An Original Essay by Darryl Glover
It was a company outing. I was working for a medium sized mechanical contracting firm and employed as a Senior Project Manager as well as the company’s Chief Estimator. We had hired a small fleet of charter fishing boats. Each boat was manned with a captain and a first mate and anywhere from three to six of our guys. There may have been 10 or more boats all together. The smallest vessel was twenty-five feet long. That’s big if you’re going out on a still lake, but small to brave the depths of the ocean. And that’s where we were headed, thirty miles off shore to where the water was one hundred feet deep. We were looking for Mahi-mahi.
I was on a boat that was one of the larger boats we had hired. This vessel was about 40 feet long. It had the big out-riggers that are common on commercial fishing vessels. And our captain seemed to be quite competent. The engines were quiet and of the inboard variety so I had no idea how large they were.
I’d been on the open ocean any number of times, but usually on a ship, never a boat. And trust me, there is a big difference. On a ship you seldom feel the waves even large ones. On a boat, you’re tossed around by even small waves or the wake of other boats and ships.
I had gotten over my fear of being on the ocean many years ago while aboard a sixteen-foot open bow boat with a deep V hull. It was a good friend of mines boat, and he was captaining the little boat on our short voyage from the Small Boat Marina at Wilmington, North Carolina. We were headed to the natural and undeveloped portion of Bald Head Island, which could only be reached by a small boat during high tide, for an annual camping trip of Engineers and Professional Surveyors. We had gotten a late start and were faced with the option of waiting until high tide the next morning or venturing out in the dark. Naturally, we chose to go in the dark.
The port at Wilmington is a fairly busy one with large merchant ships. About halfway across the Sound, the engine quit on us. As luck would have it, the problem was electrical, which meant our lights went out as well. As we sat bobbing in the water, with no lights, no radio, and apparently no luck, our Captain, remained calm. Off on the not too distant horizon, we could see lights from ships headed into the port. The lights were high up, meaning they were very large ships, probably tankers or cargo vessels having nearly completed their trans Atlantic crossings.
As our Captain took stock of the situation, he began directing us on pulling this or that cover and checking this or that connection, he happened to look at me with his one functioning eye (I’m not joking), and noticed I was a long way from being as calm as he and the others. He said to me, “Darryl, you know the only people that survived the Titanic were those lucky enough to have been put into a small boat like this one.” Luckily a few minutes later, someone had stumbled on the loose wire and we were underway again with lights and all. But his point was made and it was one I’ll never forget. It also forever cured me of my fear of being in a small boat on the ocean.
On this trip, on a boat nearly three times as long as that little sixteen footer with the bad wiring, I felt very secure. It took us a little over an hour with the engines running near full throttle to reach our destination. I noticed on this clear day, land was just out of sight. But more startling, I noticed we were far enough out and the water so calm that you could see the bottom – one hundred feet below. I know it was that deep because I happened to look at the ship’s depth finder and it said so. The water was a crystal clear bluish color that was absolutely beautiful.
Our Captain had throttled back on the engines and began weaving around looking for “the spot”. He kept a vigilant eye on his electronic fish finder, depth finder, or whatever the hell it was. He also made a few calls on his marine radio to what I assumed were other Captains in our flotilla. After about ten or twenty minutes of this, he threw the boat into neutral and he and the first mate began putting lines in the water. Apparently we were going to be “trolling” for our Mahi-mahi. After a half dozen rods had been set into the various out-riggers, the Captain returned to the helm and began making slow passes right there in the ocean. Almost like mowing grass on a large field.
The captain kept his eyes mostly on the rods as the boat idled along and sure enough, after just a few short minutes, he threw the boat once again in neutral, moved to the back of the boat and removed one of the big rods from it’s out-rigger. He did all of this in like two seconds. We had our first bite of the day.
Being, the highest ranking company man aboard, everyone looked at me. I had decided before hand to let the other guys go first and had a pre-determined order in my mind. So I nodded to the young plumber’s helper that was aboard and told him he was first and to have fun.
Now, if you’ve never been aboard an ocean going sport fishing type of boat, you probably at least heard of the “fighting chair”. This is one of the most thrilling seats you will ever have the pleasure of sitting in. Our man moved to the chair with a huge grin on his face as the captain and first mate strapped him in and began giving him rapid fired directions on what to and what not to do. He shook his head in acknowledgement every few seconds, but I’m not too sure if he heard a word that was being said to him. The adrenaline rush you feel when you realize you’re about to battle a monster of the sea on his home turf is really quite an awesome feeling.
The Captain gave the rod to our man and made his way back to the helm so that he could maneuver the boat to aid in bringing in the big fish. Mahi-mahis are not necessarily really big fish, but they are somewhat large and rather feisty. A fully-grown Mahi-mahi can be over four feet long and weigh thirty pounds. They are also strong and very fast swimmers and can easily reach speeds up to fifty miles per hour. Our first bite was a fully-grown male and he apparently had plans other than riding back to shore in our cooler.
Our young fisherman, however, was determined to bring in his fish. And he stayed in the fighting chair for the full effect. Our potential catch did his part in the process by scampering around the bottom of the ocean at amazing speeds. A few times he would surface and actually leap through the air showing off his brilliant golden, blue and green hues. Near the end of the hour-long fight, our young plumber’s helper was shaking from exhaustion but he would not relinquish this fight. As the fish was no more than 100 feet from the boat, he surfaced and danced on his tail trying in vain to remove the hook from his mouth. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. A few moments later, the first mate readied a large net and a spear as the Captain reversed the boat’s engines to close in on our catch. And finally, we had our first catch aboard and in one of the large coolers.
It was interesting to watch the colors of the fish change from the vibrant golden, blue and green hues to a muted yellowish-gray as his death came upon him. Our young fisherman didn’t look too much better. The fight had taken a very physical toll on him.
After being helped from the fighting chair, he was grinning and shaking and could barely speak. He was obviously very excited. This had been a day filled with firsts for him. First time on the ocean, first time deep-sea fishing, and as he told me later, the first time he had so much fun.
After a mere ten minutes or so of mowing the ocean again, we had our second bite of the day, and this one was a monster. Before the captain could reach the rod, fishing line started running off the real at an incredible rate. It made a loud buzzing sound similar to an electric motor running wide open. It took the Captain about five minutes of moving around doing this, that and so on, with the rod in his hand before he relinquished it to our next fisherman. He acknowledged having heard the previous instructions and was promptly secured in the fighting chair, rod and reel in hand, ready to bring in Moby Dick. This fight between man and fish was every bit as awesome as the previous one and took nearly as long. Our fisherman this time was a thirty-something air conditioning mechanic and he had claimed this was his second deep-sea fishing excursion. But the toll on him afterwards was even greater than that of the young plumber’s helper. So much so, in fact that after being helped from the chair, we had to help him to the side of the boat where he proceeded to release his breakfast into the ocean.
It took a while before we got another nibble, perhaps a full hour, perhaps a little longer. The captain had pulled the lines in, and went back to his vigil of watching his fish finder, depth finder thingy, while meandering around from place to place. I was beginning to worry because we had two more fishermen onboard, including myself. I shouldn’t have worried though, because about that time our Captain idled the boat and cast the lines once again and after only a few moments of mowing the ocean again, we had another bite.
This time, our guy was a young office worker. Not as powerful as the field workers that preceded him. However, he did an admirable job and managed to bring his fish aboard in well under the hour it had taken each of the first two guys. He further proved his manhood by not trembling or vomiting after he was done. In fact, the experience seemed to have little affect on him at all except for his smile. He was a happy fisherman. I learned later he too was concerned about the time and knew it would take us at least an hour to get back to shore once we called it quits. Our day charter boat trip was nearing an end.
It should be obvious that this story is about my time in the fighting chair aboard our charter boat and if you’ve read this far, then I’m sure you’re expecting that I caught the proverbial “big” one. Well, time was truly running out on us and I knew it wouldn’t be long before we had to head the thirty miles in. I was not disappointed because my three guys had all had once in a lifetime experiences and that was important to me.
Having three successful catches in the coolers, the mood aboard our boat was quite festive. Our Captain had been on his radio throughout the day and we learned some of the other boats had not caught anything. Each of my guys were busy now feeling full of themselves and drinking beer and exchanging stories about how it felt to be strapped in the chair fighting their catch. The Captain and first mate continued their vigil with the rods and reels, baiting and re-baiting hooks. I should have mentioned earlier, the bait being used was really a meal-sized fish in itself – perhaps ten inches or longer. As the time was running out, the first mate was digging down in the bait cooler and looking for the best and biggest specimens. And sure enough, about that time we got another nibble on one of the lines in the far-most out-rigger.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt slightly apprehensive while being strapped into the fighting chair. But, this is one of the reasons I was here and I was more than ready to begin my hour-long battle with one of these beautiful sea creatures. Having already heard the instructions three previous times, I told the Captain that I had everything under control and asked him to just give me the damn rod. He smiled at me and promptly relinquished the battle to the fish and me.
I had watched nearly three hours of man versus fish in this chair and I was fully prepared to give it my best and conquer my fish. I noticed the men that had occupied this chair before me had conquered their fish with no less than an exhausting effort, which I was reasonably sure I was prepared to put forth.
I immediately began cranking the reel in my hands as fast as I could, meeting little if no resistance at all. The first mate and my guys were looking out in the water to see the fish battle me. I was so concentrated on locking my feet in the stirrups and cranking the reel as swiftly as possible that I vaguely heard their shouts of “wow, he’s fast” and “look at him go”. After a couple, maybe three minutes surely it was no longer than that, cause I had yet to break into even a mild sweat, unlike the others who each were wringing with sweat during their ordeal, the first mate was readying his big net and spear. My fish it appeared was a fast swimmer. But the stupid thing swam straight towards us. In another minute or so, he was in the boat, in the cooler with his friends. Everyone was laughing, whether at the stupid the fish or at me for not having the same opportunity of the others to do a great battle, which I’m not sure.
My fish was caught so quickly; we noticed we still had time to try for another but the Captain was unable to locate one before our time to head to shore was up. In all, our charter boat trip was fun. Sure I felt cheated a little, but I had caught a fish so I couldn’t really complain now, could I?
This story, even though it’s a fishing tale, is completely true.