Sunday's trip started started out on Saturday night (as it always does) with me making rigs, setting up the gear, gassing-up the boat, getting the bait ready, and as always....sweating out the spot(s) that I want to fish. Thankfully, my wonderful companion 'D' is right there with me...making sure there is plenty of food, good drinks and much needed laughs & jokes to keep things light and funny. That facet of this trip was particularly important because on Sunday morning I would be taking out a couple of managers from our biggest customer...Polytop. This company manufactures caps & closures for Kraft Foods, Hershey's, etc., and they are without question...our biggest and most important account.
This fishing trip has been talked about for a long time...but never actually happened due to last minute cancellations, sickness, work schedule conflicts, etc., etc., But this date was locked-in for sure and the guys were coming down to the boat Sunday morning...no question. The tool room manager (and the guy who is responsible for outsourcing all the welding) called me Saturday afternoon to confirm the trip and commented that he wanted to "fill the cooler" with tasty codfish fillets.
I quickly responded by offering an alternative fluke or bass trip inshore and that with the high water temps and heavy dogfish population over-running the local Cod grounds we would be better suited to accommodate his request,
Was his comment. The lump in my throat just grew an inch (gulp) knowing one week ago all we did was battle dogs and dogs and more dogs. Cox's fabled "August Run" was not happening this year (in my opinion) and now the pressure was on to put some fish in the cooler.
At 2:30 AM, Sunday morning I rolled around in my boat bunk...sweating from the heat and worrying about how I was going to put these guys on some fish. Knowing that Cox's was now over run with dogs I had to think more about going far offshore...perhaps to the Suffolk (again) or maybe even as far as the Dump. Perhaps all those wreaks on the "Fingers" would be my salvation. Regardless of the selection...a very long trip for my old girl....a 3.5 hr steam at the minimum....for any one of the selections above - and no guarantees for sure. That is why they call this "fishing"...not "catching".
At 3:30 AM my neighbor boat "Destiny" fired-up her big block 454's for an early morning eel toss at Block Islands SW grounds. As they chugged out of Snug I decided to call it a night, get up, and face the fact that nerves won this battle - I was not going to sleep for a minute...and in two hours I was going to take my most important account out on a very long offshore trip....with zero sleep and a heavy heart. This was the first time i felt the pressure that all captains must feel at one time or another in their career...not fun....and this was not a chartered trip...just a couple of non paying customers out for a few laughs...but to me it meant everything to get them on some fish.
At 5:30 AM the guys showed up and we tossed the lines. My original float plan was to hit Cox's LOF area and work east down to the "Eastern Mountain" area. After that hit the St. Johns Wk and then off to the "Fingers" Wk(s). On the way out I kept a close eye on my infamous fish finder....which many people have laughed at...and compared it to something they have seen on that ridiculous show from the 70's "Lost in Space".
Capable of finding fish?....
As I approached the shallow grounds of NW Cox's, I noticed some interesting humps as I passed by "Dukes Peaks"...no doubt loaded with fish...but based on my experience, dogs, sea robbins & choggies - certainly not Cod. Cod could not be in this kind of shallow water...especially at this time of year for sure...right? The enclosed pics show what I saw on my Furuno as I pulled the throttles back and prepared for a quick "dogshow" on our way out to the "real" Cod-grounds.
Had the guys bait the hooks and toss them over the side for a quick inspection of the area. 10 seconds after hitting bottom both rods bent over with that infamous strong tug that only come from a Codfish...five minutes later I gaffed two nice sized Codfish...both 15 - 20 lbs...I was in shock! No way could they be in this close...so I thought. Shut off the engines and decided to have a go at it....drifting.
By 12:30 PM we fished from Dukes Peak all the way to Cox's North East "Mountain" (shallow...90 - 110 ft). After we had 20 fish (or more) in the cooler the tide went slack and now it was time for the relatively "short" ride back to the barn . Wow did we clean up....couldn't believe what was going on here. All I can figure is that the Cod moved in close due to some serious baitfish chasing or lots of crabs on the bottom.
As I cleaned each fish "tons" of little red crabs showed up in their digestive tract...interesting. No wonder those red surgical tubes work so good out here as teasers. I was just thankful things turned out so good for us...especially considering the pressure I was under to find the fish. My customers were very, very happy and would leave the docks with a ton of tasty fillets.
With little sleep and a long, hot day out on the water, 'D' and I were both beat and very tired. A building following sea and strong new moon (incoming) tide made for an "uncomfortable" ride...especially as we steamed back into the point. Whenever I see waves breaking over the center wall I know its gonna be a tough ride in. Great...here I am on the perfect trip for my customers..but now I have to "surf" into the safety of the West or East Gap.
As I made my approach I decided to track around the wall and head in via the West Gap due huge building seas, pots everywhere and a large trawler being towed in via the East Gap. Nothing pretty, but I made it in without incident...other than a little water and some (more) grey hair for all on board.
Finally...at 5:25 PM...we were in.
As I steamed through the main channel I noticed that the incoming tide was running very strong & fast (new moon) so I had to put the boat into neutral in order to keep from throwing a wake as I passed the "no wake" zones. The SW wind was also blowing a good 20-25 knots (as it does almost every afternoon)...going in the same direction as the incoming tide. I knew docking the boat was going to be a challenge. Throw in a couple hundred drunk weekend boaters, jet ski daredevils and all the other idiots coming down the wrong side of the channel...I had to pay a good deal of attention too, and had to quickly think of my approach because in order to get this boat into the slip I would have to back in against both the tide & wind with little room for any era...surrounded by million dollar boats and lots of spectators sitting in the marina...I also had my main customers on board...the last thing I wanted was an incident.
As I turned out of the main channel and throttled down the marina fairway I kept the RPS up higher than normal in order to maintain steerage. I could feel the current & wind pushing me hard to starboard so I decided to keep close to the pilings on my port side as I made my approach. 'D' was ready on the bow and my customers were ready to tie up the stern...both bumpers were hanging over the starboard side and ready. As I passed my slip I looked for my usual target piling and slammed my starboard motor into a hard reverse and port motor forward, the bow swung around and my alignment was perfect...now all I had to do was throttle up both engines (now both in reverse) to overcome the wind and ripping tide.
At 1500 RPM's, I was basically standing still and not even moving towards the slip...my palms sweated profusely and I had to throttle up more in order to move this boat backwards without losing alignment. At 2200 she finally started to track backwards into the slip...and I was still dead-on with alignment. I put her right in with no problem and both of my customers gently stepped off the back and secured the stern.
Home free so I thought...looked up and saw a guy in the boat directly across from me giving me the thumbs up and clapping - everyone was happy. Suddenly his smiling face turned to panic and he was now pointing at the water and yelling something but I didn't understand due to the wind and noise from the engines...I never shut them off until the boat is 100% secured. I know from experience 'D' is always very fast at securing the bow so I killed the motors and tried to understand what this guy was yelling...
I immediately jumped to the starboard side of the bridge and there was 'D'...wedged between the cement dock and 20,000 lb hull...she was hurt bad, moaning and holding on by a thread with the little strength she left in her body. I knew with the tide situation that if she let go completely it would be over quickly and she would have been swept under all those boats and past a number of docks.
I screamed over to my customers and they immediately ran to the front of the bow and yanked her out of the drink. We put her on the dock, covered her up with a blanket and called 911 on a neighbors cell cause all of ours (including mine) were dead and not functioning. Talk about a turn of events....how could such a great day turn out so bad?
Thankfully, 'D' was now safe and the rescue was on their way. After extensive testing at the hospital, 'D' was very lucky to have only broken three of her ribs...all of her other internals (spleen, ect.,) were all good. At 10:00 PM (after all her testing was completed)...'D' and I sat in that hospital room and talked about what happened and how we could prevent this from ever happening again in the future.
Apparently, as soon as the stern was tied-off the boat shifted position from the strong tide and the bow pulled away from the dock...turning her usual "step-off" into a leaping situation. Making it more dangerous...she also decided to go over the rail midship...a deadly mistake for sure and one that almost cost her dearly. We dodged a bullet for sure...Thank You GOD!!!
However, when it comes down to it - being Capt-...I am ultimately responsible for this fiasco. Going forward I am going to have a complete protocol for docking / undocking with iron clad rules for everyone on board. This accident happened so fast I cannot put it into words...if it was just her and I on board Sunday she would have slipped away under the boat and drowned.
Safety...not fishing will be my number 1 priority going forward for the rest of this season Steve. And I hope you can do something with my story to fore-warn and possibly prevent this from happening to someone else.
After a great deal of thought, I concluded that common sense goes a long way in our sport....having a solid float plan, making sure a working cell phone is on board, knowing where everyone is at all times, "using my noggin" (as you pointed out), these are all the things that make for a fun and safe day on the water...and going forward I will not have it any other way.
I am glad to hear from CS that his wife is feeling somewhat better after what truly is a 'accident'. It was a few broken ribs, which is still serious, and will take a period of time to heal. Thankfully his wife is safely and comfortably at home healing up.
One of the most important points about a day of fishing and boating is a statement I am constantly reminded of made by the legendary Captain RIchie Kessinger. It goes like this......
The two most important times of the fishing day is getting your boat off the dock safely, and more importantly, back into the dock safely. Everything in between is a bonus!
Again much thanks to my friend CS for passing this along. A number of lessons to be learned here, and I myself can pass along stories of crew members I have worked with who have gotten seriously injured (broken back) while assisting in tying up a docking vessel.
On till the engines are turned off, boat secured and everyone on the dock, is the time that everyone on board can say the fishing day is over.