The only thing better than a drunken debauch with a bunch of crazy Australians is fish in a feeding frenzy around a sailboat.

This bit of wisdom came to me first-hand, which is about the only way wisdom ever comes to me. It came on a 52-foot, 30-year old mahogany sloop is a place called Mackerel Cove around the bend from the Beavertail in Rhode Island Sound.

"They call that place Mackerel Cove because it's the only cove around here where no one has ever caught a mackerel," a fellow with intimate if questionable local knowledge averred.

But, it was a day off, and people with sailboats love nothing better than gunkholing in new places when there is easy time, and there was a battered old fishing rod hanging from the cabintop and a busted plastic box with rusty lures tangled up inside it in the focsle.

"Catch us a fish," the captain demanded.

When all eyes are upon a fisherman it is a very good idea for him to bide his time, because all conquests are made greater by time expended.

"First," says I, "we must inspect the equipment."

The Australians had arrived and tied their Mako off the stern. There was a northeaster building, with clouds arriving to sculpt the horizon into what New Englanders call a mackerel sky.

The Australians brought with them a beer called Courage and a rum called Mount Gay. The latter they drink for breakfast; the former they drink between gulps of the latter.

Next came some wealthy Americans in a Robalo, which they tied off the stern of the Mako, clambering boat to boat until they were aboard the yacht as well.

"Yeah, mate, catch us a fish," said the Australians.

There was great comfort in the chaos of the tackle box because it presented a challenge of its own, which meant time, and a perfect excuse for the inevitable failure of the mission, since nothing so messy could contain anything useful.

In the box were five one-ounce white leadhead jigs, three half-eaten purple plastic worms, two intact white plastic wiggletail worms, 700 feet of steel leader tied in a triple underhand bowline with a sheet bend, a trolling raggmopp and a quarter-pound of mouldy bacon.

Not that it mattered much. The water appeared as barren as a Blue Plains treatment pool and the man had said what the mackerel prospects were.

A show is a show and it must go on.

Time. I needed time.

So first I unfurled the 700 feet of steel leader and knowledgeably retied it in the exact original snarl. Then I placed a purple worm on the jig and threw it out, carefully observing its action in the water, then discarding it in favor of a piece of moldy bacon, which I discarded in favor of the original purple worm.

"Come on, mate, catch us a fish," said the largest of the insane Australians, advancing with Courage.

"Working on it, working on it."

The captain disappeared over the side, then reappeared on the shore, dragging a blonde woman up a hillside into a forest of bayberry bushes.

The Australians began passing around a strange, sweet-smelling cigarette with no name on the wrapper. The northeaster kept building, funneling a damp cold down the length of mackerel cove. Wavelets licked at the prow of the big yacht.

A person could disappear out here and no one would ever know, I thought.

"Where's those fish? demanded the burliest Aussie.

At first I thought it was just shrieks from thr women, who was being variously assaulted. But the cries grew closer and louder. I saw them swinging in from the sea, a great flock of gulls, squawking and diving. The water was roiling beneath them.

The whole wild scene descended on the big yacht, and in moments the birds were splashing down within 50 feet. I snatched my ace-in-the-hole, a rusty diamond jig that I'd unearthed at the bottom of the tackle box maze, and tied it on.

I flipped the little jig and retrieved it furiously over the surface, so it sent splashes of water ahead of it like tiny bait fish in flight.

A fish swirled behind it, then another. There was a splash and a jerk on the line.

Got one.

The madness lasted nearly an hour, indeed it wasn't mackerel but small snapper blues that had invaded the cove. Before long the women had escaped the clutches of the wildmen and were scurrying to the bow. "Will you show me how to catch a fish?"

Even the Australians were impressed. So impressed that they invited the old mad of the sea home with them that evening for a supper party.

Supper?

Mount Gay and Courage, of course, with whole chickens spattered around. No shirts or shoes permitted in the dining room.