“A seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking broncho…. The craft pranced and reared and plunged like an animal. As each wave came, and she rose for it, she seemed like a horse making at a fence outrageously high. … Then, after scornfully bumping a crest, she would slide and race and splash down a long incline, and arrive bobbing and nodding in front of the next menace.” – Stephen Crane in “The Open Boat.”
Stephen Crane’s words are quite appropriate for an experience my son and I had recently off the coast of Ponce Inlet, Fla.
I was in the Sunshine State on a working vacation and my son Dane, 16, (pictured above) accompanied me. Dane and I like to fish together. So, to add a little adventure to this trip, I decided we’d go on a deep-sea fishing trip aboard a charter boat.
Both four-hour and eight-hour sessions are offered.
I made reservations for a four-hour excursion aboard the Sea Love on our last available afternoon. Unfortunately, the day dawned cloudy and windy with thunderstorms in the forecast.
When we checked in at the Sea Love’s dock a little past noon, the woman who had taken our reservation a day earlier had bad news: “We’re not going anywhere today. The ocean’s too rough. There are eight-foot swells out there.”
I’m sure “eight-foot swells” meant something to her but they meant nothing to me.
I’m very determined (my wife says the word stubborn is more appropriate). And, as we drove away, I remembered another nearby charter operation, the Critter Fleet. I decided to see if they still had plans to sail that afternoon.
“I don’t suppose you’re going out today,” I said to the clerk.
“Oh, yes we are!” she said. “It’s $30 apiece.”
My persistence had paid off!
“We’re using the biggest boat, the Super Critter,” the woman said as she imprinted my MasterCard.
I thought about buying Dane a souvenir T-shirt at that time as a remembrance of this father/son adventure, but I decided to wait until after we got back – it would mean more then.
“Be ready to board at five before one,” the woman behind the counter said.
I checked my watch. It was 12:15 p.m.
On retrospect, signing up to take a four-hour fishing cruise despite “eight-foot swells” was a mistake. But going back to the car and eating submarine sandwiches and drinking pop while waiting for the appointed hour of departure also was not the brightest thing Dane and I have ever done.
At five before one, my son and I were standing on the dock with nearly 20 others, anxious to board Super Critter. Most of the other people were men, but there were two or three couples and at least one family – mom, dad and two sons.
(I later would see one of the boys, in his early teens, lose his lunch not once, not twice but three times. He may have done it more but those were the only instances I was unfortunate enough to witness.)
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this,” the first mate told us before we were allowed on board. “It’s choppy out there today. If you think it’s bad on the lower deck, it’s twice as bad on the upper deck.
“If you get sick, don’t throw up in the bathroom. Don’t throw up in the trash cans. And don’t throw up over the railing of the upper deck – you’ll hit someone below you. Throw up over the railing of the lower deck – you’ve got the entire Atlantic Ocean.
“You won’t need to know this,” he continued. Then he proceeded to tell us where the life jackets were kept, and he demonstrated how to use them.
The waters were calm and the ride was peaceful. That is, for five minutes, until we left the inlet.
As we headed 12 grueling miles out to sea, Super Critter was met with resistance and loped over each wave. It also took some side hits that made it sway from side to side.
I hate to put Stephen Crane to work again, but he said it best: “A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that, after successfully surmounting one wave, you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats.”
Super Critter’s diesel engine roared and revved that afternoon, allowing the boat to do battle against the monster ocean. Even as we sat in the dayroom, I could smell the engine’s exhaust, and it heightened the queasiness building in my stomach.
I looked at Dane. He was expressionless and pale. We were two seasick sailors.
Some of the fishermen used the time we spent traveling to our fishing spot playing cards, laughing and drinking beer. I envied them.
One couple sat in front of us and played Euchre with two young men. But only five minutes into the game, the young woman hurried outside to the railing – and it wasn’t to watch for sharks.
After she emptied her insides, she spent the rest of the afternoon lying on a bench in the dayroom.
Not yet to our destination, my sickness was building. I thrust a spearmint-flavored cough drop into my mouth in an attempt to take my mind off my churning stomach and a headache.
I normally have a cast iron stomach, and motion seldom makes me ill. The only carnival ride that has gotten to me has been the Galleon, that big “boat” that swings like a pendulum.
As we reached our destination, I was feeling like I was on the Galleon. And I remember thinking to myself: If this were a carnival ride, it’d be over in two minutes. But this experience – and the illness – will continue about three and a half hours more.
The boat still heaved to and fro even after its anchors were dropped 50 feet to the ocean bottom. But it was time to fish, so we moved outside to the railing with the others.
Waiting for us there were poles and bait – cut up pieces of squid and dead sardines, both fairly aromatic.
Handling the fishing rod while deep-sea fishing often takes two hands. With both hands on the rod, we were unable to hold onto the railing, so we’d lean against it to avoid being jostled about by the rocking boat.
I didn’t fish very diligently, and I didn’t catch anything. Dane caught a couple of small fish. I snapped his photo, but he’s pale and there’s no smile on his face.
“I paid sixty bucks just so you and I could be sick,” I said to Dane.
The best thing that happened all afternoon was the captain’s voice booming over the intercom at about 4:30: “Bring ’em out of the water, folks. It’s time to head back in.”
Although Dane and I never lost our submarine sandwiches overboard that day, our stomachs didn’t return to normal for 24 hours.
Even now, whenever I get a whiff of diesel fumes or put a spearmint cough drop in my mouth, I have flashbacks of that day of fishing hell.
I never did buy Dane that souvenir T-shirt, either. It would have just served as another reminder of something we’re trying to forget.
Only one aspect of that fishing expedition makes me smile: We signed up for four hours instead of opting for an eight-hour cruise!
Copyright Feb. 25, 1998. This “Everyday People” column appeared in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.