My astrological sign is Pisces. And I actually feel as though I am a Pisces in that I seem to be attracted to watery environments. I am notorious, for example, for taking twenty minute showers, which is about how long it takes to empty the hot water heater. This doesn’t cause much of a problem these days, as I am now an empty-nester. But, as a boy, my luxurious ablutions did not especially endear me to those with whom I shared the family water heater.
And here’s another thing, I find that I really love being acquainted with people who have boats. My son-in-law is a good example. He is a skilled sea captain and has recently acquired a new twenty-foot something-or-other. My two kids and I look forward to chipping in for gas in order to finance leisurely excursions up and down the inter-coastal waterway. And when it’s all over, the three of us will leave good ol’ Michael to hose the salt from his beloved boat as we head for the nearest watering hole (don’t worry, he always catches up). The point is, knowing someone who owns a boat beats the heck out of actually owning a boat, in my experience.
One of my favorite pastimes is deep sea, bottom-fishing off the coast of Jacksonville. There are a couple of sea captains out at Mayport who will load up about twenty or so of us in the morning at first light and motor out almost all the way to the gulf stream where we can enjoy the day fishing for red snapper, grouper, flounder, amberjack and the occasional shark.
The bos’ns on the boat provide the fishing gear, and our fee for the excursion includes a plastic pail full of all the chopped squid bait one could possible need. They even sell sandwiches, sodas and beer in the cabin, although I usually prefer to take along a cooler full of fried chicken for lunch. When the sun hits its zenith we sit on a bench affixed to the bulkhead (“wall,” for you landlubbers) across from the gunwale (rail), and, while enjoying the beautiful site of flying fish flitting over the pristine surface of the blue, roiling sea juxtaposed against brilliantly white clouds, we eat finger food with hands covered in the black ink and drying slime of our squid bait, which I personally think enhances the flavor. I believe it might help to be a Pisces in order to appreciate this. See? And another plus is that there are no cell towers out there on the briny.
These excursions typically last a full eight hours, and all participants are exhausted by the time we get back to the dock, especially when seas are choppy. Rough seas can require a day-long struggle to stay on one’s feet, not to mention avoiding the embarrassment of falling over the side (the gunwale).
Choppy seas can also be especially challenging for those who have yet to gain their sea legs. I recall such a voyage a few years ago when my kids and I went out on the Miss Jacksonville, a 100-foot gray, steel boat rigged especially for such trips. The seas were so rough on that day that the ship was rolling, port (left) to starboard (right), nearly forty degrees, back and forth, back and forth all day long. We were standing at the gunwale, about amidships (in the middle), casting over the side (at the gunwale) whereas there was this young fellow fishing further up toward the bow (that’s the pointy end). Since the vessel is relatively small, the deck curves upward toward the bow where it is higher than it is where we were fishing. So, anyway, with all this pitching and rolling (pitching and rolling), this guy starts to get seasick and promptly hurls his Oreo’s (Nabisco). Keep in mind that the captain was sailing into the wind, if you get my drift. Someone finally persuaded him to find a different spot aft (that’s the fat end). Thank goodness for that refreshing sea spray.
And, as a lad, I was a pretty good water skier, too. My family owned no speedboat, of course, but I had friends whose families owned boats. This may have been where I first figured out the dealy about not actually owning a boat.
One of the more conveniently located bodies of water for these activities was the St. Joe River with its deep brown currents that meander through Buchanan as well as countless other little towns and villages on its way to Lake Michigan. This was back in the sixties, of course. The municipal utilities’ operations in all those little burgs weren’t so “green” in those days, so I will let you use your imagination as to what made that water sooo brown. But, since I spent the bulk of my time in biology class reading Superman comics, I had never heard of fecal coliform bacteria and the like. Thus, the inevitable spill into the water from time to time gave me no particular concern. Plus, in retrospect, I think our boats and other aquatic paraphernalia may have been a little more buoyant on those waters due to the high particle content. Maybe I wasn’t such a great skier after all.
Another fun thing to do with an ocean, if you happen to have one, is to surf fish. My old friend, Chuck Anderson, introduced me to this activity, which I would describe as a cross between fishing and swimming. While employing the use of a pretty heavy rod and reel, and a similarly heavy lead sinker and rig (a rig is the paraphernalia, hooks and all, to which one attaches the bait), one wades out into the surf, oftentimes as far as chest deep, and casts out even further. This is really fun unless you catch something, in which case the chore of actually having to clean a fish could be rudely interjected into one’s activities. No worries, though, “catch and release” is the way to go here. And here in Florida we use shrimp as bait (quiz: How do you tell “bait shrimp” from “food shrimp?” Ans: A “food shrimp” is the one you eat). I usually end up catching the crabs. Blue crabs, that is. And, as one would imagine, surf trunks and a cooler of beer are de rigueur for such activities.
An excellent variation of this activity is to acquire a piece of three-inch PVC pipe cut at an angle at one end in order for it to be securely jammed into the sand just ahead of the tide. One then casts out into the breakers as far as possible and promptly retreats up the beach to set the fishing rod handle in the PVC pipe. All that’s left to do, then, is to plop down in a folding beach chair, pop a brewski and work on advancing one’s chances of contracting melanoma under the beautiful Florida sun.
The only body of water I have never taken to is a swimming pool. When I was a kid, my dad built one and then made me water-vacuum the bottom of the danged thing every weekend. I still harbor animosity toward pools to this day.
So, even though I was born and raised in the Midwest, I have greatly enjoyed living these past decades right here next to the Big Pond, except for when we are visited from time to time by those pesky hurricanes. I guess nothing is ever perfect. But, then again, have you ever participated in a hurricane party?