My parents had a 42′ Uniflite Sportfisher many years back, and we used to fish 2 to 7 day trips on it, all year long. On this trip it was the summer season, and we were doing a combo offshore/islands adventure, just my folks and I. It was an El Nino year I remember, and on this particular day we were heading offshore after a couple days at Catalina.
It was a slow boat, and my Mom and I got up around 2am to head out to the Butterfly Bank area looking for Marlin. My Dad never was one for getting up early. I watched as the chain came over the bow roller, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. We’d been out for 2 days already, and that meant I hadn’t slept much anyways. Mom brewed the coffee, and as I pointed the “Avid” up around the East End of Catalina, she brought me a cup of steaming hot joe. No need for a travel coffee mug, the seas were flat as glass.
She and I visited for a couple hours, telling fish stories like we usually did. My Mom was one heck of a fisherman, and could match me story for story. About an hour before sun-up, she uncharacteristically went back to bed. No big deal for me, for even as a young man I had run that boat solo many a time, and was wide awake thinking about the day ahead. As the sun just started to let me know it was on it’s way, with the slight crack of light on the Eastern horizon, I decided to slow the boat to bigeye speed, and put out the jigs. I was fully aware of the dangers of moving about a moving boat without someone watching me, or even awake. For some reason I hit the MOB (Man Overboard) button on the GPS that saves that spot on the electronic chart, and shows where you were when you pushed it.
I slid down the ladder, seas still as flat as I’d ever seen, and started getting the trolling rods out and ready. It was still dark enough that I had to turn on the deck lights to be able to see the snaps on the Sampo swivels, and turn the hooks straight in the jigs. I set the flat lines with marlin jigs. 30W Two Speed Internationals with 60# close to the boat for bigeye. I hooked the lines into the flat line clips to hold the jigs just behind the wash. We’d had a few nice bigeye that season, and they always like the close jigs first thing in the morning. Next thing to do was to deploy the outriggers, not for bigeye, but marlin. I pinned on a mackerel for the 30# dropback outfit, and placed it into one of the bait bags on the transom to swim and be ready when necessary, then headed for the riggers.
I climbed up on the starboard cap rail and reached up for the rigger, pushed it up, and swung it out. As I did, I slipped and both feet fell over the side! Panicked I began to think of what to do. First thing I thought of, was to let go and fall into the water and reach out for the marlin jig on the short corner. Yea, the one with two sharp hooks in it. “Maybe not” I thought to myself. I vividly remember looking back at Pyramid Head, San Clemente Island. It was close enough to just make out the pyramid shape, and the sun had just started to give the sky some light to see it. It was way too far away to swim to, and yes I did think about it.
Next came that point in time where you think about what seems like 10,000 different things within a few seconds. “Will my Mom figure out where I fell in by looking at the GPS?” I wondered. “How long until Mom and Dad get up, and far away will the boat be from where I gave up and let go?” Then came the one thought that made me start thinking I should try to swing back on the boat: “I wonder if something will eat me while I watch the boat drive away, over the horizon and out if sight?” The thought of being eaten alive by something with big sharp teeth was what gave my grip that added strength to hold on.
The rigger had not yet locked into place, and I could pivot it from “in” to “out” as long as I didn’t swing it “out” so far that it locked into place. I started to try by swinging my feet, but it immediately locked in the “out” position. “Crap”. What I finally ended up doing was swinging my feet onto the cap rail, then sliding my hands down the rigger until I was close enough to throw myself into the cockpit. It was a desperate attempt, and it was literally do or die. It’s amazing how you don’t worry whether or not something is going to hurt, if it just might save your life. I did the maneuver, and landed further inside the pit than I expected. “Whew!……..OUCH!”
I think it was about 15 minutes later when I began to shake uncontrollably. I climbed back up to the bridge, scared, mad and happy all at the same time. The shakes and chills continued for hours, probably a mild shock or just me being a big sissy. I watched the miles click by on the GPS from where I had hit MOB, and wondered how long it would be before anyone got up.
When my Mom did get up I was mad at her, and let her know about it. She listened and sat quietly as I recalled the terrifying moments early that morning, calming down as I spoke without even noticing. When I was done speaking she said to me, with a very calm and comforting voice: “You have always told me not to walk around the boat at night unless someone knows what you’re doing Jeff, and you broke your own rule. Sometimes that is the best way to learn a lesson. I am glad you are okay.”
I looked at the GPS, we had traveled 11 miles since I had hit MOB………