Dark Clouds, Silver Linings

by Capt. Gene Chrzanowski

Dark Clouds, Silver Linings

There’s an old, trite saying about dark clouds with silver linings, but trite sayings often turn out to be truisms. That was the case with me in the month of March, around the time of my tenth anniversary as a charter captain here at the A&B Marina.

The first dark cloud was a small one, i.e., realizing that I’d now been doing this for ten years. That obviously meant that I was that much older and that much closer to not being able to do it anymore, either because of the simple process of aging or because of it becoming my turn to take that ultimate permanent vacation we all have to take eventually. The silver lining was that I realized that I have had a GREAT 10 years here, which is probably why it flew by so fast. Wouldn’t change it for anything!Another dark cloud was that I didn’t get to spend my anniversary celebrating the event the way one normally would. Even though I’m not a big celebrator – didn’t even let people know when my 50th or 60th birthdays passed – I at first thought that it might be nice to have a little boat/dock party to commemorate the event and thank the people who make my life here so much fun. Then I realized that March was one of our busiest times of the year; that we’d probably have trips every day; and that I probably wouldn’t have time to organize or enjoy any such party anyway. That belief proved to be more than correct, as we ran 11 trips in 10 days between 3/17 and 3/26, causing me to actually have to get up at 4 AM on my anniversary date to do 3+ hour oil change in order to be able to run an 11:30 to 7:30 full day trip. That also meant that my mate and I were still cleaning the boat at about 8:30 PM and, because I’d already been up and active for 16+ hours by then, I was too tired to celebrate at that point even if I wanted to do so. Happy Anniversary, Captain Gene!! But I also realized that there was a silver lining to all that and that it actually was a very Happy Anniversary. I got to do what I love – go fishing with some great people; the streak of trips proved once again that the way we run our business works; the business was thriving; and we were making money! Not a bad day at all. In that regard, thanks to Robbie Motz, who owns a car dealership in Phoenix, and his family for being great folks with whom to spend my anniversary. Couldn’t have picked nicer people for the occasion and Robbie caught a moose of a blackfin tuna to make it even better! 

The other dark cloud was the occurrence of a first-time event less than 2 weeks before my anniversary that my mate and I could have gladly done without. We had a customer go overboard - literally.

FishMonster Magazine-May 2015That’s right! KERPLUNK!! Happened real fast. I won’t mention the date or the name, as there is no sense in embarrassing anyone, especially since the whole incident was due to nothing but a bad set of circumstances and bad luck. The day was windy and very rough. That can mean great fishing, but it can also be dangerous. People can get hurt if they are not careful and equipment can get broken. My crew of guys had been warned, but they were experienced rough-water fishermen, so we expected no major difficulties and we were actually having a really good day fishing-wise, with lots of good bites. However, on one of those good bites, one of the guys grabbed the rod out of the rod holder and stepped forward to brace his knees against the transom gunwale. Just then, the boat got rocked by an unusually large wave, he lost his balance, and pitched overboard. I was looking ahead, trying to navigate through the waves as safely as possible, so I didn’t see it happen. By the time I heard someone yell “he went over,” turned around and realized what they meant, the guy was in the water about 50’ behind the boat. Luckily, because we were at trolling speed, we never got too far away before I could stop and try to get us back to him. But, because I wanted to keep him in sight and because the rough seas made letting go of the wheel not a good choice, I couldn’t immediately grab and toss the life ring that I had purposely placed in easy reach in calm seas above the steering console. I was, however, able to grab and toss a line to the mate to deploy – momentarily leaving the wheel. I also could see that the guy was able to swim and did not seem in imminent danger. So, while the mate and our customers were trying to clear lines, I backed the boat down toward him until we got close enough to throw the line to him and pull him to the boat. Our mate and one of his buddies then grabbed his arms and pulled him in through the transom door. The ultimate silver lining! Possible tragedy averted!! Additional silver lining - we learned several good lessons that day. First off, while you realize in the recesses of your mind that it can always happen that someone falls overboard, after operating a boat the size and stability of mine for ten years with no mishaps or even close calls, you subconsciously assume that it won’t. I’ll never assume that again. Second, although I thought we had everything ready to respond if the unlikely did happen, I realize now that my rescue plan was thought out in terms of normal calm to “bouncy” seas, not in 5-8 footers with flat faces and short periods. The life ring I could easily access in calm seas has now been relocated so I can reach it in very rough seas without leaving the wheel, simply by twisting to my left. The additional life rope is now located in the cockpit, not the flybridge, so the mate or one of our other crew can see to it while I deal with the life ring. In 20/20 hindsight, we probably should have thought of those things from the get-go but, as they say, experience is the best teacher, and we now have been properly educated. I also now give instructions to our crew about clearing the fishing lines as quickly as possible if a “man overboard” situation occurs. That would make it easier to get the boat back to the victim the quickest way possible without getting lines wrapped in the running gear or hooks imbedded in the person in the water.

One additional silver lining. Our accidental swimmer had become entangled in the line running from the rod he was holding. As a result, when he was pulled into the boat, our mate was able to retrieve the rod and reel as well and, believe it or not, we were able to bring the fish on that line to the boat. Amazing!!

FishMonster Magazine-May 2015

The bottom line of this last story is that I want it to serve as “a word to the wise.” Don’t assume it can’t or won’t happen to you. It can! Just as importantly, don’t wait until it’s maybe tragically too late to rethink your man overboard rescue plans. Make sure that you have all required (and even extra) rescue equipment in quickly and easily accessible locations, even in the worst conditions. Also, make sure to alert your passengers/crew to the possibility of a man over board situation: make them aware of the rescue equipment; and let them know what to do if such a situation occurs.

Otherwise you may find out too late that you weren’t as lucky as we were.

In closing, here’s wishing all of you minimal dark clouds and multiple silver linings.




Capt. Gene Chrzanowski
Capt. Gene Chrzanowski

Author

The “High Class Hooker” is docked in Key West at the A&B Marina, 700 Front Street. You can find Capt. Gene on the web at keywestclasscharter.com



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