By Jim Palmer
If you travel to any state (or country) that borders an ocean it is likely you will have the opportunity to go fishing in a chartered boat.
Last month, we took our first big family vacation in a while and we spent most of that vacation in Destin, Florida. Destin has been a fishing village in the panhandle of Florida for more than 150 years, but was only established as a full-blown city in 1984. The community lines the Gulf of Mexico and includes white sandy beaches, a fun beach walk and a wide selection of seafood and oyster bars (and other nice restaurants). It is also known as “the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”
We were going to test that luck.
Two of my three sons, Noah (16) and Easton (11), love to fish. So when they were given the chance to hop on a chartered boat and fish in the Gulf of Mexico, they jumped at it. And I would join them on the adventure.
Although I am not much of a fisherman, I had actually been on two deep sea fishing excursions before. Once about 30 years ago in Alaska with family and again about seven years ago on trip to Mexico with friends. Both times, I turned green and barely made it through without losing my lunch. I realized the likeliness of this happening again, but it was my duty as a parent to be on that boat. Plus, I wanted to be there if they caught anything big. When I bought tickets for this charter, I realized that I would likely get sick, but I wasn’t thinking much about that. My big hope was that the boys would catch some fish and they would not get sick. If both those things happened, it would be a vacation “win.”
As we were about the board the boat, the captain read a list of rules/regulations. Things like “don’t drop the rods” and “don’t fall out” and “if you see someone fall in, let us know.” Then he added... “We usually don’t say this, but since the waves have gone from 5 feet to over 7 feet in the last few hours, I feel the need to say this ... if you would like to bow out now and get a full refund, you can do it.”
I glanced down at my boys. They didn’t flinch. “We’re going,” they said. I immediately thought to myself, “I’m in trouble.”
We boarded the boat and found a seat. There was a guy named Mike, a dentist from Louisville, who sat by us and struck up a conversation. He said he was a regular and had actually fished on the same boat that morning and the afternoon before. He said we picked the best boat crew in Destin. That was good to hear.
I told him that we had all taken Dramamine two hours before the boat ride to help our stomachs on the rough waters. He smiled. “You have to take that the day before for it to really help.” That wasn’t good to hear.
After about an hour on the boat, I felt pretty good. I checked in with my boys every 20 minutes or so and they both gave me the thumbs up.
Mike told us it takes nearly two hours to reach our fishing spot. After about an hour and half, I started to get a little queasy. A cold sweat had formed on the back of my neck. My saliva started to taste different, and occasionally I would burp. These ailments would get worse, then better, then worse again over the next 20 minutes or so. The burps started tasting funny, too. Then the boat engine slowed down.
“This is the part where the captain brings everyone together and gives a short fishing lesson on the equipment and the bait,” said Mike.
I was starting to feel like I was going to make it through this without getting sick.
When I stood up and started walking to the back of the boat, something changed quickly in my stomach. Saliva started filling my mouth, the burps returned and my stomach was churning. It was happening. We were told to head to the back of the boat if we felt like throwing up. So I did.
The captain was also heading to the back of the boat. In fact, he stood directly in front of me. He was preparing to give his “lesson.” Everyone formed a semi circle around the captain... and me. All eyes were heading our direction. I wanted to move but I was fading fast. It was too late. It didn’t help that I was standing right next to a pail of stinky fish parts that we would use as bait that day. A whiff of that was the final trigger. With a final burp, I turned my head around and tossed every cookie in the cookie jar off the side of the boat. And I’m quite confident that everyone on the boat watched me do it. I continued to empty the cookie jar through the captain’s entire two minute fishing lesson. After wiping off my mouth, I turned around as he was saying, “Any other questions? Great, go fish!” I missed every single word of it.
I met Noah and Easton on the side of the boat. They were ready to fish.
“Did you see me?” I asked.
“Everyone saw you, dad,” Easton smiled.
When the fishing began, it was fast and furious. The boat was aggressively moving back and forth. There were guys on the boat (the ones who were thirsty on the way out) who were having trouble keeping their balance. The rods were heavy and Easton needed a little help, too, so I ditched my rod after one cast and helped him out the rest of the time.
Once we got the hang of it, the boys caught about 8-10 fish. Half of those were keepers -- red snappers and white snappers. We also caught some trigger fish and groupers, but threw them back at the direction of the crew. Someone on our side of the boat caught a five-foot shark. Instead of getting the shark in the boat, the captain came over and cut the line... just as the Jaws theme music was starting to play louder in my head. I could tell the boys were loving it.
For the rest of the fishing excursion, I took multiple trips to the back of the boat. I lost count, but I probably heaved around 25-30 times. After all the fluids were gone from my body (about 10 heaves in), I no longer bothered to go to the back of the boat. They were just dry (painful) heaves.
We fished for about an hour or so before heading back to Destin.
I wasn’t the only one sick... when I walked through the inside the boat, there were 6-7 people laying down and hunched over. It sorta looked like a scene from M.A.S.H. They were all green and just trying to sleep through it. Fortunately, I felt better after each series of heaves and was able to keep on fishing, which was good. I didn’t want to miss out on the action.
As the boat ride was ending, I looked over at my boys. Both were smiling. Despite the hurls, those smiles made the fishing trip completely worth it. Both caught fish, neither got sick and both had a great time. It was a messy, but successful mission.