"You issue goggles with those things?"
"Now just a minute."
Meyers, sensing rising indignation from the backseat, backed off. "The rods had an o in them, I know that," he said. "Might have been Loomis, at that."
Perk offered a bottle of rum to any of us who shattered one of his rods on a fish. It was a safer proposal than he knew, even if rum had been $4,000 a bottle instead of the $4 the local stuff sold for.
The next morning at 7:30 sharp, brimming with confidence, we boarded two charter boats, Huntress and Flyfisher, open-cockpit craft about 27 feet long, and headed out to sea. Neither of the captains or the mates spoke English, so Perk, going native, introduced himself as Pablo. Pete, feeling as if he were back home in Santa Barbara, comfortably introduced himself as Pedro. I spoke no Spanish, so my compadres introduced me as Gordo Blanco, which, I later discovered, meant "fat white."
Accompanied by what appeared to be the entire Quepos fleet, we proceeded 20 miles out to sea—an hour's jaunt—at which point the captain slowed to six knots. The mate put the mullet baits in the water. All eyes were directed behind the boat to a nondescript stretch of ocean with nothing to recommend it other than the six fishing boats beside us. Fifteen minutes later the captain cried out from the bridge, "¡Pez vela!"
A sailfish had risen to the surface and was slapping at one of our baits, just 25 yards away. The fish was sort of swerving in the smooth wake of the boat. But when the mate grabbed the rod and tried to tease the fish closer, it disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Still, what a sight, that great sail sticking out of the water, dark blue against the emerald sea. It got everyone's heart racing.
As did the next one. And the next. By 10 a.m. three sailfish had risen to our bait, but none had followed the tease. If we had been fishing conventionally, with hooks in the mullets, we would have had three strikes. We had also seen a dozen other sailfish tailwalking crazily across the ocean's surface, each jumping 10, 11, 12 times consecutively for no reason we could discern. Our efforts at communication with the captain and mate divulged only that sea lice were somehow involved. A more likely explanation, we later learned, was that the aerial displays were some sort of mating ritual. One phrase the mate kept repeating that did have the ring of truth was, No tienen hambre. They're not hungry.
At 11 a.m. we came to a stop—a dead stop. Flyfisher's engine was leaking oil. A half hour later the word came that Flyfisher was being towed back into port. We were invited to join Meyers and Eppridge aboard Huntress. "This is not a good sign," Meyers said, reluctant to let us aboard. "This is not a good portent. One of you guys is an albatross."
Pablo and Pedro, united in their mastery of pidgin Spanish, pointed to me. "Gordo Blanco," they said.