More (Mis)Adventures in #Vanlife: No More Bananas Permitted Aboard Raw Paua.

by Owen James Burke

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD


Photo: Owen James Burke.

The first time I was old enough to begin my quasi-annual fly fishing trips with my Uncle Thom, I pulled a banana from my boat bag about an hour into our day’s outing. Within what felt like the blink of an eye, the once-bitten banana was out of my hand and drifting downstream past the boat.

I wish I could have seen the confusion smeared across face. I have no doubt that my uncle got a kick out of it.

He later brought to my attention the old angler’s adage: never take bananas aboard a boat. Why?


. . . Here’s why. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Years later, while working on a fishing boat in Long Island Sound, my captain added to my endless list of responsibilities the duty of checking clients’ bags for bananas. Any such contraband found was immediately deposited into the drink. More than a few bushels of bananas found their way over the rail in those years, and I couldn’t help but imagine a primate perched over my shoulder shaking his head with contempt. One night after tossing yet another bunch of perfectly good bananas out the wheelhouse window, I set to find out exactly why I was made to waste such, as I thought then, perfectly harmless fruit.


Cursed fruit on the kitchen counter. My surfboard, especially with electrical tape at either end, bears a striking resemblance. Photo: Owen James Burke.

The origin of this bizarre principle is debatable, but the general agreement is that if you bring bananas on a boat, something bad will happen–the ship will founder, someone will die, or worse still, no fish will be caught. One story takes root in the olden days of seafaring, when it wasn’t uncommon to find banana boats listlessly adrift, their skippers dead on deck. This was a plain mystery for sometime, but the blame was eventually placed on the surreptitious banana spider. After the realization, banana boats continued to sail, but not before undergoing thorough inspection. (Years later, living in the Caribbean myself, I would make the mistake of hanging a pile of bananas to dry in my house, only to receive some of the most curious and pernicious bites of my life.) Other explanations include the sinking of a top-heavy banana boat in heavy seas, a weird bacteria in a shipment that killed everyone aboard, and of course, the ubiquitous slip on a discarded peel.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

So here I was, on a long drive over gravel-and-dirt road of switchbacks and mountain passes through cattle country and into the outer Marlborough Sounds, I was peeling another one of those foreboding fruits and dodging potholes when I came to a cattleguard whose fence gate was ever so slightly ajar. . . .

I heard a light scrape on Raw Paua‘s port side, and didn’t think much of it. My copilot–older, wiser, and more mechanical–knew better and ordered me to pull over and inspect the damage.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

She was, of course, peeled open like a tin can.


Fortunately, a few 7/0 octopus hooks and some 50-pound-test braided line strapped the (very costly) sheet of aluminum down for the ride home. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Now, in light of this most unprosperous turn of fortuna, bananas are herein prohibited aboard any of my mobile vessels. They might have even lost their long-standing post on my kitchen counter.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

We were still able to hobble out to camp along the edge of a sheep farm where we scrounged up a few fish, an octopus, and my companion, Andi, even got his bare hands around a stargazer (monkfish) while digging for clams in the surf.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

His thumbs may be a little worse for wear, though it’s safe to say he’s doing better than Raw Paua who’s currently at the panel beater’s shop gauging a yet-to-be-determined sum out of my bank account. Ah well. It all comes out in the wash.


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