seen a bunch of fish on the bottom. He and Billy put on their air tanks, weight belts, and headed down.

            When I jumped in and peered down, the divers  appeared as miniatures, and the fish they were after looked like minnows. We had lowered a line to the bottom with a gadget that looked like a large needle. To lessen the danger from predators, they would pass the needle through the gills of each catch, tug on the rope, and we would haul the fish up.

            With the first tug, we hauled up two twenty pound groupers. Then two more. A half hour passed, about the limit for their air, with no further fish. A mass of bubbles indicted both divers were slowly approaching the surface. The Hunter surfaced, looked up, shrugged, a sinister smile shining through the glass, and handed me his spear gun. I grabbed it and tugged. It barely moved. I pulled harder, the spear and 15 feet of line dangling deep and heavy. I heaved until a mass four 25 pound groupers surfaced. He had shot each one, pushed his spear through it, loaded his gun, fired and shot another grouper until he had four of these large animals on his line. Incredible! But that’s why he got his name.

            Needless to say, we were on a grouper diet for weeks.


            © William Butler, 2004