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Posted by Dix Roper on 07 November 2007 at 06:35 AM

Based on 1 review

Windy Trip - Las Perlas, Panama

October is usually a mild month in the Bay of Panama but not in 2007.  Since we had not dived for three months we were really ready and anxious to get back in the ocean and shoot some fish.  The trip to the US to get married and show Michelle around, had been fun, but we both missed the ocean and the challenge of our diving adventures.  We could not wait to be sleeping in our panga again, under a tarp, in the middle of an all night tropical rainstorm.  We had already waited a couple of weeks for the winds to calm, but we finally lost our patience and decided the weather forecast for the virtual buoy locations had to be wrong.  Our plan was to stay for five days, in the panga, and go south of the Perlas during the daytime, to dive logs for dorado. As there was only two of us, we could then tie up to logs, move with the current while we both dived together, and not have to worry about getting swept away from an anchored boat. As often happens, none of our plans materialized as the Gods had other adventures in store for us.

As we headed south after a 4:30 AM wake up call, we could feel the wind increasing as the sun rose… After three hours we had to abort our plan for logs in open water and seek shelter on the lee side of the last island.  At least we made it to the island but this sheltered area is no good for diving as it is mostly sand bottom, and does not come up out of deep water. We were stuck in the bay by the windy conditions just around the corner, but I still wanted to check the current and get some exercise and Michelle agreed to watch the boat and pick me up if necessary. I grabbed my small euro gun, one band, no reel, no float line, six feet of shooting line, and jumped in, just glad to be back in the ocean again.

The fish, a medium size, 35 pound Bohala, appeared unexpectedly, made a quick pass and moved away.  Instantly I knew I had to make a decision whether to shoot or not before he returned. I am familiar with these powerful fish and realized that he could likely hold me down and that I could loose my gun. It is a favorite gun that I found because another diver lost his tug of war in a similar situation. With no reel and no float I should wait, and besides this is only the first day of the trip. As the fish turned and started back my final thoughts were——it has been a long time since I have scored, and maybe I can stone him with a perfect shot behind the eye. He approached and as he turned broadside I fired –BAM—-  Uh O! Hang On!

There was a second of hesitation and he exploded downward with full power, pulling me close behind him as I hung on to the handle of the gun. I was surprised at his strength as I tried to put the brakes on and get my feet under me to kick for the surface. He slowed and I started kicking for air ten or fifteen feet above me.  My heart was pumping but I only kicked with 75 percent power knowing that another run was coming. When I was about five feet from the surface he came back to life, and thrashing and jerking, pulled me a few feet deeper even as I kicked for the surface. The seconds seems like hours and I felt him stop again.  I put on another burst of finning and got to within a foot of light and air when he turned on again.  Even with my final reserve of power kicks I could not get to air – just a foot away.  I felt the panic setting in as I reached down for the knife on my leg as I was pulled another foot deeper. Then I realized the difficulty of cutting the line because it was attached to the muzzle of the gun which was below my feet as I hung on the handle of the gun. I knew I had already pushed my limits… My last ditch effort would be to pull the muzzle closer as I used my final reserves to kick for the surface only a couple of feet away. I fought and struggled with increasing panic, my head still just below the surface for a couple of more endless seconds, ready to cut the line and then he slowed. With a final burst my head cleared the surface, and I sucked in one huge, monster breath. My body was shaking uncontrollably and my legs had turned to jelly. I knew I was completely vulnerable now, and if he made one more run he would win.  I had way overextended myself and could not seem to catch my breath.  A few tense seconds passed but I kept my head above water and I called Michelle to bring me a buoy.  As I clipped the buoy to the gun, I finally realized the battle was over. It was a fierce and dangerous tug of war to the death—fortunately not mine—and it pushed me very, very close to the edge – but this time I won.

I feel fortunate to have had such an unforgettable experience and many of you that have engaged in such hand to hand combat, beneath the seas, while on an endless breathold, can attest to the seeming expansion of time. Breathing stops, time stops and nothing exists except the Tug of War to the Death. May we continue to Win.

The wind blew strong and continuously and we were stranded in the protected bay for two days.  It gave us a chance to practice and get used to the ocean again and we even had time to swim to the beach and enjoy the island where there are no boats and no people. There was a beautiful water fall with a large volume of silt laden water cascading directly into the ocean. We wanted to swim under the falls but the water was so muddy it would be easy to hit an urchin or a ray as there was zero visibility. But we did find a nice beach, with clear warm water with small trees loaded with coconuts. Michelle practiced diving off the panga, a new skill for her, and swam in to bring back enough “pipas” to drink for days. Being stranded allowed us to do some relaxed things and have some new experiences that we don’t usually take time for, so it was all good.

Michelle and I managed to put one more small fish in the cooler the next day but it required team effort.  She got a good shot on the only reasonable fish she saw in the bay and I watched nearby as she worked to subdue the fish by holding on to the shaft. Not having enough experience with the flopper tips she twisted the shaft, the flopper closed and the fish slipped off and headed for the bottom. I immediately tipped up and followed the fish down thinking how I should grab him as I would only have one chance. I made a two hand power grab at the base of his tail and pulled him into a bear hug and headed back up.  Saved! Michelle was stoked that her only fish of the day did not escape.

On the third day the wind was still blowing too hard to go hunt logs but it subsided enough for us to get to some rocks offshore. It was a dangerous situation with wind, current, and big waves breaking on the rocks but that is where the bait was so that is where the big fish were. I could never relax in the water and my down time was about thirty seconds. I was worried about Michelle in the boat getting too close and also I was worried about a rogue wave dashing me up on the rocks. But the fish were there.  I shot a nice size Bohala and he wrapped my cable under an overhang and tweaked my spear, but fortunately it was only about twenty five feet and I could get it loose.  After we got that sorted out, it was Michelle’s turn as I wanted her to see some fish, but I cautioned her to look up after every dive in case I had to pick her up if she got too close to the rocks. She is more relaxed in the water because she does not have enough experience to understand the dire consequences of making a mistake or misjudgment.

When she got in the bait, the bohala were there and a big fifty pound fish came cruising in close. When she moved her arm to clear the floatline the elastic to the line release came loose. While she was reconnecting the stretch cord, the fish went behind her, and when she was ready and turned around, the fish swam away. She still managed to shoot a nice fish, but I picked her up as the bait was staying too close to the rocks to dive and hunt safely.  With rough seas and big swell it becomes too difficult for the boat driver to watch the boat and the diver so we went to another protected area for some more relaxed diving together.

The wind never let up for five day days but at least there was a close place with fish if we could handle the conditions. The next day we went back to the same place and I jumped in to look for the bait. As I tipped up I saw something flashing below me, and then I realized it was my knife, falling after it slipped out of my sheath.  I powered down and could see it clearly atop a big flat rock but the last 8 or 10 feet I could not make. If I could breathe up and be relaxed I know I could make it, but with these conditions I knew my knife was history. That is when I am glad I did not have an expensive titanium knife. But in exchange for my gift, Neptune traded me another nice fish so I was happy and it was Michelle’s turn again.

She took the small gun, but with a float this time, because it is more manageable in rough conditions. There were small pargo and she took one because they are so great to eat and even a small fish feeds four people.  Then the big boy, of fifty or sixty pounds, finally showed up, and brazenly approached the Chocolatita Killer with her tiny gun.  It would be a new personal best for Michelle as this was a massive Bohala.——BAM——He ran to the end of the shooting line and there was a SNAP as the line broke and the fish and spear disappeared into the depths. She dove to search but to no avail and Michelle was crushed as this was her best fish yet. I forgot to check the gun, after my tug of war to the death a couple of days earlier, and apparently the line had frayed in the battle. With one spear and one knife lost, and one shaft bent we decide to try and head back home and wait for better conditions.

We started at 4 AM, in the dark, knowing the danger of hitting floating logs, but we did not beat the wind. It was a long rough trip, over fifty five miles of whitecaps in a small panga, but we did not have to turn around. The smooth waters of the canal were welcoming and even the massive clean up of boat and equipment is getting more efficient. Michelle’s favorite part of clean up is the final part when she gets to enjoy a warm bubble bath and shampoo in the front yard.  Comfortable and safe again the wild winds and rough seas were quickly forgotten.

Waiting for days before the trip for the winds to calm we had time for a little nearby exploration. We returned to one of the historical, gun batteries built to protect the canal, now empty and abandoned but still intact. This time with lights, we visited the extensive tunnels, powder magazines and gun wells, all ghosts of the history of Panama in another time. Since we were so ready to dive, the monstrous, closed cement tank, 25 feet high, still used for drinking water was more than we could resist. I am sure it is a no-no but we were clean, and swimming around in the warm water of the huge, dark tank was an eerie and unique experience. No fish. We even got in a little slingshot hunting in the hills and Michelle is catching on but still needs practice.

The windy trip had been a real trial. Even though our plans were aborted and the diving was not relaxed, or comfortable, we were grateful that we found fish, and returned from the trip safely.  The unplanned and the unexpected brought us new experiences, new learning and even new first time fun. It was a wake up call to the moods of the sea. However, we are most grateful just to have the time and energy to participate in whatever is offered by Mother Ocean, and to feel that total aliveness and alertness required to survive in her domain. Now that we are rested, we are ready for the next trip and may there be huge floating logs and resplendent dorado awaiting us, along with the usual unexpected surprises.

Dix and Michelle   Nov 6, 2007
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  • 54321
    United States The XTREME Team
    Reviewed on 11/07/07 at 12:50 AM

  • Yet another excellent story from Dix Roper! Thank you, and welcome to


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