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It started to bend, and then bent down toward the transom like a bow. Mrs. Cunningham was up off the seat of the fighting chair. The fish was lifting her, and the reel was screaming with less than a hundred yards of line left on it. The line was going straight out over the stern. The Sarah had stopped, and was slowly gathering sternway as the line began to veer off to the left. Mr. Cunningham swung the wheel to the right and the Sarah's stern came around so that the line went straight back over the transom again.
"Would you handle the chair, please Mr. Packard?" Mrs. Cunningham said.
"What do I do?"
"Just keep it facing the fish," she said.
I moved behind her and took a hold of the chair with both hands, one on each side of her, and that's where I stayed. Whenever the fish moved to the left or to the right, I turned the chair and kept it facing the fish. The tuna had stopped its straightaway run. It was still taking line out, but moving off to the left, dragging that enormous catenary through the water.
Mrs. Cunningham lifted and lowered the rod, reeling only as she lowered it. Lift and lower. Crank like a machine. A little at a time she regained the line. After a while the angle the line made with the water looked more like it was attached to a fish, and not to the horizon. Then the rod began to bend even more and the line started to go out again, but not as before. Now it went out in jerks that looked as if they would break the rod. Every time the rod bucked, 10 more yards of line were lost, and every time Mrs. Cunningham was yanked off the seat of the fighting chair.
The fish was sounding, and the angle of the line got smaller and smaller as the Sarah backed toward the fish. Finally the line was straight down and still going out in jolts and jumps. The Sarah was dead in the water now.
Every time the fish jolted the rod I could feel it in my back and Mrs. Cunningham took every jolt with her pink silk blouse stretching tight across her back, until finally the shocks started to come further and further apart, and then they stopped. The fish had quit sounding somewhere down there, nearly half a mile under us.
A foot, half a yard, two feet at a time she brought the fish up. Then the fish stopped again. She could not move him. She arched in the chair and the rod bowed down toward the water and she held the fish at the breaking strength of the line. She stayed that way for a long time with nothing moving except the trembling of the line. Then a foot at a time, less than one turn of the reel spool, the line on the reel built up slowly—to 100 yards, to 200, until she had a quarter of it back, and then the fish headed down again with those jolts and shocks and she lost everything she had gained.
She started in on him again, lifting, lowering and reeling. In an hour she had half of the line back. The tuna made a deep run and in five seconds took it all back. Once, later, she must have had 500 yards on the reel when something spooked the fish. It ran straight out from the boat ripping line off the reel, which screamed the way it had when the fish first hit, and I thought about what was down there. The tuna must be in the dark, running from some mindless monster of a hammerhead or mako shark, dragging a quarter of a mile of line behind it.