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The black marlin, the largest bill fish caught on hook and line, meets man off a remote corner of Peru that is costly to reach and still costlier to fish. The meeting place lies off a 300-foot headland of brown sand, burned dry by the sun and scuffed by hot winds. It is named Cabo Blanco. Immediately north of the headland, where Peru meets Ecuador, the dried-codfish climate suddenly melts into a moist green hothouse of bananas and coconuts. Slow, muddy rivers empty into a tepid ocean populated thickly with amber jacks, roosterfish, groupers, sail-fish and sleepy giant rays as broad as a nightclub floor. The aristocratic marlin seems to abhor this sea slum of congested commoners. Off Cabo Blanco it turns its long black bill westward and rides the blue stream of the Humboldt Current on the course of the raft Kon-Tiki. Here it dines on its favorite, the sierra mackerel, or samples the plump three-foot squids which school like huge pineapples on the ocean's surface.
To better pursue the marlin, S. Kip Farrington Jr. of New York, a leading salt-water fisherman, organized in May 1951 the Cabo Blanco Club, one of the world's more exclusive fishing fraternities. Farrington himself supervises its membership list, which numbers only 20, most of whom are Americans. The membership fee is $10,000, but even with that it is not altogether clear on what Farrington bases his selections. He reportedly has turned down one bid of $50,000 to join, and he has been pursued almost relentlessly by other aspirants.
The club charges $25 a day per person—upped from $15—for room and board. The rent for one of its three motor cruisers, imported from Nova Scotia, runs $100 a day. Tackle is a bargain. Full gear, costing from $1,000 to $2,000 to buy, rents at $10 a day.
So uncommunicative are the American members—even after selecting his membership, Mr. Farrington likes to check everything mentioning publicly the Cabo Blanco Club—that a visitor expects a chilly reception. Actually the atmosphere is easy and amiable, no strain. Once the stranger has reached the remote home of the black marlin, it is assumed that there is no further reason for discouraging him from the chase. The club is managed with great efficiency and ease by a graying Pole named Sygmund Plater whose tank battalion was nearly annihilated at Cassino. His wife, daughter of a Polish general, keeps the rooms spotless and the cuisine diverse. An intelligent young Spaniard named Juan Matutes cares for the elaborate tackle room where the lockers of the founding members bear brass plates, like the seats of knighthood.
The most awkward chore for this staff comes after the fishermen have gone. It involves sending by air their marlin, gutted and iced, to a taxidermist in Miami, Al Pflueger, who is an expert in stuffing marlin. One happy feature about Peru is that its sharks are gentlemen and usually do not chew pieces off the beaten marlin before it is boated. Panagra cheerfully flies marlin corpses as big as dories, because the revenue is fabulous.
The club's life as a club, however, is unavoidably artificial. Only the whims of marlin hold the members together. When marlin refuse to show their tails, the club sags. Even at the season's height—always under dispute, but usually recognized as between March and August—the members never come to Peru simultaneously. This convivial privilege is denied them by the fact that of the three boats—one 40-footer and two 38-footers—usually only two are in operating order.
Because of its still inadequate fleet, not all fishermen, even wealthy ones, have tried to penetrate Farrington's guard and enter the club. The most stubborn big angler to hold out against Farrington is Charles Johnson, a bespectacled General Motors man from Asheville, N.C. Johnson has the money to enter the club but doesn't want in. To bring his own cruiser down Johnson spent nearly $5,000 in Peruvian custom duties alone. With his Floridian captain R. L. (Whip) Foster, the auto baron lives in frugal waterfront style at Talara, the Panagra landing field, in rooms leased from a Norwegian commercial fisherman named H. L. Hammarberg, who keeps a boatyard. The Johnson system of avoiding membership is probably even mere expensive than being a member of the club, but it is the only alternative.
The only marlin ever seen at close range by many fishermen at Cabo Blanco is the immense specimen hanging on the wall of the clubhouse. There it floats on blue waves of cigar smoke, the sealight from the front picture windows gleaming on its silver belly. It was Cabo Blanco's first 1,000-pounder, caught April 4, 1952 by Alfred C. Glassell Jr., a sporty Houston businessman who fishes in total Texas fashion, with two cruisers linked by radio. But already this prize is a has-been. By taking a 1,560-pound fish August 4, 1953 Glassell became champion of the world.
But records here are short-lived. Novices, even women, are lucky. Ted Williams, while ruminating on his divorce from his wife and, temporarily, baseball, flew down in December '54 and casually took a 1,235-pound marlin. An even bigger one broke his leader and escaped. A tall girl named Kimberly Wiss, who works in New York for a public-relations firm, took a 1,525-pounder, the women's world record, after an 80-minute battle. Had the marlin lunched more heavily, Miss Wiss could easily be world's champion.
As if to prove that the marlin are always there, the club has flanked the driveway on its seaward side with scores of huge tails, black and stiff. The driveway leads down about half a mile to a battered wooden wharf about 15 feet wide and perhaps 300 feet long. The wharf has a hoisting crane to lift out fish, a machine to weigh them, and a host of leaky pelicans and cormorants squatting on the decks of a mosquito fleet of sailboats owned by Indians.