SHRIMPING


It was early in May of ’72 and I had just finished the second semester of my freshman year at Auburn Community college, in my home town of Auburn, New York.   I was at my friend Tom Shayler’s apartment, where we were discussing possible forms of summer employment.   As we were talking, Tom’s brother Pete came through the front door carrying his back-pack and guitar while dragging an army duffel-bag behind him.  He had just arrived in town on a Greyhound from South Texas where he had been working on the shrimp boats.  With very little encouragement, he proceeded to tell us all about “;Port A”(the barrier island of Port Aransas, Texas) and the adventures awaiting anyone who chose to tackle the sea and become a shrimper there.  With glowing eyes and gesticulating arms, he told us of beaches, beautiful girls in bikinis, of the free atmosphere on the island, of the sea and the surf.  He then proceeded to romanticized shrimping into an adventure right out of a Hollywood dream.   He had my very naïve attention completely.

I left for Port Aransas the next morning on a Greyhound bus, with only $25.00 in cash, my guitar, an army duffel-bag with a small quantity of clothing, my toothbrush and an old army blanket.  The ride from Auburn to port Aransas is endless – a fifty-five hour assault against body, mind and soul.  The ride alone would have been bad enough, but a couple of factors made the trip much worse.  For one thing, the food – available only in the bus stations – was horrendous.  In most of the “food” venues located in stations along the way, vending machines are the only source of nourishment.   I examined one of the cold-cut sandwiches that I had purchased from one of these machines and was struck the distinct impression that the lettuce had been grown in the sandwich by using the slimy green lunch-meat as a rooting medium.  It was eat this garbage or starve because although no one forced it on you, it was your only choice as these stations are invariably located in the worst neighborhoods of any town with no grocery stores near by.  To compound these lovely travel conditions for what seemed like at least half of the whole trip, I had a gentleman sitting next to me who massed at least three-hundred-fifty pounds. He had the isle seat and kept me firmly crushed against the wall and window for our whole time together – with emphasis on together.   He finally got off in Texarkana, which is a town located not surprisingly where the north end of Texas meets the south end of Arkansas.  His departure was doubly satisfying because not only was I going to be able to breath and move my limbs somewhat as I rode, I was in Texas.  This second point did have me somewhat confused though, because the trip, as I stated before, was supposed to take fifty-five hours, but I had at this point only been traveling for thirty-eight.  Curious about this I went to the front of the bus and asked the driver why we were so ahead of schedule.

“Son” he said with an obvious Texas Drawl, “We aint ahead uh schedule.   Got a lotta Texas to go through ‘fore we get to Port A.”

He was right, because when we pulled into Aransas Pass, which is Port Aransas’s sister city on the mainland, it was two A.M. and just fity-five hours and fifteen minutes from my Auburn departure.  The two-legged bus was my only transport to the ferry for the island because excepting myself, the bus driver and a few sleeping passengers on the bus, Aransas Pass appeared deserted.   I was so tired that I don’t know how long it took me to walk the several miles to the ferry, but once there the ferry ride took less than five minutes.  By the time I got to the island, it was three in the morning, so not having any other sleeping accommodations, I just walked for the beach, climbed up on one of the dunes that run parallel to it, lay down my army blanket, and slept soundly until the unforgiving Texas sun awoke me sometime before noon.

I wasted no time in running down the steep slope of the dune, across the beach and into the gulf.   What a feeling!  It wasn’t my first time in the gulf.  I had been to the gulf-side of Florida several times with my father and a few times on my own, but after what I went through to get there, this time was by far, the most rewarding.  I went out to about neck-deep and just let the surf and current carry me along for about twenty minutes.  When I came in, I realized that the undertow had carried me quite some distance down the beach.  I knew which direction I had gone, but wasn’t sure quite how far.  Looking up at the dunes, which run parallel to and the whole twelve-mile length of Port Aransas’s beach, I realized that it might be difficult to find my stuff because although I knew in which direction to travel, the dunes and the beach look pretty much the same in any one place as in any other.  Finally, after about an hour of walking on the beach and climbing up and down dunes, I found my stuff.  It was good that I did, because while I was still in the water bouncing along, I noticed a rumbling of hunger in my stomach and by the time I found my stuff, I was famished, so the next thing I did was go in search of food.  This I found at the first place I came to after leaving the beach from one of the many feeder streets that lead to and from it.  The “restaurant” was called the “Blue Dolphin”, and it was the greasiest of spoons.  As I walked in the first thing I noticed was a smell of not to fresh fish mixed with disinfectant.  I was so hungry, that even this did not serve to weaken my appetite, so I decided to eat there.  The waitress, typical of the local residents of Port A, at least those who are above the age of thirty, was probably in her fifties, completely desiccated by the sun, and croaked in a too many cigarette voice,

“What can ah do for ya’ honey?”

“Sure would like some breakfast”, I said as I plopped down in the stool at the counter.

“Sorry babe”, she said with a smile, “but we only serve breakfast ’till eleven, and it’s twelve-thirty now.  How ’bout some Chicken Fried Steak”?

“Sure”, I said with a puzzled expression on my face, “What on earth is that?”

“Oh Jesus!”, she cackled, ” You must be a Yankee.  Chicken Fried Steak is the national food of Texas!”

“Well then,” I said displaying an enthusiastic smile, ” since I just arrived in Texas, bring on the Chicken Fried Steak!”

As she prepared it, I let the possibilities run through my mind as to what this stuff might be composed of.  Was it chicken fried like a steak?  Was it steak fried like a chicken?  Was it both chicken and steak fried together?   What it turned out to be was awful.  The “steak” consisted of what appeared to be the lowest quality hamburg paddie.  This was dipped in a batter that I think was mostly lard, and then fried in what appeared to be more lard in a skillet.  The results were very unappetizing, but, remembering one of my father’s favorite expressions “hunger is the best seasoning”, I ate it anyway because by then, I would have eaten an old shoe, which would have been much more tender.   Somehow,  I managed to hold this disgusting lump in my stomach..

Pete had given me directions of how to find one “Took Choate”(really his given name), who was sort of a sage/beach-bum and friend to all the shrimpers and other regulars that frequent the Port A beach. Took was, he passed away about 10 years ago, truly a character.  He claimed he was a retired psychologist and hog farmer, but at the time of our meeting, he was about 60, prune-like from the South-Texas sun, and always holding a mason jar of “tea” strongly spiked with wild turkey, in his hand as he combed the beach. Old Took told me everything I had to know to get a job as a “header”, which is the entry-level position in the shrimping world.   He said, “All ya need to know is go down to the docks in Aransas and walk around asking if anyone needs a header”.  I later found out that he did leave out a few important details, but I followed his instructions and despite his omissions got a job from the first person with whom I spoke.

I had just arrived at the docks when I saw a very powerfully built man loading boxes on a shrimp boat. As I walked up to him I noticed that his biceps were about the size of my thighs and his whole body looked as if it were stone with only the thinnest layer of skin stretched tightly over it and he was moving a full oil drum around the boat as easily as I might have moved a kitchen chair. When he turned toward me,  I noticed a striking scar that started on his forehead one inch above his left eye – a gray sightless orb – and extended an inch below it on his cheek. He later claimed  that he received this wound in a knife fight that occurred in a bar on the Barbary coast.  Was that a fabrication?  Maybe, but the longer I knew him, the more this seemed believable. He turned out to be the captain of the boat he was loading, and when I asked him for a job he asked me if I had any experience. I wanted to work so much, I promptly lied and said yes. He then asked me where my boots were and to see my commercial fishing license.  Took hadn’t bothered to mention to me that I needed these things, so I said they were back on Port Aransas – another lie, I had neither.

At this point he stopped his lifting, turned toward me, gave me a funny look as he said, “go get that shit and be back in two hours ’cause there’s work to be done and we we’re leaving at 0600 tomorrow for Campeche, Mexico, all the way across the Gulf, so get a move on.”;

I walked away both excited and scared. Excited because I was going to sea. Did I mention that I had never been on a sea going vessel before?  Scarred by the fact that I had just been hired to do a job that I knew nothing about, by a person who could easily crush me with one hand – one finger.  Soon excitement won out, as it often does when “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.  I was a little worried though about having to buy things like a license and boots, because I had exactly $14.00 left.  I went to the bate store where these things are sold and feared that my “adventure” was finished before it even started when I found that the license was $12.00 and the cheapest boots $30.00.  When I told the guy in the store of my financial problems he asked me who I was planning to go out with.

“His name is Johnny and his boat is The Gulf Queen”, I replied.

“Johnny”, he said with a look of surprise and a slight frown on his face, “yep, I know him.  He’s a real good fisherman, but let me give you a piece of advice.  Don’t give him any shit, ’cause he is one mean sum’bitch!  You’ll have to pay for the fishing licence, but I can give you an old pair of boots I got out back”.

“Thanks”, I said with much relief, but I doubt that it sounded very enthusiastic.

After this I hopped the ferry back to Port A and went over to Took’s house. I was pretty nervous about my upcoming employment, but some shrimpers who had just returned to port with a great catch were having a party on the beach with about 20 kegs, and after about my 4th cup of beer, my nerves not only became settled, I began to actually look forward to the next mornings adventure.  Fortunately the weather the next morning was as bad as my hangover, so we never got started until late that afternoon.  I cannot fully describe the feeling of elation I felt as I stood on the bow of that boat going out between the jetties, but that feeling was short lived.  The captain and the rig-man were both in the wheelhouse above and behind me watching me, talking and laughing, but I could not hear what they were saying over the roar of the engine.  Between the Jetties – two piers that bisect the island, allowing vessels to pass through the island and out to sea – the water is relatively calm, but when our boat passed beyond them, we immediately encountered waves of at least ten feet.  The result of this was that one of these monster waves came dashing across the bow drenching me and practically washing me off the boat.  Like a drowned rat, I went back to the cabin to dry off as the Captain and the rig-man roared with laughter.

We were about 14 hours running time from our destination, which wasn’t actually Campeche, but about 20 miles out in the Gulf from the coastal town. There is a strictly enforced ten mile limit imposed by the Mexican government and one may not fish closer or risk the consequence of being arrested by the federales and having ones boat confiscated, so most shrimpers don’t even come close to that limit.  We were I later found out to be fishing for White Prawns, which run in size about 10-15, which is a Shrimper term for ten to 15 shrimp per pound.  One fishes for these at about sixty fathoms — that is roughly three hundred and sixty feet.

Once we got out in the Gulf a good distance the waves were mountainous.  Each one towering over the sixty-five foot steel hull boat and creating the impression in this observer that the giant precipice of water was about to come crashing down send us to the bottom of the sea.   At the last moment, and always to my amazement, our boat, like some toy, would bob to the top of this wave, giving a view of the deep canyon separating us from the next monster wave, that always seemed bigger than the last. It didn’t take much of this before retired to my berth – a bunk bed, which resembled a coffin attached to the bulk-head.  The captain had gone to his private Cabin before we left the Jetties because he said he always got sea-sick for the first two days of every trip, however the rig-man informed me that was because he always left port after at least a four day bender and with a large hangover.

I found out, much to my relief, that sea-sickness is not a problem for me, but standing up was.  The only place I felt safe from falling on my ass was my berth,  where I planned to stay until we reached calmer waters on the other side of the Gulf.  But by 2:30 in the morning, I began to get real thirsty and decided to venture to the galley to get a drink. I accomplished this by holding on to anything I could  to keep from falling. Once there, I retrieved a gallon plastic jug from the refrigerator and unscrewed the cap and just as I started to drink, a wave hit.  I must mention here if a wave hits the boat head on or on the side it makes the boat roll, but if it hits at an angle it has an extreme jarring effect. This was the kind of wave that hit, knocking the jug from my hand and spilling its contents all over the deck below my feet. Then another wave hit, this time from directly starboard causing the boat to roll to about 45 degrees port. My feet slipped and I fell to the slippery deck, slid on my butt across it,  hitting and flying over the flange at the bottom of the galley’s port, out on the open deck, and finally clutching the steel railing with my fingertips just as I was about to slip into the dark waters that would have been most certainly my grave!  I pulled myself back onto the deck and carefully clutched my way back to that nice safe coffin, where I stayed until we were ready to anchor the next morning.

I was awakened by the Captain Screaming, “ get your ass out here the anchor is already down and its time to get to work”

The first thing I heard as I walked out on the deck in the morning was the captain ordering me to , “Rig some tickler chains on that net”.

My reply to this was “Do what?”

“I thought so”; he said with a cold smile, “knew you were lyin’, got somethin’ to show you – C’mere”.   He then took me to the railing on the side of the boat and pointed down into the water.  What I saw below paralyzed me with fear, because swimming back an forth and all around the side of the boat, were about 20 sharks. Two or three were at least 15 feet long. He let me take in their majesty and power for a minute, and then he said , “If you don’t learn all you need to know to do this job by tomorrow, they are gonna have a nice little snack.”.

It was grueling work and I was really in poor physical condition, but I learned quick.   I also learned what it is like to live in constant fear of a tyrant.

As is customary,  there were only three of us on the boat. The captain, the rig-man, and the header.  The Captain’s job is to navigate the boat, locate the shrimp and generally oversee all functions of the boat.  The rigman’s job was to make sure that all the nets, ropes, chains, knots,  pulleys, winches, and cables are in working order and in addition to those duties, and as is tradition is the boats cook.  The  header’s job is to head the shrimp and do all the dirty, uncomfortable, and backbreaking work on the boat.  Jobs Like cleaning the bilge tanks, hand hauling the tremendously-heavy-when-wet anchor rope, and cleaning the dead and rotting fish from the nets at the end of each fourteen hour day.

The nets were 65 feet long and about 30 feet across the mouth.  They were played in and out by two separate winches with giant spools each filled with one-inch steel cable.   When the nets are being dragged, sixty foot steel booms are extended from both sides of the boat and the cable from each one of the wenches is guided out the boom on its repective side of the boat via pullys and then out behind to attach to the net.    Each net has attached to each side an eight hundred pound “door”, which is a massive wooden affair with lots of steel on it to weight it down and that always reminded me of one of the giant doors on a medieval castle.  These doors were attached to the net in such a way so that they would both make it sink to the bottom and cause the mouth of the net to stay fully opened as it is being dragged.  With our nets at 36o feet, we had to have about 1/2 mile of cable played out from each winch as we were pulling the nets.  So, operating the winch could be a very dangerous affair.  No loose clothing was allowed on the boat for that reason.  If you were working the winch and a piece of your clothing got caught, you would be drawn into the spool and sliced up neatly.

The worst task is the heading of the shrimp this is accomplished  by grasping a shrimp just where the head section 1 meets the tale section between ones thumb and pointing finger, and squeezing until the head pops off. It is grueling work because a header has to dig through about 2000 pounds of (mostly) dead sea life just to decapitate about 50 to 100 pounds of shrimp. This must be done while sitting on a four inch wooden stool, not unlike a very short milking stool,  with ones legs splayed toward either side of a mountain of dead sea life.  While sitting in this extremely uncomfortable position with the torso thrust forward between his legs the header scoops into the putrid mound digging out the shrimp with a tool like a garden hoe but with a wider blade and a shorter handle. At least this most difficult chore I did not have to do alone,  because when the nets have been emptied on the deck under the baking Mexican summer sun , it is necessary get the shrimp headed and iced down in the hold as soon as possible to prevent spoilage.  Also, since we will be at sea for 26 days, icing the shrimp is not sufficient to prevent spoilage.  Directly after they are headed, they are dipped in a vat that is a solution of BHT (preservative) and water.  Yes folks, the fresh shrimp you have had probably isn’t that fresh, and it has been preserved.

As for the  reason most of the sea life is dead when dumped from the net,  the sea water being funneled through the net forces the water through gills so rapidly that they can’t take in oxygen from the water – the poor creatures literally drown.  For some reason, the various types of crabs survive this, so about three times an hour when reaching for a shrimp, one of those little bastards, particularly blue crabs,  will nail one between ones fingers in that oh-so-tender-part, with it’s pincher.  Painful! The most painful part of the whole experience is caused by the shrimp themselves, or rather the acid in their system, that consequently gives them their pink color.  This poison is delivered to you via a sharp spine located between and protruding beyond the eyes of the shrimp.  Even the most seasoned header will be stabbed several times during a heading session and a beginner’s hand will probably look like a pin cushion, as mine did.  It’s painful when stabbed, and it stings somewhat like a bee sting for awhile, but the worst part is the “shrimp poisoning” that occurs after about three days of heading.  The acid starts to build up in the joints of the hands, and the results mimic the symptoms of arthritis.  For me it just got worse the whole first trip, and it didn’t go away until I was back on Port A for three days.  Though not as plentiful as the crabs, sea snakes (deadly poison) don’t drown either, and on two separate occasions I had one chasing me around the deck. Weather or not it was one of the poison variety, I do not know, but I didn’t let it bite me to find out.

Shrimpers put in about 14 hours of hard work every day. 26 days is the usual amount of time out, and that was how long it was that trip – the longest 26 days of my life.  It wasn’t all bad though. We never pulled the net in that I didn’t see some new denizen of the deep I had never heard of or seen before. One of the most remarkable and also sad sights I saw was a family of stingrays killed by the net.  When the net was dumped on the deck at the top of it was one large stingray, and I mean large, at least 200 pounds.  All around it and under it were about 50 tiny miniatures of it.  This creature was probably over 100 years old, and we had snuffed not only it’s life, but the lives of it’s extensive family so somebody could have some shrimp cocktail at the Holiday Inn and so the sharks circling our boat would have a feeding orgy when we shoved the carcasses of the roughly nine-teen hundred pounds of non-shrimp, off the boat.

One evening just before dusk on about our fourth or fifth day out,  I found myself with nothing to do, so I explored the boat.  While looking through a box filled with various miscellaneous fishing-boat  odds and ends, that I found in a storage closet near the stern, I found a fish hook.  This was no ordinary fish hook, at least not to me.  To me an average fish hook is a small piece of wire bent in the shape of a question mark,  measuring an inch high and half an inch wide, with a barb on one end and a loop bent in the wire at the other where one attaches a fish line.  This hook was exactly like that, but in gigantic proportions.  The “wire” was eighth inch steel rod that was ten inches high and five inches wide.  I immediately took it to the captain who was leaning on the rail looking westward in the direction of the coming sunset and asked him if I could use it to catch one of the sharks next to the boat.  As I walked up to him he turned his head toward me,  noticed the hook and laughed while saying:

“Oh, I see  you found the baby shark hook”

“Baby Shark hook?” I laughed, “That hooks big enough to hook any shark.”

“No it aint”,  he said and he sounded serious, but I still thought to myself that surely this hook was the hook of hooks and I pressed on:

“Well, “ I asked with excitement clearly showing in my voice, “ do you suppose I could try to catch a shark?”

“Sure” he said with a kind of a snort, “go ahead, but how do you plan to do it,  hang over the rail by your feet holding the hook in your hand”?

“I don’t know”, I said, “ was hopin’ you’d show me”.

“Ok, “ he said, “I’ll rig it for you, but I’m warnin’ you go for a baby shark, like that one”.  He was now pointing down into the water.  I followed his finger and saw what the captain referred to as a baby shark.  It was about five feet long and probably weighed more than one hundred pounds.  He then turned to me and said, “ you hook that baby right there and you’ll have some real work bringing it in.  He then went to work  immediately rigging the hook.  First he attached one end of a twelve inch length of quarter inch chain to the hook and then spliced the other end of this “leader” to a fifty foot piece of half inch nylon rope.  The other end of the rope was securely tied to the steel rail, after which the captain carefully fed the rope through his hands onto the deck so it formed loose coils that would not tangle up.  He then stooped down and picked up a squid from the deck, a squid I might add, that I had missed while cleaning the deck.  Glaring at me as he slid the hook into it he said “all right, here you go!  Just keep away from that rope, if you get tangled in it, you get pulled in there with them”, he said as he pointed over the rail with his thumb in almost a hitchhikers pose.  I decided to stay clear of that rope.

“You sure I can’t go for that one”?  I asked as I pointed at a true monster.  It was a good twenty feet long, and  massed at least three thousand pounds.

“Look”, he said with a vicious smile that really accentuated his scar and made him even more scary than usual, “go ahead and go for any shark you want, but that hook cost me $15.00 and if you lose it, you bought it.  Just drop that squid down near the shark’s nose of your choice, and he’ll go for it”.  This he said as he turned his back on me, went in his cabin, and let the spring-loaded door slam..

I stood there for a minute, debating whether to go large, small, or medium, and then I did what I usually did at that time in my life, the stupid thing.   I went for the big one.  All of the sharks were swimming in circles around the boat in hopes of yet another snack after that days major meal from our nets, so it was easy to wait for sharkzilla to get into position.  It was just like the captain said.  I dropped the hook with the squid on it in front of  the monsters nose as it made a pass and couldn’t help notice that the hook sure looked tiny next to that shark.  Sure enough it bumped that squid with it’s nose, opened it’s cavernous razor rimmed mouth, which, just the opening of created enough suction to bring the hook and squid in.  It then simply closed it’s mouth, and lazily started to swim away.  It never swam fast, but straight away from the boat until all the rope played out, went tense, and then snapped as if it were my grandmother breaking a thread after darning my socks.  I pulled in the remaining twenty feet of rope and stared at the frayed end.  This rope was five thousand pound test.  I read that right on the box it came out of and I remember this clearly because it also read on the box:

½ inch Nylon  rope, yellow

5000 lb. test

a product of

Colombian Rope Company

Auburn, NY.

Auburn  as you remember is my home town and I had worked for Colombian Rope company in a previous summer job, so that’s why I am sure of the ropes strength.  As I stood there looking at that frayed rope, I heard the captains cabin door open, saw his head pop out and heard him yell:

“That’ll be 20 more for the rope – grand total 35”, and then his head disappeared inside and the door slammed, but his head quickly reappeared and he added, “And, don’t let me find any more gotdamned stinkin’ dead squid on my boat after you clean the decks, or else”!  With this his head disappeared a final time followed by the loudest slam so far.  A sudden image of a Cuckoo Clock from hell entered my mind.

Up until this point, and after his first warning, I had never really been too scared of the Captain.  I quickly learned to do my job and he mostly left me alone except in matters concerning the boat.  The encounter I just had with him was really the first non-work interaction we had, and I would have been a lot more likely to follow his advice had known what I would find the next day in that very same closet where I found the hook.  It looked like a jewelry box and was made from nicely varnished oak.  It had no lock so I opened and it contained somebody’s various personal items including: handwritten letters in envelops with return addresses from Ireland, a few pens, and most importantly it contained the passport of one Patrick Michael McKinney of Dublin, Ireland.  I was immediately puzzled about this and I felt a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Why would somebody leave such valuable items on a boat?  The captain was in the wheel house pouring over some charts, so I closed the box and went in there to ask him.   He looked up as I walked in and then looked down at the box in my hand  and as he did his face went to a frown and he said in machine gun succession.

“you’ve been diggin’ through my stuff again.  Don’t dig through my fuckin’ stuff.  Shit it already cost you 35 bucks.  Christ you don’t learn do you?.

“Sorry,” I said now wishing I had left the box in his “fuckin’ closet, “I didn’t think you’d care, I’ll put it back.

“never mind”, he said quickly grabbing it from my hand, “I’ll take care of it, you just keep your hands outa my shit.  Got it”?

“yes”, I said, but stupid me couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I added, “I was just curious why anybody would leave his passport behind is all.”

He stared at me for a moment and then looked down at his charts while saying “Beats me where he is, just took off a couple months ago and I aint heard of him since.

“Oh,” I said silently, “well I’ll stay out of your stuff from now on.  I went to my berth and lay down my mind full of fear and whirling with questions.  Did Johnny feed that guy to the sharks?  Did he plan to do the same with me in leu of paying me?  My next thought was, I need to get out of here, but then I realized that there was no getting out.  We hadn’t seen land in our five days out, and we wouldn’t for another twenty when we returned to port A.  I was stuck with my plight.  I made a vow right then to myself to be extra careful for the rest of this trip not to cross Johnny and to do exactly what he said and or advised from then on.  As the days went on, the panic lessened, but didn’t dissipate completely.  So you can imagine my elation when on the 26th day when I caught sight of the jetties of Port Aransas.  I am sure that Christopher Columbus had a similar rush.  As we were motoring our ways between the two cement walls that form the jetties, the captain approached me and said with a smile,

“Well, looks like we made it back.  Didn’t know if you were going to make it, but you did a pretty good job after I straightened you out a few times.  We’ll be going out again in three days,  are you coming?”

“Sure, “ I said, but my thoughts went along this line: “Just get my feet on dry land, and give me my pay Johnny and I will see to it that our paths don’t cross again.

Actually, I think I might be going a little hard on the old captain, who, If he is still alive is at least seventy.  For one thing, he never lied to me as I had to him, and for another, he was a good shrimper and knew where to find those shrimp.  I also doubt that he murdered poor Patrick his former header.  What probably happened was that Patrick decided to not go back out with Johnny – – no big surprise there – – and had gone on to work on another boat.  Why hadn’t he picked up his valuables then?  Probably because he was at sea whenever Johnny was on land and visa versa. This is because a hypothetical career shrimper works eight months out of the year and is at sea during most of the time.  One captain could easily go a whole season without seeing the one who docks his boat in the next berth.  As a side note, If a shrimper  starts his career when he is twenty-one and works until he is sixty-one, that means he will have spent very nearly two thirds of those forty years – about twenty-six years – on a boat with two other guys. That spells

g-r-i-m to me.

I did make good money on that trip.  With my share of the fish and my headers share 2, I  walked away with $435.00.   Now this may not sound like much, but this was thirty-eight years ago when “the buck” went a lot further.  In addition, all meals on the boat were provided and I certainly had no other way to spend money out there.   Although I went out on two more boats that summer, the first was by far the most lucrative trip.     When I say “fish”, I am referring to the occasional Red Snapper or grouper we would catch when Johnny strayed over a reef or a rock pile with our nets.  On one of these deviations, we hauled in about 900 pounds of snapper and the 150 pound grouper pictured to the right.  Also note in the picture the boots that were donated to me.

As per my mental ruminations during Johnny’s job offer to me, as soon as I had my money, I was gone, with no plans to see Johnny again.  In fact I never did.  What I did was immediately purchase a $400.00 cashier’s check which I then mailed home to my father.  The money was to help pay for  my college expenses and I was real happy to be sending it, because my father did not have huge confidence in my success as a professional fisherman — my rather sketchy employment history and even sketchier academic record to support his doubts.   When these factors are coupled with the fact that I had to borrow the money for the Greyhound from him, I left Auburn in less than his best graces. So, sending this money was the best “I told you so” I ever experienced.  My Advice to would-be summer shirmpers: Wait tables

PS: While the other two boats I went on were less lucrative than this, there are some interesting details I would like to relate and will continue with the saga in a future blog.

1 Actually the head section is a misnomer, it includes all the internal organs of the shrimp, by removing this, the incidents spoilage is greatly decreased and delayed.

2 This headers share was $5.00 a box.  A box is one-hundred lbs Of headed shrimp.

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Comments
  1. Maybe you told me parts of this story before, but I don’t remember much of it… sounds pretty interesting. Did you happen to see Forrest Gump during your travels?? LOL Reminds me of the time I went fishing for Blue fish off the coast of Rhode Island, my first (and last) ocean adventure. Before we left for the 5 hr. voyage, I (foolishly) decided to get something to eat and we stopped at a nearby “food shack” to fill up. In retrospect, my choices were super-dumb: deep-fried shrimp, hush puppies, crab cakes and french fries… can you spell “grease bomb”!!?? All seemed to be going fine as we headed out on the charter boat and I was thoroughly enjoying the gentle roll of the sea and the fresh sea air. Then we got into the more turbulent waters and, although I was feeling a little queasy, I was able to start fishing when we set anchor. After about an hour, I felt a need to relieve myself and headed for the head…. once inside the tiny bathroom, I immediately started to feel sick and puked before I finished pissing. I thought I would feel better once I got on deck but I continued to throw up (over the side of the ship) along with about a dozen other poor souls. One of the deck hands came up to me and said “thanks for ‘chumming’… it helps attract more fish!”… no matter what I did, I could not shake the seasickness and decided to go into the main cabin area to rest a bit. This helped quite a bit and soon I was feeling much better and I tried to get back up and resume fishing. As soon as I stood up, the nausea returned and I had to lay back down. That is where I stayed until we reached the dock where I was able to shakily deboard the ship and take my fist wobbly steps on terra firma. Not quite as exciting as your adventure, but, hey, that’s all I got.

  2. worldtake says:

    You should have taken Dramamine. Works like a charm. When Melissa and I took the ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel, it was a ruff ride and we both got seasick on the way over there. Stopped at the local pharmacy in Cozumel and picked up Dramamine. No problem for either of us on the way back.

  3. Spencer LaPatra says:

    Great story. My English Comp Prof would fall in love with Ross.

  4. worldtake says:

    So, Spencer, send her (I hope it is a her) a link to my blog.

  5. […] I tell about an expedition my father and I went on in the jungles of Mexico. In “Shrimp Boats” Although the next blog, entitled “Grand Canyon” is yet unfinished, I published […]

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