Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

July 3rd, 2006

State of Mind

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson
It's quiet. It usually is at three in the morning. The only sounds are the coffee pot spewing out a somewhat resemblance of wakeup juice, and the clinking of rigging on a sailing vessel somewhere out in the morning's thick fog. Oh yeah, and James Taylor singing "Mexico" over the Huntress' stereo system. I hum along with James, even though I'm not even close to being awake.

Tim, my mate, will be here soon. The "sports" should arrive at six. The forty-eight foot Buddy Davis is home, at least for the weekends. I lucked into this part-time job since her owner was going to be busy delivering offshore boats all over the Caribbean for the next six months. Bob had a skipper to run her during the week, but the other guy couldn't work the weekends.

I began my offshore fishing experiences five years prior, and the learning process was crucial. Good equipment, a good teacher and most importantly, safety, were several of the main factors of coming home from thirty or forty miles "outside." Jim Wilson, a longtime friend and fishing partner, had taught me well. Common sense and taking immense care to prepare for a trip became a ritual three or four days out from the trip. Offshore fishing is probably one of the most dangerous sports, excluding skydiving and SCUBA, there is. One just doesn't walk home from a trip if the boat breaks down, and the doctor's office is hours away, even if the Coast Guard is able to airlift an injured or ill passenger back to shore.

The safety equipment had been checked, as always. A float plan had been filed with my next-door neighbors at the marina. Electronics, such as the radar, ADF, radios, depth recorders, etc. had been checked and double checked. I made sure that all was where it needed to be and all that needed to be worked. There was nothing else left to do but wait. I settled into my chair on the bridge with a hot cup of coffee, watching the twinkling stars and lights of Stuart, Florida and thought about the night before.

I began my drive down to Stuart Friday afternoon, just after lunch. Tim had called Thursday and informed me of a last-minute booking from three guys who wanted to fish Saturday. Anticipation hurried me down Interstate 95, a two and a half hour drive from my house. Divorce was imminent, and getting out of the house was a breath of fresh air for me, and looking back, probably for her also. But after twenty years of being married to the wrong person, things were changing rapidly, and getting away helped me keep my sanity. I could put things in perspective. I was sad that it was coming to all of this, and I wasn't really sure of my future and what may be waiting for me. Those thoughts brought some fear of the unknown, but we both knew it was for the best. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and thought of my mistress, The Huntress, which waited at the dock.

It was early September of '92, my birthday actually. I had forgotten. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed Tim's truck was there already. Not unusual, but as I looked towards the boat, Lisa, Tim's wife, was on the bridge, in my chair, no less. That sparked my curiosity. Lisa was a small woman, cute and perky, with dark eyes that could cut through solid, tempered steel when she was provoked. And enormous, well... you get the picture. But let me tell you, she could put the Devil himself in his place if he decided to give her a ration of crap. I almost felt sorry for Tim, but mostly I instigated a lot when they were together on the boat, then sit back and laugh at the two as Lisa ate Tim's lunch. The gal could start a mutiny and get away with it. But why the hell were they there at three in the afternoon on Friday?

Standing in the parking lot, I took notice of the two. Even though they always seemed at war with each other, there was always an abundance of admiration between them. My thoughts drifted back to my failed marriage, and that special something they shared, caused me to wonder if I could have prevented the court date that would eventually end life as I knew it. I shook the thoughts off and walked to the boat.

"Afternoon, Skipper!" Lisa yelled from high atop the bridge as Tim stepped out of the salon.

"Get off my bridge, dammit! So, what are you two up to?"

I scanned the cockpit and noticed the obvious gunwale-mounted kettle grill in position for some evening action. I stepped into the salon, and there in the galley were at least ten bags of goodies, but before I could investigate the contents, Lisa came in and literally shoved me outside.

"Y'all are up to no good, and I know it."

Around six-thirty, Capt. Phil from next door came in all decked out in what appeared to be a new tee-shirt and a new pair of shorts, carrying a few more bags and a bottle of my favorite rum. Then a few more guests from other charter boats began showing up, all with more goodies.

I cornered Tim outside to ascertain just what the hell was going on.

"I ain't tellin'!" He grinned and walked away. Lisa, all the while, was hanging ten over the floor of the bridge flashing those mean, dark eyes in Tim's direction.

"It's my birthday party! Ha, I got you figured out!" I started up the ladder to my bridge, threatening to throw the hussy off the boat.

The grill was fired up, and the smoke plumed across the bay, smelling of grilling shrimp and lobster (crawfish) tails. Coconut and spiced rum mixed with my favorite pineapple juice (Lotus) spilled over the crushed ice into tropical-tinted, plastic glasses. Even old Jimmy Buffet bellowed out the traditional "Margaritaville," as corny as it may sound. And yeah, the golden margaritas were in the blender, but unlike Buffet, we knew where our "shaker of salt" was.

"Now this is a party! Thanks guys."

It didn't take a birthday to start a party on most boats in the marina. If one fired up an onboard grill, and halfway looked cross-eyed in all directions, we took that as a sincere invitation. Heck, it wasn't anything to have fifteen or twenty folks showing up for one of these impromptu get-togethers on a Friday, or Saturday afternoon. There would be grilled dolphin (fish, not Flipper), fresh, Florida lobster tails, giant shrimp skewers with red onion, colorful peppers and mushrooms and pineapple chunks filling the grill, and not to mention rib-eye steaks, plenty of libations, too. But I knew that the libation part was limited to me if I had a charter the following morning, which I did the day after my much appreciated birthday party.

As I sat in the captain's chair, up above on my bridge, I watched these people, some I knew, some I didn't. I thought of how fortunate I was to have them. The warm, Atlantic breeze rustled the palm fronds next to the docks, and the sounds and smells of paradise were recorded forever in my mind. I knew tomorrow would be a good day, how could it not be?

My coffee had grown cold as I waited for Tim to show up. It was four-thirty now. The same palms stood still now in the darkness. The boat was hushed and peaceful, and Lisa had stayed behind to clean up the mess, she had even set the coffee pot to go off since she knew I always had trouble with the confounded thing. James was now singing, "Secret O' Life," and I had to agree with him as I listened to his words.

"Now the thing about time is that time isn't really real.
It's just your point of view, how does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face,
welcome to the human race."

"It ain't so bad. It'll be over pretty soon." As I thought back on things to come, I decided to get back into my old state of mind. A wise person once told me, "This too shall pass."

And it did. That was almost fourteen years ago. A lot of water's passed under my bridge of life since then. I haven't seen or spoken with Tim or Lisa, or that whole gang of folks down there since. I've moved along quite nicely since then. I still hold those memories tightly, though; all of those colorful, tropical days and the sultry, warm nights and those wonderful smells of the sea. I don't miss the offshore fishing...yeah I do. But it's the same. My flats and the one that loves them as much as I do. It's a tropical thing. It's a state of mind.

'Til next time. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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