A Tribute to the Open Ocean

It’s Sunday night and I’d like to talk a little bit about my weekend. I wouldn’t say it was terrible, but it was most certainly a learning experience. I’ve been trying for some time now to go fishing and catch some fresh Mahi and Tuna.

I had been planning a solo trip on the boat all week. I had bait, ice, drinking water, my rods were rigged, and the boat was cleaned up and ready to go. I picked up the boat and was at the ramp dropping it in the water at 6:30 am. It was a beautiful morning – the sun was shining, the last of the twilight thunderstorms were moving East far on the horizon, and the bait fish were jumping in schools of thousands all around.

Low, low tide. The wheels of the trailer were barely on the edge of the boat ramp. I trimmed the engine down and fired it up. The starter seemed a little weak but that was no huge concern since the boat hadn’t been started in weeks. She idled beautifully for a moment before I shifted into reverse and dropped the rest of the hull into the water. I tied her off at the dock and parked the truck and trailer.

The boat ramp at Oyer Park. A great ramp at high or mid-tide, but extremely difficult at low tide. It’s also covered in razor sharp sea-scum which cut my feet up like a meat grinder. Note to self – wear shoes in the water at all times!

Back on the boat, I programmed about ten GPS locations into the Garmin while the engine warmed up. I happened upon the fuel gauge – oops! I forgot to fill the tank on the way to the ramp. I’ll just cruise one mile South to the marina and fill up. I started the journey downstream at a fast idle first and then at cruising speed after the no-wake zones ended.

With the rising sun in my eyes, I noticed an object in the water in front of me. My ninja reflexes kicked in and I put the bow of the boat hard right to avoid whatever it was and came off the throttle. A close call, but a miss none-the-less. I backed down to idle and did a 360. With all of my strength I managed to scoop a piece of someones boat trailer out of the water – about a ten foot long section of 4×6 wooden post with gnarly rusted brackets screwed to it down the length. I took on the responsibility of discarding it for the sake of another less-fortunate boater who may have hit it full-speed.

Boynton Beach Inlet. You can see the ramp directly west of the inlet. You can also see how shallow it is from the channel to the ramp.

After 30 minutes on the water, I arrived at Marina Village Marina in Boynton Beach to fill the tank with fuel. Gary, the dock attendant, was very helpful and assisted me as I filled the tank with another 15 gallons of ethanol-free marine fuel. We chatted for a few minutes before I said fairwell and hopped into my vessel. I turned the key – from the stern came a sound which can only be compared to a wild animal being mutilated by a slightly larger wild animal.

Crap. The volt gauge was showing 12-volts. Not quite enough to turn over the massive Mercruiser engine. Luckily, Gary had a battery charger that he ran down to the dock for me. After disassembling most of the rear of the boat to access the batteries, I hooked up the charger, switched it to start-mode, and again attempted to fire up the engine. That same wild animal spoke up (a slight bit louder this time) so I decided to let it charge for a while. After a half-hour of trying and failing to start the engine, I make the decision to call TowBoatUS for a ride back to the ramp. My thumb is on the send button on my phone and with a cry out to the engine Gods, I attempt to start the motor one last time.

It starts up with a mighty roar! Turns out, the boat is like a child. I had to threaten it with a time-out to get it to do what I wanted. At this point, there’s no sense in attempting to take on the open ocean – it would probably end in disaster. That’s one thing that flight school taught me very well… When proper planning has taken place, it takes a series of mistakes and/orcoincidencesfor an accident to occur. I took it as a sign and decided not to risk the 2-3 foot (growing) waves with a potentially unreliable electrical system.

The tide is even lower now. I skipped the boat through 2 feet of water from the channel to the dock at the ramp with the propeller barely in the water. I tied off and shut down the engine. I trailered the boat and hit the trim-up button to raise the outdrive. That wild animal abandoned me and left a cricket in it’s place. The volt gauge is now showing about 10-volts – not enough to activate the hydraulic pump. Now, I feel just bullied by the boat Gods. I try to decide what to do, because that boat is NEVER coming up that ramp with the engine that low. I pull it up just high enough to get the outdrive out of the water and break out the toolkit. Half an hour, four massive bolts, and fifty feet of rope later, I’m able to ascend the ramp. With the outdrive secured with dock line, I manage to tow the boat back to it’s home. I removed both of the batteries and attached them to a 24-hour charger with a volt gauge wired in. Tina and I will take a trip tomorrow.

Great snapper hang out under the rocks here, but the ocean current coming through the inlet makes fishing this spot very technical.

So I eat some lunch and hop back in the truck aimed for Jupiter Inlet. I know of a great little rock ledge on the South side of the inlet where the yellowtail snapper hide. It takes real technique to get your bait to them without entangling the line in the rocks, but with practice it can be done. On my first two casts I donated my rigs to the ocean. On the third, I got it right again and didn’t lose anything else the rest of the day.

I caught two beautiful Yellowtail snapper on squid chunks with about 1/16oz of weight 12″ up the line and 3/0 black circle hooks. The fish were about 1″ short of legal, so I left them in the inlet to grow some more.

So much for a fresh seafood dinner.

Update: After charging all weekend, both batteries are still dead. I’m going to buy a new battery, install it with a good on/off switch, and rewire most of the boat. Hopefully, this problem will be a thing of the past and next time I’ll be catching some Tuna instead of Snapper!

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