Cat Dick’s Cosmic Experience and the Crab Claw Dilemma

When the moon is full and high tide is within an hour of midnight the conditions are perfect for a Jetty Raid. The high tide brings the clear water of the gulf up into the mouth of the bay. For about an hour the water is slack, neither flowing in or out of the bay. The full moon through the shimmering surface turns the bottom into a 3D acid trip. Flounder love the broken bottom where the sand of the pass merges into the rocks of the jetty, and stone crabs salute from every niche in the rocks.

Andy and Cat Dick had never been on one of my jetty raids before. Cat Dick wasn’t a diver. He was just along for the ride. Andy is my brother and I’d taught him to dive years ago. Since he was my brother I didn’t have to cut him any slack so he’d been in a very “special” training program.

Don’t get me wrong. I never really cut anybody any slack as an instructor. My divers tended to go unnoticed on a dive boat. That is until someone realized they were students. That’s because they appeared (and were) more competent than the most of the certified divers on the boat.

But my brother got “special” treatment. I had been hired to give private training to a young man. Having your instructor as a dive buddy might foster dependence so I brought my brother in to be his dive buddy. He was very capable in the water and so was Andy. I won’t say their training was evil (although they might). But what I did was give them the benefit of my experience without any reservations. It was as if no lawyers, (or mothers) existed. Man, were they cocky. I still get a warm feeling in my heart thinking about that class.

Now, seven or eight years later, Andy and I are going on a Jetty raid. I launched my little Carolina Skiff into North Lagoon and we cruised out to the Pass. The wind was out of the southeast and it was pretty stiff but the lagoon was like glass. It wasn’t until we were well out into the pass that we could feel the effect of the wind. It went from flat calm to moderate chop to 6 foot swells within a couple of hundred yards.

I circled around until we were in the lee of the west jetty. I anchored in about ten feet of water about 75 feet from the jetty. It was flat calm here in the lee. Andy and I entered the water and told Cat Dick it might be awhile before we returned. He said “Take your time”. He had a cooler full of beer and was already lighting up a joint. He was OK with the whole situation.

We dropped to the bottom and started hunting. On these brightly moonlit nights you don’t even need a light until the water gets about 20 feet deep. We could see well enough to spear flounder on the bottom. As it got deeper we turned on our lights. We worked our way around into the pass, finding lots of flounder on the sand bottom as it merged up into the rocks of the jetty.

Meanwhile, Cat Dick was pretty baked. He was sitting in the boat, drinking a cold Bud when he was startled by a big splash next to the small boat.

Now, I’ve done plenty of spearfishing in my time. I’ve killed big grouper and snapper. I’ve killed humongous cobia and amberjack that would beat the shit out of you as they died. That is if you got in close enough to tangle with them. I’ve killed sea bass and yellowtail in the kelp beds off the California coast. But for some reason I love killing flounder more than anything else. I love staring at the sea floor, knowing something is there but not quite seeing it yet. Then you’ll look around and see them covering the bottom.

Although I’ve had some great hunts this one stands out. I could see that Andy was really nailing the flatfish so I wasn’t working them as hard as he was. I was killing some but I was also scanning the rocks and picking up stone crab claws as we went. By the time we ran out of air I had a sackful of claws and we probably had 30 or 40 flounder between us.

When we surfaced we were a little more than halfway into the pass. Slack tide was over and the tide was flowing out, which made the swells in the pass shorten up and froth on the top. If we stayed close to the jetty and swam in it would be a shorter trip. But then we’d have to hump our gear and fish about a half mile to the beach and then swim out to the boat.

The other choice was to swim back out through the pass, around the end of the jetty and into the calm water where the boat was anchored. I was up for the swim and Andy took my lead. It was a mistake on both our parts.

The middle of the night, swimming in the rough water was no place I hadn’t been many times before. Unfortunately it was a little outside Andy’s comfort zone.

We were about to be hurting but Dan was reaching a state that could only be described as sublime. The water was placid as a reflecting pond. The full moon was a blue spotlight on the dolphins who were circling the boat and rising out of the water to look right in his eyes and he could swear they were talking to him. Like sailors of the past he was being mesmerized by the mermaids of the deep.

Meanwhile Andy and I were slogging through the pass. The technique is to remove your BC, turn it upside down so the bottom of the tank is toward your head and the regulator is toward your feet. Slip your arms through the armholes in your BC, then intertwine your fingers across the tank. Now you’re lying atop the inflated BC and you can kick like you’re riding a float in the kiddie pool.

The swells were coming from our left. The interval was short and choppy so we were being tossed left to right on the front of the swell and then flipped back right to left on the back side. The swells were breaking on the jetty with a boom and hiss like a storm despite the clear bright night.

For me it was no big deal. Been there done that. Cat Dick was having a cosmic experience. Andy was having an epiphany. And that epiphany boiled down to two words. Fuck This!

We were still a couple hundred yards from the mouth of the pass when Andy had his FT moment. The boat was right across those rocks and that’s where he was going. I advised against it. With the waves crashing like they were those rocks would make a great meat grinder. But he was Done With This Shit!

I knew he would have no chance with his gear so I took it, along with his fish. Now I was weighed down with two sets of gear and two hauls of fish. I hung out because I knew in a few minutes I would also be weighed down with the weight of his broken carcass.

I watched as he approached the rocks. He waited for the short interval between crushing tons of water and darted in to grab hold of the rocks. The first wave crashed onto him and he disappeared under the foam. As that wave receded he scurried a few inches then clamped down for the next onslaught. I watched as the waves crashed over and over. As the fluorescent foam receded he would scuttle up a few inches and then clamp down before the next onslaught.

My military mind was already planning for multiple contingencies. When I had to start dragging him I would probably have to start ditching gear. First to go would be the fish…Sonofabitch! Next would be his gear. No big deal. Next, I would have to choose between my gear and his broken body. I was still wrestling with this moral dilemma when he dragged himself free from the breaking swells and disappeared over the top of the jetty. I’m almost ashamed to admit I never considered abandoning the crab claws.

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