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Publisher’s letter: Sea Legs

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

Now, I come from fishing stock, and for generations there have been boats in my family. But these boats run along bayous, across lakes, and through marshes at the mouth of the Mississippi River. These boats occasionally go into the Gulf of Mexico, but only so far out and only in certain favorable conditions. The people in these boats fish for redfish, red snapper, speckled trout, tripletail and bass.

So when my south Louisiana family packed it up and headed to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we all agreed that a deep-sea fishing trip was a must. A new adventure. A way to take a big boat and catch a lot of big fish in the big open water of the Caribbean.

What a crock of bull shark.

“This is calm,” said Jordan, the first mate on the boat we chartered. He was sinewy and brown from the sun. Hard eyes. No nonsense conversation. The first time I hurled my breakfast over the side, he commented. “You OK? I hate when people get sick.” He said this matter-of-factly. Like he might hate the mess and not the hate the feeling.

No lie. I am a little nauseated writing these words. I can still feel the boat rock.

We were 20 miles from shore trolling the North Drop, where an underwater trench goes from a few hundred feet in depth then plummets to five and half miles. That’s equivalent to the length of the I-10 Twin Span Bridge over Lake Ponchartrain. It’s the deepest drop in the Atlantic. That alone turns my stomach. What size sea monster could be down there?

But everyone on the boat—excluding Jordan and Captain Eddie—agreed that the waves were anything but calm. Four- to six-foot seas kept me looking to the horizon and searching for a sign of land. Praying to God Almighty for relief. More than once I promised, “If you just keep me alive, I will never do this again.” I offered up some vices I vowed to ditch for good measure.

As soon as the patch behind my ear finally kicked in and I felt some relief, my brother got sick. This was a shock to everyone. Andrew has been fishing since he was 18 months old and has been deep-sea fishing with friends on a number of occasions. If we had been betting people, we’d have put money down that he would be the last on the boat to go slack. Shows what we know. “I’m just gonna curl up right here and die,” Andrew said, as he laid his body down on the sofa in the air-conditioned interior of the boat. Hands on his chest, eyes closed. Like a man in a casket.

“Has anyone ever fallen out?” I asked Captain Eddie, sitting with him in the helm station above the fray after making the perilous climb up slippery steps. I looked below to my uncle stumbling, snatching and grabbing. Trying not to spill his beer.

“Not yet,” Eddie said, smiling. I couldn’t believe it.

When I went to the head (bathroom for you mainlanders) in the hull of the boat, it took me five minutes to get my shorts back on my body in the right place because I was using one hand to grip a bar for dear life while attempting not to crash into the shower on every lurch. When my husband wanted something out of the ice chest in the cabin, he crawled on his hands and knees to get it. Meanwhile, my father was perched in the fighting chair at the back of the yacht, waiting on the bite.

We called him Old Man and the Sea behind his back.

Of course, we were all behind his back, trying to hold on. Afraid of going overboard. Alas, that elusive bite never came. Not even a nibble.

When we pulled back into port after the eight-hour day, I could hear my dad say, “Well, when we go to Costa Rica, I’m going to get…” but I tuned out his future fishing plans because I remembered the way my insides had betrayed me. And I remembered my promise to God.

I know many of you love this sport, and I’m sure that catching the big fish negates the patience and the sea legs needed to get there. But it’s back on the continent for me.

This trip completed two marlin fishing trips for me: my first and my last. Land ho!