It's three hours before "blue in the east"
and I can't sleep. "Just like the old man,"
I thought. He never slept before a fishing
trip, and I had inherited his blasted curse.
I silently wished he was here right now. I'd
like to hear him bitch about something, anything.
As perfect as the situation may have been, he'd
find something to complain about. I used to hate
it when I was a kid. I knew I would be blamed for
whatever was about to go wrong, and I was usually
the cause. But he had left this world in '73 and
I now wondered what he would have to say about her;
whether or not he could find something to pick apart.
She was "The Huntress," a 48' Buddy Davis sport-fisherman.
Even though I didn't own her, I had been hired to keep
her chartered for six months while her owner was away
delivering boats all over the Caribbean. I earned my
"sea legs" on her and knew her habits, her moves, and
her noises. I began my silent bitchin'.
It was mid September and we had a charter that Saturday
morning. I had stayed aboard the previous night and had
instructed Tim, the regular mate, to meet me at the boat
around five am, it was now three, and I rolled and
tossed. "Aw, hell with it," I slung the covers off
of me and staggered to the head, brushed my teeth
and splashed cool water on my face; it helped, but
it was still three o'clock in the damned morning.
I needed coffee. I stubbed my toe on the bulkhead
and bumped my head at the same time. "Jesus Christ,
what in hell am I doing up?" Jesus didn't answer.
I sat down on the sofa in the salon and tried to
see any form of daylight, or life; nothing but
quiet darkness, no lights, no movement. Even the
water was slick as glass. Not even a mullet was
stirring. Three-fifteen and no coffee in the
galley, dammit. I could call and wake Tim; he
didn't live too far from the marina, but I was
afraid I would wake his wife instead. She'd be
mad as hell and probably show up to mate for me,
just to pay me back for her lack of sleep. That
wouldn't be good. I stood up and bumped my head
Four fifteen and I sat in the salon watching
the national news, bleary-eyed, reasoning to
myself whether this whole captaining thing
was worth it. I looked in the cupboard again,
still hoping I had overlooked something that
was labeled "Coffee." Not even a jar of instant.
Headlights lit up the boat as I slapped at
mosquitoes from the bridge. Tim had shown up
early. He was drinking from a steaming, Styrofoam
cup. "Mornin' Skipper!" I stared at his right
hand that held the cup. I just grunted and rubbed
my sore noggin, twice-bumped from things that
grew from the inside of the cabin as I tried
to sleep. "Ain't you all bright-eyed and
bushy-tailed," my only reply.
I flipped the switch to the cockpit lights,
trying to blind Tim as he stepped aboard,
hoping he would spill his coffee. He just
shook his head and went to the galley. I
climbed down and followed. He pulled the
coffee maker from underneath the cabinet,
reached into the other cupboard and opened
up a brand new can of Maxwell House.
"Son of a..."
"What, you couldn't find the coffee? You grumpy,
"Just make the damned stuff, will you." I went
back up to the bridge.
Captain Phil had arrived and was opening up the
doors to his 53' Hatteras next slip over. "Hey
Dude, ya want a cup of java?" I climbed back
down again and boarded the "Excalibur" and flopped
down on the couch. "Where you fishin' today?"
"I'm not, just doin' some cleanup and getting' out
of the house. The wife's planned a bridal shower
and I wasn't invited."
"Wanna fish with us? I only have one angler. He'll
probably think it's cool to have two skippers...and
I can sleep."
"Nope, but thanks...here, you want a to-go cup?"
"Hey Cap, coffee's ready!"
I was back on the bridge running up the electronics
when the angler showed up. I tried to hide my
excitement and act all salty and stuff as we
introduced ourselves, then Tim showed him around
the boat. I was always excited when we ventured
out. A brand new day was about to happen, and it
was though it was the first time I had been offshore.
What a great feeling, reborn to the ocean and all
of her surprises she held. First trip or the
thousandth, the anticipation was the same.
I hate the smell of diesel smoke, it almost makes
me sick. That is, until it's filtered through salt
water. Then it becomes perfume. It intoxicates me.
The twins downstairs in the engine room purred to
life, dock lines were cast off and I bumped the
transmissions from forward to reverse; starboard
to port as "The Huntress" gracefully moved away
from her moorings and out into the channel.
It was my favorite time of the morning. The sky
was still dark to the west and began its transition
from black, to deep blue, to goldenness, and pinks,
and grays. The pelicans were waking and flew in
formation, looking like a squadron of slow jet
fighters. I passed the "Resume Normal Operation"
sign and looked down to the cockpit, checking
and making sure it was safe to do so. Tim looked
up and nodded and I shoved both throttle controls
forward. The engines sprang to life, roaring and
growling, spitting black smoke. Bow rising, radio
crackling, antennae springing forward and back,
outriggers rising toward the heavens. Her hull
buffets the shallow water's waves and sprays
white waters far and away, and the spray hisses
as it rejoins the ocean. I look to the north and
see the breakers crashing over Gilbert Shoal. "I
could drink this stuff!" as I yell and scream from
high above the cockpit's deck, giggling and laughing
in lunacy. Tim just looks up and shakes his head
again as the customer winces with each rise and
fall, and strains to hear what I'm yelling about.
Tim says something to him and he looks up at me
and I see him nod and mouth the word, "Oh," never
looking away from me. I briefly wondered what Tim
had said to him. I hope this guy took his seasick
Fifteen minutes into the twenty-five knot, easterly
ride, and the water has turned from shallow, emerald
green to deep, midnight blue. Small flying fish
scurry from beneath the bow. I search the surface
for sea turtles and hard objects that might damage
the hull. Three, bottle-nosed dolphin ride just
in front, using the displaced water to accelerate;
occasionally jumping to catch their breath. Tim
points to them, showing the angler. The sun is
glowing orange as it rises from the Atlantic's
intersection of water and sky.
I yell down to Tim as I bring "The Huntress" to
six knots. "Where here!" The 'riggers are lowered
and rods and reels are loaded and dropped back.
I adjust her throttles to eliminate the vibrato
of the engines; they settle into a harmonious
drone and become one. The baits now skip, dig
and smoke; it's time to tease Neptune's creatures
into eating breakfast.
The hunt has begun as both Tim and I scan the surface
of the Atlantic for diving and feeding birds, floating
objects, weed lines, rips and surface temperature
changes. It's seven-thirty now and the early morning
coffee search seems like three years ago. My head
is still sore; reminding me it really happened
today. We wait and listen to the ocean.
The engines have settled into a purr, content to
be where they are; fifteen miles from the coastline,
and thirty fathoms of water beneath them as they
turn the twin screws in counter-rotation. This
is where I need to be, too, high above the
surface of blue water, settled into my chair,
scanning the sea and smelling the salty air. I
begin to relax. I use binoculars to search the
far waters, looking for anything that may be
different. I look back to check the five,
skipping baits adorned with their little,
"Sailfish on the starboard teaser!!!" He's come
to have a look at the pink one. The seven-foot
sail has come from nowhere. He lights up neon
and follows just behind the ballyhoo, then
turns from the bait and disappears. We watch
the spread, hearts in our throats and nothing.
He's gone as quickly as he appeared. "SNAP!"
the 'rigger clip releases and the Penn
International screams as the sail heads away
from the stern dancing, jumping and grey hounding;
sending a shower of seawater. The belly in the
line rips the surface of the blue water as he
again propels himself skyward. The fight is on,
and the angler now knows why he laid out plenty
of good money for boat and crew.
He's brought along side for a photo and release.
He's tired and has given up. His large, blue eyes
look into ours, unsure of what has happened and
questioning his fate. His brilliant, neon blues
and violets have diminished into a dull, brownish
color and several minutes are spent reviving him.
He's never lifted from his waters, and is tagged
and released. High fives all around! The noble
warrior swims away, just below the surface and
then disappears into the depths to sulk.
With the excitement over, the baits are repositioned
and re-rigged. The purr of the engines begin to take
their toll on me as I shake my head, splash cold
water on my face and try not to fall out of my chair.
Tim brings up a sandwich of ham and Swiss cheese
with mustard, lettuce, and tomato and a diet Coke.
I grumble at him for not bringing me a cup of coffee
earlier, and then I grin at him. He's a good kid,
mid twenties and studying to get his captain's
license. He knows I'm just ragging on him. He'll
be a great skipper. He's made himself and the
angler a sandwich, and they sit on the transom,
in the heat of the day, and talk about the
tagged sail. I can't hear them from the fly
bridge, but I can tell by their gestures what
they are talking about.
"SNAP...SNAP!!!" Two 'riggers go off and tomatoes
fly from the sandwiches, one sandwich goes overboard.
Two, very nice dolphin (Mahi-Mahi) have crashed the
baits on the starboard side and now have gone nuts
in an attempt to free themselves from the green and
yellow lures. They look to be around thirty pounds
apiece. I pull the throttles back and slide down
the ladder to assist. There may be more with them,
but not this time. Photos are taken and they are
both released into the cooler for dinner. Three
more smaller dolphin are caught that day before
we turn 274 degrees to head in. A good day; a
The ride in is uneventful. Tim cleans the interior
of the boat, and the angler has joined me on the
bridge. We talk about past trips and where he
lives. We speak of the day and the fun he's had
aboard and his willingness to do it all again
next year. The pressure is off now, and I can
Tim cleans the dolphin and accepts a large fillet
for his supper. The angler tips Tim sixty bucks
and heads away, thanking us for a "perfect day."
Tim and I finish cleaning the boat, then sit in
the cockpit, sipping a coconut rum and pineapple
"Just another day in paradise, ain't it?"
"Yep, I hope I sleep better tonight."
"You gonna eat all that fish?"
"Want some of it?"
"Naw, just make sure you leave the coffee and
the pot out tonight."
"I wondered why you were so damned grumpy this mornin'."
"Shut up and finish your drink, then get off
my boat. See ya in the mornin'"
See y'all next week. ~ Capt. 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.