Miss Jacksonville

jax22

Miss Jacksonville.  No she’s not a pin up.  She’s a fishing boat based out of Mayport.  She goes out every day for fishing excursions, carrying around a hundred people, with a “round bottom keel” if ever there was one.

I had gotten my income tax return and put it in the bank.  It was for far more money than I had earned that year.  I was only 17 and getting ready to leave for Boot Camp in the next few days. I originally figured that the IRS would send me a letter, telling me about their mistake, then order me to return the dough.

Months had gone by and I figured that the money was mine to spend.  Since I was going away to the service, I figured that I would spend it on a big splash, just to have something to remember while I was gone.

I decided to take my younger brother fishing on the Miss Jacksonville.  We both liked to fish and it was an out of the ordinary event that two brothers could share and have some fun.

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When we showed up at the docks in Mayport, the dew was still heavy in the air.  You could barely see 20 feet in the mist.  The dock was crowded, with people.  They were pushing to get on board, fighting for the best spot to fish from.  We didn’t care where we fished from, we were young and naïve.  To us, one spot was good as another, since we were gonna be fishing straight down.

The boat supplied all of the bait and fishing gear.  All we needed to bring were our refreshments for the day.  We brought a five gallon bucket full of ice and cans of Budweisers.  Since we were underage, I had gone to the drive through window at the Sahara Liquor store and got a 12 pack the night before.

On the way to the docks we stopped at a convenience store and bought ice, orange juice and donuts.  We ate some, saved the rest for later.  For lunch we brought cans of sardines and a pack of saltines.

Our companions for the trip were a mixed group.  There were men and women from all walks of life and nationalities.  One group of about a dozen or so were oriental.  They kept together and didn’t mix with any one else.  We were all required to wear an orange life jacket, under mine, I was wearing a fatigue jacket of my Dad’s, that he wore in Viet Nam.  FRAILEY was stenciled across the chest pocket.  The captain of the boat saw this and asked me if I was related to Lt. Frailey.  He said that he had been a bosun’s mate in the Navy, he had served with my dad on more than one occasion.

The Captain took us under his wing, gave us a tour of the boat.  He told his “hands” to keep an eye out for our well being and gave us the “run” of the ship.  After hearing this, Gary and I went to the bow of the boat, ducking down in the shade behind the lifeboat and guzzled a few beers.

The crew told every one that it was custom to run a “pool” for the largest fish and another one for the most fish.  Five dollars each.  That’s what it cost, ten apiece for the both of us.  There was no doubt in my mind that either me or Gary was gonna win that pool, at least one of them.  With over a hundred people on board, that would be a thousand dollars if we won both of them.

Gary and I had a buzz and we tried to be friendly with the oriental folks on board.  We offered them the rest of our doughnuts and a couple of bottles of orange juice.  They still wanted to be kinda “stand-offish” but accepted our offer of generosity, ate our donuts and washed them down with the o-jay.

Gary went into the cabin to use the “head”, when he didn’t come back, I went in search of him.  I found Gary at a long table playing poker, with a group of old timers, he was smoking a big cigar and grinning from ear to ear.  He was winning big so I didn’t say much, just watched.  I found a spot on the rail and no sooner had we anchored at our first spot to fish, I dropped my line, immediately I hung onto what felt like a speeding locomotive.

My first fish was a 30 lb. red Snapper.  Wow what a keeper.  I remember my rod bending down, it took all of my strength to keep it from dipping down.  I held on and was rewarded by the prettiest prize winner you ever saw.  I heard camera clicking and received several claps on the back.  It was on.  We were right on top of a big school.

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Gary cashed in from the poker game a big winner and joined me at the rail.  He started dripping sardine oil from the cans we brought for lunch unto the cuts of squid we used for bait.  He was pulling them in left and right.  I kept an eye out for anyone snagging a bigger fish than mine, fearful that I would lose the lead at any moment.

At the end of the day, I won the big fish pool alright and Gary won for the biggest stringer full of fish.  At the docks there were throngs of people wanting to buy our fish.  I saw that Gary’s stringer was gone and figured that he had sold them.  When I asked him about it, he said that he had just given them away.  “You gave them away”   I freaked out.  I told him I had spent over a hundred dollars on our trip and he was just gonna give the fish away?

When I asked him who he gave the fish to, I freaked again when he pointed at the oriental people walking down the gangway, faces full of smiles revealing mouths full of gold teeth.  I got mad and indignant and said “Hell, our Dad just got back from Viet Nam fighting these fish heads and I’m going to Boot Camp tomorrow so I can join the fight, what do you mean giving away our fish?”

Gary laughed at my arguments and said “Look, you just won over $500.  I just won over $500.  Plus I won over two hundred in the poker game, I’ll take you to the Green Turtle and buy you a seafood dinner.  Besides I don’t believe they are from Viet Nam.  I think they are from Europe and they didn’t catch any fish at all.”

I listened to this, deciding that he was right but I asked him what made him think they were from Europe?

He told me that after we anchored, the boat started rocking back and forth.  The whole group of our new found friends just hung their heads over the side, puking out orange juice and donuts, hollering out “Your Up, Your Up!”

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