I felt like I was riding three horses at once,
and they were all trying to go different ways. It was fun though, like a roller coaster. The sun was hinting at coming up, but at five thirty with a canopy of clouds, not much is visible. Maybe a white crest of foam, lit up with sparks of phosphorous, would rise into view a few feet off the stern and give me a warning to brace myself before the boat smacked and soared. I was twenty miles off the coast of Wrightsville beach, North Carolina, on board the fishing boat WHIPSAW.
Robert Wolfe, also know as Capt'n Robbie, stood beside me, easily keeping his balance despite the swells rolling beneath us. He bowed his head and cupped his hand around the cigarette in his mouth. The flash of his lighter lit up a weathered face. The nor'easter wind blew through the cracks between his fingers and made the flame dance. The wind picked up and rain began to fall gently. Capt'n Robbie cleared his throat. "We're turning around. In a few miles we're not even going to be able to stand up." I was having trouble enough standing, but I kept my mouth shut.
Capt'n Robbie woke up his brother, Chris, who kept watch on the way back to Wrightsville. Chris and Robbie are eighteen years apart. Their father recently died, leaving his boat and business to his sons. Robbie, at thirty-six, has a wife and twin daughters to look after. Chris just dropped out of high school. "I'm worried about him," says Robbie. "There's a lot of freedom in fishing, but you need a lot of discipline; when the conditions are right, you have to be able to go out. There were only four days last month [Febuary] that we were able to go out, and only two [days] the month before that. When we were supposed to paint the hull last week, he stood me up. I had to do the whole goddam thing myself."
The next time I went out with them, Chris pulled another no-show. Capt'n Robbie had invited a friend, Alex, so the three of us left the docks at 2:30 in the morning. Our quest for king mackerel took us forty-five miles offshore, and opened my eyes to a dirty job in beautiful surroundings.
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