Fishin’ On Empty

“Do we have any oars onboard…anything that could function as a paddle?”


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Illustration: David Goldstein

This is an inquiry a boat captain never wants to hear, especially when drifting helplessly 20-miles offshore.The dreaded “vessel in need of assistance” call had already been made, and now Jeremy and I were simply awaiting the costly arrival of help from one of the local marine towing companies. The embarrassment of our rookie-type blunder was sounded across the VHF—we were out of fuel. To make matters worse, it was not only our fuel tank that was empty but also our 200-quart fish box.

As we dejectedly floated in the slick-calm ocean, I could not help but think back a few hours to the pre-dawn start of this maiden fishing voyage aboard our brand new vessel purchased at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

What events and circumstances landed us in the unfortunate spot?

Jeremy’s inquiry interrupted my thoughts, though I knew the answer to the question I posed in my mind…a faulty fuel gauge was to blame.

“Oars? Are you crazy? Help is on the way,” I responded.

Jeremy extended his arm and pointed in a direction off our port side. After running out of fuel and drifting aimlessly in the Gulf Stream for way too long, we stumbled upon the holy grail of blue water angling.

I followed his fixed gaze to a wooden palate that broke the surface and interrupted the otherwise frustrating emptiness of a pristine ocean. It was a mere 50 or so yards away, but certainly too far to loft a pilchard within reach of any possible inhabitants. We soon found ourselves rummaging through every hatch and storage bin on the boat, hoping to find something that would enable us to reach our target destination. After tearing apart the boat the best option we were left with was to affix our plastic GPS cover to the gaff in an effort to create a makeshift paddle.

As we lifted our heads and rose from our futile search, we found ourselves remarkably closer to the fishy flotsam that now symbolized our redemption. The current, or perhaps an empathetic fishing God, had pushed us within reach!

“Get a couple pilchards! Quick! We can reach it,” I stammered while grabbing my conventional rod.

We hurriedly pinned the frisky baits to our hooks, no longer even remotely concerned about our petroleum predicament. Almost simultaneously our pilchards softly landed within a few feet of the target.

“I’m hooked up! I’m hooked up!” Jeremy yelled, as he locked up the reel and set the hook.

“Me too,” I replied.

Zzzzzzzing! Zzzzzzzing!

As our reels screamed, we shuffled around our incapacitated vessel, one that was suddenly abuzz with energy and excitement—and not a drop of fuel. Within seconds of being hooked, both fish launched into the air to reveal themselves. The overgrown cow and bull crashed back to the water with heart-stopping ferocity. Our frenetic battles ensued for 20-minutes, with both of us ultimately subduing our worthy foe, sinking the gaff and landing our prize.

We did it. On our very first outing we caught two legitimate gaffer dolphin. To heck with the fact that we nearly traversed the entire Atlantic Ocean while doing so and ran our fuel tank empty in the process. None of that mattered. About a half hour after our catches hit the deck, the marine assist boat arrived. We had to have been the most enthused clients the captain had ever encountered.

Eight years have passed since that initial voyage, and we still have the same boat, although that faulty fuel gauge has long since been replaced. And those dolphin? They remain two of the largest we have ever caught aboard Desidorado.

Maybe we should have left that lucky gauge alone.