Captain Chair’s Adventures on the High Seas, part one

I can’t really say that I have or ever will be shipped off to war or anything really comparable. But I have to imagine that it’s not terribly unlike being shipped off to a deep sea fishing trip. I picture them both starting in the late hours on shore, then boarding with a systematic sign-up and speech from the captain. All of the men are then ordered below deck to three-foot-wide bunks crammed together like shelving units, with the only air to breathe first being circulated through the lungs everyone else first. Then waking up in the middle of the night with aching nausea, stumbling above deck to a toilet and vomiting violently. Then looking up at myself in the mirror and facing a tour of duty that only just began, with a solitary thought: “My god, I have made a horrible mistake.”

After a few hours of sleep on a bench in the kitchen I woke up to a similar war-like setting. The boat was rocking violently, and men were shouting enigmatic commands barely audible over the engine roar. The men scrambled about deck in search of their weapons and before I could grab a cup of coffee or change clothes, a similar weapon found its way into my hands and I was thrust into combat.

So there are some obvious differences here. For starters, all of the men are contractors, not soldiers, and therefore all have enormous stomachs, and facial hair of various sorts. That and there’s a shocking amount of beer on board.

Another difference is that my own father drafted me into this. I think partially it had to do with a series of deaths among family and friends in the last year. Dad’s had this new found intense desire to spend time with family. And in the fog that surrounded the death of an old friend of mine, the invitation to his annual fishing trip sounded oddly appropriate.

I mostly went for him. Dad embarks on 5 or so hunting/fishing trips a year and this is the first one in years that he’s actually pitched to me. So even if I were miserable and squirmy and sick the whole time, I’d tell him I had the time of my life, and make the old man’s year.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the worst case. The most adequate description would be two days of mild discomfort, highlighted by:

1. true misery
2. an overall squirminess that accompanies a person genuinely out of his comfort zone
3. moments of beauty and joy

1. True Misery

• I get seasick. I didn’t think I did. Never have before, but there’s something about being in cramped quarters, with no light or fresh air and a violently rocking boat that makes me vomit in a way I never have on ferries, outboard skiffs or afternoon cruises. The first half of the first day, which began around 5:30 a.m., I was very sick and not happy. There were a few of us not feeling well, but I felt my lack of passion for deep sea fishing put me at a distinct disadvantage.

Dad asked me how I slept the night before, and I told him I was puking all night, and after a split second of fatherly sympathy, he announced to the boat, “Hey we have a winner!” Heh heh, yeah guys, I’m the winner. I’m the winner of the, um, puking contest? Pretty funny stuff. Inside — mortified.

I asked my dad for every kind of drug he had. I put on patches, gulped tablets, and chugged beer and Gatorade alternately. This worked for the middle of the trip but by the last night I was puking again. And puking.

• So during the peak of this day one nausea, I — brace yourself — caught a fish. A huge fucking tuna. I was seconds from putting down the pole and vomiting over the side, when I got a bite. I was praying it wouldn’t hook, but it did. And in this moment of rushing adrenaline and the thrill of battling a mighty beast, I would love to tell you all of my worldly troubles faded away and I felt the true, heart-pounding meaning of life. But to be honest, all I really remember of the experience is aching, pounding muscle soreness, and a feeling I can only describe as the point of a medieval lance gnawing three inches up and left of my penis, into my intestines. That’s how you leverage the rod to reel the fish in, by jamming the butt (hilt?) into your groin. This went on for what seemed like 6 or 7 hours.

Next … part two, in which I feel a squirminess at being genuinely out of place…

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