It might seem counterintuitive, given all the pirate lore out there, but being approached by a decrepit boat with a wildly waving crew can be the highlight of a passage. We were prepared for the fishermen as we closed with the Sri Lankan coast. Other boats mentioned that the boat crews love to trade. On the surface they seem to be looking for beer and smokes but when we said we had neither, but wanted fish, it seemed anything would do. We were offered 3 mahi mahi for a container of orange juice. We only took one, but the real trade seemed to be a chance to laugh and wave and check out each other's boat.
We have a love-hate relationship with fishermen. At worst they fill the sea with unmarked or illegal gear and turn the ocean into a hazardous obstacle course. It's the best fishermen we love. They're often fishing at a substance level, with barely seaworthy boats, but their seamanship skills are humbling and their good nature is infectious.
Maia counted seven young men, on that small boat, 200 miles from shore. The cabin was a crowded wheelhouse and gear spilled over the decks. She tried to figure where they'd sleep or even find shade in the hot tropical sun. And maybe where they'd cook and what they might eat. They had questions too; where were we from and where were we going, but we had no common language for questions. So they circled us, calling out "hello" and "Bollywood" while one danced. And we called out good luck, wishing them safe fishing.
It's a small thing to trade for fish in the middle of the ocean, but it's a moment that will linger. The fish tasted of gratitude.
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