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The Cat and the Fool

Most guys would not have been able to call me back to fishing after I quit. Gary Lamont maybe, the Miss L’s “Captain Jack” Montgomery, and Bob McMasters. Bob persisted even after I told him No for a week. He would make every accommodation, having his oldest daughter Lorraine work on Saturdays, for example, so I could take the day off.

I liked Bob, of course, and I liked his boat the Cat Special a lot, but I had turned a new page on which to write the story of my life. In his easy-going manner Bob shot down all my arguments. I wrapped things up in Ventura, put a temporary forward on my mail, and headed back to San Diego for another albacore season.

One group, out for a two-day charter, was hungrier than most. On Day 1 I cooked a first round of breakfasts, and every last man came back for more. At 11 am, I was just cleaning the grill after the second batch when guys began ordering cheeseburgers. I grilled the 20-patty stack in nothing flat and reached for another, but it was still frozen. No problem. I took my wide-bladed galley knife and inserted it between the first two patties. The blade slipped across the ice crystals and into my left palm. NO! Problem.

Rinsing it beneath cold running water did little to stop the flow of blood. I cupped my hand and stepped up into the wheelhouse, where Bob estimated that I’d need four stitches. I worked one-handed for the next several hours until the Miss L came to take me away. I recall standing on the Cat’s port rail, and when Bob said “Go!” I stepped out just as the boats rocked apart. By some miracle, Nick Cates was outside the Miss L’s starboard rail and caught me in the air.

Back at the dock, I drove to the emergency room for my four stitches, then back to the docks. There I learned that Bobby had brought the Cat back in to retrieve me so I wouldn’t lose my big tip from these notoriously generous passengers. That’s the kind of guy he was. I climbed aboard, and we headed back to the fishing grounds.

The season wound down. My resolve to give up fishing entirely was being seriously tested.

Then came the night we tied up at the bait receiver as usual. I wasn’t needed for the transfer of anchovies from the receiver’s nets into our bait tanks so I sacked out in my bunk in the starboard passenger bunk room. Dead to the world, as usual. So I didn’t hear the roar of the Fish N Fool’s engine as she bore down on us, nor the rush of water from the Fool’s bow wake. Not even the sound of the Cat’s structure breaking apart as we came down hard on the receiver’s dock and put a hole in the bottom of the boat.

Afterward I learned of the shouting between the two captains, and how mild-mannered Bob McMasters untied from the receiver to roar forward and try to do the Fool what had just been done to the Cat. Without success.

All I knew was that one of the deck twins woke me to tell me to get off the boat “because we’re sinking.” We were tied up at the Fisherman’s Landing dock and the pumps were humming away. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, gathered my overnight bag, my tackle box and my rods and headed up the dock. It looked like the end of the season after all.

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