Gone Coastal (part V)
As we near Point Conception, the ocean folds into a field of slippery hills, each wave piling an ever greater volume of the sea before us. I have relinquished the helm to John, clipped onto a jackline and lurched forward to cling to, and lean against, a trio of shrouds. They are arranged in a comfortable triangle, seemingly for my support while standing watch. Our impermanence is confirmed by each wave, a child of the vast communal body of water, of the same makeup but unique. They slip under my feet; under the deck; under my mates, sleeping, reading, cooking and perhaps playing Mexican Train; under our tiny dryish world. Each ridge slides under our puny mass.
For this watch, and the last, we have seen an abundance of jellies sliding past with the waves. Translucent orbs, milky with plum splashes, they wash past the hull trailing gelatinous lace. They’re a staple for Mola mola, a fish I would love to see.
Yesterday the young Colombian aboard, Miguel, saw one about 15 meters abeam. He pointed excitedly, mistaking it for a cruising shark, and clung to the belief a shark was what he had seen. Since then a few more have been sighted with dorsal fins pointing toward the dreary sky. I have seen none close enough to satisfy my curiosity.
A few years ago near Catalina our friend Ladd encountered one sunning near the surface. When we met Ladd on the island he described the strange animal breathlessly.
“I saw a HUGE freaking fish head … with NO body … but alive!” He circled his arms in a sweeping arc to express enormity and shape. “It was as big as … as … as my boat! I saw a dorsal fin and thought it was an injured shark. It wasn’t swimming right. I got really close. It was a 20-foot pancake fish, flopped on its side. I sailed around it to make sure it wasn’t dead. It was weird!” He practically shouted, “What the hell was it?,” sucked in a whistling breath and waited to get an answer to confirm his sanity.
None of us were aware of such a monster and to Ladd’s dismay we suggested he must have had too much sun — or perhaps rum.
We later learned Ladd’s description was accurate. The Mola mola or Sunfish appears to be mostly head, flat—as if run over by some maritime steamroller—and very, very large. They’re the heaviest bony fish in the sea, with an average weight well over a ton. Now, I want to see the creature for myself. They eat mostly jellyfish, so the odds are good.
More jellies pulse past and I hope, but I see no Mola. But near the end of the watch I notice several dark spots peppering the crest of a far off roller. Are they coots diving for brunch? No. A sleek arch sews through the wave, stitches the air and darts into the trough. There’s a large pod of dolphin on track to quickly join us. They catch us with ease, torpedo under the boat, rolling and darting thrillingly close, peeking up to see who is looking down. Their appearance has brought the next watch on deck.
As quickly as the animals came, they leave. As they head south diminishing into glinting specks passing toward the horizon Conrad leans over the rail, vomits, spits and laughs. “I’m good now.”
It is near the end of our watch, I smell lunch and in spite of Conrad’s heaving, I am hungry.