WE sailed out from the little port of Alleghero, on the northwest coast of Sardinia, on a clear morning, with a bright sun, light breeze, and a moderate flow of tide, to the nearest coral banks. Our fishing-apparatus consisted of a large wooden cross-drag weighted with lead, to which ropes and nets were attached, which was to be painfully hauled over the bottom of the sea at a depth of from one hundred to two hundred metres, to gather what it could catch of the life abiding in those regions. The success of the operation depends largely on the skill and discrimination of the padrone. Two sailors and a youth manage the very primitive capstan by which the rope, that the padrone holds in his hand, is unrolled. He knows, by feeling the movements of the rope, its tension, sliding, and jerking, whether the drag is passing over sand, mud, hard ground, or solid, jagged rock. At times the youth stands alone at the capstan, and the sailors take the rudder in hand and turn the vessel as the padrone directs. Sometimes they have to work with all their might, as when the apparatus gets fastened or is drawn under overhanging rocks. There are a thousand accidents to be guarded against, and they frequently end in the loss of the drag.
Thus the sea-bottom is swept for a few hours as with a broom. The cords of the drag sling themselves around everything that projects and is movable; large pieces of rock are ensnared and torn loose with all that is upon them. Whatever creeps upon the ground is made fast.
The padrone orders a halt, and the sailors apply themselves to the capstan to draw in the rope. It is a task calling for the exertion of their full strength to dislodge the apparatus and pull it up with the heavy load which it has collected. Sometimes the leverage of the sea-waves is invoked. The capstan is locked, the rope is stretched to its utmost, and the bark is set by a few motions of the rudder upon the crest of a rising wave. The reaction, when the machine is dislodged, is often so strong as to threaten to overturn the bark. A cloud of slime announces the approach of the apparatus to the surface. The drag is pulled out and laid upon the ship's edge, and the nets which are swimming around are drawn in and thrown into the inner space. Capstan and helm are deserted, and the sail is drawn in. The men squat in a ring around the net, and pick out with their fingers the objects that are entangled in it, and sometimes the knife has to be used to solve some unusual complication. I had filled my pail with clear sea-water before the apparatus was drawn up. I had given orders, which were very difficult to get executed, to have nothing cast