5 July 1996

How to Prepare Blackened Fish

We have discovered the most wonderful way to serve many kinds of fish; kahawai, snapper, tuna, mahi mahi and mackerel. It seems our success in the fishing department has shown a definite improvement since Micheal took over! Although it usually takes more than one person to get a fish on board Vela Dare. So now I get to try many ways of preparing fish. And one of our favorites is blackened fish.

You know the hardest part of fishing is getting out there where the fish are! But once you hook a really big one the fun begins. Like on our last passage.

We left Bay of Islands New Zealand for Fiji later than usual this year on May 24th. Our friend Richard was on board as an extra crew member. It was to be his first offshore passage. We met Richard last year at Gulf Harbor where he berths his boat , a Cavalier 32. He plans to sail offshore in a couple of years. Anyway, after waiting a week for the weather to come right ( and eating like there was no tomorrow and sleeping in every morning ) we took off. But only after visiting our friends Wayne and Beth in Parekura Bay.

A fairly big group of foreign yachts took off on a big high (pressure system, that is) three and a half weeks pervious to our departure. We took advantage of that same high (???) on our trip from Nelson to Opua. Some boats encountered reinforced trades with big winds and some got caught in a shallow low that developed near Fiji and some had an easy passage. We encountered a westerly gale about two hundred miles north of New Zealand and experienced what I loosely term "the sling shot effect". What a fast way to get north! It was pretty exciting sailing 7-8 knots in 45-50 knots of true wind with seven meter seas. The wind was on the stern and we ran under the storm jib only (about a 7.0 for you board heads). The only bad part was a nasty little cross swell from the southwest that dumped a lot of water in the cockpit from time to time. Richard did fine after a brief spell of seasickness. After the wind moderated we had squally weather until we reached South Minerva, seven days out of New Zealand. During this leg of the passage Richard and I created a new snack treat called a squall sandwich which we ate after swallowing our seasick pills. I guess you had to be there.

So back to the fish story. It's always exciting to go somewhere you've never been. We found South Minerva just as wild as North Minerva and the snorkeling was better. Right after we got the anchor set, Richard was in the water in true Kiwi fashion. On the best day, weather-wise, we all went reef walking and snorkeling. The water was warm and crystal clear. Visibility was so good that I had no trouble identifying the reef shark that was checking me out. We stayed for four days until a combination of high tides caused by a full moon and high winds made the anchorage untenable. With seas breaking over the bow, I even got seasick, at anchor!

After a quick six hour sail we sighted North Minerva. Coming in through the pass we hooked up a nice ten kilo big eye tuna. With three miles to go across the lagoon, we played the fish for quite a while. Maybe the term "played" is not quite right. But we were excited about having a nice fish to eat. We didn't get a single strike the whole way from New Zealand.

So back to the recipe. I'd like to mention that this recipe is not for the faint at heart, especially when cooking the fillets. A fairly hot pan is required and the fumes from the cooking spices can burn your eyes and make you cough; it's also a good way to test your smoke alarm. So if you are still interested, here goes.

It's important that only dried herbs are used in this recipe and that the fillets be about 1/2 inch thick.

3 pound fish steaks or
fillets, cut 1/2 inch
thick and chilled
1 T paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
1 t black pepper
1 t white pepper
2 t dried thyme
2 t dried oregano
2 t dried basil
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt
lemon wedges for

Keep the fish well chilled. Melt some butter and put in a shallow dish. Mix the herbs and spices together and sprinkle on a separate plate. Dip the fish in the melted butter and then roll the buttered fish in the herb mixture. Make sure the fish is well coated with herb mixture. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. ( Note: I have tried this recipe without dipping the fish in melted butter and without refrigerating and it has worked fine. Although I used a small bit of sesame oil in the pan to cook the fish. I also add extra black pepper and cayenne pepper to the herb mixture for a zing, about half again as much as is called for. ) Heat skillet to hot. This is a good time to use a cast iron skillet. Place fish in skillet and cook 2 minutes per side or as long as it takes. It's always better to under cook fish than it is to over cook. After all the fish is cooked, add butter to cooled skillet and serve as a sauce. This is a killer way to serve fish! You should have seen Richard's eyes pop out when he tasted this recipe for the first time.

And so, three days after arriving at North Minerva we left for Suva. And something very rare happened. We experienced true trade wind sailing! For three days we had 20 knots of wind from the southeast. Warm weather and steady winds, pinch me I'm dreaming. And of course we were fishing as hard as we could. If you can call dragging two lines off the back of the boat hard work. But these are no ordinary lines. Oh no! Micheal's hand lines are well engineered, of course. He uses ten meters of braided stainless cable attached with a heavy duty ball bearing swivel to 1/4 inch dacron line which ends with a meter and a half of shock cord firmly secured to the boat. The shock cord-dacron line junction is attached to a lifeline with a twist tie. When a fish strikes the lure, the twist tie helps set the hook before it breaks, letting the shock cord fight the fish. We don't even have to slow the boat down anymore. We just drag the fish until they are exhausted and then bring them on board. This was previously referred to as "playing" the fish. It's a lot easier and the fish don't thrash all over the cockpit. This is not for sport, this is for dinner.

So we were just south of Kandavu, about eighty miles from Suva. We had to slow the boat down in order to arrive at dawn. For some reason we were using one hand line and the rod and reel. When we use the reel, we have to slow the boat down or risk losing a fish and possibly the lure. Which we did when we hooked up one of the biggest fish ever. I saw him jump skyward as Micheal was yelling, "slow the boat down!" It was a big mahi mahi glowing the most incredible blue I ever saw. The fish proceeded to rip 100 meters of line off the reel (which Carl Leonard and Noe Garza had installed; remember the fun you had with that line?) before Richard and I slowed the boat down and the line parted. Bummer. As I was rigging the other hand line, there was another strike. This time we landed a nice mahi mahi. You know these fish mate for life and many times you can catch a pair. Richard swore he saw the mate to the one we hooked swim up and say good-bye! I just hate breaking up families!

Shortly after we got the fish in the freezer and the cockpit cleaned up there was another strike. I had to go below to check into a ham net so I left the fish to Micheal and Richard. By this time they were pretty pleased with themselves and were drinking beer. They drank a few while we dragged the fish, another mahi mahi. By the time I was finished on the radio, the fish had worked itself off the lure. More beers went around. Oh well, there was enough fish for five meals. We tried blackened mahi mahi. It was even better than the tuna.

To make a long fish story short, we made it to Suva where we stayed for almost three weeks. We were sorry to see Richard leave but he reminded us that he had a job back in New Zealand and that he had been gone for a month! While he was with us, Micheal got into the habit of introducing Richard as our son. Richard is 27, a little over six feet high, about 200 pounds with blonde hair and speaks with a combination British, Australian and Kiwi accent! We got quite a few odd looks from people, I must say.

While in Suva, Micheal got together with some other cruisers we met two years ago in Tonga and formed a blues band. The name of the band was Corita and the Ula Tulas. Ula Tula is Polynesian for bald head. They played several nights at the yacht club and at a big music festival in Suva. They also helped with a fund raiser for the Fijian Yachting Olympic team, which includes a Tornado entry.

We're currently in Viani Bay on the southeast side of Vanua Levu in the northeastern part of Fiji. Micheal has been going fishing in the mornings and we enjoyed blackened rainbow runner ( a kind of mackerel ) last night. It was great.

It feels great to be here. There are no phones, television or radio stations, automobiles, or McDonalds. There is great diving (the Rainbow Reef, including the "Great White Wall") with typical visibility of about 120 feet, good fishing, lots of beaches and palm trees, the worlds best jungle shower (more on that in a later article) and the happiest and friendliest people on the planet.

We're looking forward to a visit from Billy Hodge next month. I remember many nights when he and Micheal would take off night sailing on the Hobie with what was left of the beer. I even managed to tag along a few times. It was during those times that Micheal and Billy perfected the fine art of sailing with no rudders. So we're ready to take Billy night sailing with us again, with a rudder of course! Should be fun, we'll let you know.

Oh, and to anybody who tries the blackened fish recipe, hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Cheers for now...

P.S. I (Micheal now) have heard a rumor that a Hobie 18 may be at the Musket Cove Regatta Week this year. If it does show up, I agreed to enter it in the around Malolo Island race. The course circumnavigates several islands and covers a total distance of about 25 to 30 miles. This race is usually won by high tech, high dollar racing keel boats of around 50 feet. I told the owner of the 18 that I was sure we could kick ass and get line honors with the 18, assuming we could rig a spinnaker. Last year a Hobie 16 took third. We'll keep you posted.

Cruising July 1996

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