How did I get here? / by Francisco Blaha

A while ago I was asked by a friend, while we were having traditional food in PNG, how come I ended up working in the region, which at the end it would be as unusual as him working in the marshes northeast of Curuzu Cuatia in the corner where Argentina meets Brazil and Paraguay. It made me think about it... so I rescue something I wrote to my son in case I do not come back from the ocean one day.

 With 2 of my best friends on the deck of a trawler (South Atlantic early 90s)

With 2 of my best friends on the deck of a trawler (South Atlantic early 90s)

I don’t know why the sea has such a strong influence in my life. Looking back, I’m an ex-rower, ex-search and rescue swimmer, ex-lifeguard, ex-fisherman, presently a fisheries consultant, but also an avid open water swimmer, spearfisher, sailor, outrigger paddler and surfer...

I grew up in rural swamplands far from the ocean. I did, however, cross the Atlantic on board a cruising ship from Germany all the way to Argentina when I was six years old. I like to think that trip marked my life.

The water was always close to my house, but far from my family’s interest, they were farmers and the family sport was (and still is) tennis!  I guess some people grow by action (they decide that they want similar things to their parents and people around them) and other like me by reaction (aka. the opposite). 

So there I went... rowed and swam competitively all trough my military high school, and being socially awkward, the rest of my time was spent reading history and fantasizing about the South Pacific and far away places. Surely this was feed mostly by a mixture of French characters such as Jules Verne, Jacques Cousteau, Bernard Montesier and so on.

 Doing something stupid of "Isla de los Estados" (54S) east of Magallanes, southwest of Malvinas

Doing something stupid of "Isla de los Estados" (54S) east of Magallanes, southwest of Malvinas

After the war (Falklands/Malvinas) with the collapse of the military government in Argentina, things looked brighter. So with my high school diploma under my arm, I decided to move to Mar del Plata, became involved in commercial fisheries and boat building and later studied Marine Biology, which that was like deciding to be an astronaut for someone with my rural background.

 Getting ready to land in Ushuaia after 7 weeks at sea! (early 90s)

Getting ready to land in Ushuaia after 7 weeks at sea! (early 90s)

Very close to getting my degree 7 years later (in Argentina you go directly into masters level with a thesis), I got involved in a sad, technical and boring dispute with a “superior” in the fisheries institute (INIDEP) and my temporary contract (on cleaning category as I did not had political connections) was cancelled. Of the 120 students that we started the career, only 2 of us were working -for money- there at the time, I was supposed to be one of the lucky ones.

 west coast of NZ (1995)

west coast of NZ (1995)

It was a big shock, but in many ways was a wake-up call. I realize what my future would look like in a research institution that depends on political wills, where you spend half you time trying to do your job and the other time navigating political storms under a lot of jealousies and back stabbings, with low salaries, and no options of moving up the scale without a strong “connection” in the political "system".

So, two weeks after graduation and after having sold everything I had (wasn’t much anyway), I got in a sailing boat that was coming to the South Pacific... no plans, no contacts, just hopes and a smile. Once here spent almost two years fishing and other odd jobs in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga until I made it to NZ, where I fell in love with the place, and I stayed for good.

 west coast NZ

west coast NZ

I started working for fishing companies in NZ (Sanford, Simunovch, etc) in many roles (fishing, compliance, problem-solving, etc.) and then decided to gain a degree from an English-speaking university.

Is then when I found fisheries consulting mostly by chance than anything planned. I didn’t know that such job existed, but it fitted me well; I know fishing, I have a good practical and academic background and love traveling and spending time with fisheries people… a total lack of shame to try new languages also helped.

But overall, I just love the sea, being in the ocean is a deeply cleansing experience for me. I think I have taken the most important decisions of my life while in the water... migrating, buying a house, marrying, having kids, going to FAO, leaving FAO, just to name a few...

I always feel sheltered in the ocean. Land always makes me feel insecure, too many variables, too many people with things to prove and agendas. At sea, I know what I’m capable and what I’m not, either in a boat, on board, or just my skin.

 heading up to Tukealu (i think) from Whangarei in the Ocean Breeze (1999)

heading up to Tukealu (i think) from Whangarei in the Ocean Breeze (1999)

And If I die at sea... it would be only fair, it would be under my rules and my mistakes,  I would be OK with it, in whatever way it happens. If I died on land, well, like to be sent back into the ocean. So every time someone I cared for looks at the sea, is like it is coming to visit me... at the place where I feel at home.

 The way my wife illustrates my job :-)

The way my wife illustrates my job :-)