06 Jul


Steven K. Ledin,

I'm sitting on the fantail of the "Ocean Pearl". I haven't been on an ocean-going fantail for almost 30 years. It brought back a lot of memories. We're in the gulf stream now a few hours off of Norfolk, Virginia, where yesterday we met the good folks from BLACKHAWK!. After our productive business meetings, seven of us chartered the "Ocean Pearl", about a 40 foot fishing boat, and we left from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia about 4:00 this morning. Captain Steve and his first mate John were in charge of the boat. His passengers stoically withstood the chops and swells for a few hours until John prepared some rods and dropped in some terminal tackle baited with Ballyhoo. These bait fish are over a foot long and have a prominent bill only on the lower side of its jaw. John broke off the bill from the fish and expertly threaded the hook through the bait. Up to around ten rods, all wearing beautiful Penn reels made in the USA trailed behind us.
Hours went by with nothing to note except a gorgeous sunrise and an aircraft carrier in the distance. People were sleeping on coolers and the deck, and my sea legs were long in coming. Then Terry yelled "FISH ON!" and grabbed a rod out of the holder, making double sure the hook was set. What surprised me to no end is that he shouted: "Steve! Steve! Come get this!" So I did. Or rather, the rod got me. I think Terry knew that I was the only one aboard that had not fished like this before, and he wanted to make sure I had a chance. Very generous of him. He could have fought the fish himself or given it to anyone. Quite an honor. Thanks, Terry.
I knew in about 30 seconds that I was in trouble. I really knew that quickly that I didn't think I could bring this fish in myself. I thought we hooked a freaking submarine. My ineptitude and lack of technique must've been hilarious and imbecilic to watch. I am not small or weak. I think upon retrospect, if I would've been familiarized by catching a few smaller fish first, or at least watch someone with proper technique it wouldn't have been quite as bad. I was immediately humbled. There was no fighting chair, just me idiotically trying to hold onto this rod that was begging and straining to go swimming, with or without me. I didn't even know where to put the butt of the rod. Since I'm such a smart guy and incredibly quick-witted I discovered a certain area around my pelvis that seemed to be made for the giant pull of a fishing rod, but after nearly castrating myself I had to rethink that. Luckily, one of the guys strapped on me from behind some kind of pelvic fixture that held the butt of the rod pretty well. Soon thereafter someone put a chest harness on me made to pull the rod up with my back muscles instead of just my arm muscles, but it was too long and couldn't be adjusted while it was on me.
Thank God Bill was there helping me, with both hands on the rod, pushing the rod tip up, coaching me every minute to raise the rod slowly and crank on the way down. I could explain to you how to arm wrestle, and how it feels, and what to expect, but until you do it yourself, you just can't really get it. It was such an eye-opener to feel the raw power of this fish, whatever kind it was, fighting for its life. It certainly wasn't like any big steelhead or king salmon I've caught before. The movie "Jaws" certainly came to mind. Soon Bill was soaking wet and puffing, and I was just an exhausted lump with not much left. I ran cross country in high school, and I felt as if I was sprinting at the end of a marathon. My legs were shaking, I was drenched in sweat, my hands were blistered, my whole body was screaming for it to be over. Finally, after an eternity, or maybe 10 or 15 minutes, the fish came into view. It was a big yellowfin tuna, and Captain Steve gaffed it and brought it on board. I was spent. I was spent. I was spent. The 50 pound fish went into a cooler to chill, and I went into a cooler to drink. Man, thanks to Terry for the honor of the first fish, and thanks to Bill for the help. I really don't think I could've done it myself. I'll do much better next time, but I savored every minute of this delicious experience. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity.
Mark and Kevin caught a fish each, and I think the other Bill did, too. Two of them were Mahi-Mahi, or dolphin fish. Absolutely beautiful fish. I have some of my tuna waiting in the freezer, and fish and game always tastes better when you take it yourself.
We lost an engine coming back. By then the tequila was gone and we were working on other libations. I wrote a love note to My Shirley and tossed it overboard into the gulf stream in the empty bottle. Maybe someone in Norway will find it and know that some guy named Steve loves His Shirley. The "Ocean Pearl" limped slowly home, lumbering with half power straight West. 16 hours after we left we docked. I had my sea legs again and I was still kind of rocking when I was showering that night. It was a long day, and fish, sunburn, sore muscles, and beer make for a deep, recuperative, dreamless sleep.
I thought of one navy ship I was on, the USS Yosemite. It was one of the very first navy ships to have women on board, and I was lucky enough to have one of them as a girlfriend. Tina was one of 80 females in a compliment of an 800 person crew. I wondered how and where she was. I wasn't the best boyfriend, and she wasn't the best girlfriend, but we buoyed each other for the better part of a year. We were in love.
I retrospectively watched the wake trail from our boat. On another ship, the USS Forrestal, I was the last man aft during general quarters. My station was a rocket launcher on the fantail. I often dangled my legs for hours at a time over the churning white water the propellers from an aircraft carrier make. If I fell off nobody would ever hear me scream, and the sharks that perpetually followed the ship because of its trailing garbage bags would have fresh meat. I wouldn't be missed until I didn't answer a radio check or muster. The wake reminded me of those feelings.
The carrier was so huge that you really didn't feel it moving too much, even when she turned. So many times as I lay on the deck and looked at the stars when the ship turned, it didn't feel like the ship was turning, but just the stars. Thousands of miles from the nearest land, no light or air pollution, the sky turned instead of the ship. The stars, the stars, the incredible stars.
Norfolk and its people are beautiful and laid back. We stayed in a bed and breakfast built in the 1860s. The dwelling was built as a courthouse and now is a famous historical building. The furniture was appraised by Sotheby's at over 6 million dollars. Don't leave your cigar burning on the breakfast nook. Outside the building was the oldest pin oak in Virginia. It's called the hanging tree, and you can still see scars burnt in the lowest branch from ropes wrapped around it to hang people from.
My thanks to Mark, Scott, Bill, Terry, Bill, Kevin, Steve, and John for the camaraderie and experiences. Getting to know these folks better will ease the way to better business communication between our companies. Seeing BLACKHAWK! and meeting Mike Noell and his incredible staff is something I will hold in high esteem forever.

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