Elbow Cay, Bahamas 

We got up Friday morning at Sailfish with enough time to do a couple things before our new crew arrived. The one thing we’d looked forward to for days was a tour of Michael Rybovich & Sons in Palm Beach, a builder of custom fishing yachts whose performance and craftsmanship have few rivals. Their yard is a beehive of activity, and a nexus of traditional and cutting edge methods. 

Their hulls begin life like this…




…and grow up to be this:


Above, the 86′ Sportfisher Cynthia, capable of 47 knots, with a cruising speed in the mid-30s. Getting there will be quick and comfortable, wherever there might be.  

You can’t fit the whole boat into the frame. I won’t take you through every detail, but this look at the engine room will give you an idea. 

.      .     .

Our new crew (Paul Clarke, Max Hopkins, and Alec Bailey) touched down after lunch, and we immediately pushed off to troll Palm Beach for whatever would bite. Spirits ran high as William and I fed off our new arrivals’ excitement at just being there. Cobalt blue water came nearly up to the beach–back home we might have run 70 miles and not seen better. Alec and I shot the breeze on the bridge while the boys ran the cockpit. It wasn’t long before line peeled off a reel, and we were on: a nice little mahi to get us started. 

Then a double hook-up resulting in a zero boat-up. Blame was assigned to the throttle man. Couldn’t have been the anglers. 

But who cared? It was time for another first-class dinner back at Sailfish, and then, in the morning, on to Elbow Cay at first light!

.     .     .

We would clear customs at the harbor at West End, Grand Bahama. The 55-mile Atlantic crossing gave us a quartering sea, not overly forbidding, just a little spray now and then. In a couple hours, we were there. As we approached the dock to tie off, the distance between boat and pier closing quickly to just a few feet, William lost his footing and fell overboard. I feared the worst–did he hit his head or break a limb on the way down? Why wasn’t he calling out that he was okay? 

Miraculously, he was indeed okay.  Scrambling onto the swim platform, he grinned up at Alec and me on the bridge. “What?” he asked, as if to say, “haven’t you seen somebody fall overboard before?”

Shaking my head, I walked into the customs house and emerged minutes later with our entry papers. Now we could take down the yellow quarantine flag, and fly the Bahamian courtesy flag instead. 

Heading east again, now on the ‘inside route’ through the islands, (rather than around them), we motored past the clear waters’ color changes, and over coral and grass like nothing any of us had ever seen. Did I mention spirits were high? 


The bright hues of these protected waters were reflected against the boat’s white hull, in each other’s sunglasses, even on the bottoms of the puffy clouds overhead. We’d not thought to imagine such as that. 

.     .     .

Finally we reached our destination: Elbow Cay, and Sea Spray Marina, the El Dorado’s home for the next week or so. Alec and I would be at the Abaco Inn, while the boys would sleep on the boat. The view from the Inn was spectacular, even if the Atlantic might be a little rough, upon closer inspection. 


Word at the marina was that the bite had been slow lately, owing to high winds out of the south and west–not the moderate easterlies that can lead to great fishing. We’d try our luck in the morning. 

We also learned that we would not be able to buy ice until 8:00 a.m. This struck us Bama boys a little funny: “Y’all don’t leave the dock at first light?,” we wondered. We loaded the fish box with ice while we had the opportunity. Neighbors from the gleaming sportfishermen in adjacent slips looked puzzled, too. They’d never seen a boat with a smoker in the cockpit where a fighting chair belonged. One by one, they stopped to express their curiosity. “Where’s Dog River, Alabama?” they’d ask. Their elegant yachts dwarfed the El Dorado. Maybe we looked to them a little like the Beverly Hillbillies, I pondered. Maybe so, but we’d show ’em we could fish, anyway!

.     .     .

Sunday’s forecast called for plenty more wind, and that out of the south. No matter, we were going. There’d be no running–after all, deep blue water was within a few miles of the beach. 

Well, it was rough. Rough enough to provoke a little seasickness down below, and to break the captain’s chair-back up on the bridge. And the bite was slow. We trolled from dawn til three, and were able to put only one fish in the boat: a diminutive skipjack tuna. What remnant of the fleet tried with us in the day’s sloppy conditions was largely unsuccessful, too, we learned on the radio. 

.     .     .

Happily, were greeted back at the dock by a fellow Alabaman, Captain Justin Lee, of the Incognito out of Orange Beach. He’d been in Elbow Cay for months and had knowledge of local hot spots and techniques. He let on he’d be fishing alone Monday. Spotting opportunity, I invited him to come with us instead. He immediately accepted. Score one for ole’ Sparky! Coming aboard, he noticed a line that needed a new Bimini. He showed us an elegant alternative–an Australian Braid. Five anglers looked on in rapt attention, as the Zen master weaved and hypnotized. 


On the basis of just that knot, and a forecast of calm seas and easterly breezes, how could Monday not be our day? All were  intoxicated with anticipation. Marlin Fever, as it’s known in medical literature. 

Our good fortune called for cocktails, sashimi, and mahi grilled on the Egg!


.    .    .

But alas, Monday would not be our day. We trolled from seven to four, and though the cobalt waters were calm and promising, they did not produce. The fleet also struggled, though we did see one fish hooked on a nearby boat: a tail-dancing Blue, object of our obsession. Our unspoken envy was deafening.

We established our need for a lucky break over a humble dinner of conch, lobster, and steak at the Abaco Inn. Something had to give. We’d come too far, paid requisite dues. Tuesday’s forecast was another pretty one, but Wednesday’s was not. With resolve rivaling General George S. Patton’s, we agreed: we’d get the job done Tuesday, whatever it took. 

.     .     .

We blasted off at dawn, and headed due east, looking for a tide line, or ‘rip’ as we say. We found a good one eight miles out–bunched up sargassum and a change in water temperature. We put out a spread. 

Not minutes later, three reels screamed. A teaser was being demolished by something–a billfish? Mayhem ensued. We got idle lines cleaned up, and two remained engaged. One turned out to be a big mahi. The other, a respectable companion. 


Adrenaline flowed. Our illness gained strength. Lines were deployed. Spirits–well, you know. 

Hours went by without a bite. The fleet reported another slow day. But the water remained promising. And then IT happened–a blue marlin exploded out of the water 200 yards behind the boat. That’s funny–one of our rods was bent over. What? Somebody’d left the clicker off! And just like that, it was on. William grabbed the rod. Paul put a belt on him. Alec and Max cleaned up idle lines. I did captain stuff. What a team. We were hooked up to the El Dorado’s first marlin! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 

Bringing the fish in close, we would learn whether we really were the team we thought. 


Boy, were we!  



Paul grabbed the leader and pulled the fish close. Alec cut the line at the hook, as Paul grabbed the bill. We pulled the fish alongside the boat, to ensure water passed through its mouth and gills, reviving it from the exhausting fight. Releasing the imposing creature back into the deep, we saw its tail kick and then kick again–we’d done it! We’d finally landed the fish that had long eluded us! For the five of us afflicted with Marlin Fever, it was not the same world we’d woken up in that morning. Some of you understand. 

.     .     .

We immediately reported our success on the radio, and received congratulations from what sounded like a frustrated fleet. Making our success that much sweeter, of course. “Where’s Dog River,” they’d asked. Now they knew!

.     .     .

Our desperate mission now complete, our fever miraculously subsided. We drove on to Sandy Cay, a prime snorkeling spot, and tied up to an anchor ball. What a day!


.     .     .

Back at the dock, our neighbors on the Desire’ lent us a flag to run up an outrigger–bragging rights–so we could signal our success to others so afflicted. 


Flying it upside-down signals a successful live release. We beamed. 

Mahi on the grill tonight, and an unceasing debrief of the moments of the afternoon.  

.    .    .

Wednesday the weather turned rough again. We opted for sleeping in, then to Hopetown for lunch and a tee shirt. The lighthouse provided a point of interest. 


Who’s the short guy?

.     .     .

Thursday was supposed to be departure day–the day we’d planned to cross the Atlantic to Miami, and put Alec, Max, and William on flights back to Alabama the next day. William and Max had a Sigma Nu rush party in Auburn Friday night. God forbid weather intervene! Yet it was trying to: forecasts called for 20-knot winds and 4′-6′ seas for the crossing. Discretion required that we fly those three from Marsh Harbor to Miami, while Paul and I evaluated options for getting the boat across. 

We got them to Marsh Harbor, and made a plan to run in protected waters back to West End, and wait for a window to make the shorter run back to Palm Beach. As we drove west, the wind began to lay. By the time we made West End, it was ESE @ 10-15. Observed seas were 3-4 feet. A following sea for a 55-mile run. Forecast much worse for the coming days. I decided we’d try the first 5 miles. If too much, we’d tuck back into the West End harbor. 

The 35 Cabo settled into a comfortable pace, 18 knots, softly laying the bow up on the back side of each successive swell. Five miles became 55, and we made Lake Worth Inlet by 6:00 p.m., in a light drizzle. 

.      .      .

Over the next day and a half, Paul and I would drive the El Dorado south and west, through the massive Port of Miami, Biscayne Bay, and then into Hawk Channel for our final run to Key West. Kim, Avery, Kate, and William will join me there, and Paul’s adventure will come to an end. 

On the way, we stopped in Islamorada to refuel and wash up, cook a fine meal of smoked mahi, and relax after a long day of running. 

Paul tried to find a fly-biter in Snake Creek. 

We left Islamorada at daybreak and headed west for our last leg. Our early start would give us enough day to try and fish, or if the winds wouldn’t lay, walk Duval Street. 

    And so, now well past Marathon, I close this marathon post, hoping you’ve enjoyed. God knows you’ve endured. 

    Gratefully,

    OCS

    (Ole’ Cap’n. Sparky)

    Okeechobee Waterway 

    Wednesday morning, we got what I thought was a decent start. 0730. We made a right turn to south out of Miller’s, to get around Pine Island, then Northeast past Ft. Myers and into the Okeechobee Waterway. 

    More and more, I asked William to take the helm. 

    As we made our way, he seemed to be mastering the systems–navigation, throttles, autopilot, monitoring engines. We’d talked about it a fair amount prior, but today, I was able to pick up on subtle cues that things were beginning to really click for him, without my saying. His seamanship and judgment had always been good; now pilotage skills were showing themselves. I gave him a compliment we used sparingly back in my flying days. I told him he might be almost a real ‘operator’–possessed of SA (situational awareness), able to handle the unexpected as it came, understand the implications, react calmly, make sound decisions. My man!


    .     .     .

    After a one-day, 250-mile crossing, you’d think the 134-mile Okeechobee Waterway across central Florida would be a cinch to make, and in less time. Not so much. The locks, bridges, and slow-speed passing situations make for a very long day. No worries–we’d budgeted a little extra time for just such a thing. We enjoyed watching the scenery and wildlife change: alligators, herons, bald eagles, manatees, tarpon–wow! But the locks. Ugh. 


    We’d hoped we’d make it through the last lock–St. Lucie–before the operator quit at 4:30. If we could, we’d try and wade the inland waters at Stuart and throw topwater at twighlight. Once past the big lake, we ran like a scalded dog. But to no avail. As we rounded a corner, we encountered a train bridge. The operator told us we would have to wait for a couple of Amtraks. Oh well. 


    We rolled with the unexpected. After trading fishing tips by VHF with Rob, the bridge man, and two trains indeed did pass, he let us on through. We camped out just west of the St. Lucie lock, and fired up the smoker. We showered, and set the table for a feast: pork tenderloin, Boursin on toast points, petit pois simmered in butter, and sliced fresh strawberries. A fine meal for two happy campers!


    As the sun set, a bold visitor seemed to be looking for table scraps.


    We did not oblige him. 

    In the morning, we pushed off to be first in line when St. Lucie opened, and locked through with a manatee. Once clear, my co-captain pushed up the power for a final run to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. 

    .     .     .

    We docked in at Palm Beach’s tony Sailfish Marina, dropped off the Bandito, and headed out the Lake Worth Inlet, to troll the Atlantic with the remaining daylight. 


    William ran the cockpit like the master hand he is, and yet, despite offering a tasty spread, he got no takers. 

    So we settled for dinner at the marina restaurant, and a fine one it is. William ordered the prime rib, and a glass of the house Pinot to wash it down. He made me a proud father by demonstrating his ability to grasp the stem with three fingers, while extending a pinky….

    .     .     .

    And so, as we await our crew (flying in as we speak), we end this father-son leg, and file the above report. 

    Thanking you for your loyal readership, I remain,

    Your Barefoot Correspondent,

    Sparky

    Boca Grande 

    Monday was a big day, indeed. Our mission: cover the 250 nautical miles between Apalachicola and Boca Grande during daylight hours, and arrive safely. Outside would be the only way–there was no protcted option. To tell the truth, I’d lost a little sleep thinking about this leg, a long crossing over open water, far from shore for the most part, to traverse Florida’s Big Bend in one bite. Knowing to where I could divert in event of a problem, fuel planning, navigation, equipment–there was a little bit to think about. Thankfully, weather wouldn’t be a factor, at least according to NOAA, whose marine forecast called for winds NNW@10. I couldn’t have ordered better. Especially considering that only a few days prior, a major front had blown up 6- to 8-footers. 

    So, already full on internal fuel, and a 100-gallon bladder full on deck as insurance, we blasted off at first light. The sun rose on our left not long after we broke out into the Gulf from Apalachicola Bay, illuminating another calm, following sea. 


    Though it was a Monday, everything performed to standard, and we were able to kick back, blast tunes, and let the autopilot drive us to the pass south of Gasparilla Island, where we’d find the locally famous Boca Grande (formerly Miller’s) Marina. 

    Along the way, the water changed colors a dozen times, frosty blue to aquamarine, in hues each plainly different from the last, but often hard to describe, or to see where the change occurred   Abeam Tampa, a frigate bird almost rust-red against the bright green Gulf, swooped over hardtails, as the glassy surface broke. A photo, again, would’ve been great here. Alas, Kim wouldn’t be with us until Key West. 

    .     .     . 

    Tying up at Miller’s, a first class marina by any standard, we deployed the Bandito, dropped the outboard onto the transom, and headed off for some wade fishing. 


    William picked up a small gag grouper on a Mirrolure. All in a day’s work. 

    .     .     .

    I checked in with Eric Obeck, a friend of friends, who would graciously drop his Tuesday plans to take us snook fishing. This took some arm-twisting, but we were able to prevail. He would be driving down from Tampa, giving us a gentleman’s start time of 8:00 or so, in the morning. This was a welcome respite from the 0-dark-30 wake-ups of previous days. 

    Eric showed up at the appointed hour, and we boarded his customized classic vintage Aquasport, optimized for the kind of sight-fishing he does. We headed out to catch live bait in the corner of a bay. Eric chummed up our target–sardines/pilchers/white bait–and waited for just the right moment to cast his formidable 10’net. 


    The time was close. 


    Throwing a perfect umbrella, he netted only a few. We’d need a few hundred, he told us. And so, it would take a while at a pace of 2 here, 4 there. Our captain was getting his workout. 



    (The silver flash at the bottom of the net’s purse is a white bait).

    William and I tried to make ourselves useful as Eric cheerfully labored. At last, we had a fishable quantity.

    .     .     .

    Off again, through narrows of mangrove and grassy bottom, over sandy patches and under deep blue skies dotted with puffies. Into shallow bays where fish cruised the banks. A setting we’d not seen before in our travels, but one we’d not soon forget. 

    We pulled up to a spot against a little islet, and baited up. William cast as directed, a beautiful long arc to a point of grassy bottom. 

    Your spastic correspondent haplessly flipped a bait half the distance. William’s cast brought in a nice speckled trout. 

    I got better, and soon it was a double hook-up on the target species: a couple nice little snook!


    Over the course of an awesome day of fishing interrupted only by an equally awesome lunch break in the air conditioning back on the El Dorado, we enjoyed Eric’s captaining and company, first-class on both counts. 

    After lunch, Eric quietly put us on a spot that had produced tournament-winning snook over the years. I connected with a whopper, and, after my demonstration of undeniable angling finesse, we boated what will probably be the biggest snook this boy ever catches. 


    Eric reminded me the trick we all use to make a fish look even bigger. 


    All good things must come to an end, and alas, this great trip was no exception. Eric took us back to clean our keepers: 5 trout and a puppy redfish. 


    We cleaned up the boat, and Eric gave us a driving tour of the banyan-and-palm-lined town of Boca Grande, manicured yet relaxed. Beautiful. He dropped us back at the marina where we’d shower and put fish on the grill. Captain Eric had impressed two new friends. 

    .     .     .   

    As the sun set over Miller’s, we walked around the dock and marveled at the day and the place. Our trip was exceeding even our lofty expectations. 



    (My sister snuck in a guest appearance!)

    Moon rising over Miller’s will serve as our so-long for now. Until next time…


    Cap’n Sparky, out!

    Apalachicola 


    William and I passed under the Dog River Bridge at 7:00 a.m. Sunday, not to return for some time, and headed south down Mobile Bay, out Bon Secour, and then out Perdido Pass at Orange Beach and into the Gulf. Naturally, the forecast cooperated, offering light winds out of the northwest, perfect for our southeasterly trek to Apalachicola. 

    Once outside, we put our waypoint on the nose and pushed up the throttles, settling out at what felt like an easy 24 knots. The boat slid forward off the faces of a gently following swell. 


    I’d forgotten the time change to Eastern until we got close. Once in cell range, I called Scipio Creek Marina, to make sure the fuel dock would be open on our arrival, which would be around 5:15 p.m. local time. Refueling tonight would be the key to an early start Monday–essential, in turn, to making Boca Grande by nightfall Monday. Our dock master most gleefully informed me that he’d already run out of diesel for the day! I scrambled to find another marina even open at this time–such a possibility hadn’t even occurred to me. 

    Praise be to Allah, a true gentleman on the fuel dock at Apalachicola Marina told me by phone that he’d wait for me, as it was by then after his quitting time. Whew! This was a trip saver I never even guessed I’d need. Upon topping off, I most gleefully presented him with a generous gratuity! Had Kim been with me, there’d be a great photo of that magical moment. 

    .     .     .

    The gentle tailwind of midday had become a westerly gale by evening. We were glad to be moored for the day. Our original plan to take our friend Cameron fishing was now suspect. We opted instead for a hot shower, a cold beverage, and a good meal. Cameron concurred with the change of plans, and took us to a great local brewpub, where we ate local oysters, and some sampled local brews. It was not the dive pictured below– we just liked the sign. We didn’t go in, I swear. 


    .     .     .

    Cameron and William, closer in age to one another than either is to me, were fast buddies. A marine biologist studying gulf coast scallops, Cameron makes a friend wherever she goes. After dinner, she and William exchanged fishing and life observations as William conducted a lesson in topwater at twilight. A few redfish exploded, none committed the ultimate sacrifice. 


    We exchanged farewells, saw her off, and hit the hay, as Monday would be a big day. 

    May Madness!

    Chandeleur was the El Dorado’s shakedown cruise. Having passed with an ‘A’, she’d be ready for the big trip–Bahamas, Keys, Cuba. I told you I’d been scheming. It was the trip I would dub May Madness. A trip worthy of its own commemorative apparel:


    Yes, we would be taking it to a whole new level. William and I would take the boat down Florida’s west coast. We’d stop along the way, visit friends, and fish (duh). We’d  cross the state on the Okeechobee Waterway, winding up in West Palm Beach. Friends would meet us there and we’d blast off to the Bahamas’ Elbow Cay, for a week of billfishing and other high jinks (I’ve not caught a marlin while fishing out of Mobile, I figured it was high time I not catch a marlin somewhere else).

    We’d change crews in Miami, and meet Kim, Avery, and Kate for a week in Key West. Then, Kim and I would take the El Dorado down to Havana for a couple nights, while the kids flew on to where they belonged. In the end, a new Mobile crew would help me get the boat back home. 

    We’d snorkel, we’d fish. We’d have umbrellas in our drinks. (Actually, no.) I’d be gone a month. Once I dared to plan it, I couldn’t wait to do it. 

    “That’s a pretty big bite’cha got there, Cap’n Sparks–you think you can chew it?” Asked Lady Kiko. 

    “Watch me,” was my reply. 

    .    .    .

    And so, Welcome Aboard! 

    .     .     .

    After a hugs and kisses from dear Kimmie, and the tearful goodbye, William and I left the dock at Scout’s Landing at 6:30 Sunday morning, headed to Apalachicola. We hoped to make it there by late afternoon, with enough day left to try a little trout fishing with our friend Cameron Baxley, a marine biologist there.




    Fixed against the El Dorado’s transom, you may notice her tender, lovingly christened the Frito Bandito, an inflatable with aluminum hull and 15-HP outboard. The Bandito would scoot us around harbor and reef. 
    .     .     .

    See you in Florida!

    Chandeleur 

    It’s been a while since last we spoke. There’ve been no tales of travels to tell–just scheming on upcoming adventures to commence soon: stay tuned. But wanting to offer something in the meantime, I’m going to put this blog at risk of being mistaken for a hunting and fishing channel with this post (and previous). I offer no apologies though, as the trip I just made to Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands with my cousins John Sheldon and Michael Schulz, and good friend Marshall Shields, is worthy of these pages. Though Kim has made the trip to Chandeleur in the past, she left this one to the boys. 

    The El Dorado would be our home for the three-day mission. Berths for the four of us, shower, galley, plus a smoker in the cockpit–we’d be set!

    We’d given ourselves a five-day weather window in the third week of April, which can be a squirrelly month. As the dates were upon us, we picked Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from our window based on the forecast. Which made us look smarter and smarter as the trip progressed. 

    . . .

    We left Dog River at sunrise, and would rendezvous with Marshall at 0700 hours. Military time for this naval operation! He was to be in his bay boat just west of the Dauphin Island bridge, awaiting our approach. All went according to plan. 


    We bridled up the Blackjack and John made sure she tracked. After a small adjustment, we were off–a light breeze from the east would push us along our way. What genius came up with this weather plan?!


    Above: under power!

    We made anchor in Smack Channel, in the protected waters between Chandeleur and the New Harbor Islands, and took stock of our surroundings: mangrove and sand and salt-marsh, open water over grassy bottoms, with occasional sandy patches. Shore birds of all species, frigate birds overhead–a magical island environment rising out of the open Gulf of Mexico, 30 miles from the nearest shore.  The aerial shot below will give you an idea. 

    At last, the El Dorado lay peacefully at anchor in the southeast breeze. Following first-class lunch and satisfactory bull-shooting, we set out on our quest for the hopefully not-too-elusive Speckled Trout, holy grail for those of us suffering the ravages of IAAD (Inshore Angler Affective Disorder).  I just couldn’t wait…oh lord–that’s a symptom. The ravages….

    Above: my crew. I deserve a medal. 

    . . . 

    Marshall and I drifted a grassy flat in a bay off the main island, while John and Michael waded, working a point in knee-deep water. Throwin’ plastic. Marshall picked up a nice 3-lb. trout right away. We’re on the board! Michael caught and released a bull red. But the bite was slow. 

    John had brought walkie-talkies. Maybe you’ll guess who’s who. 

    Tax Time, this is Blackjack, over!

    Go ahead Blackjack. 

    Cap’n Sparky sez we’re movin’ on. Grab Nicotine and we’ll pick y’all up. 

    Roger that! Tax Time out!

    We waded North Island, nothing. Time for a break back on the big boat, maybe even a nap. 

    . . .

    Somehow now it was 4:30 in the afternoon, and the decision was made: let’s see about Freemason. 

    Freemason is another island, off the south part of the Chandeleur chain, about 10nm SW of our anchorage. We headed that way in a breeze that was beginning to lay. 

    Anchoring on the island’s west end, we got out of the boat and proceeded to wade the south side. Right away Marshall connected with another 3-pounder. I shamelessly copied his bait and locality, and soon I was on, too. After putting 2 or 3 on my stringer, I switched to topwater.  I never looked back. 

    By sunset, I’d been able to assemble a nice mess of fish, standing in ankle-deep water against the backdrop captured in the photo above. The crushing beauty of the scene, the miracle of each speckled fish with its iridescent silver and flash of lavender, brought to mind two words: The Architect. For me, all afternoon, time stood still, and I was overcome with an awe and wonder that stuck with me the rest of the night. 

    We returned to the mother ship, put fresh trout and a chicken on the smoker, spinach soufflé and french bread in the oven, and debriefed the events of the day. After supper, we turned off every light, and read the stars against the curtain of black, moonless night. What more can one say?

    . . .

    Day 2 was much like Day 1. 


    More of ‘men’ acting like boys, more fish–more. When it was done, another great supper cooked and ingested, more stars, more bull-shooting. The occasional bull shot. Good night, brothers. 

    . . .

    Saturday morning, I came awake to the smell of coffee, just before 0500. Outside it was blowing from the south. I poured a cup, doctored it up, and went out to see what was what. Michael was already there on the deck, appraising the cracking dawn.

     We spoke in low tones while the others slept. The wind picked up, suggesting that the fishing might be over. By now, we’d caught some 100 specks, a couple reds, and a couple Spanish mackerel. And we’d kept all the big fish you could cram into a Cabo fish box, with just a little bit of room for ice. We didn’t need more. We’d inform the crew upon their arrival on deck that the order of the day was cleaning up: clean fish, clean cabin, clean skiff and all decks. Head north spic-and-span, while the weather held. ​

    Michael went inside and left me alone in my cockpit armchair. I hit play to hear a favorite Dylan tune on the stereo, then quickly switched it off: how could anything improve upon God’s music–gulls laughing, oystercatchers calling while dodging this way and that, in formation; the splash of a mullet, the slap of the skiff on the water, wind in the outriggers. 

    . . .

    Everyone now up and at ’em, I filleted two dozen fish, then retreated to the bridge while the rest of the catch and the boat somehow cleaned themselves, and the autopilot drove north for me. Happy (if unshaven) customers came up to join the captain. 


    We headed home, with, as by now you may have guessed, a gentle tailwind. We were geniuses!

    If every trip went like this one, I’d be on one now. 

    Until next time, may the wind be at your back, too. 

    Capt. Sparky…out!

    North Dakota

    (editor’s note: for this leg, I was without my photographer, as the story bears out. These photos will necessarily fall short of Kim’s high standard.)

    On a Friday morning, I put Kim on a United Airlines flight out of Billings, MT. Her final leg to Mobile would require two connections. As for me, I drove on alone towards Williston, ND. The stereo played only favorites. The scenery turned flat and arid. The expansive feeling of freedom that came from the wide open road competed with a nostalgia for times just ended, and days of yore. Times spent with my life-pal and soulmate, Kim. Melancholy won the day. The long and lonely road compounded my sense of solitude. I thought about the kids.

    I pulled over at a rest stop to stretch my legs. Apparently, my reputation had preceded me.

    img_10191

    I was to pick up a couple friends in Williston, and drive them to Crosby, ND, where we’d meet a couple more. The mission: 3 days of bird hunting in northwestern North Dakota—ducks and pheasants. The players: myself, friends Alec Bailey and Luckett Robinson (Luckett pictured in orange Elmer Fudd hat in previous post), Luckett’s college roommate Ed McGee (Ed also pictured in previous post, sporting ludicrous fur hat), and Kim’s cousin-in-law, Michael Klappa.

    The birds were either nervous, or speechless–never having seen our kind around those parts before, nor heard our twang….

    .     .     .

    In Williston a little early for my rendezvous, I stopped in for a quick visit with another pal and cousin-in-law, Brandon Delvo (son of the Montana Delvos we’d spent Thursday night with). Brandon was in an election home-stretch sprint, as a candidate for the North Dakota State House of Representatives. A busy man on the move, phone glued to ear. We met at the microbrewery across from Williston’s fabled El Rancho Motel. I wished him good luck—he would need it, running as a Democrat in what had become a solidly red corner of a now-red state. Way to keep ’em honest, Brandon!

    .     .      .

    At the Williston Walmart buying provisions for our trip, I won a $10 bet I’d previously made with Kim: you can buy okra in Williston, North Dakota! And buy I did, as I’d brought my gumbo pot. In it would hopefully go pheasants, ducks, and now, among other ingredients–okra!

    I picked up my crew and we drove on to Crosby. Aaron and his clan gave us a warm welcome.

    above (left to right): Michael Klappa, Aaron, Rider, and Race Jacobson.

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    above: Shelby Jacobson and yours truly.

    Below (left to right) Stephen Jacobson, Michael Klappa, DiAnn and Ron Jacobson, and me.img_10851

    Aaron had graciously provided maps of the area, showing where we could hunt. Alec and I blinded up behind cattails, between barbed wire and a pond, at sunrise Saturday. No decoys, only my lame calling.

    Alec came away with a mallard drake–not bad, considering we’d only considered that first morning a scouting mission.

    Cap’n Sparky bagged an old forgotten western saddle.

    Later, we would set out for pheasants, in the fields of cut wheat and adjacent thickets. Luckett’s dogs, Dixie and Roux, were eager to point up the birds.

    My somewhat lethal team was ready to do its part.

    In the days that followed, we chased ducks in the mornings, and pheasants in the afternoons. We cooked and we watched Bama football. We listened to Alec’s Boudreau jokes. We laughed, we carried on, and we ate like kings, including aunt DiAnn’s legendary pecan pies–the dessert that followed a rich, dark gumbo on the final night, as good as any I’ve made, even if it is me who has to say so.


    Mission accomplished, and in no small part thanks to Rider’s competent guiding abilities.

    Below: just before sunrise on our departure day, the photo an injustice to the panorama beyond the confines of the lens.

    A mere three days’ drive took me back home to Mobile. Looking back, it had felt a little strange to have spent so much time with my Mobile buddies, out on Kim’s mom’s (Marlys’) distant family farm, but without Kim, Marlys, or other family themselves around. At the same time, I knew in some way that I’d established my own deep connection to that beautiful place, with its spectacular dawns, golden fall days, blazing sunsets, and the comradery shared with my in-law cousins who took us in as their own, despite the funny way we talked.

    Oh yah, I guess we’re all done, then.