– Story Telling Time … As Memory Serves
The wind had pickup again and the current in the Pass was moving a little faster. The storm wasn’t that far away now, but the rain was light right now. The big stakes poker game of the night before had been talked about as something you had to have seen to be believed. So my curiosity was now high enough to motivate me, to jump from bow to stern of three boats in a line, to make it up to the big steel hulled boat where this poker game was. While there were ropes tied between boats to hang on to and the jump was only 2 or 3 feet between, that cold January water running through the South East Pass of the Mississippi was moving pretty fast for this flat lander, who hailed from North of Dodge City Ks ’bout 90 miles as crow flies. Undercurrents can drown even a good swimmer. Because adventure and fear sometimes travel together, and this poker game had the ring of the ‘old days’, out West where I grew up, but this was more of a Forrest Gump Shrimp boat setting, with almost ‘modern day looking’ pirates, if you will. It was quite the setting, especially when you add in the Shrimpers from Bayou La xyz area. I had been forewarned day one, to avoid all contact if possible. These folk’s were ‘extra’ pirate type in my note book. More about them later.
When I made it on to the stern of the big steel hull boat there were a few guys hanging out on the rear deck and then 2 guys outside the door to cabin. They said “you don’t go inside unless your searched” and I said “no problem, just wanted to check out the game”. They said take off your boots after you step through door. That’s when I discovered some of ‘how the other half lives’, so to speak. This boat had wall to wall carpet and it was nice plush carpet. There were two TV screens going with computer games on them! Wow! Luxuries of home on the boat! Who would of thought! This was January 1982 and having now spent my first week at sea on my maiden voyage of sea life, on a small 65 ft. wooden hull boat made in the early sixties, probably in South or Central America, judging by all the beautiful Teak Wood I found under the dash while trying to repair the auto-pilot. Of course every part of the boat you could see was painted white or blue, good shrimp boat colors you know and the Teak underneath didn’t mater. The world of shrimpers is a world unto it’s own and I was just a visitor. The possibility of earning ‘good money in a short period of time’ appealed to me at the time, and having tried many, many fields of endeavor in my youth, this was just another “New Experience”, Ha- Ha. And so far, this experience had definitely been “New”, including gaining those always needed “Sea Legs”, to stay up right on the back deck with 7 to 9ft swells, the Marine Radio had said, in the weather reports. It is January in the Gulf of Mexico and that particular winter storm had been blowing pretty good and making her pretty rough to work on deck, when we hung up the big shrimp net on something. That’s when the serious problem began.
When the Captain walked out of the wheel house to rear deck and told us to hold on to something real tight, while he tried to free the net. We did and the Captain put the power to her! It turned out, the net was hung mostly on the Port side of the boat and with repeated gunning up and down of the throttle of the big diesel Cat motor, the left outrigger pulled closer and closer to the surface of the water. Up and down it went ever closer to water and finally sure enough the end went under and came back up and kept coming up as the net had finally torn loose from the hang up. That was good, real good, as I was started to wonder how far you have to go before the boat rolls completely over and sinks? And I was thinking, gee, I wish I would have been a ‘non-Pirate’ aka ‘sissy’ and put on a life jacket before all this excitement started! But now we were free again and moving forward slowly. When clear of the area a ways, the captain took her out of gear and we winched in the big net. It was a real big rip and not something to be repaired on board, it have to go to a net shop when we got back to dock. The Captain got on the radio and made arrangements to meet up with anther boat and acquire a back-up net they had. I had to wonder at time what kind of ‘pirate’ arrangements had been made for the net, as they cost several thousand dollars new, but from what I had learned about this particular world I was visiting, the world of shrimping, and weeks living and working in international waters, you could expect most anything. I had already seen many unexpected things. But now we had a net and go back to catching shrimp and making money. Big money remember and making it quick. This being the primary motivation for this temporary employment. This level of ‘excitement on the job’, was actually considered before accepting the position, ‘deck hand’. Anyway …
When we finally got the net changed out and back in the water dragging for shrimp and the engine was under a constant load for a while, I felt like things were calmed down and we were back to work like before. Nope! More excitement is already upon us. The big Cat diesel engine down in the belly of this boat started to slow down and run rough. The Captain throttled her down and then took her out gear. The sound of the engine was distressful and the Captain told us to bring in the net fast. When the net doors were on board and the net was suspended, the Captain put her in gear and we moved forward heading towards our home port for maybe a half hour when the engine just died. It never started again. We were n0w adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with no power and more than a hundred and fifty miles from home. The Captain was somewhat distraught at this point and of course I was not aware at the time of the ramifications of such a situation. When he mentioned the Gulf currents would at some point in time eventually ground us in alligator and snake infested marsh waters, the mentioning of the word snake got my full attention. Hate them damn things. So, wonder what the Captain’s plan of action is? So, like the torn net incident, he’s back on the radio and help, in the form of another shrimp boat willing to tow us to safety. Did I mention the Winter storm had gotten worse and we were not going to be towed home at this point in time, but, to safety up the South East Pass of the Mississippi where most of the other shrimp boats in Gulf had already gone at this point in time of the storm.
When we were finally tied up to several other boats in a line in the pass, there was definitely a feeling of relief by everyone on board. The marsh land on the Starboard side reminded me of the picture I had had in my mind, when the Captain described the alligator and snake infested marsh land. Not a pleasant picture. I next wondered how well these Water Moccasins climbed vertical structure, like the side of a boat…? I decided not ask that question of anyone and just keep a positive thought going, like, no of course not. But, we were not adrift at sea and the storm was passing, and there was this exciting poker game going on, that I just had to cheek out.
…To Be Continued