Breakfast with the Albatross© WW Schwim July 2009
The seed was originally sown many years ago on one of our first fishing trips together. We were traveling in Rusty’s old VW combi with a boat in tow down the Natal South-coast highway on the final two hundred kilometers, of our journey from Johannesburg.
When he smelled the salt sea, the excitement became too much for Rusty who spontaneously began to recite verses from “Rhime of the Ancient Mariner”.
I vaguely knew of Samuel Taylor Cooleridge’s poem from my school days but listened entranced as the Ancient Mariner callously shot the gentle albatross and thus incurred the wrath of the sea spirits. He subsequently suffered the most horrendous fate as all who have read this classic tale will know.
I later found a copy of this epic poem and it became an all time favorite of mine.
Now, it was some years later, we found ourselves fishing off Knysna in the Eastern Cape, anchored over a small reef marked on the charts as Dalgliesh Bank. Only Rusty and I were in the boat and there were no other vessels in sight on the vast ocean. Visibility was poor and some ten nautical miles to our north lay the outline of land, shrouded in mist and strangely detached. The weather was calm and we rocked on a gentle swell, both of us happy to be there, even though the fishing was a dead loss. Not even a single bite since sunrise!
Blowing loudly, a hump-backed whale passed by relieving the monotony but it soon vanished in the swells. A few gulls and cape gannets flew purposefully overhead, showing scant interest in our tiny boat. It seems they knew more than we did.
A huge evil-eyed albatross appeared, circled us a few times, his elegant wings skimming the surface of the troughs before settling on the sea close by. He bobbed on the waves like duck and I examined him closely, noting the massive hooked beak and regal posture. He frowned at me accusingly with his searching beady eyes, as he held station just a few yards from our boat.
Presently, I had a bite, pulled in a small silver coloured fish and decided to cut it up for bait. Now, I must confess to a strange habit acquired from association with my Japanese friends. I love sushi and have become rather fond of eating fresh raw fish.
I cut the fish into strips and tasted a piece. It was delicious! The albatross came closer, clearly expecting a handout so I tossed him a morsel which he quickly devoured. I ate another piece, deciding that this fish was far too good for bait and then threw another titbit to the eager bird, who was by now close alongside the boat. In this unusual fashion the meagre meal was soon over and I was back to concentrating on my tackle and the job at hand.
No sooner had my bait hit the bottom than I hooked another silver fish, bigger this time. Next, I boated a beautiful red reef fish and so my good luck continued until the fish-hold on my side of the boat was nearly full. All the while I sampled pieces of fresh meat and kept the albatross well fed.
In the meantime, Rusty had not caught a single fish and was becoming quite agitated. Although we used similar tackle and the same bait, the fish-hold on his side of the boat remained empty.
Presently, the wind freshened as a squall approached from the west. I weighed the anchor, started the engines and we fled back to safety of the Lagoon at full speed, leaving the albatross feasting on the remains of our bait. He was by then contested by the usual flurry of squabbling seagulls.
That evening, over a several glasses of white Delgardo liqueur, a conclusion was mutually reached; If shooting an albatross angered the sea spirits then surely feeding it would please them. By sharing my meal with the sacred bird of the South-seas, I had unintentionally curried favor with Poseidon who had rewarded me in kind.
Ever since than day, Rusty has dutifully fed the albatross whenever he appeared. Whether this has improved the size of his catch has never been determined, but after all, sailors are a superstitious breed and why take chances where sea-spirits are concerned? The Ancient Mariner scorned them and look where it got him!