Youth versus Experience

Commonwealth Essay Competition senior category 2015 (Gold)

THE YOUNG MAN AND THE SEA

“Today’s the eighty-fourth day with an empty net,” the old man Santiago sighed. “Perhaps the luck of my boat has worn off.”

Under the setting sun, Santiago and Manolin shared a wordless moment. To the casual observer, it was a scene of perfect tranquility - an old man and his apprentice winding down on the beach after a day of hard work, their boat gently bobbing beside a weathered dock, an empty fishing net crumpled and cast carelessly on the sand. The romanticism of the moment, however, was lost on Santiago and Manolin.

“Santiago,” Manolin finally said. “Why don’t I take your boat and go out to sea tomorrow? Maybe I’ll bring fresh luck.” Rubbing his sore knees, Santiago considered the boy’s offer. He had his reservations, but nodded nonetheless. “Remember what I’ve taught you,” he said.

Manolin set out early the next morning, vowing to break his respected mentor’s unlucky streak and return with a large catch of fish to provide for his family. He sailed far out to sea, right where he knew the old man wanted him to be. Along the way, he diligently followed the instructions of the old man, hearing his gentle, deep voice in his head. Manolin danced about, aligning the sails, rowing the oars, and setting the bait like clockwork, as the waves beat rhythmically against the hull of the boat.

The youthful boy did not have much experience with la mar, but he had treasured whatever few
journeys he’d been on, making the most of every opportunity to learn about sailing a boat and the
behaviour of the hundreds of varieties of fishes at sea. Recently, he had begun taking on more responsibilities on deck, exploring new ways of overcoming the myriad of problems faced whilst fishing. Santiago would often smile and shake his head at the eagerness of his apprentice to experiment. “Old ways are the best,” Santiago would remark.

Under the watchful eyes of Manolin, the green projecting lines by the side of the boat dipped, in a tell-tale sign of a fish on the hook. “Ay dios mío! Santiago would never believe this!” Manolin thought aloud, as he scrambled to his feet abruptly and lunged for the fishing line. His heart thumped hard — in his inexperience, he began to worry that he would not be able to secure the fish.

But this was no time to be worried. Lifting the line off the stick and yanking it, Manolin discovered with excitement and trepidation that the marlin was much heavier than he had expected. The marlin must have felt it, because it veered off south-west, further out towards sea. Leaning back against the pulling force of the fish, Manolin almost lost his balance as the the fish surged forward with defiant strength. Adrenaline pumping through his veins, Manolin began considering his options. Obviously, yanking the marlin into the boat would be out of the question, given its extraordinary weight and size. Let the fish tug the boat along until it tired out? Perhaps, but who knew how long that would take, and if he would have even the strength to outlast the fish? Besides, by then he would be stranded far out at sea. Manolin chewed his lower lip nervously and tightened his grip on the fishing rod. No, he decided, there was no choice but to kill the marlin as soon as possible.

Wracking his brains for a solution, a memory surfaced. Years ago, his parents had told him the tale of a boy who protected his village from swordfish attacks by planting banana trunks by the coast. As the tide came in and brought the swordfish to the shore, the swordfish’s bills would be firmly
wedged in the trunks, allowing the villagers to kill the swordfishes easily. Scrambling for the
carving knife, Manolin cut a wooden cargo box into a long plank of wood, and attached two sardines to the plank via his fishing lines. Lowering the plank into the water, Manolin hurriedly lashed thick ropes to secure the plank onto the boat’s hull. Sure enough, it was not long before the tug on the marlin loosened, and the huge marlin rose close to the surface at breakneck speed, attracted by the sardine bait. Manolin grabbed his harpoon hard enough that his knuckles turned bone-white. A flash of a long spear-like snout; soaring waves that rocked the boat soundly; a worryingly loud thud against the boat — and the marlin was trapped. Manolin desperately grabbed the edges of Santiago’s boat as the humongous marlin thrashed about, its dorsal fins thwacking hard against the bottom of his boat.

The rocking subsidised momentarily, and Manolin saw a quick flash in the water as the marlin’s head peeked out beside the boat - it must have broken the wooden plank and gotten free! Manolin gulped as he let go of the boat and slammed his harpoon down in the water with all the strength of his two arms. His heart beat painfully fast and he panted with the exertion as he saw his harpoon lodged between the blazing, bright eyes of the marlin.

Almost immediately, the marlin’s tail shot up, splashing salty, bitter seawater onto him. Manolin gritted his teeth and refused to give in, continuing to drive in the harpoon with all his might. It took ten long seconds of struggling before the fish’s thrashing began to subside, and the choppy waters began to calm. Manolin let loose a sigh of relief he was not aware he had been holding. He had done it!

Under the cruel midday sun, Manolin lashed the marlin, through its gills and out of its mouth,
preparing to head back to port. His hand instinctively reached to pull out the harpoon stuck in the
marlin, but quickly stopped himself when he saw blood oozing out of the marlin’s wound, forming
a cloud of bright red in the otherwise clear blue waters. He jolted up and scanned the horizon for fins that would indicate incoming sharks — he had heard stories of the incredible noses sharks possessed, and of how they would mercilessly chase after fishing boats, attracted by the smell of a wounded fish. Arms still aching from the struggle with the marlin just minutes ago, and with no weapons by his side, Manolin was not sure he would be able to fend off an army of the ocean’s most feared predator.

Knowing that removing the harpoon would cause more bleeding and attract the sharks, Manolin left it wedged in the marlin. Yet, he knew that if nothing was done, it would only be a matter of time before the sharks would catch up to him. With this thought in mind, Manolin set out on a new project to give himself time to escape the jaws of imminent danger. If he were able to leave another blood scent, then hopefully, the sharks would leave him and his fish alone. Energised by the hope of escape, he rapidly began scooping the bloody water around the marlin into an empty barrel, and attached the remaining pieces of his bait around the barrel. Then, throwing an inflated life vest over the barrel, he tossed it overboard, and begun rowing away. An hour later, fins appeared around the bright yellow life vest, but by then, he was already far away, and well out of the reach of the sharks.

Satisfied, Manolin headed back towards the port with renewed strength. Occasionally, he would rub his eyes, and look over his shoulder at the marlin, half-expecting it to disappear in his disbelief. It was well over two hours before he arrived, his arms sore, his eyelids heavy. Fishermen, seeing the huge marlin at his side, gathered, pointed and shouted at the docks. Manolin squinted, and spotted Santiago in the crowd. He leapt up and waved with youthful vigour. 

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.