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
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
"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 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
"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
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
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.