Other people’s boats

Our cars are nothing to write home about. We’ve got a sober Saab sedan, a beat-up pick-up, and a decrepit Land Rover almost as old as I am. But, when I see a nice car, the kind of car I’d like to have, I don’t suffer from car envy. Sure, a brand spanking new Tacoma with four-wheel drive and an extended cab would be nice, but we’re doing just fine without it, thank you very much.

Boats, though. Boats are another matter entirely.

I think it’s because a new car would do pretty much what an old car will do, only more reliably and comfortably. But a new boat opens up whole new horizons.

Yesterday morning I went fishing in the shallow waters around Dauphin Island. It wasn’t a propitious kind of fishing day; the wind was strong, and there was a neap tide, which meant the water wasn’t moving much. But I was on Dauphin Island and I was damned if wouldn’t go fishing, given the chance.

I was given the chance by my hosts, who set me up with a personable young man named Richard Rutland, whose company, Cold Blooded Fishing, runs charters around the island.

My first thought, after “I get to go fishing!” was, “Nice boat!” It was a 24-footer, powered by a 225-horse Yamaha four-stroke. Comfortable, fast, with a draft of about a foot.

We zipped across the windy part of Mobile Bay out to a sheltered cove in the lee of a barrier beach.

“We’ll anchor here,” Richard said, and pressed a button. I hear a bzzzzzz kind of noise, and we were anchored. Huh?

“What did you just do?” I asked. I knew no anchor had been let down, but we definitely weren’t moving.

He pointed to a gizmo next to his engine. It’s this thing called a Power Pole, and it’s basically a stick attached to a hydraulic mechanism that sinks it into the sea bed. Press the button, it goes down and you’re anchored. Press it again and it lifts and you drift.

Down, stop. Up, go. It was a revelation!

We did some stop-and-go fishing, casting live shrimp, along the beach side, but the Power Pole was the most interesting thing going. The fish were not in evidence.

Richard decided we’d try another spot, and he zoomed us around to the other side of the island, to a wall of rocks that line the spit of land that holds the airstrip. We went to one end, and he used his trolling motor, mounted on the bow on a metal contraption that secures it to the gunwale when you don’t need it and flips it into the water when you do, to troll along the wall.

I got a couple of nibbles, and had hopes for an actual fish, but they were not to be realized. Richard caught one nice flounder, and I got nothing. Nothing but a lovely boat ride, on warm southern waters, with an extremely nice and knowledgeable guide, so I wasn’t feeling too sorry for myself.

My boat envy was acute, but I could keep it in check.

That night, though, it was to reach bubonic proportions.

Our group had a dinner made by Wesley True, the chef whose Mobile restaurant, True, earned him a James Beard nomination this year. But we didn’t go to True to eat that dinner. Oh no. Wes came to us, and cooked at the spectacular waterfront home of a local couple who invited a bunch of journalists over, just because.

Lisa and Skip have not just a spectacular waterfront home, but also a spectacular waterfront pool, with an attendant spectacular waterfront poolhouse. They welcomed us, a group of strangers, with warmth and grace, and our dinner began at the spectacular waterfront bar, where we drank gin mixed with Wes’s house-made tonic. What followed was a multi-course meal about which there will be more at a later date. Right now, today, I have to tell you about the boat.

Outside Lisa and Skip’s house was a dock. Next to the dock, lifted out of the water by one of those dockside boat lifts, was a boat. A 32-foot Regulator with twin 350s. Now that’s a boat.

Skip is a rabid fisherman, and has a charter license so he can turn other people into rabid fishermen. (Lisa gets seasick, and stays inshore.) When I asked him about his boat, and the kind of fishing he did, his eyes lit up as he told of snapper, and marlin, and tuna.

“You wanna see the tackle room?” he asked.

Tackle room? Tackle box, I know. Tackle drawer, even. But tackle room?

It killed me, the tackle room. Fifty or sixty rods, outfitted with top-of-the line gear of various sizes, equipped for various fish. There were probably a dozen Shimano tuna reels. There were cabinets filled with lures and line. There were even big soft chairs, so those among us who were suddenly weak at the knees could admire the room in complete comfort.

I wish Lisa and Skip had been jerks, because I’m never jealous of anything jerks have. But Lisa and Skip are anything but. They are charming, and engaging, and hospitable. They put their home at our disposal for the evening, even though, for all they knew, we’d wreck the joint. And so I don’t just want their boat, and their tackle. I could use something of their personalities, too.

Boat envy, you see, is limitless. I most definitely want that 32-foot Regulator for offshore excursions. But I also want the 24-foot flats boat with the groovy hydraulic anchor.

And about that Tacoma …

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