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Oh Magnífica!
E.M. Swift
September 04, 1989
Off the Azores a trout angler hooked an enormous marlin and lived to tell an incredible tale. Beside it, the story of that big white whale, well, pales
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September 04, 1989

Oh Magnífica!

Off the Azores a trout angler hooked an enormous marlin and lived to tell an incredible tale. Beside it, the story of that big white whale, well, pales

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"Then it's trash," Eppridge declared. This much you must understand about Bill: For a man who makes his living taking beautiful color pictures, he lives in a black-and-white world.

I read the first paragraph of Mullins's article aloud: "Some say the group of islands that go to make up the Azores was once the lost city of Atlantis. After my first trip there I know different. It's the new Angler's El Dorado. I propose to you that here is the finest blue marlin fishing in the world."

"I propose to you that any article that does not begin: 'The reel screamed..." is a pack of lies and not worth the paper it's written on," said Eppridge.

"I propose to you it's time we go to bed," said Kirk, with unerring instinct. The night was in danger of degenerating into a finger-pointing, chest-thumping, scotch-fueled fiasco. We didn't, of course, go to bed. But Kirk was absolutely right in proposing it.

We couldn't fish the next day, or the day after, or the day after that. A near gale-force north wind settled in, so that even the harbor was frothing with whitecaps. For the next three days the only screams we heard—reel or otherwise—came from the hotel kitchen, where the cook and the waitress waged a daily battle at breakfast. Plates, cast-iron skillets and full-volume epithets were hurled back and forth like loose peppercorns, after which the waitress would emerge in a fury to take orders, her face streaming with tears. The choice between fried and scrambled eggs becomes strangely insignificant when the girl before you is sobbing and gagging for air. But we managed. A person must eat.

After each battle we would put on our rain gear, walk down to the boat, watch the waves crashing over the breakwater for an hour or so, then walk back. "Every day is a lesson," Arménio would say wisely. "You can be beautifully organized—the boats are full of gas, the hooks are sharp, and the fishes are hungry. But if the weather doesn't cooperate, you must wait."

To pass the time, we toured the island. At its highest point, Faial had a dormant volcanic crater 500 meters wide, 400 meters deep, the guide books told us. That we believed. We also tried surf casting from the shoreline. We had heard rumors of bluefish but found no evidence of them. And. hour after hour, we took shelter in the Café Sport, the most renowned watering hole in the Azores. Peter Azevedho runs the cafe, which had been in the family since his father, Henrique, founded it in 1918. The top floor of the cafe is a museum, in which Peter displays the family's collection of scrimshaw, a priceless assemblage. Intricately detailed pipes, cigar holders, pie cutters, salt and pepper shakers, dice, eggcups, thimbles and crocheting needles had all been carved out of whalebone. And, of course, whaling scenes etched onto the ivory teeth. Originally, Peter explained, scrimshaw was the work of American whalers who carved the pieces at night while at sea. When their ships put in to the Azores for repairs, or to stock up on supplies, the sailors would trade the carved teeth to Henrique Azevedho for brandy. Some of the scenes reflected a certain homesickness on the part of the sailors: The sad face of a wife left alone; a mother and child peering seaward from a window: a child waving.

In short, it was not a bad island for sight-seeing. But when you have come to a place to fish and you cannot fish, nothing is very satisfactory. We were getting antsy, and the name of Graeme Mullins, champion of the Angler's El Dorado, was used more than once in vain.

On the fifth day the breeze slackened, and we were able to fish. Hornsby, who, as I have mentioned, ran his own charter service in England, became our captain, while Arménio stayed ashore. Arménio had talked to Hornsby earlier about staying on to work for him until the end of the marlin run. I suspect the timing of the change may have had something to do with Arménio's string of bad luck.

We fared little better with Hornsby at the wheel, catching only one dorado for the day. It was a long, long day. Here is the problem with marlin fishing: The dead time stinks.

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