Friday Tommy and David had a day off from school. We had made an advance reservation for them to miss swim practice in order to chase lobster with Secret Skipper, which was an event they had been looking forward to for a month. They had been aboard the “Legal Limit” for some epic fin-fish trips, but had never been able to score a ticket on one of his nocturnal missions to pull hoops at the Island of Romance. They had demonstrated their mettle recently and had earned a spot on this more commercial style enterprise which requires teamwork and staying awake past just about everybody’s bedtime.
Secret Skipper had a tough opening to this season, nabbing only 5 legal bugs in two trips so far. I tried to manage the boys’ expectations, to no avail. They had awakened on several Saturday mornings to run down and peer into an ice chest harboring these mystical creatures after Isaac and I came home home at dawn and crashed following a night with Skipper. They listened all too closely when both of us regaled them with descriptions of Skipper’s advanced methods and his systematic pursuit of these marine insects. Despite my attempts to keep them from counting their chickens this time, the boys were quite confident about Secret Skipper’s prowess and unflinchingly anticipated a long night of piscatorial splendor.
We met at the Cabrillo Marina dock at noon, with a giant bucket of KFC and other supplies. The boat gleamed and I asked Skipper if he had just detailed it. Indeed he had, and his trusty all-purpose boat caregiver and mechanic Jesus had also just replaced the batteries, so we did not even bring a generator.
After we loaded up and shoved off, Secret Skipper handed the boys their very own “Legal Limit” T-shirts, which of course got them even more stoked. Skipper turned past the marina breakwater and pointed the bow toward our destination.
“What the hell?! All of our electronics just shut down. I have no navigation or depth charting’ – Skipper said right as we ran past the bait barge. “I’m calling Jesus right now”.
‘Fat chance that he is going to waiting by the phone for you,” I thought.
“Hello – Jesus. We have problems with the electrical” Larry said into his phone. He and Jesus exchanged a few ideas as Skipper opened the hatches and began relaying information to his man. After we tried throwing the various switches and rebooting the systems to no avail, Skipper said we would have to head back, because it was unsafe to try and complete this expedition in the dark without GPS or sonar.
“We have a clock and a compass. Can’t we just do it like the old days and go for it?”
“Aren’t you worried about compromising the safety of your children? What would Wendy think?” he asked.
“They are better swimmers than almost anyone we know and Wendy wouldn’t miss me, or even you, all that much.” I reponded. Skipper was not persuaded and got back on the phone as we headed back into San Pedro. A couple of Jesus’ disciples were already on their way with a new battery. This service was quite incredible, as every marine mechanic I have ever worked with has sworn an oath of unreliability and a vow to never show up for an appointment.
We used the time at the dock to cut up and pack the bait tubes as the mechanics arrived, diagnosed the problem, went to West Marine and swapped out two of our four batteries. They took care of us like Skipper was the President of the United States (I mean that only as an example of a general category of important person). There had been a drain in the electrical system and that is all mechanically challenged boat operators like Skipper and I could really comprehend. By 2:30 pm we were headed back out.
We got to the Enchanted Isle and deployed our first set in diminishing daylight. Skipper had once again completely reworked his system with a new kind of rope and several rigs that would go to 350 feet down. We had experienced pretty good results in the deeper water last season and Skipper wanted to make sure he advanced our capacity for this one. We had three shallow hoops in under a hundred feet; a few more midrange in the 180 to 200 foot depth; one just under 250 and the rest in really deep water in the 300 foot zone, where no divers and few other hoopers dare to drop.
After waiting for sunset and then the actual darkness that takes longer to set in, we started pulling around 6 pm. Our first set was good in the shallow zone for a couple of nice bugs. We also scored in the midrange, but the deep stuff, which takes more effort and time, was surprisingly dry.
We continued pulling and moving our dry hoops to more promising locations as the night wore on. The boys took turns pulling and coiling, as well as grabbing the keepers and throwing back the shorts. The production was steady and most of the bugs we got were either easily identified as short or obviously legal by a good margin.
We eventually brought the deep rigs in closer, but they still were not producing. That left it to the midrange and shallow rigs to do our damage. The crawl started to taper off when the moon came up after midnight. We pulled from 6 pm until 2 am when we had tallied twenty seven lobsters and called it quits. Most of our luck came in the 170 to 195 foot depth. The boys helped break down and stack the gear with Skipper and we headed back to San Pedro with Tommy and David’s rather demanding expectations met.
We were home by around 4 am and hit the sack, after placing our ice chest full of kicking bugs in the garage.
Armed with this bounty, I invited over neighbors and friends, cooked up my rice pilaf, and feasted on surf and turf Saturday evening. We even persuaded Secret Skipper and his Secret Fiancé’ to come all the way down from Redondo to join in the food, beverage and glory. While we feasted, I left a cauldron of lobster legs simmering. The next day I completed the arduous process of making lobster bisque, which turned out to be the best batch I have ever made.
Tommy and David have enjoyed unparalleled success, as has Secret Skipper, on the trips that they have taken on the Legal limit in the past couple of years. The synergy of this combination is quite uncanny and I am glad that I was also present during all of these remarkable demonstrations of the chemistry of the right crew. I know that someday there will be a reckoning. For now, the boys have earned their shirts and are only going to get bigger and stronger, unlike Secret Skipper and me.
The evening was quite sublime and there were several occasions during this gluttony to give thanks and take credit for the good fortune we experienced. Needless to say, none of it would have been possible on this occasion were it not for the remarkable intervention of our savior, Jesus, for whom flagons were raised and toasts were offered at the Big Kids' table.
I hope that you all have a chance to get together with the ones you love to celebrate this Thanksgiving and remember that