National Geographic : 1943 Aug
Capturing Giant Turtles in the Caribbean barracuda was cut short as Renee, relieved of the wheel, dropped down on the bunk be side me. Like every other man aboard, he was anxious that I profit by his knowledge of turtle fishing. "Mate has told you about their feeding on eelgrass, and you've seen how the grass grows in the shallows all along the coast. But there's more to it than that." He paused to light his carefully rolled cigarette. "You see," he resumed, "the turtle spends the entire day in these shallow meadows feed ing on grasses. He only stops eating to swim up to the surface to breathe, or to hide on the bottom from a cruising shark. Then, as soon as dusk begins to fall, the turtle leaves this submarine meadow for deeper water, where it spends the night holding fast to a bottom rock. "Seems kind of funny, doesn't it, the way old Brother Turtle feeds in the same shallows, swims through the same channels, and even spends each night wrapped around the very same rock? And that's just why we can catch him." Next morning I awoke to find the schooner under full sail, heading into the rising sun. By noon all hands were ready for the turtle hunt. High on the foremast, Captain Allie surveyed the water and shouted instructions to the helmsman below as the schooner pushed through the breaking reefs. Floats Mark Turtle Lairs The mates were alert and watching for coral heads, far beneath the surface, which might harbor turtles. On the deck a seaman stood ready on each side of the vessel. At a command, one would toss overboard a cork wood float, attached with 60 feet of line to a heavy weight. After several hours of work, ninety floats dotted the ocean, marking sites where nets would be placed and, it was hoped, turtles might be caught (page 178). Reduced to writing, the work seems simple. In reality, it appeared miraculous that a 100-foot vessel, crowded with canvas and wholly dependent on the wind, could be maneuvered so handily among the jagged reefs. Many times the captain waited so long to tack that the shadow of the mainsail fell across the rocks themselves. The schooner pulled away at the last possible moment, leav ing only a foaming wake to splash upon the reefs. When the vessel anchored in the lee of the reefs that afternoon, three small boats were put overside for the return to the floating markers. Captain Allie, Henry, and Albert, the second mate, each accompanied by two Drawn by Irwin E. Alleman Where the Turtle Fleets Roam Three seldom-visited dots in the Caribbean are the Cayman Islands, a dependency of British-owned Jamaica. From these isles sail men who trap the green turtle. At Mosquito Cays they lodge captives temporarily. Holds full, their schooners deliver live cargoes to Key West. A tribe of Indians, not insects, gave its name to Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast. of the crew, manned the dugouts, as turtlers call their neat little craft. I went along with the skipper. Only Cooky remained on board. "Now you'll see what I meant last night," reminded Renee, leaning over the tiller of the captain's dugout as we plowed along. How Turtles Are Trapped "Turtling is just like any other kind of trapping," cut in Captain Allie, taking the helm while Renee and the second seaman made ready the nets. "Catching turtles is just like catching otters or foxes, or other smart ani mals. You have to place your nets just like traps, in such a way that everything looks natural and nice until the turtle comes along."