My best fishing buddy is Coach Steve Cisson. He’s a machine when it comes to finding and landing all kinds of creatures from the deep. Most of the things I know about the sport, I learned from him including the fact that you should never go out in a small boat on a big lake when there is a storm brewing. I wish to convey that message to you today so that you will not blunder into the trap he led me into one day on Clarks Hill Lake.
I should have known better but the prospect of catching a whopper impaired my judgment as we took off from Bobby Brown State Park in Steve’s boat. The name of the boat was either The U.S.S. Minnow or B-See-N-U, I can’t remember which but either was appropriate for what was to transpire on that trip. The boat itself was of the short, wooden, home made, v-hulled variety. It sported a ten horsepower motor (circa 1948) and had some issues concerning stability in rough seas. Literally, it was coming apart at the seams. Even a gallant explorer like Christopher Columbus wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot cattle prod. I think the savvy Jacques Cousteau would have cast a keen eye on it and known right away that it was not far from doing some serious underwater exploration.
So off we went. After catching some bait (I think it was blue-backed herrings) we proceeded toward the dam and hung out our poles over an area that Captain Cisson deemed suitable. The fish were not cooperating but we hung in there hoping our luck would change. After a while I got sleepy and as soon as I dozed off my best pole vaulted overboard, the victim of a sly monster just waiting for me to nap. I awoke to the clattering sound but alas it was too late. Little did I know that this was a minor incident compared to what was yet in store for the crew of The Minnow. The frustrations continued and while our impatience with the fish grew, another problem sneaked up on us.
The first sign of trouble was an increase in wind velocity from the south. I noticed this fact with the unerring instinct of one who has been in serious predicaments many times before. The second clue was a large black cloud swiftly moving in our direction and more importantly squarely between us and the safety of our boat ramp. The fearless admiral was sleeping through these events in the back of the craft and I alerted him to the looming danger. Regrettably it was far too late. The storm was bearing down on us and The Minnow was soon to be in a fight for her life.
We heaved up the anchor and after several anxious pulls on the cord the lusty ten horsepower motor roared to life. I couldn’t hear it because the wind was howling by then. As we turned into the onslaught a wave broke over the bow where I was sitting and I knew it was either going to be a long trip back or a very short, deep one.
As we slowly built up momentum to full speed the vessel was bucking like a wild bronco and waves were drenching me. I grabbed a hold of both sides of the v-hull and hung on for dear life. It was at this point that I noticed the boards on both the port and the starboard side of the boat were buckling and I tried not to panic but did not succeed. I screamed to Coach “We’re breaking up” and he snorted a maniacal guffaw at my lack of confidence in The Minnow and fearlessly plodded on into the maelstrom.
I knew then it was time for prayer. With a deranged boat captain behind me, a storm with tornado like winds in front of me, and a boat of dubious quality under me there was nothing else to do. I remembered the mariner’s prayer: “Oh Lord what shall I do; the sea is so big and my boat is so small.” It must have worked because we somehow made it ashore. Coach Cisson gleefully told everyone about my panic attack but I was just glad that we weren’t stranded on a desert isle or worse, helping Jacques Costeau on an underwater exploration project.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.