Fun In the 'Dead-Zone'
The sky was a gorgeous dark grey — almost black — as we pounded into the Gulf. Lovely little white caps topped the waves like frosting on chocolate cake. And hour ago we sweltered in the midsummer sun, grappling with ropes and ice chests while launching the boat, panting and squirting sweat from every pore.
Now the wind brings a pleasant chill....and is that?...Ah yes! Those refreshing raindrops, invigorating our faces and bare torsos like the sting of a thousand ice needles.... just as...FLASH! an eye-catching lightning bolt jerks our gaze to the left in time to see the entire horizon illuminated spectacularly. Then- CRACK-BA-LOOM! the thrilling, neck- jerking boom of thunder.
The dive flag on the bimini top was about to shred, flapping crazily and adding a catchy little backbeat — almost sounded like popcorn popping — to the crackling of the radio and the earnest voices of fellow boaters we occasionally overheard — "Coast-Guard!..crackle-crackle — Is THIS the Coast Guard?!!!..crackle -crackle...We have"..crackle-crackle-crackle — "Calm down now. We can barely...crackle-crackle....YES!-YES!...I said MAY DAY!!...Yes MAY...crackle — crackle Please Get Yer ASS Out.....!!."
What a day to bring the women fishing.
We'd pulled into the condo yesterday evening and had to unload the catch with a freakin fork lift. They got excited. "We wanna go tomorrow!...Please!..We won't complain about anything...we promise!"
Yeah right...famous last words. Anyway our catch wasn't atypical. Everyone's been hauling them in off the La. coast lately. And those of us who look under the surface marvel at the schools of snapper, mackerel and jacks. Which is interesting because according to a Pulitzer prize-winning series of newspaper articles in 1997 and several more this summer in places like the Washington Post we're actually fishing and diving smack in the middle of the 8000 square mile oh-oh teedy-teeny-teedy-teeny — "Dead-Zone!!"
Yes "an utterly lifeless" area that forms off the La. Coast every summer because of fertilizer run-off from the Mississippi River that totally depletes the oxygen supply in the water.
You bet. According to Melissa Samet of the Sierra Club legal Defense Fund, quoted in these articles "The effect is like taking Saran wrap and placing it over an area the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island and suffocating everything under it!"
My, my. You see: "This destroys the food chain from bottom up!" So I guess we're hallucinating all those fish down here. By the way, America's oldest and still one of its biggest saltwater fishing tournaments, The Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo ,was held smack in the middle of this "utterly lifeless Dead Zone" last month. All of Japan could have gorged on the catch for a month....Only problem were the sharks.
"Can't keep the goddam sharks off the line!" I kept hearing.
"Every platform we pull up to...they're ripping up the Snapper we're pulling up!...cuttin the line!"
They're jerking stringers of sea-trout off wade fishermen too. And you talk about an interesting sight. "Hey?....HEY!!?" And you look over at your buddy who's doing the twist for some reason..."what the? — .HEY!-HEY! WHOAA! — WHAAO! "
Then he shifts from Chubby Checker to John Belushi as Samurai fisherman! "wha!-whoa!-wha!" whacking the water all around him to a froth with his pole. Oh, for a camcorder.
Yet sharks are somehow "endangered" or "threatened" or some such noise according to the Feds and their cronies and lackeys in foundations and state Fisheres dept. In 1993 the commercial and recreational limits were cut drastically and several species were declared completely protected. The Gulf states quickly followed suit. It's now illegal to catch ANY Shark off Louisiana between April 1st and June 30th. And the limits 2 sharks per boat when it's open. And they're proposing to make it ONE per boat! Aping the feds again.
I've always wondered where these wizards get their figures. Then a chum who ran a charter fishing-diving boat out of Grand Isle gave me a clue. "Had a contract with a federal agency to take their people out to count fish around the Oil platforms" he told me recently. "We'd go down and the schools of snapper had to literally part to let us swim through. Well, we're back on board and I see this woman filling out her little chart with the figures and behind Red Snapper I see she writes 2...WHAT?! I blurted. Aren't you missing three zeroes behind that 2, I asked?"
'Not at all' she replied.
"Well that was the last time I let those people on my boat!"
A lot of people are paying with stitches and tourniquets this summer for that type of "science."
Anyway a nice little squall had caught us. And nature in the raw had the women positively speechless. They were riveted. Why just an hour ago their eyes were groggy and expressionless. Now look at them!
They've widened like saucers to take it all in! And those tanned and impassive faces we saw as they shuffled through breakfast now radiate with emotion and have turned a healthy white.
And here we thought nature's beauty would be lost on the gals? That outdoor adventure would leave them unmoved? — Hah! Such sexist, stereotypical bosh!
Pelayo lowered his cap to shield his eyes and I could see his torso quivering. His lips were tight as he pointed left with his chin. He was stifling a guffaw....And yep, the only thing missing so far today was finally appearing: that little tail snaking down from the black clouds ahead. A water spout was forming a bit to the east.
NOW we're getting somewhere(!), I thought while nodding.
"HUMBERTO!" and I felt the passionate grip and the fingernails sinking into my bare arm and sunburned shoulder. "You turn this damn boat around THIS SECOND!!...I MEAN IT!!"
Actually they'd been screeching for a while now, for a good five miles. But we refused to humor them. Let em babble, that's our motto. "OH-MY-GAWD!!" Cindy shrieked as she pounded her husband's back with clenched fists. "I can't BELIEVE THIS!.
"Just a little summer squall," Pelayo finally turned and snorted at them "They pop up, then vanish in no time...Good grief. What a buncha old biddies...we'll be fine."
"LOOK!" Laura pointed. "ARTIE! LOOK! It's a DAMM....?!" She spotted the waterspout and now her face....remember the movie Total Recall?..Remember towards the end when everything was blowing up and Arnold and that chick were sliding down that mountain? Remember their faces? Those eyes popping out, their mouths horribly distended as they yelled hysterically? Well, they looked serene next to Laura.
"It IS!" Shirley yelled as her fingernails started drawing blood. "It's a Tornado!"
"It is NOT!" Artie corrected as he looked over with a look of annoyance. "It's a waterspout..."
"An itty-bitty one" Pelayo added.
"A teensy-weenzy-wimpy one," I joined just as we came off the crest of a huge wave and crashed into the trough with a sharp SMACK!"
"OWWW!" Cindy yelled. " MY BUTT!..ya trying to kill us!"
"Good way to wash the boat" Artie said while pointing at the waterspout. "Just get under one for a bit."
"Damn right" Pelayo blurted. "Buzzy does it all the time. And I'd been meaning to try it..hell we still got all that blood and slime from yesterday."
"Sure!" Artie said. "Hell, it's just like the inside of a car-wash...Let's go."
They were all weeping by now, blubbering hysterically as they clawed and scratched and pounded on us. But we'll be damned if we let em spoil our fun. And hell, they'd been all gung-ho last night.
"I thought ya'll liked "getting caught in the rain." Pelayo looked back and smirked. "Hunh? Isn't that what ya'll were singing last night — whoops!," And he ducked just in time as Cindy swung the paddle that collided with a WHACK! with the center console.
Pelayo was right, of course. But those were the Pina Colada's talking last night, in a raucous and perfectly fitting Karoeke session on the balcony: " If you like Pina Colada's," they'd harmonized beautifully ..."And getting caught in the rain!" they'd swayed sensuously in a shaky line, one arm around the other's shoulder, the other hand clutching — speak for yourself, Jimmy Buffet — "that frozen concoction that helps them hang on."
Yes sir. A lively and fun-filled evening. The talk drifted to our upcoming Mediterranean vacation and the gals talked of going for that "all over tan" in preparation, as our eyebrows started jerking and dancing. They proposed we drop them off on a barrier island with drinks, towels and such then go off to our diving and fishing.
"Yeah you RITE!" I seconded. We knew a back approach to the island behind some dunes and Pelayo had his good binoculars in the console. We'd take turns...no more speculation or fantasizing. And now this damn squall spoils everything! But at least we'll have a clean boat.
August 25, 2001