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The Salty Life

The Salty Life

There’s Something About Fishing


Or…How A Mullet Becomes A Grander

By Capt. Ken Kreisler

Unlike most fish stories, this one is absolutely true.

As a lead for an article on a new sportfishing boat, I quoted the venerable Sir Izaak Walton (1593-1683):“I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing.” Sir Izaak, whose classic The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653, is considered to be a mainstay in any serious fisherman’s library should that person want to be thought about, well, as a serious fisherman. Or so they will tell you. “The Compleat Angler? Oh sure. Sure I have it. Great book! Great!”

This brings me to the point. What is it about fishing that makes exaggeration, hyperbole, and embellishment—one word would have sufficed, yes?—come so naturally? For those of us Alpha Male, chest thumping, barnyard strutting roosters, who still retain our hunter/gatherer genes—or pretend to—it’s most likely a way to make up for failing to bring home the bacon in front of our brethren Alpha Male, chest thumping, barnyard strutting roosters.

To examine this phenomenon in the wild, I, under the convenient guise of marine journalist, booked myself aboard the aforementioned sportfishing boat during a recent angling showdown between two fine boat builders.

The event, an ongoing 10 year, two-fishing-day-weather-permitting offshore adventure promotes amiable competition between the boats and crews. This year’s drew 70 decked-out-to-the-nines vessels ranging in size from 48 to 72 feet. And before I put my spin on the day’s events, let me say this: The crew I fished with was comprised of some of the nicest, most sincere folks I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a day offshore with. But there’s something about fishing.

All right, so let’s start with the fish. They’re dumb. There’s not too much there friends. I mean, after all these thousands of years of being caught, you’d think by now they’d have it figured out. But no, you wiggle a worm in front of them or drag a dead fish for miles, and they take the bait. Artificials included!  Oh sure, sharks are at the top of the finny food chain but hey, they haven’t changed in 300 million years. Didn’t have to. That walnut size brain has two basic functions: Eat and make more sharks. Dolphins–of the mammalian Delphinidae and not the the fishy Coryphaena hippurus–are a different story. As stated, they’re not fish. Catch my drift here? But I digress.

So there we are, heading out at some ungodly hour of the morning—say, what’s with that 4 a.m. stuff anyway?—on a many multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art vessel, whose powerful diesel engines suck up the fuel at an alarming rate to get us many miles offshore to, catch fish. There are 13 souls aboard my boat and during the next 18 hours, I will get to interact, observe, and share this watery experience with them.  

The mate, a stoic chap whom I will refer to as Mr. Quiet for this narrative, has a plug of chewing tobacco neatly tucked into each cheek, making him look a little well, chipmunky. In the early morning light he is preparing our baits, tying lines, and doing all those matey things mates do. He has a tattoo of a billfish on the calf of his right, uh I mean starboard leg. Yo ho ho.

Our captain, a.k.a. Our Captain, I’ve met before and while I have never fished with him, recognize from my own captaining experiences that he knows his stuff. We captains have our ways. The Force is with us. Comes with the territory. Alpha Male. No doubt. Big Guy—there’s always one on board—The Kid, Invisible Man, Dude, The Boss, Mate Too, Mate Also, The Others, and finally Me, make up the rest of the crew. 

The GPS tells us we’ve arrived and we see bait fish jumping because a whole lot of something-biggers are chasing them. And there are birds circling, wheeling, and diving into the water to pick up the leavings of those jumping baitfish that are being chopped to pieces by those something-biggers chasing them. All good signs. But we’ve had our many thousands of dollars worth of electronics turned on for hours anyway to come to that same conclusion: There are fish here. Brilliant. See how this works?

Mr. Quiet, Mate Too, and Mate Also get our eight lines out; three each on a pair of massive outriggers and two from either side of the cockpit’s requisite beautifully varnished fighting chair. There’s some hand clapping from Big Guy and a nod of approval from Invisible Man before he finds a bunk below and goes back to sleep. A few of The Others apply sunscreen. Lock and load. The radio crackles with the news that other boats have already hooked up. And so it begins. I mean the chances of hooking up so fast are as good as finding one natural ingredient in Cheez Whiz.

It takes us almost an hour and a half to get a hit. Mate Also grabs the rod and gives it to The Kid while Big Guy slips a fighting belt on him. “Wind. Now pump. Wind. Pump. Dip. Wind. Pump,” he is told. He falters, missing the cadence. Dipping when he should be winding. Pumping instead of dipping. The rod tip suddenly points skyward. Gone. But for the drone of the engines, silence reigns. While the stories of other dropped fish begin to surface, Me decides it’s time to begin grazing through the ship’s stores in the galley.

About half an hour later we see a blue marlin surface, swipe at one of the baits and disappear. “A buck and a half,” someone says. That means 150 pounds. I couldn’t tell though. Only momentarily glimpsed the fish’s bill and part of its head. By the time I finished a fistful of chocolate chip cookies, that marlin had beefed up to 200 pounds. “A deuce at least.”

Two on. A small tuna surfaces and throws the hook. The other stays around to tussle with Big Guy and winds up popping the line. Never did get a look at it. Then come the stories. “Like I felt, BAM! A hit on the line. Like it wasn’t that fish on the line. Know what I mean?” he laments. I’m getting interested in those gummy bears I spied during one of my forages. Another hit. Oops. “That’s quality sushi right there,” Dude chimes in. Where? It’s gone. Never got one wind on the reel. Is this getting any clearer? Another hit. Another drop.

“And we did the Ho-Ho-Hee on that right rigger too,” chortles one of The Others. Unbeknownst to anyone, I had secretly let out some extra line on that right rigger. Ho-Ho-Hee.

In desperation out comes Suzie Rockets a.k.a. the Jiggin Piggy; a good luck charm whose swiny-physiognomied, hula-skirted, suctioned-cupped, bobble-headed presence is quickly secured to the port side arm of the chair and is sure to change our luck. The only thing we raise is a moustache on one of our dead mackerel baits. Meaning we picked up some weeds on the line.  

By the time it’s lines up, the tally is Fish 8, Humans 0. A few minutes before the official end of the day, the radio crackles to life: “Boat 32, fish on. Boat 17, hooked up. Boat…” Amazing how that happens during the final seconds. Cheez Whiz anyone?

The ride back to terra firma is filled with other fishing stories from Cancun to Walker’s; from both sides of the Panama Canal and everywhere in between. And they are good stories, which like now have been taken out again and again and told with a smile that pleases everyone and are meant for nothing more than enjoyment. Which is the way it should be. 

And as for losing those fish, well let me just quote the venerable Sir Izaak again: “No man can lose what he never had.” Enough said. Fair winds shipmates.

If you have a favorite fishing story for THE SALTY LIFE, send it on in. If it’s good enough for posting, I’ll send you two dozen of my world-famous, hand-made chocolate chip cookies. Promise. Just let me know if you have any food allergies such as those associated with nuts and I’ll avoid loading them up with walnut, pecan, or macadamia. You’re gonna love ’em!- Cap’n. Ken

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in The Salty Life

 

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The Salty Life

The Salty Life

Maybe The Filthiest Engine Room Ever

dirty-old-engine

By Capt. Ken Kreisler

I found this unattributed quote on the Internet: “I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don’t have any clean laundry, because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life?” Indulge me here dear readers, as I flex some wordsmithing chops and try to explain how this fits in with the title of this installment of THE SALTY LIFE.

While musing one day, as I am often inclined to do, on how I got to travel on this life’s watery journey, and for whatever reason things like this happen, this particular time out I had a most peculiar thought; no, it was more like an image. Actually it was a complete sensory experience that while involving all of the senses had in fact isolated and excited the neural synapses of my olfactory and optical memories. Smell and sight shipmates; a little deep-gray-matter tap on the shoulder that asked, “Hey, remember this buddy?”

Now, allow me some leeway here in laying out the foundation for this essay. I promise you, I will try to make it an entertaining read which hopefully, will begin to materialize in your own consciousness and perhaps unfold your own similar memories as the words line themselves up and the images appear in the narrative. Peeling the proverbial onion as it were.

For those of you who have been following some of my past writings, you know I was born and raised on the inner city streets and in the environs of that most fabled of New York City boroughs known as Brooklyn, and for most of my growing up years, made a weekly family pilgrimage, usually on Sundays, to the Sheepshead Bay area where both my maternal and paternal grandparents resided. The mornings were spent with my father’s parents while the afternoons were set aside for mom’s kith and kin. For those of you who don’t know this, well, now you do and are up to speed with everybody else. And so, I take up again.

In those days, the stretch of waterfront along Emmons Avenue was still a bona fide fishing village and not the over developed neighborhood it is today. I clearly remember it, sans the Roll N Roaster’s, RB’s, and any of a number of ‘those kinds of places’ that now dot its length. In my youthful days, it was the original Randazzo’s Clam Bar—yes, with the hot sauce, please—and of course the not-so-sublimely iconic and Spanish Colonial revival-inspired building on the corner of Emmons and Ocean Avenues, that was an anthem, nay, a holy of holies shrine to some of the finest sea food found anywhere; that being the fabulous and wondrous Lundy Brothers.

It was said that in its heyday, the cavernous restaurant, always bustling with the noise of its waiters in constant motion, rushing here and there, huge trays of food, stacked skyscraper-high and held up in the air, seemingly and miraculously defying the laws of gravity and balanced on one hand, as they threaded their way through the always packed room, served as many as 2,800 meals per day.  Also once known as the largest eatery in the United States, local urban legend has it that on one particular Mother’s Day, its kitchen and staff served some 15,000 meals by the time the doors closed late that evening and the lights went out behind the beautiful leaded glass windows. The huckleberry pie, the biscuits, the incredible raw bar where I watched in utter amazement as shuckers, their fingertips and the inside of their thumbs wrapped with white tape, opened and served up many a plateful of Littleneck clams in seconds, complete with lemon wedge, little fork, and a packet of those round, salty crackers; the incredible Shore Dinner, the whole Gestalt of the thing was truly, the stuff that legends are made of.

Sadly, like so many other things, the restaurant is gone. The landmark building is now subdivided into separate stores. Even the head boat fishing fleet across the street that ran along the waterfront, at one time one of the most prestigious and hardy found anywhere, and where things started for me, has shrunk to a mere shell of its former self.

The once proud line up, many of the them refurbished WWII U.S. Navy vessels, sometimes tied up three to a pier and stern to bow, their jaunty and salty mates with faces, arms, and necks wind and sunburned, the white outlines of their sunglasses clearly visible around their eyes and across the bridges of their noses on their five o’clock stubbled faces, suitably garbed in rubber boots and either yellow or black rubber bib overalls, perhaps one shoulder strap hanging rakishly loose from one arm, and out on the concrete walk, hawking and urging you aboard for a day’s fishing, are for the most part gone now, replaced by a cadre of dinner cruise boats.

But back then, in those halcyon days, it was one of the most exciting things in my life and I looked forward to going down there each Sunday afternoon, first as a young boy with my grandfathers, and then on my own when I got older. Hang in there, we’re getting real close now.

I remember always trying to be there about three o’clock in the afternoon when the boats came back, their horns blaring, announcing their return with fish, soon to be laid out for sale on the sidewalk in wooden crates packed with ice. They had names like Dorothy B, Grace, Brooklyn, Rainbow, Ranger, Wahoo, Eagle, Sea Wolf, Rocket, Amberjack, and many others. And then there was the Carrie D II and her skipper Capt. Sal Dragonette.

How I had first come to go fishing on her, and then wind up as an occasional mate, splitting my time aboard with mostly working as a yard snipe at the nearby Schatz Brothers Marina during one summer off from my junior year in high school, is a fairly messy mélange of memories and foggy recollections. But I do remember being hawked aboard one early morning back then for a day of drifting for fluke as I strolled the quay front with a friend of mine, our fishing rods seated with Penn 60 reels swinging from one hand, a small duffel held in the other containing extra sweatshirts, hooks, sinkers, a 100-yard spool of monofilament line, a couple of bottles of Hires root beer soda—one rolled up in the sweatshirt so as not to break against the other—a package of Hostess chocolate cupcakes—you know, the ones with the white squiggle across the chocolate fudge top, often a pb&j sandwich, and usually a piece or three of some chicken of sorts wrapped in tin foil and placed in a brown paper bag along with some candy and a couple of Tootsie Roll pops. Unlike today’s disappointing confection, back then there was still a fair amount of Tootsie in the pop. I digress.

“Five bucks a piece, ten for the two of you.” We got a wink and a smile from the wind- and salt-weathered mate, and I noticed the odor of fish and something else emanating from him even though he stood a good distance away from us. “Two spots left. Whaddya say, fellas?”

She was an old wood tub, painted with some kind of orangey-brown color on the trim with what still passed as a white hull and superstructure, given the rust stains and whatever else tinted her exterior. She had her pilothouse way aft and a very long foredeck, where on port and starboard sides most of the fishermen had already staked out their territories. There was some kind of boom apparatus forward that I assumed worked back when she did whatever it was she did before being put into head boat service only to find out later that it was a steadying sail. Whatever. I’m sure it didn’t work now either. I had already seen the movie version of The African Queen and by the looks of what I had paid my hard-earned five bucks to go fishing on, the Carrie D II could have been that vessel’s grandmother. But my friend and I could care less. We were going out to sea on a warm early summer’s day, to go fishing, and that was all we were thinking about when I heard a voice coming from the open forward windows of the pilothouse.

“Okay, let’s get it out of here,” it said, raspy, gruff, croaky, thick and husky, a disembodied and bellowing declaration from inside that pilothouse. Our captain, like Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick, was unseen so far but yet whose presence, I now sensed, pervaded every bit of the boat. What had I gotten myself into here for five bucks a piece, two for ten?

“Get them lines off…an’ watch you don’t let ‘em drop in the water like you did last time, you knucklehead. Almos’ caught a wheel, fer Chrissakes.” And then the boat shook, making some kind of rumbling noise as if it were a great beast being rudely awakened from a seasonal sleep and now in a most foul mood and undoubtedly, quite hungry.

Thick black smoke coughed and belched from her exhaust ports as the mate skipped fore and aft, slipping and flipping the lines from the port side and up on the pier, each one of them landing with a soft thwacking sound and heralding the signal of one blast of the boat’s horn indicating all lines were off. The craft was quickly enveloped in smoke, what with the wind softly blowing from stern to bow as I now clearly recognized the aforementioned fragrance complementing the mate’s fishy odor. Lube oil and diesel fuel. Unmistakably a burned and acrid variety of Eau d’#4 Home Heating.

We started to slip down the pier as three more blasts of the horn were sounded—engines in reverse, but you knew that, right?—and by the time we had cleared the end and our phantom skipper had swung the bow to starboard and picked up the channel markers indicating the preferred narrow passage seaward through the bay, its outer sides dotted with many mooring balls, the breeze, now on our port, carried our smoke and scent landward from whence we came. As we turned the corner of the bay and headed for the buoys that would take us across the Coney Island flats and out to the fishing grounds on the edge of the Ambrose Channel shipping lanes, I noticed the trail of the now dark-gray smoke we were leaving behind.

Fishing was good that day with every long drift producing a flurry of activity for those with the right touch and feel even though, and more than once, someone managed to get themselves all tangled up resulting in a series of salty epithets delivered in various languages and dialects. Two got seasick, most likely from the pervasive exhaust smell as the sea conditions were barely noticeable, and were most emphatic is consigning verbal wills to their friends, adding several addendas at various times during their explosive episodes of mal de mer.

It was almost time to head back to the barn when I noticed the door on the port side of the pilothouse opening and out stepped Capt. Sal for what I was sure was the first time. He seemed as wide as he was tall with a red-flushed round face littered with a two-day stubble, a headful of wild hair, and big, meaty hands. I had to look back and forth between him and the pilothouse while trying to judge his girth with that of what I perceived was the interior dimensions of his inner sanctum. I had a most disturbing thought then: There was no head—a nautical bathroom for those not in the know—that could not have had any chance of even remotely fitting in there. Armed with that information, it was no wonder I quickly willed not going any further with that notion and instead, put that part of my mind under lock and key but not before I just managed to imagine the fleeting image of a five gallon bucket. Like not wanting to look at a train wreck…well, you know the rest.

He hitched up his tan khaki pants, and adjusted the tan khaki web belt that hung way below his ample stomach; the cinch that seemed to help prevent said gut from hanging to his knees, and tried to tuck in the back of his khaki shirt. He then gave a shrug of his shoulders, as if the whole ritual was a big waste of time. On his feet he wore some kind of bone-colored, paint spotted and oil-stained, and much worn boat shoes. Capt. Sal, I gathered, was an earth-toned kind of guy.

“How we doin’there, boys?” he croaked to some of the guys fishing at the rail as he flipped the butt of a cigarette up, out, and into the water and promptly lit another one. Not waiting for an answer, he waddled aft, totally at ease with the gentle roll of the drifting boat, looking at each fisherman’s catch, sometimes nodding and other times not until finally reaching a point on the other side of the boat just opposite where my friend and I had been fishing all day. And we knew where the head was.

“Hey,” I heard him say, after which he gave a quick, wet sounding cough and promptly took a big drag on his cigarette.

I didn’t know the mate’s name was Hey; I thought it was Dave or something like that. But he answered, “Yeah Cap?” as he made his way forward after netting a fish for someone near the stern.

“Go on down there an’ check the earl, will ya. I’ll be kicken’ them over and this’ll be the last drift.  It’s almost time. Hiyadoin there boys?” he said to me as I looked over to where Hey had now joined him.

“Got some nice fish,” I said as my friend brought up a very big sea robin, swung it up over the rail and plopped it down on the deck. The hook came out fairly easily and he stood up and was about to throw it back overboard.

“Don’t be trowin’ dem big ones like dat back in. I got some Portogeese guys taken ‘em,” he said.

“What?” I think my friend said as the fish wriggled and slipped out of his hands and splashed into the water.

“Fer Crissakes,” Capt. Sal said as he shook his head towards the deck, the cigarette now dangling from his mouth. “Ah, what the hell. Go on now, check that earl so’s we can wrap this up,” he said to Hey and, brushing past him, made his way aft, down the starboard side to the other door that led to the pilothouse and in he went. A moment later, a cigarette butt launched itself out of one of the side windows and I had no doubt, another was promptly lit up.

As Hey emerged from the depths of what I gathered was the engine room, wiping his hands on an oil-stained rag, and looking towards the pilothouse, he gave a thumbs up sign after which came three quick toots of the horn signaling all lines up. The Carrie D II, heretofore under the influence of the somewhat hypnotic and low decibel rumble and vibration of the generator, constantly emitting its own noxious fumes from a hull vent, suddenly reverberated with the sound and shuddering of the main engines. First one, then the other, and then the billowing black smoke.

There was some sort of announcement that came over what passed for an amplified sound system aboard, but with the hanging rusted speaker secured by some piano wire and duct tape to keep it from dangling and banging off the side of the pilothouse from the lamp wire that snaked its way out of a disastrously drilled-out hole there, the words and message were wholly unintelligible.

“Pool fish in the stern,” heralded Hey, acting as interpreter for the other-worldly, public address, static-laden communication as he made the rounds of the deck. “I clean the fish too, for fifty cents each.” By the time we docked, the trail of dark gray smoke that had been following us around finally dissipated into the late afternoon sky.

I think by now I’ve painted a pretty clear picture of what kind of boat the Carrie D II was and how she was an unfortunate reflection of her skipper. I would imagine that in her hey day, those first few years after her launch, she was a pretty tidy craft. And while my friend and I continued to fish on her—that five buck a piece/two for ten deal to a pair of soon-to-be high school seniors suited us just fine—and even managed to win a pool or two, I would not realize the full extent of what I had only imagined was below decks until one mid-summer trip. Just as I was about to get off, Capt. Sal, leaning out of the lowered window of the pilothouse’s port side, and flicking a butt into the water, said: “Hey kid. I notice you’re pretty much a regular. I may need an extra deck hand. Wanna make a few bucks an’ fish for free?” he said as yet another cigarette appeared and was as quickly, lit, a cumulus cloud of smoke momentarily blocking out his face. ‘Well, whaddya say. Yes or no. This ain’t no math test.”

“I have another job over at Schatz. In the yard. I’ll have to check what days I work each week. It changes,” I remember saying, already with the lure of free fishing and a couple of extra bucks in my pocket presenting some tantalizing low hanging fruit to me.

“I know dem guys. Sommtimes when I got to get a wheel dinged out, I go there. Out and in the same day. Haven’t been since last year though. Okay den, you let me know. But don’t wait too long. I got a lot of guys want to work this boat,” he croaked, coughed, and took in a long drag.

“Okay,” I said and turned and got off the boat and looked back one more time.

“Free fishing an’ you get tips an’ the boat gives you a few bucks,” he said.

I managed to get a schedule that gave me Tuesdays off and since the yard was a short walk from the fishing boat piers, I left a message for Capt. Sal that I could give him Tuesdays for the rest of the summer.

Hey—his real name was Brad and for as long as I worked the decks, I never heard Capt. Sal refer to him by another other handle—and I got along just fine and I had no problem in acknowledging that he was the Alpha mate on board the Carrie D II. None whatsoever. But now being the new guy, I was relegated to perform all the slop jobs Hey/Brad was doing before, like Ishmael, I signed my soul over to Capt. Sal Dragonette.

Shape up was at six, and we usually tried to pull out of the dock by seven a.m. While Capt. Sal was out getting bait or whatever, Hey/Brad and I started to square things away for the day’s trip as a few of the regulars started to show up and grab their usual spots. I was shown the engine room hatch and, with a dirty old Boy Scout flashlight—you know, the olive-green one with the ninety degree bend to it, this one so oily I could feel the residue on it—stuck in a back pocket of my jeans, descended into the dark inner domain of the Carrie D II.

Now, in those days, my entire knowledge of working machines and wiring and pumps and filters and couplings and generators and harnesses and transmissions and expansion tanks and head gaskets and well just about anything that concerned making this boat move through the water was as nil as could be, making me as dumb as a bag of hammers when it came to its operation.

As I made my way down the slippery metal ladder, my hands getting oil stained as I went from rung to rung, until finally alighting on the engine room deck, still feeling that slippery, sliding effect underfoot, I looked around. The only light was that from the open hatch above and I scanned the densely packed space for a switch or a cord that would illuminate the place.

“Hey,” I yelled up at the open hatch above, smiling as I did and then adding, “Brad!” Only a few minutes aboard and I was already taking on Capt. Sal’s persona. I wondered about how Hey/Brad’s mind had so far been affected what with him being, more or less, permanent ship’s company.

“Yeah,” he said, peering down into the hold.

“There a light switch down here?”

“Port side. Behind the generator. But if it don’t work, maybe the bulb is out. Use the flashlight. Dips’re on the inboard sides of the engines. Also, check the oil in the generator too. But it’s on the outboard side so you’ll have to do some climbing over it. Sal’ll be back soon and want to fire it up, so let’s get going. If you need to add any oil, look under each engine. There’s a space there where we keep it. Fill it just past the top mark on the dips.”

There was a good reason the switch didn’t work; there was no bulb in the overhead socket. Actually, the screw-in neck was there but the bulb was not and I found a few remnants of broken glass underfoot as I stepped between the main engines. I took the flashlight out of my back pocket.

Suffice it to say, Dr. Frankenstein’s lab had nothing on the engine room space aboard the Carrie D II. The overwhelming smell of oil and diesel fuel, mixed in with a rather raunchy bilge odor, permeated everywhere and, with the hatch open, most assuredly wafted upwards. I was already enveloped in its bouquet and quickly realized how it followed Hey/Brad wherever he went. Now, I too was so anointed.

All three engines, the two mains and that of the generator, with their weeping cylinder covers streaking the blocks, needed oil and as I scanned the underneath areas under the now yellowing glare of the Boy Scout flashlight, the only things I could find there were about a half-dozen, oil-stained quart milk containers. I lifted one, feeling the weight of some liquid and, pinching the lid open, looked in. It was oil alright and even under what I knew was the quickly fading light of the flashlight, I could see it was very black and thick. I found a funnel and fitting it in the oil fill, started to pour the viscous liquid in. It only took a few minutes, even with having to climb over and then waist-straddling the generator, to get it done. Before climbing up and out of what surely was the inspiration for one of Dante’s rings of Hell, I gave each engine a quick coolant inspection as instructed in the recent past by one of the mechanics at the yard. I twisted the cap off, stuck my finger in and if it came up wet, it was okay. Today, all was fine.

Finally getting back to the surface world, after what seemed an eternity, I realized I was now covered with the kind of dirt and filth quite unlike that which I picked up while fishing, with the latter being totally acceptable. The spaces under my fingernails were black and there was a wide swath of gunk across my gray high school sweatshirt that also covered the waist area of my jeans. There was a black smudge across the top of my right hand and a matching one that ran across my brow. The palms of my hands were dirty and oily and I felt as if I were walking on a film of it as well. And of course, there was the smell.

Capt. Sal waddled aboard a short time later. He wheeled a rusted hand truck piled high with about 24 white rectangular boxes, 12 of each containing a frozen block of squid and spearing, from the beat up van he parked in his usual spot opposite the boat and left it on the dock as he let himself, step by step, down the boarding ladder—it was dead low tide and with no floating docks along the entire waterfront, it was the boats that rose up and down. By the water trail it left, that was now puddling up under the rusted conveyance, the bait was already beginning to thaw. Capt. Sal did not drive a van with a refrigerated compartment.

“They ain’t gonna get aboard by themselves,” Capt. Sal said to me as he tried to hitch his pants up above his ample belly, gave a ‘thumbs over there’ signal, and disappeared into the pilothouse. (Think what you want about the Carrie D II, but we always had plenty of bait aboard, what with the leftovers being added exponentially from the day before, albeit some of it, by the time the later part of the week rolled around, was getting a bit ripe and added to the overall multi-fragranced odor that always accompanied the boat.) I heard the low rumble of the generator coming to life, saw the belch of black smoke snaking up over the aft port rail from the exhaust port in the hull there, and recognized the crackle of the VHF radio as he turned it on. With a couple of buckets of salt water drawn from the bay to thaw out the bait, Hey/Brad and I got things ready for the day’s fishing.

This was the routine aboard the Carrie D II for all the trips I made on her for the rest of that summer. I indeed fished for free, made some tips, and got some bucks from the boat. For the most part, boats like the Carrie D II were already on the other side of the changing times. And as it turned out, even though she was an old tub and way past her prime with many of the other boat owners already bringing in newer, faster, and more comfortable head boats, and Capt. Sal was as an irascible character as there ever was, still it was loads of fun as the days slipped by and I went from being a high school junior to entering my senior year.

Whenever I have the opportunity to drive along the Belt Parkway, that famed roadway whose construction began in 1934, girdling the edges of waterfront Brooklyn, whether going east or west, I often take the Coney Island exit and stop at famous Nathan’s for a quick hot dog, greasy fries, and a root beer soda, after which I make my way to Emmons Avenue and begin a slow crawl along the concrete piers. It’s changed and changed so much to my memory’s eye that I find it almost unrecognizable. But still, the sights, sounds, and experiences that set me on my life’s course are there for me to bring up once again, whenever I please. And coming full circle in this bit of nostalgia that I have been sharing with you, is the image of the machinery space aboard the Carrie D II and the place it occupies in my consciousness as what could be, maybe the filthiest engine room ever.

If you have your own SALTY LIFE experience and would like to share it with us, please send it in, along with any images, drawings, illustrations, maps, or photos. If it gets posted, I will send you two dozen of my world-famous, hand-made, chocolate chip cookies. Promise. And don’t forget to let me know if you have any food allergies, like with nuts, so I won’t load them up with pecan, walnut, or macademias. You’re going to love ’em. Fair winds shipmates! -Capt. Ken

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in The Salty Life

 

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The Salty Life

The Salty Life

 Nautical Feng Shui

Is Beelzebub in your bilge? Are there gremlins in the galley?

A how-to guide for banishing seafaring superstitions aboard, nautically balancing your vessel, and keeping it that way.

By Capt. Ken Kreisler

GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE INFORMATION, A NECESSARY INTRODUCTION IS FORTHWITH:
Edmund Burke, the 18th century British political writer said, “Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.”
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most melancholy Dane, cogitated that, “All is not well; I doubt some foul play.”
“Horse hockey!” remarked a crusty curmudgeon of a captain I once fished with.
While poets, scientists, scholars, and theologians have contemplated the roots of superstition throughout the ages, none seem more under its spell than those of us who goes down to the sea in ships. And as you may ascribe to some Neptunian/Poseidon-based superstitions, I have chosen to arm myself using a parallel interpretation of Newton’s Third Law of Physics—For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—to dispel any ensorcells coming my way. Therefore, in order to share my so far unbroken lucky streak in dealing with these waterborne perturbations with you, my shipmates, I offer the following solutions. But before we begin, let the wise mariner beware. Since karma is like a boomerang, you always carry yours with you. Hopefully all your worldly good deeds to date far outweigh your bad ones and therefore, should any of these conditions befall you, I hope you have enough juice built up to repel them.
The only guarantees here are that there are none.  Good luck!

 CHANGING THE NAME OF A BOAT

It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. Well, what if you don’t like the name of the boat you’re contemplating buying? Or, perish the thought, already own? Tripe Stew. Muck & Mire. Regurgitation. Skid Marx. Haggis. Yes friends, these and others, some way too blue to make it into print for this collection—this is, after all, a family experience—are names I’ve seen adorning the transom, often in gold leaf and lavishly illustrated, of many a craft. If you really can’t stand your boat’s present name, you can change it without fear of reprisal. But do it only in the following manner lest you stir up a heap of trouble.

First, you will have to ceremoniously obliterate the old name everywhere you find it. For example, run a piece of sandpaper once across the transom, or if the bows and superstructure are so festooned, up there also. And don’t forget the tender. If there is a ship’s log aboard (logs are often kept by new owners for maintenance schedules), or a life ring, raft, salt and pepper shakers, and so on, take a pen, pencil, or marker and draw a single line through the name everywhere it appears. Continue doing this throughout the boat, making a mark that in some way deletes the odious cognomen.

Next take a piece of paper and write the soon-to-be-exorcised name on it. Fold the paper up and place it in a small cardboard or wooden box. Burn the box completely until there are only ashes left. Scoop up the residue and take it to the water’s edge. Throw the remains into the sea on an outgoing tide. (If you live on a lake, do it at night and only during a new moon. For you river dwellers, send the scoriae downstream.) You may now change the name everywhere on your vessel without fear of irking the ire of any mischievous water sprite. And of course the monogrammed towels will have to go.

AN ASIDE: Eugene V. Connett III, born 1891 and who died in 1969, spent most of his adult life fly-fishing and publishing rare and collectible sporting books at his Derrydale Press. Such was his obsession that he exhausted his family fortune pursuing his dream and wound up in financial ruin. His take on the difference between a boat and a chicken coop is especially telling: “Boats are quite different from chicken coops; things on a boat must be able to take any licking to which they are exposed or you take the rap. In a chicken coop the chickens take it.”

WHISTLING ABOARD

How about whistling aboard? In olden days, becalmed sailors whistled whether at the wheel, swabbing the decks, or chained in the fo’csle. This warbling was believed to bring up the wind. Of course, centuries later, since the last thing some of us motorized boaters need is a blustery day—sail boaters need not heed this particular fallaciousness as they often require some sort of snotty blow to get them from Point A to Point B and even perhaps back again lest they turn on their engines to cover some ground at the very least; so for the ragbaggers amongst us, tweet and twitter away to your heart’s desire. So be it. For the rest of us, trilling aboard is absolutely verboten. However, if any of you power boaters happen to forget yourselves and by chance do pucker up and blow, merely spit overboard in the direction from which the wind is coming, and any errant gust will hasten itself to disappear. Don’t forget to duck or feint one-way or the other lest your chucker hit you on the way back. If it does, take a bucket of water from the ocean, lake, river, or bathtub and douse the spot where you were hit. If it lands on your face, you can’t just wash the spot off. Instead, you’ll have to dump the whole bucket over your head. Of course there’s a more salty approach but again, this is a family site.
Fresh Fish: The first person to write in English about using a fishing rod was Dame Juliana Berners, whose Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle (c.1496) remained the basis of fishing knowledge in England for 150 years.

VOYAGING ON A FRIDAY

Then there’s the one about not embarking on a Friday. Well that comes from the idea that perhaps Christ was crucified on a Friday, and therefore it is very bad luck to set out on that day. And as far as where letting your lines go if the day falls on the 13th, well, perish the thought. Even thinking of it will bring disaster down upon you on a biblical scale. However, my good friend and dock buddy Father “Fishin’ Magician” O’Really—actually O’Reilly but due to his penchant for telling exaggerated fish stories we hung this respected moniker on him—has a remedy for this one. Should those whose minds have contemplated such a voyage on that particular day of the week, he advises his marinized parishioners to say the proper novenas—especially those concerning St. Francis and St. Peter—and all will be just fine. “And for my Hebrew friends, of which there are many,” he said as we shared another wee Bushmills during this conversation, “Well it just doesn’t matter now does it my boy? They can set out any old day they wish.” See where I’m going with this?   
Overheard on a recent flight from Boise, Idaho to St. Petersburg, Florida: “Hey, Olive, be a dear and pass me that can of spinach.” Popeye, sailorman

 BANANAS

Bananas. Now, how can nature’s perfect food ever be bad luck on a boat? Well shipmates, it seems that long ago, when iron men sailed wooden ships, many a voyage often put into exotic tropical locales for reprovisioning. Among the foodstuffs taken on were copious amounts of bananas. And in these bunches of bananas, living happily on nature’s perfect food, were all sorts of bugs, spiders, and snakes and creepy-crawlies that, once aboard, often lived just as happily in the victuals, bunks, and on the bodies of the crew, including many a vexed captain. Soon unexplained fevers and sores spread throughout the ships companies, and eventually to almost all the ports of call the vessels made, including its home port, as the insecta–the Latin family nameinterlopers made it ashore.

When the irate masters finally figured out the source of the scourge, the word spread lickety-split from port to port and any form of genus Musa—that’s Latin for banana—aboard a ship was prohibited. To cement the edict, they fed into the sailor’s trunk of superstitions that bananas aboard portended all sorts of ill and thus deemed the fruit bad luck.

Of course today this is all so much bilge water so there’s no need to deprive yourself of nature’s perfect food aboard your boat. But if you feel the need to dispel any chance of any bad mamma jamma coming your way, simply throw the peel into the water—not to worry tree-huggers, it’ll quickly get eaten as it rejoins the circle of life—while balancing on your right foot. That’s your right foot. Never the left. And oh yes, make sure you’ve finished the banana before tossing the peel.

The code of the old U.S. Lifesaving Service: You have to go out, and that’s a fact. Nothin’ says you have to come back.

           GETTING ON AND OFF A BOAT                    

And don’t make light of this left foot thing. Getting on and off a boat with your left foot—you’re not supposed to in case you didn’t know—is a big no no. You question the authenticity of this fact? Then you research it in the Gutenberg Bible on your own. But if you happen to absentmindedly make this podiatric faux pas, merely retrace your steps backwards exactly as you made them forwards until you are either dockside or deckside. Take off your shoes, sneakers, flip-flops, or whatever and switch them to the opposite foot. Then step on or off the boat, right foot first of course, after which you can put your whatever’s back on the proper foot.

If you’re one of those unshod boaters—go figure anyone with a splinter/hot-deck fetish or having a penchant for picking up all sorts of foot fungi that are more than happy to take up residence and multiply and be fruitful between your toes—perform the same maneuver. Do the reverse shodding thing, and get on or off. Right foot first please, or you’ll have to do the whole thing over again but this time twice. Once ashore or aboard, feel free to unshod yourself if you must.

In response to the question of how long a particular seaman had been a sailor, there’s some insight I found in this little ditty:

All me bloomin’ life.

Me mother was a mermaid,

Me father was King Neptune.

I was born on the crest of a wave

And rocked on the cradle of the deep.

Seaweed and barnacles are me clothes,

The hair on me head is hemp,

Every bone in me body’s a spar,

And when I spits, I spit tar.

I’se hard, I is, I am, I are.

KEEPING GOOD LUCK ABOARD

Getting from bow to stern on many a craft is often a task that is made even more difficult by the many things that can be left on deck. Anything from a mop to a length of line to last night’s empties lying about can and will get you in trouble. And should you accidentally overturn a bucket full of water, you are leaving yourself, your vessel, and those aboard facing dire consequences. You see the water inside the bucket is considered to be good luck and the more that spills out, the more good luck will be leaving. Therefore, make all haste to right the bucket and save even the smallest amount of water. Any luck left is better than none at all. Under no circumstances should you leave the bucket overturned. A prudent skipper will therefore alert all in his crew to make sure they are ever vigil whenever buckets full of water are about.

Should this happen aboard your boat, and you have been successful in righting the bucket and saving some of the water, immediately fill the container with water which has come from overboard in the general area where the spilled liquid found its way to the sea; it takes a sharp eye and a keen mind not to panic when this happens. Just follow the trail to the nearest scupper. But do not use the righted bucket for fetching. Instead use another ewer, jug, carton, cup, container, pitcher, basin, decanter, or carafe until the pail is half full.

Then, as you are pouring the very next fill into the bucket, throw a copper penny overboard on the opposite side from where you are filling. As copper is the main ingredient in protective anti-fouling paint, this is a way of making an offering to safeguard your hull bottom as well. The metal was also used as copper sheathing on hull bottoms on ships in days gone by. Anyway, making this submission while refilling your bucket with water will ensure that good luck will return aboard your vessel. Once the bucket is filled, you can now slowly pour the water overboard, allowing it to surround your boat with fair winds, clear skies, and no underwater obstructions.

Should you kick over a bucket below decks, quickly sponge up as much as you can and get it back into the bucket. Then, with as much alacrity as possible, get topsides and proceed with the already mentioned instructions. In this situation you can fill the bucket from any location but remember to toss the copper penny into the drink opposite from where you are.

On Launching A Boat

This one has some overlapping with the not-voyaging-on-a-Friday annoyance. As you recall from that one, bad luck will follow you for the rest of your days—and then some—if you set sail on any Friday, double that for a Friday the 13th.

To bolster the point, I recall the story of a ship building company at the turn of the 19th Century whose principals decided to test the hex to the max. Cutting to the chase here, they signed on to build the ship on a Friday, commissioned the keel on a Friday, finished driving the last fastening on a Friday, hired a captain named Friday, on a Friday, by the way, and launched and christened the vessel on a Friday. There were lots of other Friday occurrences but I’m sure you get my drift here. Oh yes, one more: The vessel was named…yep, Friday.      

Anyway, on her maiden voyage, she smartly slipped her lines and drifted away from the dock on the outgoing tide. With family, friends, and investors waving from quayside, her crew unfurled her sails. She caught the wind, and slowly, bit by bit, made for the horizon after which she was never heard from again. So, as my good friend Father O’Really would have me do, let’s uncork a bit of the wee Bushmills and set aside Fridays for other things rather than splashing our boats.

But let’s get back to the problem at hand. Before the notion of using champagne to wet the bows of boats slipping down the ways, or more likely being lowered in the TravelLift for the vessel’s first taste of water, wine was poured upon the decks and represented a libation to the gods, what with their well-known and avid proclivity for the drink, thus ensuring to bring good luck. Christening a ship by breaking a bottle of champagne across her bow at the time of launching arose from this practice. However, there is one derivation of this that is a bit more macabre. Somewhere back in antiquity, Druid stuff and all that, it is said that only human sacrifice could appease the capriciousness of the spirit world. With the decks thus bloodied, the vessel could now sail upon the waters in safety. I, for one, am glad that’s over with as is, I am sure, the hapless participant of such a ritual.

Now, to guarantee a good and proper launching, and to make sure no calamity, disaster, mishap, or ruin comes of your beginning this portion of your watery adventures, it is important to have this most sacred of nautical undertakings well planned out.

First, arrange your launching on an outgoing tide; preferable at the top of the flood and just before the ebb. In addition, if you can plan things during any cycle of a full moon, neap, or spring tide, this is also desirable but not absolutely necessary. But doing it during this special astronomical occurrence couldn’t hurt. This might well irritate your marina manager, but when you’re dealing with the alternative, I’d opt for the short-lived annoyance that anything from a six-pack to a freshly caught fish to a t-shirt can usually cure.

With everything now in place, take a pair of old shoes, whether one by one or tied together, and throw them in the water at the moment any part of the hull first touches the water. Having someone standing by helps to coordinate this. There is, of course, some leeway in the timing of the toss so don’t implode if you are either slightly ahead of the dipping or just behind it. The shoes—boots are also permissible as are boat shoes, sneakers, sandals, flip flops, or any other type of foot wear—must be well worn, beyond repair, and a long-time favorite of the boat owner’s. The older and more seasoned the better, as the long accumulated mileage will guarantee that much time and tide will pass before any monkey business will, well, monkey around with your vessel. And as far as that champagne goes, please make sure the bottle is well scored so that it will shatter and bathe the bows in liquid on the first shot. You are allowed a second shot but in doing so, this will lessen the amount of protective time the shoes were originally giving you. For the full effect, you must wait at least 24 hours before cracking the bottle. To counteract this blight, hang the shoes overboard in the dock, much the same as a zinc guppy, for the same amount of time.

Once the boat is safely afloat, retrieve the footwear—I’m sure your dockmates and neighbors as well as that feisty marina manager don’t want a pair of old shoes floating around the docks—and toss them in the garbage with complete confidence as they have now and forever, served their purpose.

“I’m going below to put on my 50 mph hat cause I only got 40 mph hair.”  Dick Weber, owner, Canyon Club Marina/South Jersey Yacht Sales, Cape May, New Jersey, as we hit 41.8 mph on his 73-foot Ocean Yacht in Biscayne Bay, Miami, February, 2005.

On Having Redheads On Board

Okay guys and gals, for all of you who are smitten with significant others whose hair, locks, tresses, curls or mane are carrot-topped, crimson, scarlet, ruby, burgundy, or any hue, shade, tint, color, tinge, tone, or blush in any variation on the color red, this one is for you.

Since the days of yore, having a redheaded person on board has been considered a harbinger of bad luck. Whether its roots can be found in the old ‘Red Sky At Dawning, Sailor Take Warning’ elegy or some other limerick, couplet, rhyme, or verse dating back to when the first mariner set off from terra firma to float upon the watery world, we will most likely never know the true reason for this particular predicament.

However, should you be expecting a redheaded person aboard, you must, lest you suffer the most dire of consequences, not allow them to speak to you first. Therefore, the utmost vigilance must be taken. As soon as you see them coming down the dock, quay, gangplank, wharf, pier, or being ferried from ashore via dinghy—a pair of high-quality binoculars should be used—be prepared to speak first. Whether it’s a hearty ‘Hal-lo!’, ‘Ahoy!’, ‘Hey, hiyadoin!’, or whatever greeting, salutation, welcome, salute, or any other means of communication available that causes you to say the spoken work, it absolutely, without question must be you who utter it first.

Should the unthinkable occur, you will have to immediately cease all tête-à-tête, discussion, dialogue, conversation, or any communication that may be construed as verbal discourse, including singing or speaking in iambic pentameter, or any other lyric or poetic presentation, with the offending person. Even if they continue to assault your auditory senses with lexis, you will desist with all your inner strength. Using an intermediary, or if no one else is around or refuses, on secular or religious grounds, to be part of this exorcism, you will, without delay, communicate with the aforementioned scarlet-headed person via the written word or sign language as long as no sound utters from you.

During this inscribing or gesticulating discourse, after you have explained yourself fully and made it quite clear that you are most serious about the unfolding and subsequent ramifications of these event—you may be looked upon with dread, scorn, revulsion, as well as a stare that might very well question your sanity, but, my dear fellow sojourner, see it through—you are to ask for a small cutting of hair. You are then to place it in a small envelope, seal it, and place the packet in a larger sachet and mail the package to someone you know who lives inland and not within sight of a major body of water; whether it be ocean, lake, stream, pond, brook, river, tributary, waterway, canal, channel, inlet, gulf, bay, cove, creek, sound, or fjord. They are to be instructed to place the parcel, unopened, in a dark place such as a closet or drawer, and keep it there for one complete cycle of the moon after which it can be thrown away. Choose wisely now pilgrim, for entrusting such an important burden should only be asked of someone worthy of the responsibility.

The parcel must always remain unopened up to the time it is trashed. For the length of its incarceration, and until it is properly disposed of, you and your vessel and everyone on board will have immunity from harm. And once the package has been forever dispatched, you and your redheaded crewmember can live in everlasting nautical harmony. Now isn’t that a nice way to wrap this one up? I think so too.

Gongoozler’s and dockwalloper’s are two distinct kinds of people. The former stands around the waterfront with their hands in their pockets watching other folks do things while the latter walks around the dock, checking things out.

FULL MOONS

By now dear travelers, you’ve most likely picked up on the importance of not only chasing but keeping away some of these troubles by coordinating their unraveling with certain phases of the moon, especially when it is full. This particular component is nothing to be scoffed at or ignored as the moon not only plays a special role in the natural world but as we all know, “There are more things in heaven and earth dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

From time immemorial, the dead orb that accompanies our planet on its own ceaseless celestial voyage has had a profound effect on humankind. Such is the upshot on our collective consciousnesses that there’s “Moon For The Misbegotten” and “Moon Over Miami”; Native American author William Least Heat Moon of Blue Highways fame; pop star Moon Martin whose 1978 album—yes, in those days it was albums kids—‘Shots From A Cold Nightmare’ was received quite well; the infamous Moonies of the 1970’s and 80’s; H.G. Wells’ “From The Earth to The Moon”; moonshine whisky; Pink Floyd’s remarkable Dark Side of The Moon as well as Van Morrison’s mercurial Moondance; NFL pro quarterback Warren Moon; other songs such as Blue Moon, [It’s only a] Paper Moon, By The Light of The Silvery Moon, Shine on, shine on Harvest Moon, the Rolling Stones’ Moonlight Mile, and Warren Zevon’s They Moved the Moon; Streit’s Moon Strips matzohs; of course there’s always howling at the moon and the Moonwalk, made famous by pseudo-human Michael Jackson; the well-known Man in The Moon, not to be confused by the movie of almost-the-same-name, The Man on The Moon nor the movie of the same name starring Jim Carey as hell-bent-for-destruction comedian Andy Kaufman; moon pies (they came in artificial chocolate and strawberry flavored); Moon Dog, the Viking-clad existential poet who, until he died, made it his life’s work to stand on a street corner in New York City; and then there was his parallel universe buddy, Moondoggie, the half-wit surfer dude from those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello flicks; the absolutely wonderful Goodnight Moon children’s book; the persistent sophomoric inclination towards mooning; the famous comic strip of the 1940’s and 50’s, Moon Mullins; Frank Moon, who played the role of the doctor on the hit television show, The A-Team; D.H. Lawrence’s, “…the new moon, of no importance”; lots of Asian kids having Moon as a surname; many references in literature, poetry, and music to moon-faced girls, none of which I can name right now but I know they exist; Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank Zappa, transcendental leader and driving force of the 1960’s band, The Mothers of Invention; the movie Moonstruck with Cher and Nicholas Cage; a moon reference from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” reads thus:

The moving Moon went up the sky.
And nowhere did abide;
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside-

To Honeymooner Jackie Gleason’s exasperated signature shout as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Cramden, “to the moon Alice!”; the nursery rhyme line where the cow jumped over the moon; the moon adventures of Baron von Munchausen. And who could ever forget the cheesy 1950’s black and white sci-fi film classic, Cat-Women of the Moon; in colonial America, March was the time of the Fish Moon; for the Chinese, the month was known as the Sleepy Moon; the Cherokee tribe called it the Windy Moon while the Choctaw and Dakotah Sioux knew it as The Big Famine Moon and the Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow respectively; for the Celts it was the Moon Of Winds; Medieval Englanders christened it the Chaste Moon while the Neo Pagans naturally dubbed it the Death Moon—go figure, Pagans; and to those people inhabiting New Guinea, the appellation for the full moon occurring in March ranged from Rainbow Fish to Palalo Worm to Open Sea to Rain and Wind Moon. A rose by any other name, eh? And of course looked what happened to poor Larry Talbot in the original Wolfman film.

Then there’s the whole tide thing coupled with our own bodily makeup of lots of water and the fact that we begin life by swimming around in amniotic fluid for nine months and the possible effect the moon could have on that. I could easily go on and on and fill several more pages but I think you catch my drift here. So bottom line, don’t discount the effect that the moon has on us mere mortals when dealing with keeping good luck aboard and bad luck at bay. When in doubt, or if you need an extra push, it couldn’t hurt to wait for the proper time in the lunar cycle to get things done right. 

Well friends, that’s it for now. There are legions more to deal with but this is all I have room for in this edition. Spurred on by my terminal wanderlust, I will be scouring the Seven Seas and visiting every atoll, island, port-of-call, harbor, wharf, quay, marina, town, seaport, and mooring in my watery travels to uncover not only the sources of other ills not dealt with here, but more of the spells, incantations, charms, potions, concoctions, remedies, cures and treatments for all that ails ye. If you have a hex that needs dispelling drop me a line here at the site and I’ll see what I can do. Hopefully I’ll be able to help you free your boat of any bad mojo that you may have unwittingly conjured up.

If you have a salty cure of your own for what ails us poor unfortunate souls, please send it on in. If it’s truly worthy of a posting–this is some serious business after all–I’ll send you two dozen of my world famous, hand-made, chocolate chip cookies. You’re gonna love ’em. I promise. (Make sure to let me know if you have any food allergies, especially to nuts, so I won’t load them up with any macadamia, walnuts, or pecans.)

In the meantime, don’t leave any hatch covers lying upside down on your deck, if a redheaded person is getting aboard your boat always be the first to speak to them before they speak to you, and never, absolutely never mess with an albatross. Now, if I can only find that Fijian talisman that my good friend Capt. Bill Pike gave me I just might be able to go fishing again.

Fair Winds Shipmates

If you have your own SALTY LIFE experience and would like to share it with us, please send it in, along with any images, drawings, illustrations, maps, or photos. If it gets posted, I will send you two dozen of my world famous, hand made, chocolate chip cookies. Promise. And don’t forget to let me know if you have any food allergies, like with nuts, so I won’t load them up with pecan, walnut, or macademias. You’re going to love ’em. Fair winds shipmates! -Capt. Ken

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in The Salty Life

 

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The Salty Life

The Salty Life

Winter Blues Finally Turn to Green

I had a thought back there while I was getting my Palm Beach Dock Walk posting together. I mentioned how we here in the northeast, and in particular in New York City, have just come out of a pretty awful winter. Now I know my friends in the midwest, those same stalwart buddies who have, for years, been trying to get me to visit in the vast hinterlands of Michigan and Wisconsin, to sit around a hole in the ice in a shack out on a frozen lake with unlimited amounts of Jaggermeister and other swill at the ready,  laugh most heartily at my complaining. To those wonderful folks then, I do dedicate the following memoir of the New York City Winter of 2013/14, the ones past and those to come. I hope you enjoy it and the spirit in which it was written. It goes something like this:

The Adventures Of An Urban Fisherman

 Braving the wilds of Gotham’s cavernous streets, I take on the Big Apple’s angling challenge.

By Capt. Ken Kreisler

In November, when the north winds blow and the jet stream dips down from the wilds of Canada across the island I have called home all my life, it brings with it the icy chill that stays with this part of the country until well into March. All of my hearty fellows anglers have long since packed up their fishing gear, stripped and oiled down their reels, and put all things pertaining to piscatorial pursuits away until next spring. Some will patiently wait out the winter until they hear that the first flounder has poked its eyes up out of the mud while other unfortunate souls will sadly have at the family fish tank.

It’s different for me. I have long since had my seasonal fill of multi-million dollar, cushy battlewagons outfitted to the hilt with every conceivable electronic instrument, the likes of which can also be found on the space shuttle. And as well, those fishing rods with broomstick-thick tips, high-speed and yes, even electric reels with line capacities capable of girdling the globe. Instead, I have decided to even out the ichthyologic playing field some by becoming an out of the ordinary kind of angler. I am a New York City ice fisherman.

Yes folks, I live in Manhattan, one of the five boroughs that make up the Big Apple. For those of you who slept through the Enlightenment, Manhattan is an island. And while it’s joined to the hinterlands and the neighboring state of New Jersey by no less than 18 bridges and three tunnels, it is indeed surrounded by water. I know. I’ve circumnavigated my island home many times.

We islanders are as tied to the sea now as we have always been. And one of the strongest bonds we have is fishing the waters that surround us. Pshaw, you say? Well, I do admit that even though we’ve gotten a rather bad rap in recent years as to the quality of our local tributaries and the denizens that inhabit it, I haven’t seen a two-headed, six-eyed, glow-in-the-dark fish landed in quite some time now. I’ve had bass in the Bronx, bluefish at the Battery, and flounder in Flatbush. But I digress.

As far as I know, I am the only ice fisherman fishing the island. Given the population of Manhattan hovers around 1,541,150, I’d say I occupy a fairly unique position here. While my fellow metropolitan dwellers scurry hither and yon along the concrete sidewalks of our cavernous city, I, garbed in gear suitable for the purpose, set out for several of my favorite sites that have been the scene of epic battles. Ones that in the past have seen me pitted against the elements and my finny combatants in contests with but one outcome. Always, it’s all or nothing. Take no prisoners. Failure is not an option. Semper Fi marine. Hoo-Rah!

For today’s outing, I have chosen Central Park. The Park, as we islanders know it, was conceived, designed, and built by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after winning the commission to do so in 1857. They transformed the then swamps, bluffs, and rocky outcroppings into the magnificent 843-acre haven it is today. Among other features, it has equestrian paths, two ice skating rinks, one swimming pool, roadways, open fields, a reservoir, more than 40 bridges, 51 renowned sculptures, statues, and fountains, a conservatory garden, tennis courts, the Delacorte outdoor Shakespearean theater, a castle, a zoo, a model sailboat racing pond, restaurants, one of the greatest art museums in the world on its eastern boundary—that being the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and three lakes. It is the lakes that I will fish today. And my quarry? No less that the scrappy golden shiners, the aggressive largemouth bass, big-shouldered pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish, fighting carp, and the elusive chain pickerel. All worthy opponents.

My first stop is Rowboat Lake. At 22 acres, it is the largest of The Park’s waterways. Turtle Pond, the smallest, is at the foot of Belvedere Castle right next to the Delacorte bordering the East 79th Street transverse, and the Harlem Meer is uptown at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. When I arrive, much to my dismay, there is only patchy skin ice covering the placid waters. I expected more of a challenge as the daytime temps have been hovering around the freezing mark and plummeting at night. No need for the hammer and chisel. Undaunted I ready myself for work.

When it comes to this kind of action, I carry two rods with me. In one hand I hold a St. Croix six-foot Legend Elite that I wrapped myself with distinctive patterns taken from Native American motifs.  My reel of choice is nothing less than a Fin-Nor Steel River SR1000 with a spool of four-pound test on it. But slung on my back, in its custom carrying tube with a crush test weight of 600 pounds per square inch, is my pride and joy: An Orvis two-piece, eight-foot-four-inch T-3 with a mid 6.5 flex paired up with a Bat Large Arbor IV reel. Yes, life is good.

With rod and reel ready, I begin with one of my favorite hand tied lures; a perfect replica of a juvenile Blattaria Americanus—the American cockroach, indigenous and prolific to this area—tied with a basic non-slip knot for more natural lure and hook action. I cast. A double whip-out-and-in followed by a full arm push. It hits an open water area with a solid plop. I peel off some line. This “fly” been a good fish raiser in the past and I watch as the splash rings move out from the center. I give the rod tip a little flick, then another, in hopes of coaxing a fish up. I wait for the strike.

A rustle in the bramble to my left diverts my attention for a moment. But that’s all it takes in this kind of game. I hear a splash. Quickly turning around I think I glimpse the tip of a tail disappearing in the inky water. All I see are expanding concentric rings. Time to bring Blattaria in and swap it out for a Lepidotrichidae, one of 370 species of silverfish living in North America. Mine is a work of art.

“Hey buddy,” a raspy voice calls out to me from behind. “Got something for an old veteran?” I really don’t have time for this right now. Any break in concentration will surely mess up my rhythm. But I am a humanitarian at heart and so I turn around to face a fellow human being who has not coped well with life’s ups and downs.

“Tell you what sarge, I have no money on me but I’ll gladly give you something to eat,” I said. It is the absolute truth, as I have no legal tender on me but for my Chase ATM card. Hey, you never know.  He paused for a moment and seemed to ask a question of someone standing off to his left. When the phantom did not give him the answer he was expecting, he steadied his gaze once more on me. “Yeah. Okay. Whatchagot?”     

I pulled out the other half of a great big gourmet sandwich I had left over from Dean & DeLuca, that truly wondrous and fabled food store that opened up a branch east of The Park’s Fifth Avenue border on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 85th Street, and offered it over. “What’s that?” “Honey glazed turkey, avocado, sprouts, red and yellow bell peppers, and romaine lettuce,” I answered. “And this heart-of-palm salad,” I added, holding up the small plastic container, as if that would surely end this exchange. I was eager to see my fellow human being not go without a nourishing meal but just as motivated to get back to the business at hand. I was burning daylight. 

“What kind of bread?” he asked. “Sourdough.” “I’ll pass,” he said and walked off. Obviously, from the look on his face, he was more than content to continue the conversation with the phantom walking along side of him. Over 1,541,150 or so stories in Gotham, and I had to run into this one. 

Turtle Pond. Photo credit: Ed Gaillard

I worked several spots near the Loeb Boathouse and around the back of the lake. Both the Cherry Hill and Strawberry Fields spots produced nary a nibble. Time to pack up at head for Turtle Pond. Again, I am on the schnide. That’s city street talk for zero. Nada. Zilch. Not even my superb Musca Domestica Linnaeus, the common housefly, or a most wonderful rendition of Hemiptera Gerridae, the wingless water skipper, could entice my quarry up from the deep. And the same fate awaited me uptown at the Harlem Meer. Time for this fisherman to head for the barn. That’s home, in fish parlance.

It’s been a trying day and why they call it fishing and not catching. The sun is very low in a graying sky, and the lights of the buildings around The Park begin to glow amber as evening begins to take over. For me, it’s a short walk home to strip off my fishing gear, put on a pair of sweatpants, sneakers, t-shirt, and polar fleece jacket, and take the dogs—I have two Tibetan Terriers—for a walk.

In the waning hours of what is left of this day, I find that we have aimlessly wandered past Rowboat Lake. For a moment I stop and notice an expanding ring in the lake’s center where no stone had been tossed or breeze swept across its surface. 

 “You win, old fighter,” I whisper, my breath hanging on the night air, glowing with the slight mist of a gossamer web under the blue white light on the side of the lane. “This time.”

If you have your own SALTY LIFE experience and would like to share it with us, please send it in, along with any images, drawings, illustrations, maps, or photos. If it gets posted, I will send you two dozen of my world famous, hand made, chocolate chip cookies. Promise. And don’t forget to let me know if you have any food allergies, like with nuts, so I won’t load them up with pecan, walnut, or macademias. You’re going to love ’em. Fair winds shipmates! -Capt. Ken

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in The Salty Life

 

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