SAN DIEGO — "Pah! The Cattle Boat," sniffs an early-morning fisherman as he climbs aboard his own personal Hatteras 35. He glances across two piers to where a clump of running-shoed, coffee-slopping, day-tripping landlubbers bottleneck a gangplank to Fisherman III, H & M Landing's half-day fisher for today.
Their voices refract across the steely dawn waters.
"Mind your step, mind your step!"
"Mom! Watch my rod! You're almost poking my eye out!"
"Do we wear life-jackets . . . Captain?"
A little old lady is helped aboard by two teen-agers. They are trying to steady her and carry their rods and tackle at the same time. A couple follows, balancing plastic cups of coffee with bags, yellow yachting jackets and fishing poles already twitching like giant scissors.
It's 6:15 a.m. The Fisherman III is almost ready for another "half-day," the trip for the uninitiated. Experts would take four-day, eight-day, even the 26-day fishing expedition down to Costa Rica--at the very least the 24-hour trip out to blue waters where you might expect to find some of the more, uh, man-size, intelligent fish. Bluefin. Yellowtail. Marlin. Something to challenge a man. To demonstrate the difference between a mere fisherman and a true angler . But this one's for the self-confessed greenhorn. The families trying to do something together. The landlubbers who just want to have a little adventure away from it all that they'll be able to share with the kids. Truly, the cruise of a lifetime, for some. And all for $17 plus pole rental.
The boat's captain for the day, Pete Fagon, launches into his "good morning" routine over the scratchy speaker system as he guides the 53-footer out through the tangle of masts and hulls of the pleasure-fishing fleet, past names like Mascot VI, Cherokee Geisha and Fish'n Fool.
In the galley-stateroom, the more blase are already swapping experiences and comparing hometowns.
"Oregon? They don't tan up there, they rust ," says someone in a black jacket with "Monster Fishing" sewn in gold across the back.
"Now, folks," Fagon says on the loudspeaker, "we'd like to remind you there are plenty of us aboard, and once we get to fishing, there are some rules we're going to have to observe. The main one is no overhead casting. We could lose all sorts of pretty eyes if we try that one. We'll catch plenty of fish just dropping the hook right overboard."
Outside, things are already different from the normal world. Big brown pelicans defy gravity, slicking across the water, flipping, diving. And there, leaning on his elbow on a buoy, eyeing the boat nonchalantly as it slides by, is a seal.
"No, not seal. Sea lion. Know why? Seals just have holes in their heads. Sea lions have ear flaps like us. See? Plus they're a lot cooler. Less shy. Come right up to you. Steal your fish. Bite him off right behind the head," says Paul Horvat, who's out for the first time since he sold his outboard runabout. He, at least, is no novice.
"Before my runabout I had a 641-foot vessel with 1,500 crew, and we fished the Pacific, Tasman Sea, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the Indian Ocean . . . "
"Ah, you were in the Navy, too, were you?" says an old salt next to him.
"Now folks," says the loudspeaker, "if you'd care to record your names on the ship's register, those of you that want to can place $2 down, and we'll put that into a jackpot kitty for the one who hooks the top catch of the day. OK? Don't put your poles out to starboard--that's the right-hand side--because we'll be pulling in for live bait in just a minute."
In a moment, the boat is bumping alongside a series of pontoons tied together. Right out there in the middle of the harbor, like a midstream log-jam. "Everingham Brothers Live Bait," says the sign.
"Stand clear, ladies and gentlemen, stand clear." The crew has jumped down onto the nearest pontoon. They take a great net and troll it through oblong pools between the pontoons. Then they scoop up nets full of little fish with green eyes. Anchovies.
But the smell isn't anchovies. In the crisp gray morning air, the waft of bacon drifting out of the main cabin. At this time, it's like heaven.
"Do you realize how old sardines can grow?" says someone, taking a slurp at a cup of coffee in the galley. "Twelve or 13. Years! They don't have kids till they're 4! And the older they get, the further they go. The ones that get to a decent age, they swim to Canada because the grub's good up there. Rich!"
The tanks on the stern are full of furiously swimming anchovies. These are the tough ones. They have been left in the pontoon tanks for a few days, time enough for the weaker ones to die off. These guys are going to be lively bait, and that's guaranteed in the profit-sharing deal between H & M and Everingham Bros.