We left the dock just before sunup. It was warm and the winds were mostly calm. Everything was quiet. All there was to hear were the sounds of an early morning summer breeze and the seawater moving through the back canals. The reports from offshore said the seas were somewhere between 2’ and 3’ rollers, which is fine. Soon enough, with all aboard, we prepared to move slowly through the “No wake” zone. I started the engines and one of the crew untied the ropes around the cleats.
I loved it this way. When it’s quiet, I mean. The only people around are the people heading offshore. The marina was empty and all was quiet. I loved the sound my engines made and the vibration that I felt beneath my feet while standing at the wheel. She was mine, alright. She was all mine.
Once I pulled out in the quiet darkness, we shoved off to make our way past the other marinas. Most of the boats sat dormant in their slips. Most of them pleasure boats. Some were small fishing boats and some were larger. Either way, they were all tied up like floating horses, bobbing atop the rippling waters and asleep in their stables as they wait for sunrise.
But not us. The name of my vessel was the O. Sea D. She was propelled by twin horses. I was pushed by twin 220 horse-powered diesel engines, fully fueled, bait in the box, chum in the buckets and a destination of an estimated 42 nautical miles south of the Jones Beach Inlet.
First light began to make its appearance. She is a pretty sun on mornings like this. I could see her coming as we made our way to the Loop Parkway Bridge. The drawbridge only opened at certain times, which meant we had to plan our exit and return according to the bridge keeper’s schedule.
My boat was a 31-footer. She was a Stamas Express with a tuna tower and outriggers that reached just over 26’ in height. With antennas and all, this meant I would need a bridge opening; otherwise, the tips of my antennas and outriggers would hit the bottom of the drawbridge. Plus, I have to admit, there was something about calling ahead to the Loop Bridge. I loved calling for an opening. It was a good thing to feel. I called out to the operator to explain which side I would approach from. Then I could see the lights flashing and the wooden arms go down in front of the road to stop traffic. The bridge opened slowly and then I moved through slowly. I swear this was incredible.
I have seen the sunrise before but I have never seen a sunrise like the ones I saw before moving through the bridge and heading out through the inlet. I tell you it was magical. I tell you this was emotional to me. It was beautiful to say the least. It was a victory to find me here, behind the wheel of my own little ship and heading out to an offshore destination. There were times when the view was so beautiful that my eyes teared. God, I loved it here.
Once we broke the inlet, then it was just the long haul in an open sea. No one else was around. There was just us, the boat, the birds in the sky and the new morning sun.
I would go into a trance during the trip. I would phase out and think of nothing but feel so at home and in place.
Meanwhile, the others were gathering the rods and readying the bait and chum buckets. They prepared the flats of mackerel. They tied the lines and prepared the hooks. I faced the ocean to watch the bow knife through the waves, while behind me, land diminished in size. In fact, everything diminished in size. So did we.
Behind me, all the problems I thought about, all the struggles I felt, all the stress, all the worry and all the arguments that plagued me were gone and forgotten. Ahead of me was a place called the Virginia Wreck. This is where we would find ourselves. This is where we would begin our drift and set up the chum slick. Once everything was ready and in place, no one ever says much during the trip. Most times, everyone just watches the water. We watch the sea and watch the land disappear behind us.
We pass the closer wrecks and fishing spots where other boats drift and drop their lines down with hopes for a big summer flounder or sea bass, which is fine with me. Trips like this are fun too. But we had bigger fish in mind. We were shark fishing. And me, I love to fish for shark.
I love the drift. I love the rods we placed in the rod holders. I loved the large body of the big brass reels and the shiny reflection from the sun. I love the sound when the drag pulls out. I love when the reels scream because this means we have a fish on. And man, when they scream, I mean the reels scream!
There is nothing out here. No cell phone service. No interference. No social media, no desks to keep us working, no bosses (except for the captain) and no reason for any of the above. All there is was us in a small vessel, drifting across the deep blue sea and realizing how amazingly small we really are. The world is such a big place. And the ocean, she is a deep thinker. She knows more than she says. In fact, she says nothing but in a way (I swear!) she tells me everything.
God, I love it out there. I love the feel of the summer sun on my face. It warms me. It warms my skin as well as my heart.
I have a dream sometimes of me on my way out to the Hudson Canyon. I see me in a wheelhouse of my ship with throttles forward and ahead. Gulls flying in the sky and me, I am at my best here.
I am at my best because The Old Man is here.
At least he is to me.
I swear, somewhere, The Old Man is captaining his own ship, heading out to the deep grounds where the water is deep and blue. The fish are biting and The Old Man is smiling.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my Father smile.
I think this is why I miss my offshore trips most.
It feels like he is with me when I’m there.
I keep a visualization of the next boat, which I hope to have someday. I close my eyes sometimes. I breathe in and I relax. I see myself here, out at sea, where the world is quiet and the ocean, she doesn’t say much, but I swear, she tells me everything.
All I have to do is listen.
See you soon, Pop!