Gitmo Eleven

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Gigging for Longustinos and almost being swamped by manta Rays 15 feet wide.

Chapter 11 

Leeward Point


I’m pretty sure that everyone has heard of GTMO, or as civilians refer to it, Gitmo. That’s a military acronym for the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Not everyone has heard of Leeward Point though. Leeward Point is the name of the island about a quarter of a mile out in the bay south of the Naval Base. That’s where the Marine Corps base is located and the military prison that they now use to house terrorists.

The rocky bottom on the stretch of water in between the island and the mainland was a popular spot for catching langostino. Langostinos are Caribbean lobsters without claws. Their favorite place to hide from predators is under rocks. The locals call them “langosta." The best way to catch them is at night from a boat in shallow water using a lantern and a gig.

Depending on the moon and the tides, the current between the mainland and the Marine Corp base runs pretty strong. The Navy ran a ferry service to the island 24/7. At night the ferry used searchlights, bells and whistles to warn boaters to stay out of the way.

One summer night my Dad checked out a 14 foot dinghy with a 25 horsepower motor from Special Services. Dad wanted to take my younger brother Gary and I out gigging for "langosta." Dad used a bent piece of rebar that he placed in the bow of the boat to hang a kerosene lantern. My brother and I would maintain a watch in the bow for likely places to turn over rocks in our search with a potato rake. Dad stayed in the stern until we got to a likely spot, then he would turn off the kicker and cast out the anchor. We would turn over the rocks and gig as many of our fleeing prey as fast as we could. Then we'd up anchor and drift a little ways, casting out the anchor again.

The moon sank behind a cloud for a few minutes. We started to hear what sounded like claps of thunder all around the boat. Mysteriously, large splashes of water would drench us, followed by more claps of thunder.

The moon slid back out from behind the clouds and we saw the cause of all the commotion. We were in a sea of turmoil, but it wasn’t from the waves nor a waterspout. It was coming from giant manta rays, 12 to 15 feet across. They were wider than our boat was long. In the moonlight the humongous rays were performing a mating ritual by jumping out of the water, sailing through the air, and slapping their powerful wings on the surface of the water to attract a mate.

We were right smack dab in the middle of a large pod. While our anchor was up, our boat drifted out to deeper water. The deafening noise and roiling water distracted us for a minute or so. We lost focus on what we were doing. The anchor was caught in a pile of rocks and wouldn’t pull loose. It was terrifying. The giant mantas would come so close to the boat that we were afraid of capsizing. Far too many to count, there were more than a dozen and maybe two dozen. Dark as it was, who could say for sure?

To make the situation even more dramatic we heard the foghorn from the ferry and the warning whistle. It seemed like it was right behind us. We had drifted right in the ferry’s path. We were so close to the ferry that the searchlights didn’t shine on us but over our heads, illuminating the airborne manta rays. In the bright light you could see our boat with the anchor rope stretched taut. Poor old Dad was yanking on the pull rope again and again, trying to start the kicker.

The ferry was right on top of us. The loud engines chased the giant manta rays away. The churning water was so rough that the lantern came off the hook and smashed when it fell onto the bow. It started a small fire that spread on top of the bilge water in the bottom of the boat. The flames were spreading upwards, burning blisters on our bare legs.

With no time to spare, Dad dove out of the boat and followed the anchor rope down into the dark water and pulled it loose. Just as he pulled the anchor free, the splashing waves caused by the oncoming ferry pushed us to one side out of harm’s way, putting out the fire. The ferry was still churning alongside us when Dad pulled himself back into the boat. Fearful that we’d be sucked under as the ferry passed, Dad decided to give the motor one last try. He tugged the pull rope and miraculously it started on the first try. Oh, what a welcome sound. In a matter of seconds, we were speeding towards shore, out of harm’s way and back on dry land.

Except for a few burns everything turned out for the best. We had a boat load of "langostas" and a story of a lifetime. I can fondly remember spending many an afternoon listening to my Dad retell this story around the BBQ grill on Saturday afternoons to anyone who would listen. Now it's my turn. I just wish that my Dad and my brother were still here to help me tell it

Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2022 mike frailey. All rights reserved.

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