Just for a change of pace and a touch of crass commercialism, I've decided that in the third blog of each month, I'd run some chapters from my book The Rednak Chronicles. These "samplers' won't appear in book order or preference since I loved them all when I wrote them . . . . and still do. Enjoy!
Captain Alce: “Ah, The Fishin’ Life!”
Working in the marina and living at the end of the road on coastal South Carolina in the mid-seventies proved to be one of the happiest periods of my life. This was country my ancestors had lived and played in after Milo and Harmo came to America over a hundred years earlier. Harmo had first settled across St. Helena’s Sound. Rednaks were well known in these parts.
When I came to the island to build the marina and ship store I had already obtained a boat Captain’s six pack license. Once there, I bought a 22 foot center console fishing boat with twin 115 Evinrudes, outfitted it for fishing and started taking charters at the beginning of that summer.
I was pretty experienced and got to know what worked and what didn’t rapidly. At the time (early 1970’s) fish were abundant both near shore and offshore during the warm months and inshore and in the backcountry, fish were plentiful during the winter months. Reef fish were also plentiful during the cooler months drawn to the state’s artificial reefs strung along the 6 to 10 fathom line roughly five miles out from Little River in the north to Hilton Head at the south.
The island was a resort in addition to being the vacation home location of about a hundred families. We had a 60 room motel with pool, restaurant and beach view bar and a championship golf course. It was only fitting that those with boats and those interested in fishing have a facility to accommodate that interest, even though it was somewhat cobbled together. The marina store with its gas pumps, launch ramp, floating docks and an ample tiki-hut style pavilion for cookouts was a major draw for island residents and many visitors as well. The charter business took off that first season and a “no fish- no pay” policy was especially popular. Never got skunked thanks to nature’s bounty and the smile of Neptune on my fishing fortunes. There were many memorable trips and some were unusual enough to remain clearly within my recollection to this day.
One such trip was a couple from upstate. Highlanders, we sometimes called them. They came to the marina and he did all the talking. Constantly deferring to his wife and the good time he wanted her to have. She on the other hand, looked like a doe caught in headlights as we discussed the fish catching possibilities, the probable sea conditions and the length of the trip. The husband was a genuine outdoors type but he had never done anything outdoors with his wife but carry groceries. He was tanned and excited. She was pale white and had little to say about anything, especially this wonderful fishing trip her husband thought was so important to their life’s experience together.
I learned, early on, that you had to be careful to explain to everyone certain aspects of the charter in detail, so that there would be no surprises but, pleasant ones. One important aspect was, because the boat was small, there was no bathroom - - -except overboard. The most important thing about the trip was the beginning. Here special emphasis was necessary to ensure that the customer understood what to expect.
A sandbar had developed across our small inlet. It was about three feet deep on the bar at low tide. But the Atlantic Ocean along this part of the Carolina coast ran an average tide fall of six and a half feet, so - - - incoming waves building on the rising bottom of the sand bar looked awesome to the unpracticed eye. Hell, they looked awesome to the practiced eye when the wind was blowing onshore and the tide was running out! But, there was a technique where waves would chain up and the tops would not break - - between three and four in a row. Timing was crucial, because once you made the first grounder, you had to firewall the throttles to get up the face of the next one, being careful to pull off the power as the boat, bow up in the air, crested the wave top. When the timing was right, the boat fell gently off the wave crest. If the timing was a little late, the boat slammed down and scared the be-jesus out of the novices on board. Three waves - sometimes four- and you were clear. A mile out and you could start looking for birds and schooled fish in thirty feet of water.
It was decided that we would take an afternoon trip and catch the tide so that it would be high when we returned, thus assuring a smooth ride in and only one “adventure” ride in the beginning. The wife was charged with bringing lunch which she would order from the Inn’s kitchen. I of course, was looking forward to that!
They showed up at the appointed hour. She was toting what appeared to be a fifty pound beach bag. She was wearing a large floppy hat, a terry cloth jacket and flip flops. He had on the obligatory L.L. Bean ball hat and a fishing shirt with eight pockets - - - I had never seen anything like it! The wife seemed to be in much better spirits. She was quick to show me the sun block I recommended. And she let me know immediately that just like I said she had taken Dramamine an hour before. I was thinking that she probably had taken Dramamine two and three hours before, also.
We loaded some drinks, I showed them the locker with the life jackets under their feet and they sat down on the padded bench seat right in front of my center console. The wife refused my offer to stow the giant beach bag and she pulled it between her legs. As we idled down the creek from the marina I went over the sandbar run, the way we would fish, and what we would likely find today. The husband would turn around giving me a “thumbs up” as I made each point and she would just shake her head in affirmation without showing her face.
We came out of the creek inlet, I slowed to an idle and began to watch the wave series. When I got the set I wanted I said “Here we go! And slammed the throttles forward. In 10 seconds we’d crossed the first wave without incident or spray. I jammed the throttles again and could see the wife reach for her husband’s arm. Distracted I was a little slow pulling off the throttles and we slammed down hard off the top of the third wave. No time to tarry, throttles on again and we caught a breaker as we settled off the third wave, getting us covered in salt spray in the process. The husband gave out a “Whoopie!” and turned to me with the affirming thumbs up. We were clear of the ground waves now and when I looked forward the wife turned to me wild eyed as a demon. She stood up - - - lifted the beach bag in a graceful movement, swinging its contents back like a golf swing in slow motion and coming forward with the power stroke of the swing she hit her husband in the chest with the bag, dropping him to his knees. At that moment I wanted to say, “I think I’ll have one of those sandwiches now before we start to fish.” Her big round sunglasses were half off her face. The husband’s L.L. Bean hat was on the deck and his Ray Bans were hanging on one ear. The wife was cussing and screaming and she began to throw whatever she could grab in the bag. I tried vainly to snatch a sandwich from her grasp. And I missed the next one overboard that she intentionally threw at me.
The one woman melee seemed to go on for fifteen minutes but I’m sure that it was only three or four. The last scream was a hoarse demand to “take her in.” which I interpreted correctly to mean that this charter was over. The husband couldn’t look at me and the wife looked at me from the deck where she now sat crossed legged clinging to the grab rail of the console. Her possessed expression changed to a lock jawed squint.
I figured expediency was the better of valor, so I pulled out all the stops and barely hit the wave tops until we entered the inlet creek. Both of my customers were in shock it appeared because I don’t think they knew where we were until I tied up at the dock. One of my dock boys came out to help unload and commented that we sure came back in a hurry. I tried to wave him away but he didn’t pay any attention. The wife was out quickly and as she marched up the dock she turned and said half under her breath, “You Son-of-a-Bitch!!” I didn’t know if she was referring to me or him.
The husband climbed out of the boat and without a word shuffled after the wife up the dock gangway and out to the car. I was still thinking’ about a sandwich and also about the charter fee I’d lost without ever wetting a line!
# # # #
I figured I wouldn’t say a word until those folks were off the island in that I didn’t want someone running their mouth in the bar and by chance embarrassing the guests - - - - and yes, me too!
The next morning I was at the store at daylight and the first customer was the charter husband who pulled up to the gas pump out front. He was by himself and got out immediately, headed for the store. I braced myself for what I didn’t know.
“I came to apologize”, he said. “That entire fiasco was my fault. My wife wants to apologize too, so she sent me with a sandwich from the Inn, a tip and the charter fee that you earned every penny of.”
I was speechless and said thanks, being sure to take the sandwich before it got away again!
The Rednak Chronicles is available on Amazon and can be purchased in paperback or the Kindle format.
To purchase the book follow this link,click here