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The English, Fishing, etc.

Watching the English

On Thu, Jun 29, 2006 at 02:36:35PM -0700, Rick Moen wrote:

Mike:  I am not sure if you still have the archived emails of our
discussion/dissemination about that HTML page listing a lot of American
idioms from a British point of view, but it seems apt here.

> From: Margaret Austin, UK Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2006 12:01:33 +0100
> Subject: [smofcon] WATCHING THE ENGLISH
> That's as may be, but I'm sure from a foreigner's perspective there
> are behaviour traits and cultural idiosyncrasies common to all who
> live in the USA, and possibly the whole of North America. Maybe some
> of these are easier for us to spot than for you to identify.

[Thomas] Like anything, this is always the case. Relatives one has not seen in $SOME_TIME are always apt to quote: "Ooh, haven't you grown?", whilst pulling your cheek gently. Sigh.

[Sluggo] Here only Italian grandmothers pull your cheek, saying, "You used to be such an nice boy!" Sometimes others do it facetiously.

[Kat] Which version of "here" meaneth you, Mike?

[Sluggo] Why, the Oneified States of Vespucci-land. Not to be confused with our neighbor the Great White North, or the Faire Realm of Britannia.

[Sluggo] Brooklynese is always amusing. "How you DOOOIN?" "cwoffee"

[Kat] Cawfee/cwowfee/etc is not just Brooklyn, it's definitely also the Bronx and parts of Joisey.

[Thomas] Hehe. I'm having fun trying to imagine that. But then, any introductory sentence involving coffee is good in my book.

[Sluggo] They don't say it together, dunderhead!

> One big difference between the English and the Americans I've observed
> is that whilst the English would hardly ever dream of starting up a
> conversation with a complete stranger (or even someone you vaguely
> know, come to that) at a bus stop or on a train, in the US by the time
> you actually get on the bus or train the American standing next to
> you has normally told you their entire life story. I exaggerate, of

[Thomas] Hehe. This is true, of course. The English are much too reserved about things, although this idiom is a little passé now, given a slight culture shift. The older generation of people at bus stops (I refer to OAPs -- Old Age Pensioners) are more likely to strike up a conversation, presumably because they're curious what the youth of today are up to.

> course, but in general we find Americans much more open and willing
> to share personal information than we are. In the book, Kate Fox
> talks about the exceptions to the not-talking-to-stangers rule, e.g.,
> to complain about the weather or to say, "Typical!" when you're on
> a train which gets delayed owing to leaves on the track, etc. Of

[Thomas] Those comments define common-ground, and hence gives the proverbial olive-branch a chance to do its job. Trains are a nightmare, anyway, especially if one is on a long journey of, say, three hours or so. What I have typically found (being British, of course) is that for people on train journeys, most of them actually do want to talk, but it's never quite known how to approach the issue.

See: American Bus

[Sluggo] That's the quintessential British stereotype: people wanting to talk but they don't because they haven't been introduced. I don't know how much it's true. I can't say I've noticed a difference between British and Americans, but I don't talk to passing strangers a lot either. I do say "Hi" sometimes to people in the city, like some others do to try to keep alive the small-town customs; that may be an American thing.

[Thomas] It depends. In tightly-knit rural communities (such a farming communities) acknowledging one another is always done for this very reason alone.

[Sluggo] I did get chewed out twice by British toughs on the train. Once on the tube when I accidentally spit in a guy's direction. >>

[Thomas] That doesn't surprise me, most find such acts rude.

[Sluggo] I understand he was upset. I just didn't understand why he kept harping on it after I said I'm sorry. What did he expect me to do? I can't undo it.

[Ben] Mike, it might be because the guy was a jerk. Not because he was from somewhere, but because it's a personal characteristic.

This is one of the (damn near infinite number of) reasons I find "oh, those people from $OTHER_PLACE all behave like that" annoying. Yeah, there are common traits in groups, but assuming that someone's behavior defines a group is just nuts. Assuming that someone's behaving a certain way because they can be classed with some group isn't much better. Even if the behavior that they're engaging in is supposed to be representative of that group, assuming that they're doing it for that reason can definitely lead you astray.

[Sluggo] I'm not talking about his behavior, I'm talking about the cultural assumptions behind it. Clearly he had different expectations than I would have, but I don't know what his were. Assumptions do have some relationship to $COUNTRY, even if behavior brings in on a lot of other factors. I respect the way he said what he means and piped up if something bothered him. I didn't mind he did it gruffly; he thought I looked like a guy who wanted it direct, just like he would. Fine with me.

[Sluggo] And once in Dover when I met Didier and I was telling him the good and bad of England, and some lad thought I was badmouthing the Brits. Those may be the only times somebody talked to me on a train. Except when I went from Bristol to Cardiff on the spur of the moment, and we went into a tunnel. I asked the man next to me, "Was that a mountain?" and he said, "No, that's the Severn." I asked, "What's the Severn?" He said, "The river that divides England and Wales." Oh. I felt so stupid.

[Thomas] Heh. I can't help but chuckle at that. Note that it's not your question about what the Severn is, but more that you asked if what you had passed was a mountain. :) We don't have anything close in Britain to a proper mountain -- the only places you are going to lay claim to any prominent ones is "Ooop North" in The Lake District, and Scawtland (sic).

[Sluggo] The only time I've seen tunnels is when they plow through mountains, of which there are a lot here.

[Ben] One of the things I really enjoyed about the PNW, by the way. I just loved spending time in those mountains, hiking and fishing and skiing and hunting. I miss it; there's nothing quite like that on the East Coast, where the mountains are really old.

See: Mountains

[Thomas] It's a shame you took the Train to Cardiff -- had you driven (I realise why this was not a possibility) you would have had to go over the Severn Bridge to reach Wales. A very high bridge at that, but you get a nice view from it.

[Sluggo] High bridges are nice. There's a cool one in Toronto if you ever get to see it.

http://www.torontoartexpo.com/gallery/2006/Rabazo_Alejandro/AlejandroRabazo_DanforthBridge.jpg Danforth Bridge

The picture doesn't show the most spectacular part, where you've been underground for half an hour and think there's nothing below you, then suddenly you emerge in a wooded hillside with a river far below. The river must be in a canyon or fjord or something.

[Thomas] One has a few possibilities open to them, such as the weather, but that's considered so clichéd, as to be ignored by most people.

> course, as soon as the train starts moving again, we all hide behind
> our newspapers and conversation with strangers ceases. And, just
> because you said "Typical!" yesterday to a person you see on the
> train every morning that doesn't give you a free licence to start up
> a conversation the next day. After a couple of years, it might be
> acceptable to nod and mutter, "Good morning," but nothing more.

[Thomas] This guy's been watching far too many romantic American films. :P

[Rick] It should be noted that the characterisation you're referring to was from Margaret Austin, who's quite English and is posting from a Natural Environment Research Council centre, somewhere.

"_Lots_ of planets have a north!"
                -- The Doctor
> Despite being a very small country, England does have considerable
> regional variations in culture. Yorkshire is probably more alien to
> someone from Berkshire or Surrey than Massachusetts is.

[Thomas] That depends how deeply-rooted these people are. Surrey is quite a small county, and it's true that most people in the South of England view the North with some amusement, due to their idiomatic tendencies for things like odd vernaculars and colloquialisms.

American Bus

[Sluggo] One American experience is taking a bus across the country, which takes three days. It was more common by train in the '40s, back when trains were faster and more frequent. I've done it three times now, to New York or Pennsylvania, and am going again next month. Not that I'm excited to but planes are so expensive now, you have to choose your itinerary a month in advance, you're packed in like sardines, etc. So it's a good time to talk to people and see who you meet, and sometimes you make some interesting friends. Not unlike the Trans-Siberian, I guess. There's a difference in class between the bus and train: train riders tend to be better off and taking leisurly vacations. Bus riders either (1) just want to get from point A to B, (2) want go where there are no trains or the schedule is better, or (3) can't afford anything else. A surprising number of truckers ride the bus from their home in one state to their job in another. The bus runs 24 hours straight, with drivers changing every 10 hours.

[Heather] I've never ridden a bus long-haul, but my sis says they're more timely than the trains, who often pull to sidings to let the fright lines (who really own the track and/or are worth all the real money on it) through. The busses only pull in for meals, and some not for that if they've a concession aboard.

[Sluggo] A bus with meals aboard? I've never seen such a thing.

[Heather] It was claimed, for the same value as airlines have meals; in other words, don't bother. Bring your own beef jerky, it will be cheaper, and at one point in history it was a steak.

It's the trains that have meals aboard. The buses stop three times a day at McDonald's or Joe's Forgotten Rural Restaurant, plus they stop every few hours at truck stops or gas stations for smoke breaks, restrooms, and snacks. In California there's a resort which I thought would would be a very special break, but it turns out the Coalinga Junction Resort is a euphamism for a bunch of fast-food restaurants surrounding a parking lot.

[Heather] Heh. At least the Truckstops of America (TA) also have a general store, and if you happen to be a long-haul trucker, they have showers available. (If not, then they don't - that's a membership privelege).

Coalinga "resort" my fanny. Hold out for Harris Ranch.

At least they didn't call it an "oasis". Back east an oasis is what we call a rest stop,, except our rest stops are wooded places consisting of restrooms and picnic tables [4],

[Heather] Some of our rest stops have picnic support, and one or two even have vending machines.

and the oases consist mainly of a restaurant, a restaurant accessible only from the freeway.

[Heather] Interesting, I haven't yet encountered a restaurant that wasn't also accessible to the locals.

There, Thomas, how Americana is that? Shall I send you a Happy Meal souvenir?

[Heather] [Buses more efficient, film @ 11]

Buses are definitely faster than trains on the long-distance routes, even though they're vulnerable to rush-hour traffic. The tracks haven't been upgraded since the 1800s so they poke along at a leisurely 40 MPH, plus freight trains are slower than passenger trains anyway which is why you have to wait for freight train to pass. In the northwest at least there are areas with one track for both directions, so you also have to wait for oncoming trains.

[Heather] bleh.

On regional routes that have both buses and trains (Seattle-Vancouver BC), it's a tossup which one is more likely to break down along the way. Plus you never know when the bus will get stuck for 1 1/2 hours

[Heather] Also bleh.

at the border, whereas for trains the immigration is done both ways in Vancouver, and the southbound customs agents do their work on the train.

Another thing is, because most trains go once a day, they fill up a month in advance. So if you want to go at the last minute you have to take a bus.

The first time I went down the coast by myself in 1987, I was supposed to take a train from SF to LA, and then transfer to Oceanside (San Diego) to see my relatives. But I missed the train, so because it was 1987 and you could get a last-minute flight for $100, I flew to LA. Then when I got to the train station, I found the train from SF was late so I hadn't missed it after all! Going back, I stopped in Vancovuer, Washington (the other Vancouver) to visit a college roommate, and on the way home the train was late again by 8 hours. Sadly, this is common, which is why even avid train riders don't ride the trains.

I remember arriving at Los Angeles airport and coming out to where the shuttle vans stop, and I had to sit down for ten minutes because I was overwhelmed at how big the airport was. I was 21 and had never been to a city that big before.

[Heather] My goodness.

Top Posting

[Sluggo] Re top posting: this is becoming a culture clash between old school Internet users and, er, what we used to call AOL Weenies. My friend last week said, "Your emails are hard to read because you reply at the bottom instead of at the top like everybody else. And your lines make 1 1/4 line on the screen and then it starts another line. And you use some ancient typewriter font; Arial is much easier to read."

[Heather] /me hands him a copy of Lucida Console and tells him to quit whining (after explaining how to set his monospace font to a "pretty" one). Dozens more fonts where that one came from.

Heck, one or two dozen out of the few thousand out there are even free :)

[Sluggo] Lucida Console works on Windows?

[Heather] There's a version of it available in win2k at least, yeah.

[Sluggo] He does want to put Linux on his next computer. Doesn't like the way XP phones home and tells Microsoft about your computer, or the fact that you need the Internet active just to install some programs. But he's a CAD designer, so since there's apparently still no commercial-level CAD program for Linux, he'll have to dual-boot.

[Heather] If he's writing apps for mswin, yeah, he'll definitely need to live there at least part of the time.

There's a nice architectural CAD app for Linux, and a handful of PCB related CAD apps, but nothing for general machining that doesn't require frying your eyeballs with a side of hash browns to get your side of bacon out of it.

[Sluggo] At work people sometimes top-post and sometimes bottom-post, and sometimes it's both in the same message. I follow the original style of the message, or bottom-post if I'm the first reply, though sometimes if my reply is short I'll put it at the top. But it could be that the world really has gone to top-posting and only us few Unixheads don't, and I just don't perceive the extent of it because I view top-posting as an aberration.

I tried to explain the difference between the traditional email culture (text is king) and the multimedia email culture, and that some people and mailing lists object very strenuously to top posting. I told him there may be some settings in yahoo mail or his browser to change it,

[Heather] Shortest form: it can read like a snippy comment at the top, or it can read like a conversation scattered amid the other comments. The two ways each have their benefits, but they're not very compatible; comments at the top lose the reference of what they were comments to. Contrariwise, comments in the middle leave all these long rambly parts [3].

Leaving the synthesis, snip a lot of unrelated text, and reply among the remaining bits.

but of course that's not his responsibility, it's mine. I told him I have no idea how my messages look in yahoo mail but it's prob'ly different than another program, and I have no control over it. I looked at his raw message and saw it's text+HTML; I told him that and that it uses more than twice the bandwidth for the same content, but he still didn't grasp the "HTML" part. So I guess we just have to get with the program. (Irony alert.)

[Heather] Ooooh, I notice those ugly angle brackets litter your cute messages and kind of mess up the fonts, bloating your message to three times the size, and crudding up the ends of your lines with = signs, and adding a ghastly looking extra attachment that maybe used to be a sig block. It's quite dreadful. Did you know it does that? I wonder if global warming caused it. ;P

[Sluggo] Moi? Are you being facetious or is this really happening? I checked my message and it looks like ordinary text, and has these headers:

[Heather] Yes, this is my facetious reply to the benighted soul who whinges because our plaintext loks plain whilst his spiffy text must be perfect stationery. I've used it satirically at least twice in real life to drive home the point that one man's cute is another man's buried config option. Seeing as I prefer to actually make the computers work for me I do bother to configure them. But simply getting the point across that difference is expectable, would be fine too.

MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Content-Disposition: inline

[Heather] You're fine. I can't honestly recall the last time I saw htmltext from you, that wasn't us exchanging code snippets deliberately.

Talking to Americans

[Sluggo] Um, have we mentioned "Talking to Americans" yet?

http://home.comcast.net/~wwwstephen/americans/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_To_Americans

[Rick] Closely related was Colin Mochrie's famous "Apology to Americans" piece that aired as part of the same "This Hour has 22 Minutes" comedy programme (in 2002). It managed to brilliantly pillory both sides of the border.



[Kat] That would be another reason for you to go to the Bay Area, Mike.

[Sluggo] Hmmm? I've been to the Bay Area. There are mountains and bridges and tunnels. Oh, you mean the BART tunnel under the bay? I forgot about that. An unfortunate thing, that. One of the most spectacular views in the world and you can't see it. Should've put BART on the Bay Bridge. I always try to get a glimpse of the bay from the elevated section in west Oakland, but never have. Plus it's really loud down there under the bay for some reason. So loud that I wonder why more people haven't complained. Did the engineers, er, not think about this?

[Kat] ah, but the Transbay Tube is actually one of the marvels of modern engineering! Additionally, it's my understanding (although I haven't been able to find confirmation in the limited time I alloted to the search) that going under the bay was an earthquake safety issue.

There may be information here: http://www.bart.gov/about/projects/earthquakesafety.asp

[Sluggo] It did remain intact during the 1989 earthquake while the bridge didn't. But 2/3 down that report it says that the transbay tube is the highest priority for seismic retrofitting.

[Rick] OK, I've grepped through my TAG mail, so I'm reasonably certain I haven't told this story before. (The Marina District, referenced below, was site of a major earthquake-triggered fire that endangered the entire city of San Francisco.)

Native Californians tend to be a bit blase about earthquakes, and quietly amused at auslanders getting nervous or upset at a little shaking that's not causing imminent danger.

See: Earthquakes

The television programme "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", near the end of its first season, had a very Californian in-joke: "The Master", the chief villain-vampire, started feeling shaking in the underground lair where he's trapped, indicating near-fulfillment of a prophesy that he'd be freed. He starts shouting: "Yes! YES! Shake, Earth! This is a sign! We are in the final days! My time has come! Glory! GLORY!"

<Shaking stops. The turns to his young apprentice:>
"Whadaya think? 5.1?"

Anyhow, the afternoon of October 17, 1989, I was at a network consulting job in Berkeley, California, having driven over San Francisco Bay from my house in western San Francisco. My Israeli-born then-fiancee was at home. At 5:04 p.m., the quake started, and I rolled my office chair around cooly shutting down equipment, after looking up and (I thought) making sure I wasn't in an unreinforced-masonry building. After the shaking (15 seconds of 7.1 on the modified Richter scale), I made sure everything seemed OK, then gathered up others in the building and went outside. (Then, I noticed that the building really was apparently made from unreinforced brick, which like stone tends to crumble in quakes. Fortunately, it was only one storey, and nothing collapsed.)

We looked around a bit, then I went inside and telephoned home just long enough the each of us could be assured the other was OK. Checking the radio over the next hour or two, I determined that the S.F. Bay Bridge would be unpassable for the near future [1], but other bridges would probably reopen after inspection. Eventually, I got home the long way, about 80 km, via bridge to San Rafael in Marin County and then over the Golden Gate Bridge -- listening to radio chatter about the Marina District fire, collapsed stone and brick buildings, etc.

...and so, I walked into my house about 10 PM, and found my fiancee still cleaning up broken pottery, but in a state of barely contained state of panic. She wanted to leave not just San Francisco, but the country -- and have both of us go "home" to Kiryat Shemona, Israel, target of PLO rockets from Lebanon every couple of days.

Me? My typical-Californian take on the situation was that we should go down to the Marina District supermarket, and buy some Shake and Bake for dinner. ;->

(Note for those outside North America: "Shake and Bake" is a gimmick food product from the 1970s: a spice/breading coating mix and a cookproof bag. You put chicken in the bag, seal, shake the mix, and bake.)

Anyhow, for what it's worth, although rare major earthquakes can do severe damage to some vulnerable parts of California's infrastructure, and thus its economy, unless you're unlucky enough to have something fall on you that's in violation of Building Code standards, you are very unlikely to get hurt. (63 died from the 1989 quake out of a population of eight million. Substantively all of those were victims of substandard construction.)


[Sluggo] My friend says that after the 1906 quake, strict building codes were passed to ensure the rebuilt buildings would be quakeproof. But the developers howled about the expense and eventually got the regulations repealed. So for fifty years all those Victorian houses were built without reinforcement until modern codes were finally passed. There are thousands of these buildings, so theey're predicting tens of thousands of casualties when the next big quake strikes within the city. (The 1989 quake centered in a less populated area 70 miles south.) At least that's what he says.

[Rick] That's true [2] -- but I'd guess that just about all of the Victorians have had modern, painstaking rebuilds by now, since doing so has been a major Yuppie fad for the past forty years. In any event, more to the point, two-story woodframe buildings like the Victorians really were never the problem in the first place: That's an inherently strong design, generally.

The California building code only really got tough starting 1979 (with some stronger and more aggressive municipal codes surpassing it), and that has indeed (finally) included mandatory retrofitting of old buidings, with legally mandated deadlines (the retrofit requirement being ordinarily triggered only by any remodel of the building, which means compliance isn't universal yet, but is getting there).

In any event, people frequently overinterpret the term "epicentre", which is merely the point of origin of the various wavefronts (or, technically, the surface location above that point). Actual shaking is often considerably greater many tens of miles distant, because of either soil topology effects (e.g., Santa Rosa in 1906) or because the different propagation rates of the P, S, and Rayleigh waves make the shaking last longer, further from the epicentre.

The 1906 earthquake (estimated at 7.8 magnitude) shook a 300-mile stretch along the fault, with strong shakings about 100 miles laterally, and duration in some places (e.g., Santa Rosa) for more than 60 seconds, but less long close to the epicentre, just south of S.F.

Probably he worst 1989 local damage was in Watsonville, ~20 miles from the epicentre, but Marina District (San Francisco) damage was almost as bad, because the neighbourhood was constructed atop a soggy marsh that had been filled in {pause for irony} in 1914-15 with sand, mud, and debris from the 1906 earthquake and fire, which landfill soil partially liquified in the 1989 shaking. (By contrast, neighbouring Fort Mason, built on bedrock, wasn't damaged in any way.)

[Breen] The real irony about the Marina damage is that the landfill happened originally for ... the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated San Francisco's rebirth after the 1906 quake.

That was fully anticipatable back in 1914-15, and the story I've heard is that the Marina District lands were initially zoned as pasture land only, because they were known to be unsafe in earthquakes, but that later land speculators were a little too... persuasive.

England in the 80s

[howarddy3] I have to say that my experiences were rather different in the 80's. Perhaps the folks i came across were more open to international travelers.

I recognized that total strangers were very much off limits, but people did offer info and advice where needed and sometime did start conversations. And this was both in Surrey and in the Geordi country North.

I remember working at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh during the summer festival and my English manager -- a female -- took me out for a drink. But maybe being an Englishwomen in Scotland facilitated that act.

The one thing i do remember was that the English folks seemed more polite and harder to reach than the Scots, who were more reserved around strangers but much warmer when they knew someone.

[Thomas] The Scots are a great people -- they're very warm in my experience, and much like the Irish, have a great sense of humour (c.f. Billy Connely). If you're ever in Edinburgh during Hogmanny, you'll soon realise what generosity means (I have never been, but I hear it's quite good).

[Rick] Having been in both cities (and I realise I'm stepping right into the middle of an epic municipal rivalry), my wife and I found the residents of Glasgow even more winning. Unlike the Edinburghers, they're modest about their lovely city. ('But why on earth would you come here on holiday?')

I did have a few problems with the thick-as-butter accent,

[Thomas] Heh. The accent is part of the appeal with me. (It's second only to the Welsh accent, which, on some women is very appealing). Depending on which part of Scawtland (sic) you go to, you'll get completely different dialects and accents. The coarse and often thick Glasweigan accent is nothing if you go to West Scotland, where it's often very warbly. You also need a phrase book in some parts.

(Incidentally, is it true that certain films -- I think it might have been Trainspotting -- had subtitles in the American release for the Scots dialect?)

[Rick] I did see Trainspotting (on videotape, I think), and I don't remember there being subtitles.

On the other hand, the 'Mad Max' series were all dubbed for American/Canadian release. There are now 'Special Edition' DVD sets in which one of the language options is 'Original Australian Dialogue' -- which made me laugh, when I heard about that.

[Breen] ISTR reading about an BritTV show, set in Glasgow, where the characters went to London for one episode. The southerners' dialog was subtitled...

e.g., the waitress who said 'I'll be out with your fash in a few minutes.'

[Thomas] Hehehehe.

It took me a while to deduce that the intended usage wasn't fash=bother as in the Northern English dialect, but rather was a reference to the haddock I'd ordered.

[Thomas] Mmmm. I love fish.

[Rick] Are you sure you're not Norwegian? After all, England is one of those failed Viking colonies.

[Thomas] Heh. I am sure. I did seriously consider moving to Iceland, however it's incredibly expensive.


[Ben] Unsurprisingly, fish is a reasonably regular feature of our diet - we go fishing quite a lot these days.

[Thomas] Hehe. That does not surprise me. I always go fishing when I can, although I typically only manage to catch pouting and mackeral. That said, many have caught sea bass, so there's hope for me yet. :)

See: Bait

[Ben] I taught Kat the basics, and she's taken it up with vigor: the last time we went, a couple of days ago, she caught most of the fish as well as the largest one. We had a couple of groupers and several snappers, which cooked up very, very nicely with julienned ginger, green onions, and toasted sesame oil. Yum!

[Kat] Actually, the juliened ginger/green onion/toasted sesame oil was for the saltwater catfish we caught during one of Heather's recent phone calls.

What I did with the groupser and snappers was just plain safflower oil heated hot and then 5 mm slices of fresh garlic fried in that until golden. Add a bit of kosher salt at the end, and we get a sauce that Ben will happily eat as if it were a vegetable side dish!

(I think we added a bit of soy sauce to the ginger concoction, which is my version of a classic Chinese flavored hot oil for steamed fish.)

Kat (noting that fishing combines meditation, nifty scenery, a bit of exercise, and numminess - what better combination?)

[Thomas] Damnit, you're making me hungry. Red snapper, would that be?

[Ben] Actually, now that I've looked it up, I was mistaken: I thought that they were lane snappers, and they turn out to have been black sea bass. I was right about the others, though - a red grouper and a black grouper. All in all, a gourmand's bag'o'fish.

[Thomas] These beasties?


Pretty chap. :)

[Ben] That's him - although not quite that big. :)

[Thomas] I'm still beaming from the fact that I have finally been able to get hold of whitebait. You wouldn't believe how difficult that was for me. It's ridiculous.

[Ben] The question is, did you eat them or use them as bait?

[Thomas] The whitebait? Good grief, Ben, I ate them. :) They're farrrr too good to waste on other fish. That was my delicacy. Yummy. I coated them in a light, runny flour glaze and deep-fried them, and ate them whole with brown bread and lemon juice. Mmmmmm. I don't know how old they were, but they were "fresh" by most people's definition of that word. I bet they're even nicer freshly caught. I imagine sprats to be much the same as whitebait?

[Ben] I'm not sure; I've only heard of whitebait, and don't have a very clear picture. There is indeed a school of thought that favors using bait that you can eat in case you have no luck; fresh shrimp, whitebait, shiners, etc. are definitely all good arguments for it. I've certainly looked at a bucket of jumping shrimp and said "the hell with fishing, boil some water!"

[Thomas] Ha! Even you have a weak spot, eh? I must admit, shrimp is too good to pass up. Some fish have too exotic tastes to waste on them. :)

Fresh Fish

[Ben] (By the way, if you've never had really fresh, less-than-an-hour out of the water fish, the difference is like that between night and day. Most of the 'fishy' taste that many people dislike is products of decomposition - they're right to dislike it.)

[Thomas] [Nod]. I have heard this mentioned, but have never had the fortune of eating extremely fresh fish like that. I bet it's nice though. Sigh. :)

[Ben] Keep fishing, and you should have no trouble becoming a member of the club. :)

[Thomas] Oh I intend to. :) I haven't been fishing too long, but I have all the equipment to do so.

[Ben] We'd also caught a number of toadfish, Opsanus Tau, but shook them off our hooks very carefully - they're so ugly that it makes a very efficient defense mechanism against fishermen. :) Besides, there's a lot of argument about whether they're edible at all - and as much as the two of us like to experiment with weird food (have I mentioned 'harsmar' yet?), that was just a bit too steep of a hill to climb.

[Thomas] Aww. They look like lovely fish. :/ Out of interest, what type of bait/line/weight(s) were you using at the time?

[Ben] We were using dead shrimp, with a 3-oz. egg weight rigged as a "fish-finder" rig (i.e., it was a sliding weight on a 20-lb. test line above a snap swivel, and a foot-long leader with a #4 hook is attached to the snap.)

[Thomas] OK. I think I understand that (i.e. can picture it in my head). What reel were you using? Currently I've only had experience with fixed-spool reels. Some fisherman hate them in preference of multiplier reels. I've used both, and didn't get on with the multiplier reel at all. I probably just need to persevere with it more.

[Ben] Baitcasters - what I suppose you're calling a multiplier reel - are a pretty specialized tool; that's what long-distance casters use to throw a 100-gram weight more than 300 yards (might be useful in shore fishing, don't you think? :)

[Thomas] My step-dad has a lot of luck with his multiplier reel.

They also takes a good bit of expertise to use without tangling - it takes what they call "an educated thumb"

[Thomas] Then we are talking about the same thing. I have a slight operational issue in that I am all fingers-and-thumbs in doing even basic things like casting with such a reel. My step-dad is getting better at it, and as you say, the key to the entire thing is using one's thumb in controlling the line.

to feather that spool properly. They also allow you to work in a large fish against strong resistance. Spinning reels, however, can cast a reasonably long way - on the order of a hundred and fifty yards - and are relatively inexpensive.

[Thomas] This sounds like my reel. :) 150 yards you say? Hmm....

I like baitcasters for saltwater fishing, because - as the name says - I can lob out a delicate live bait a long distance without tearing it off the hook. I also prefer them for freshwater largemouth bass fishing, because I can repeatedly drop a lure within a 6" circle at, say, a hundred foot distance (i.e., present it exactly where I think the fish is) - but it's taken me a lot of practice to do that. For light-line fishing (e.g., trout) or when I'm teaching someone new to fish, I wouldn't use anything other than a spinning reel, though.

[Thomas] :) Then it seems that I am being taught well so far, since this is more or less the way I have been progressing.

[Ben] For a while, as the current was dying down, 3 oz. wasn't enough to hold the bottom - it all kept getting swept downstream - but once it slowed down a bit, the fish started biting like there was no tomorrow. Next time, I'll bring some pyramid weights so that it'll all hold better.

[Thomas] :)

[Thomas] I remember you mentioning once, about two years ago that you were going to Chesapeakebay (spelling?) Bay. I hear that's very good for fishing, no? You're lucky in many ways, it seems you're in a prime location to catch nice fish. :)

See: Chesapeake

[Thomas] Well, thanks to this thread, I caught my Scottish smoked peppered mackerel in my local food store, and am eating it with toast. :D Yum.


[Sluggo] Yep, them young whipper-snapper mountains sure are different. You take one look at them and know they're young and rambunctious. Not. It's just one tectonic plate sliding under another, which pushes the other up and produces the mountains.

[Ben] Not true, in fact; there are a number of processes by which mountains build. As well, mountains age after the tectonic activity ends. Old mountains are low and rounded; more recent ones are high and jagged. The Blue Ridge mountains, for example, are over a billion years old; the Appalachians are about 480 million years old; the Smokies are somewhere in the 450 million year range. Your Cascades, on the other hand, are pretty much the most geologically young and tectonically active in North America - as you well know, they're still building.

I'm going camping in a couple weeks, somewhere in the Cascades. Maybe just Mt Si, which is one of the foothills. Haven't gone hiking for twelve years, when my summer-school Russian class went up to Fourth of July Pass for the weekend with an outdoor-enthusiast prof. It's interesting how the vegetation is all lush at the bottom, then the groundbrush disappears and it's just pine/hemlock/cedar/douglas fir trees and moss and dirt, then the trees get thinner and thinner till they're several feet apart. I've only been to 5000', which is a third up Mt Rainer. The peaks are snow-covered year round, but they predict with climate change that won't always be the case.

After the Cascades if you go east, it's light brown desert and a totally different world. Then in another hundred miles you start getting rain and snow again and hit Spokane. Then the mountains start again and Coeur d'Alene Lake goes on for miles; a definite must-see. Then you're deep in the Bitterroot Mountains, which are like the Cascades but I'd say steeper and bigger (though not as high) with similar-looking trees. Then around Missoula it's flat, then the Rockies are less forested if I remember, but it's sometimes snowy in Butte near the top. Then it's all flat for 500 miles with cattle ranches and cornfields/wheat fields and oil pumps till Minneapolis, where you get lakes again and it feels a lot like Seattle.

They've cancelled the Greyhound bus between Billings and Minneapolis, so you have to take a string of regional buses instead (once a day). For some reason it's not profitable for a big company to do but it is profitable for a small company, however that works. So I'll prob'ly go south through Boise and Denver instead, since I've never been that way. Interesting that because Chicago is so far south, it's only four hours' difference to get there either way.

People say the east coast has no mountains like ours, but I feel at home in upstate New York and central Pennsylvania. NY just feels familiar, and Pennsylvania was quite surprising. I thought the whole east coast was wall-to-wall city, but here's this big mountainous forest in the middle of Pennsylvania, and suddenly at the top is Penn State University in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure whether it's the Appalacians or Alleghanies, but they definitely feel like normal mountains, don't let anybody fool you. There are three tunnels along the turnpike going through the bases of mountains, with delightful names like Blue Mountain. That's what I assumed it was when we went under the Severn. (In the northwest there aren't many tunnels. The roads meander and find flat spaces between the mountains, usually following the Indian trails.)

Another interesting place is -- surprise, surprise -- Los Angeles. My second time there was to a Python conference in Long Beach around 2001. The bus got diverted off I-5 due to a windstorm and came through Paso Robles on the coast (something like a 4-hour delay). We reached Ventura and I thought it would be suburban hell to downtown, but suddenly civilization stopped and we spent a whole hour going past this lonely mountain, then suddenly there was city again and then another mountain, and then finally downtown. How can a metropolitan area have entire mountains inside it?

[Ben] [laugh] That part of California poses some interesting challenges to people trying to build on those mountains. The top surface is highly friable, so houses tend to slide downhill whenever the whim takes them - and good anchoring techniques are still extremely expensive and not necessarily guaranteed. Ever hear of Malibu?


[Rick] Highly recommended reading: The Control of Nature by John McPhee. It's a trio of essays about places on Earth where humanity is unavoidably in conflict with natural forces. The entire book is a (quiet, oddly understated) tour de force, in my view, but the concluding essay, "Los Angeles against the Mountains", just knocked my socks off: You'll understand the full picture of what's going on with SoCal wildfires, construction, and landslides -- and boggle.

That may seem like an oddly worded endorsement, but there's just something... compelling about McPhee's prose style when he talks about scientific topics: Without apparent rhetoric, but with wit and precision, he piles on descriptive details and anecdotes, and manages along the way to give you a sweeping big-picture understanding of each of the problematic living situations described in the three essays (Iceland's most economically important harbour town, the lower Mississippi River, and the Los Angeles basin), and you find yourself saying "Holy moley! These people are nuts! How can they live there?"



[Sluggo] Thomas, do people really say "spooky kid" in England? Wikipedia says it means not-quite-a-goth. I've never heard it here. It's ingenious though. 'Course I'm still laughing over fauxhawk.

[Thomas] "Spooky kid" is a very... specific term, at least I don't think it's very common, and I have only heard it said a few times "in the mainstream" amongst peers. They were mostly Goth, actually. In fact, you could very easily say that of my now former Housemate. More of an introspective Goth. :)

[Sluggo] What was the original link that spawned this thread? I put off reading it till now, then realized there's no URL in the messages I have.

[Thomas] Hmm, I thought I forwarded the originating email to you. Here's the URL:


[Rick] Yes, but that mailing list's archive is set for member-only access, which is why I forwarded a "best of" excerpt -- here:



[Ben] Switch baits. Mackerel will go for almost anything - I've caught them on chewing gum and cigarette butts (that was just to prove that it could be done; actually, one of the best baits for them is a strip of mackerel) - but have a small mouth, so they can't take too big of a bait. Sea bass are a bit more picky about what they eat, and will take a fish up to a quarter (!) their own size - and I've always found live bait to be the best for them.

[Thomas] Thanks for the tip. From what I have read/been told, sea bass can be either very easy or very difficult to catch.

See: Wreck fishing

[Ben] The former, usually. :) In the case of saltwater fish, the trick usually comes down to being where they are, with the right bait (well, OK, the state of the tide matters somewhat too.)

[Thomas] I'm glad you said that about the tide. I get varying opinions and suggestions about when to fish at all, much less catch things like bass. The general consensus for the beach I frequent is to fish when the tide is on the way in -- and it can be very forceful thanks to the swell produced from a triangulation from the Isle of Wight and Portland (the former being an island, and the latter a peninsula). As I say, whether or not I need a high tide, I don't know. The would seem to be the general opinion round these parts. :)

[Ben] Interesting. For me, the default tide to fish, if I don't know an area well, is the outgoing high tide: that's when all the little baitfish and the crustaceans that hide out in the shallows get washed out to deeper water, where the hungry fish are waiting.

[Thomas] Heh. It seems the inverse is what I am told, at least for Westbay.

[Ben] It may well be. It depends on a number of factors - the direction of the current during a tide, how that current gets vectored based on the shape of the land, the bottom structure, etc.

[Thomas] It might be total bollocks for all I know, but the logic for fishing the incoming tide is that the fish are following the bait in. Mind you, I don't know whether anyone seems to care about the tide for shore fishing. Whenever I have gone down there, there's always someone trying desperately to catch something.

[Ben] Heh. Well, it's not an all-or-nothing game, but then success in fishing depends on a number of factors. Fishing the tide, and studying how the state of it relates to what happens, is one of the largest factors.

[Thomas] My parents went down there after a storm, the tide being very high and forceful still, but was on the way out (not that it was that obvious to tell). The shoreline was littered with pouting and whitebait wriggling about. I wish I had been there then!

[Ben] Yep - storms will strand fish at times. This also tells me that there's relatively deep water (not a huge shallow littoral zone, such as we have here in Florida) very close to shore where you are. Fish would usually run for deep water, away from the shore, during bad weather like that - and for them to get stranded, they must have been relatively deep already, and the entire water column got flipped (which happens when storm waves get fully developed, even in water up to 60-70 feet deep.) "Shoal" is a relative term. :)

[Ben] I try to figure out where the dropoff is - i.e., the break between the shallow littoral zone and the deeper water - and cast just over the edge of it, where the fish concentrate.

[Thomas] Oh, that's brilliant! I often wondered if I ought to be doing that -- the dropoff point is relatively close to the shoreline anyway, so it makes throwing the line out there easier for sure. What I have been doing in the past (when using frozen squid as bait [6]) is to just gently lift it up and down occasionally since it can often get obscured/caked in grit.

[Ben] Use a dropper rig, instead.

    Main line    or knot   18"-24" leader Weight
                    | 6" leader
                    J  Hook

This way, your bait will stay off the bottom when your line is tight. Also, don't use line that's too heavy or hooks that are too big: that's probably the biggest mistake that people make. 20-lb. test - and even that is mostly for abrasion resistance - and #4 hooks are just about as large as you'd need for fish up to, say, 10 lbs. on the average (and will, of course, hold much larger ones; just make sure that your drag is set to release well below line strength.)

[Thomas] I'm pleased I got that right at least, I wasn't sure if there would be any fish there, since because the current is so strong at times it can be hard to make sure the line doesn't get dragged out all over the place.

[Ben] That's the challenge, all right. Use either pyramid weights or - well, I'm not sure what they're called, but they're a sort of a little triangular lead frame with cleats facing up and down at the corners. Those are both really good for holding bottom in strong currents.

[Ben] If there's any structure at that dropoff line - rocks, wrecks, deeper holes, anything that breaks up the standard contours - that would be the spot marked "bullseye". :) Cast to the deep-water side of it if you can; fish, like electricity, always take the path of least resistance, and they're going to be wherever gravity and the current are going to drop the bait right into their mouths.

[Thomas] Would that also include areas close to man-made structures such as piers and rip-raff (huge boulders that have been plonked into the sea)? That seems to be a very popular place for fisherman.

[Ben] Absolutely. Hunting works on the same principle: there's nothing in the middle of an open plain, but if there's a dip, or the edge of a forest, or the base of a hill - anything to break up the regular features - there's the possibility of both hunting for food _and_ for running and hiding. That's where it all happens.

[Thomas] /me has a little book, and writes this all down.

[Thomas] Is there some advantage to going fishing after a storm (or perhaps in your case a hurricane)? I can well imagine there is, as it might stir or confuse the fish to place they might not otherwise be. :)

[Ben] Actually, that's not a good time to fish at all. The fish are somewhat spooked (unless you're talking about really deep water, which doesn't get disturbed) and the bottom silt is all stirred up, making the bait hard to see. On the other hand, right after a rain, fishing any deep holes you know of in shallow areas is a good idea: the concentration of salt in those remains fairly constant, while the surface is now a bit less salty - and the fish are going to move to places where their "normal" environment obtains.

[Ben] With (some - well, many) freshwater fish, the _first_ requirement is to be born under a caul... and the next 52,783 required factors get progressively less controllable and usually involve the intervention of a witch doctor, a 12-long poisonous snake, and a 2-horsepower 1967-model Waring blender with the "disintegrate" option. Most people just rely on luck, instead - which is why it's called "fishing" instead of "catching".

[Thomas] Hehehe. Freshwater fishing is not something I have done yet; to do so requires a license, and I can't justify paying out for one when I only fish on an ad-hoc basis. If I ever do go, I want to try and catch a Barbel; those things look very funny. :)

Wreck fishing

[Thomas] I quite often (when I am at my mum's place) watch fishing programs, and one of them was dedicated to wreck fishing for sea bass. Looked wayyyy out of my league, and I am told wreck fishing is the creme de la creme of fishing anyway. Hehe. :) In West Bay, near to where my parents are, people quite often catch bass. I just need to go down there at the right time.

See: Cod fishing

[Ben] Heck, no. Wreck fishing is easy: pretty much everything is done for you (the "being in the right place with the right bait at the right time" part, anyway.) All you need to have is a high-leverage rod and reel (short rod, BIG baitcasting reel like a Penn Senator) and the ability to use them as a pry-bar to get that big bugger out of his hidey-hole.

[Thomas] That's it? Yeesh, and here I am naive enough to think that I need at least 15 years behind me winning Fisherman of the Year awards to be eligible enough to do so. Well in that case, I will look into it, as there's some wrecks around 'ere somewhere.

[Ben] Stuff like wreck-fishing, chasing marlin and swordfish, or catching big tuna all looks glamorous - generally because there's a lot of money involved, and that means professional film crews to make it look hyper-exciting. Mostly, it's a highly-focused system for putting people on the fish, whatever it takes - which is why all of the above are strongly favored by people with little time, lots of money, and a need to show off big fish.

[Thomas] Well sod that. I only do fishing because I like it, not because I want to land some X^Y-sized tuna fish. I don't care if I catch pouting all day. :) They're still fish.

I've hooked 400+ lb. swordfish off my boat, pulled up 70-lb. wahoo, wrestled up huge grouper off the bottom - in one case, only to have everything but the head removed by a shark just as I got him to the surface -

[Thomas] Good God! I bet that was exhilarating. :) Wow.

[Ben] [laugh] It was annoying as hell, lemme tell you. I was already anticipating grilled grouper, which is very tasty indeed... at least we got the cheeks, which were only about a pound or so but are one of the most tender and tasty parts.

[Thomas] Heh. Well, it saved the shark having to go hunting, hehehe.

those are all heart-pounding moments, sometimes requiring lots of muscle (or patience; either will do, as proven by a woman who pulled in a 400-lb. marlin on 8-lb. test line in Hawaii.)

[Thomas] Did she take a photo? :)

[Ben] I suspect she did, since it was a record. :) I can't find a pic of it, but http://www.blackbartlures.com/xcart/customer/home.php?sectionid=4 talks about the skipper of the boat (Bobby Brown) and the fact that it was caught fishing with him. I also found a picture of a female Hawaiian angler who caught a little bitty fishie on a rod and reel:


I guess my search terms were kinda close to the mark. :)

Most of that, though, comes down to the factors I've mentioned: right place, right time, right bait. Try that with a 50-lb. carp or a 5-lb. brook trout, and it'll get you exactly nowhere. :)

[Thomas] My step-dad, much to his disgust is finding this out. :) Although thanks to his recent efforts, there is now some "fresh" mackerel in the freezer waiting to be cooked. (I actually telephoned my mother to tell her to cook it ASAP based on what you said, so perhaps there is no more mackerel left. :P)

Cod fishing

[Thomas] In the local tackle shop, there's a few photographs of some damn fine fish. One of them (I forget the name of the species -- very similar to a Sea Bass) was caught in high tide fishing over the side of some railings on a near-by beach. This fish was enormous. :) They're the sort of one-time-only catches though, and usually only the sort one might find boat fishing.

[Ben] Cod, perhaps? I've taken a quick look at what's available in your area, and that seems to fit the description.

[Thomas] Ah. Not cod -- related to it, looks like cod, but has a different name. If you said it, I'd know it, I just can't remember what it is. I thought it began with 'P', but I could be wrong. (Either way, these fish are huge -- well, big by my standards...)

I just love cold-water cod; that's one of the best-tasting fish out there. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, you're in the "really tasty fish" part of the world: warm-water fish tend to be sorta mushy, while cold-water fish - tuna, cod, flounder, sole - are just as fine as it gets.

[Thomas] Cod is becoming a "no-catch" fish due to concerns over its safety. For my birthday in April, I had fresh Lemon Sole, which was absolutely divine. I assume that to be fresh as in "caught on the day" -- it tasted better than any other supposed fresh fish I have eaten. Bony chap though -- but then I assume most flat fish are.

[Ben] Not at all. It takes a bit more skill (and a very sharp, thin, flexible knife) to fillet them, but there should be almost no bones in a flatfish fillet. Their skeletal structure is very flat and regular, so their bones are even less likely to get clipped (and thus included in the fillet) than other fish. Or did you have it whole?

[Thomas] You guessed it, it had its fins wiped, and was slapped on the plate for me to eat. My mother said something like: "Oooh, my. It still has its head!". I just smiled. :D I don't think she realised what it was I had ordered. When I say it was bony, I meant I found it very very fiddly to eat the fish from the bone in some parts of it, even after removing the skeleton, there's so many tiny bones.

I could, most likely, live off fish and be a very happy man indeed.

[Ben] I don't really know anything about catching pouting - actually, a quick Net search says that pouting is a "pest fish" (i.e., not worth eating) but make great bait for sea bass [laugh].

[Thomas] Hehe. Yes, they're a pest fish. Pretty though. I just like fish. :)

[Ben] Heh. Me too. I think I'll send you some pictures when we catch some next time.

[Thomas] Oooh, I'd like that. :)

Sorta proves my point, and would eliminate the chance of catching another one of them. You'd get fewer fish, but better quality ones.

[Thomas] I probably ought to get myself on a boat next time, but I need more practise just shore-fishing. I really enjoy it.

[Ben] Shore fishing is a lot of fun.

[Thomas] Yes, it is. :) I still need to practise my casting a little more, since I seem to either cast an "OK" distance out from the shore, or it lands about ten feet in front of me. :) It's harder than it looks, and I probably just need to keep at it.

[Ben] Good advice from a pro:


[Thomas] Oooh. Bookmarked, ta.

[Thomas] I must admit I am "hooked" (no pun there) on fishing -- I absolutely love it. I do understand how some find it boring though.)

[Ben] Boat-fishing is more about catching fish, with not much enjoyment (other than actually working the fish in) involved.

[Thomas] That makes sense. I have been boat fishing a few times just to see what it's like. We were mackerel fishing in both cases just outside of Lulworth Cove. All we did was plonk the fishing lines over the side, and sailed out. Then after a while there we had lots of mackerel. :) Easy, and a tiny bit dull since there was no process to it.

Mind you, if you're boat fishing, does that not also give you some degree of flexibility as to the type of fish you can choose from? For example, if you're near a reef, and know of fishes XYZ that live in such habitats, and you have a certain bait, that you'd then also be able to catch a certain fish?

[Ben] Yep. Bait, location, and knowledge of specific fishes habits and habitat is what gets you onto a given type of fish. For example, this weekend, the marina near us hosted a kingfish (king mackerel) tournament; those fishermen were all "tuned" for that one type of fish, and they're usually pretty successful.

[Thomas] That sounds fun. Do you not go in for that sort of thing, then?

[Ben] Nope. For me, fishing is about relaxation (and often, really good food.) Fishing competition seems like missing the point.


[Ben] Well, I lived in Annapolis and Baltimore for a couple of years apiece; both of those are on the Chesapeake. The Bay certainly used to be prime fishing grounds; Captain John Smith, who explored it 400 years ago, reported it to be full of oysters that "lay as thick as stones", and that the Bay contained "sturgeon, grampus, porpoise, seals, stingrays ... brits, mullets, white salmon [rockfish], trouts, soles, perch of three sorts" and lots of other shellfish.

[Thomas] Heavens! He must had been spoilt for choice, lucky sod.

In fact, there used to be so many lobsters brought it while netting fish in that area that they were used for fertilizer (lobsters were not considered human food by the early settlers.)

[Thomas] Wow. Not human food? Hehe.

Unfortunately, these days, the Chesapeake - even though still a somewhat-decent fishing ground - has been very seriously damaged by agricultural runoff (especially phosphates); the algae growth strangles the sea-grasses, of which the Chesapeake used to have the most extensive areas in the world - and which are the nursery for a tremendous percentage of the sea-life on the entire Eastern seaboard. The oyster counts, done by the Draketail Project among others, show a constantly decreasing population; areas that formerly contained 400 oysters per square foot may contain a dozen - or none.

[Thomas] Sigh. That is a shame, but certainly not localised, alas. Similar things happen here, although the run-off you speak of from agriculture, and especially other factories is more indicative of polluting the fresh-water streams here in the UK. There's typically a few cases reported every few years or so -- and they're bad enough.

[Ben] [sigh] There's a reason that I'm a strong believer in environmental causes. I've sailed through the Sargasso Sea to the south of Bermuda,

See: Sailing

[Thomas] I bet that was nice. I'm told it's very nice round those parts.

and seen mini-islands of floating garbage from Africa, and found the eastern beaches of the Bahamas covered with French, etc. trash; I've participated in building a Draketail boat and gone out with them, watched the Navy divers come up with the oyster counts; I've talked to the fishermen who went out of business by the thousands in Long Island, the Chesapeake, and elsewhere. The destruction is far, far greater than could be just blown off with an excuse like "nostalgic recollections" - it's been enough to be clearly visible in my own lifetime.

[Thomas] That's very sad indeed. And such a wide area as well. It's not the sort of thing that can be rectified retrospectively either; once the damage has been done, it takes a damn long time for it to be put right, and it seems thanks to certain agencies within certain Governments, they won't even try to do this to any great extent.

[Ben] That's one of my big gripes with the current administration; Bush refused to participate in the Kyoto Accords, which is just an absolute outrage.


[Thomas] As an complete aside (more of a tangent at 360 degrees), I might have asked you this before (I can't remember, so I apologise in advance), but during your many sailing excursions, have you come across lighthouses?

[Ben] Heh. I see the St. Augustine lighthouse - one of the most important navigational landmarks on the east coast of Florida - every morning as I get up.


[Thomas] I've bookmarked this. For comparison, you can see what Trinity House say about the lighthouses here:


I've seen perhaps hundreds of lighthouses in my sailing career, and always enjoy them: they're one of the best friends a mariner has. GPS can lie; charts can be misprinted; you can compute a sextant sight incorrectly - but a lighthouse is an absolute position indicator that you can trust.

[Thomas] Indeed. All nautical people say this, and it's interesting to think how such a simple idea is so pivotal.

[Ben] At sea, that's what stands the test of time. I find that my preference for learning the old methods of seamanship (i.e., not only the right things to do but why they're the right things, and how they were done before there was a bunch of fancy equipment available) has come in handy so often, and in so many tough situations, that I'm not sure how other people manage without them. From what I've seen of sunken boats, strandings, accidents, and just general inability to cope on the part of many so-called sailors, I suspect that the answer is "they don't". :|

[Thomas] /me nods. It's not surprising, to be honest. With the advent of high-tech equipment, as you say, the actual process and reasoning behind it all is not bothered with; technology has brought sailing to all kinds of people as a result. A bad and a good thing I am sure. I get the impression you own a sextant, somehow. :)

[Ben] [laugh] Two of them - a good one and a cheap one. I also know how to build several substitutes (progressively less accurate, but enough for open-sea navigation) as well as getting the general latitude from the stars using nothing more than a string and a weight.

Kat and I keep talking about taking a tour of this one, including climbing to the top (219 steps, whew!) Should be fun, one of these days.

[Thomas] You should. :) It looks like a nice lighthouse.

[Thomas] There's a (fairly) famous lighthouse near to the beach that I fish on. I went there for my birthday (I like lighthouses). The attendant there said that lighthouses all have a unique pulse that they generate their light signals at so that any ship/boat can use that to identify the lighthouse and know where they are. I thought this was "well cool", and so I wonder whether you've had any dealings with lighthouses?

[Ben] Well, I've seen a lot of different ones. In the Chesapeake and the Delaware Bays, the lighthouses actually stand in the water, on pilings. In the northeast - say, Rhode Island - all the lighthouses have sound signals (there's a lot of fog up there, and during a real northeast "pea-souper", you can't even see your extended hand);

[Thomas] That must be very eerie indeed. I've experienced some very thick and localised fog before now, but never to the extent of it being all-encompassing which is what I assume you're referring to.

I've always liked foggy weather.

many of them sound eerie, like ghosts in the fog, since they use so-called "moaner" signals, as do a number of the navigational buoys.

[Thomas] Well, Portland Bill sounds like a Banshee. ;)

[Ben] I look forward to hearing it someday.

Lighthouses are also marvels of optical engineering; most of them are visible at over twenty miles away, and, as you say, each one has its own "unique pulse" (called its "characteristic".)

[Thomas] That's it -- its characteristic. I've seen one of these lenses, they're fascinating things, and, as you say, are indeed a great piece of optical engineering. The actual light itself, the "bulb" is relatively small in comparison to the rotating lens and mirrors structure surrounding it. :)

[Thomas] There aren't anymore manned ones (at least not in the UK). I'd have really liked to have stayed in one, just for a bit [5].

[Ben] Ditto in the US. As far as I'm aware, they were mostly automated back in the 1960s.

[Thomas] It definitely takes a certain type of person to have manned such a thing. I know it's a joke about chalk/tally marks on walls, but from some of these accounts, that was a common practise amongst people who stayed there. It must have been a huge mental challenge for some.


[Ramon] I agree. I learned to sail on the waddenzee, which is a small wetlands/sea to the north of holland with extensions to germany. It's been considered by biologists as the birth-chamber of fish and sealife for the north-sea and part of the atlantic.

It's also IMHO one of the most challenging areas to sail in the world (or at least in europe ;-)

[Ben] That's what I understand. My ship, which was built in Hardewijk, isn't a very fast sailer - but she's very, very well behaved in bad weather. That argues for a certain design philosophy which I appreciate. :)

[Ramon] That's very nice to hear. Being dutch I'm aware that dutch ship-crafting is considered excellent throughout the world. However it's very nice to hear that a ship from Harderwijk is sailing around in the US ;-)

[Ramon] [smile] I've never seen another Gouwzee on the water, but Dutch steel ships do have a good reputation.

[Ramon] Wow, you own a gouwzee ? You're a lucky man.

[Ben] [perk] Yes, why? Is there something special about them? I don't know anything in that regard other than the name - and I was turned onto that by a Dutch sailor (he was on a boat called something like "Die Zwaarte Zwan" - I'm sure I'm misspelling it horribly, although the meaning is rather obvious - which was one of the best-built wooden boats I ever saw, all cold-molded Bruynzeel plywood and mahogany.)

[Ramon] What size and what designer ??

[Ben] 10.5m by Pieter Beeldsnijder, built by Petersen BV. I have the original plans, etc., but I'd be very excited to learn whatever else I can about this design (history, etc.) If you know anything, I'd appreciate you sharing it.

[Ramon] The challanging part of sailing in waddenzee is not so much bad weather (it can be foul though) but the combination of strong currents, fast shifting sandbanks and parts of it falling dry with lowtide. Very beautiful...

[Ben] As I understand it, there's also the fact that waves can build very quickly there due to the generally shallow character of the water.

[Ramon] I do most of my sailing on traditional sailing freight ships.

[Ben] [long whistle] Oh, nice.

[Ramon] They have been reworked and rerigged to be used as charter-ships to cater for groups of 15-30 people. It's a typical dutch design for shallow water with a draft (is that the correct term?) between 20 - 90 cm and side-blades to provide the necessary course stability.

[Ben] Yep - a shallow-draft ship with leeboards. Very traditional Dutch design, and great in shallow water. Also very nice for running downwind, since you can decrease your "wetted surface" (i.e., friction with the water) by raising the boards.

Check this for pictures: http://www.zonnewind.nl/

The passaat is sailed by a friend of mine, and I regulary sail along, either as mate or as "knowledgeable" guest of the skipper. Great fun.

[Ben] Oooh, a gaff rig. Sweet. I sail on one once in a while around here; friends of mine run a "head boat" (1-2 hour cruises in this area, with all sorts of on-board entertainment added), and I'm welcome to come along - either as a "knowledgeable guest" or, whenever I feel like it, a shanty singer.

Sailing the shallow inner-sea is challenging enough, let alone coming in from the atlantic in bad weather. If the weather is foul, you'd be best advised to stay clear of this area and either sail along to one of the bigger open-sea harbours further along the cost. The inner-sea is ringed with 5 islands, the only way to get in is passing in between. Current is hell there and sand-banks move fast. Basically any map of the area needs to be replaced every year.

[Ben] [Nod] That reflects what I know about the area. Nice to have it confirmed. Well, as they say, "lee shores build character". :)

The harbor of Vlieland (on of the islands) is a nice example ;-) It's a small harbor which is only accesible though a small canal of approx. 8 metres width. Depending on your timing in arriving you might find the current running 4-5 knots in a 90 degree angle of the entrance. The wooden poles that make up the entrance have nearly every color that people use to paint their boats with imprinted on them..

[Ben] [laugh] Yep, I've sailed in places like that (Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico comes to mind.) If you don't have a motor, and you decide that you have to go in right then, you'd better be sure of your boat's capabilities and your own ability to handle her perfectly.

The amount of VOC ships that grounded around there and got beaten to pieces after surviving the entire journey from Holland to the East and back is pretty big. It apparently spawned an entire specialised profesion in the Golden Century of people able to live solely off the proceedings of wreck & cargo salvage.

[Ben] I met a retired Dutch tugboat captain here in Florida a number of years ago; he had pulled a couple of government minesweepers off a shoal, and - well, I mentioned that he was able to retire. :)

[Ben] Places like that tend to worry seamen; the big freighters going up Delaware Bay to Philadelphia tend to run their engines at maximum speed for just that reason (I've seen a Chinese freighter doing (estimated) 25 knots there, something you'd never see in the open ocean, and extraordinarily dangerous in that narrow channel; if they, say, lost their steering, there'd be hell to pay and no pitch hot, since it would take them ~5 miles to stop.) High waves mean low troughs - and if a strong wind blows up before they can get out of the bay, and they happen to touch the bottom with their hull for even a second, they're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of repairs, if not the complete loss of the vessel. Even heavy-gauge steel will rip like paper when you've got several thousand tons of freight as a factor in inertia.

[Ramon] [Ugh] I do definitly not want to be anywhere near one of those if it loses steering. No pilots ?? Or are they the people doing the speeding ?

[Ben] The latter. There was a bunch of noise, some years ago, about companies bribing the pilots to do that, but nobody was willing to screw around with delaying cargos, so it was dropped.

Must make for relaxed sailing there with the freighters doing 25 knots :-(

[Ben] It's easy, actually: just stay out of the main channel, and stay aware when you cross it. There's plenty of water for the average craft outside of it. On the other hand, you'd find Currituck Sound in North Carolina rather familiar: it's a huge body of water that averages ~1.3 meters in depth, with a very skinny channel of deeper water cut through it. Did I mention that North Carolina can be subject to very dense fogs at certain times of year, as well as sudden rainstorms with near-zero visibility? Did I also mention that I usually stay out of Currituck Sound by sailing outside, in the Atlantic? :)

[Ramon] Over the last 10 years I've seen my fishing expeditions there been reduced from catching something every time round to catching nothing at all most of the time. I've talked to many people who fish there who recount the similar stories.

See: Ramon's fishing

I find this extremely worrying and am not at all pleased with the fact that you are reporting similar experiences from the saragasso. Makes me sad :-(

Ramon's fishing

Reading the whole thread I should at least tell what I caught, if translatable..

Most of the fishing I've done was done from sailing-boats, I hate sitting down at the shore and waiting for a fish to bite. Since I've mostly fished with line that means that I need "slow" wind otherwise the boat will go way too fast for fish.

[Ben] Depends on the fish, of course. Very few sailboats can go fast enough for, say, swordfish; the preferred trolling speed for those is 10-15 knots.

[Ramon] Haven't seen those around here and probably never will unless global warming takes far more serious turn in my lifetime ;-)

Since I usually try, even going slightly too fast, I've caught a lot of "geep" (i have no clue on the english name for that fish) which is a fish resembling a small sea-snake. The most distinguished part of it is that if you cook it (or bake it more likely) it's spine turns bright green. Nearly fluorescent. Traditionally dutch seafood would be a plate with potatoes and vegetables in the middle with the geep around it eating it's own tail. excellent.

[Ben] According to the list I've just found at http://www.8ung.at/geowoerterbuch_online/art_fische.html (which has equivalent terms for fish in Latin, Deutsch, English, Norsk, and Nederlander - as well as several other lists for plants, mushrooms, and birds), and confirmed at a few other sources, it's a garfish - although I've never heard of one with a fluourescent spine. That just sounds amazing - and, given my attraction to strange food, very interesting. :)

[Ramon] It's an interesting meal that's for sure.

Easy to catch anything that glimmers in the water will draw their attention, silverpaper will do.

I've caught a lot of mackerel and even own a small device (made of wood) which keeps my line down below when fishing from the back of a sailing boat and floats as soon as a mackerel has bitten.

[Ben] We call it a planer; they're very common wherever people fish for salmon, since you have to troll rather deep for them. Another device that accomplishes the same purpose (but with a lot more expensive equipment) is a downrigger - a big lead ball on a wire that is lowered to the desired depth, and which has a clip that holds the line until the fish strikes.

A friend of mine moved to greece and is working as sailing instructor and flotielle captain in those waters. He introduced me to the joys of calamaris fishing which seems to be the national sport in greece.

[Ben] [smile] I actually had a couple of squid jigs in my tackle box for many years. Never had the occasion to use them, but then I've never been to Greece.

For those who are interested, a squid jig is an elongated egg made from a fluorescent material and surrounded by hooks. It's used at night after being "charged" with a flashlight or (best of all) a camera flash; it's lowered to the bottom wherever squid are found and then slowly raised. When a squid sees what looks like one of its eggs "break loose" from the bottom and float away, it tries to grab it...

[Ramon] I've fished with it and can report that they work excellently. It's also nice to watch the squid go for it. I've also fished with similar device which is supposed to represent a small fish. Works just as well.

And I've fished on "harder" which is rare to see on any market in holland. Most of it is shipped straight to Japan. It's an interesting process to catch it and quite exciting. You set up a net on a tidal stream at low tide, wait for high tide and then get out into the water around 1,5 hour before low-tide again. The "harder" are smart enough to avoid the net under normal conditions, but if you scare them by chasing them into the nets they'll get tangled and caught. Really nice to do and very tasty fish to eat. Big fat white meaty fish mmmmmm....

[Ben] Ah - a mullet. Yes, we have a lot of those around here (this year, they're very large and very fat.) Yes, it does indeed require a net - although you can use a cast-net (a round net with weights around the edges, thrown by hand), as many people around here do.

I don't know how you feel about shell-fish, but the waddenzee is used as one of the growth-places for mussels, which are grown on big mats and afterwards lifted out and transported to belgium (or close to it) to mature.

[Ben] I'm a big fan of mussels, and of most shellfish in general.

(In less sandy waters) Every year at the end of the season we usually organize a small boat trip with a couple of friends and beach the boat near one of the grow-places in the sea. Most of the mussels don't really keep to the matts which means that after the lifting a large square of "overgrown" mussels is left. We usually eat so much during that weekend that most of us lose appetite for the rest of the year :-)

[Ben] We do the same thing with big clams around here in the right season; the way to get them is to walk slowly through very slippery, deep mud (under a foot or two of water) while feeling for the clams with your feet and without getting cut by the old, broken shells. It's quite a trick, but the clams are huge and very, very tasty - especially when they're steamed with Old Bay seasoning and served with a good-quality, cold beer.

(I've just had dinner, and I'm suddenly hungry again. Mmm, clams.)

[Ramon] Grin I actually would like some as well right now :)

[1]Photograph at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loma_Prieta_earthquake
[3]leaving out the question of whether the long rambly parts are the interesting bit and the snippy comment was the boring part :)
[4]And sometimes a nonprofit community group selling coffee and cookies for donations.

It is possible to do, but I'd need to win the lottery ten times over to ever think about doing so.

[Ben] In the US, the Coast Guard tend to lease them to various private groups, which usually run museums, etc. in the structure. Visiting one is usually a charming experience.

[Thomas] For me, it most certainly is.


I'm really enjoying this. Thank you, Ben, for sharing this with us. :) I'm learning tons.

[Ben] A pleasure, Thomas. I always enjoy talking about the sea. :)

[Thomas] :) As I say, I am very impressed with all of this. You've bestowed more confidence in me to go away (when I can) and catch things. :)

I had Chinese food for my dinner tonight, and there was a big fish tank with very very large goldfish in them. This one goldfish delighted in swimming up to the oxygenating water jet, and letting the force of the water push himself backwards. Then he'd swim back to it, and do it again. I was in hysterics.

[Ben] Oh, I agree. Fish behavior can be endlessly fascinating.


I've used ragworm, too. They're really weird things. :)

[Ben] Heh. Kat just got introduced to her first bloodworm the other day (we pulled one up while moving our anchor.) Imagine ragworms with fangs. Four of them, snapping constantly at high speed.