People, PlacesBen Jackson

Anton and the ocean

People, PlacesBen Jackson
Anton and the ocean

The ocean was something Anton had only of heard in stories until his twenties, when he moved from Papua New Guinea’s mountainous highlands to its tranquil islands.

In Rabaul, he married the love of his life, and learned to steer a boat, dive and fish. He could not of picked a more perfect place to form a bond with the ocean than Blanche Bay on East New Britain’s Gazelle Peninsula.

On still mornings the waters take a surreal, motionless form like polished glass, which is only broken by the Spinner Dolphins and flying fish who frolic in the dawn light.

My Dad told me about the dolphins that would guide boats in to the bay when he lived in Rabaul in the early 1970s and I was happy one morning to watch a huge pod of 50 or more, perhaps the daughters, sons and grandchildren of those he had seen.

At first ‘Spinner’ seemed to me an arbitrary prefix for the diminutive dolphins which darted around the hull of our boat, chasing schools of bait fish.

But after a half-hour of grazing, they began to playfully launch through the surface of the sea and - corkscrewing all the way - cut a perfect arc through the air. The Spinner Dolphins had announced themselves fully and properly.

By the time I came in to the world my parents had more or less finished with outdoor adventures and moved on to a more gentrified, suburban stage of their life. Our family holidays were long-haul to London rather than U-Haul to Longreach.

As such, I’m not much of a fisherman (a couple of undersized toad fish aside) and Anton, with his own history of adult learning, was perhaps the perfect teacher for me.

By the late morning we were the only vessel trawling the reefs of Blanche Bay. The wind picked up, the dinghy hopped and rocked over the short chop, and Anton began to gently manage my expectations about catching anything other than a bit of tropical-grade ultraviolet radiation.

Luck was with us though, and after just 10 minutes there was the zip of a striking fish, which was followed-up quickly by Anton’s lesson for the day.

In all the excitement our dialogue in English disappeared and Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin took over – testing my skill with rod and language.

Fortunately for me the instructions were not complex, neither technically nor linguistically, and essentially comprised 15 minutes of Anton barking orders at me:

Pulim sitrong, em nau, pulim sitrong yet… INAP! (Pull it in hard, that’s it, keep pulling… Enough!)”

“Holim tait! Holim Sitrong! (Hold tight! Hold strong!)”

So I pulled the line in. Stopped and held it. Reeled it in again and so on. My arms burned, but eventually a nicely sized Wahoo appeared that Anton easily gaffed and brought in to the boat.

The adrenaline of the catch had me jumping and spinning around the dinghy. Maybe I understood how the happy little dolphins felt each morning.

What to do then with all this fresh meat? A question to which my answer is almost always ‘make a fish curry’. Here’s the recipe for the one I made with the Wahoo: An 'Orange Curry' inspired by the island life