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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The day that Sunshine rescued the Centerfold

In the early ‘80s Fort Lauderdale was a favorite Spring Break destination. I guess it still is. Most of the locals went into hiding when the plague of students and student wannabes descended from all over the country, if not the world.

My spare bedroom housed two nieces and several of their girlfriends from college for the duration. I was well into my forties by then so I was viewed as an uptight old uncle who brooked no hijinks in his home. The girls were well behaved if less modest than I would have preferred.

My hideout from civilization and all its uproar was, in those days, the Gulf Stream aboard my 1966 Boston Whaler Sakonnet, SUNSHINE.

On this particular glorious April Saturday morning I had fed the young ladies avocados (alligator pears in FL) and Mahi-Mahi and sent them off to the beach in my car. SUNSHINE and I motored quietly down the Dania Cutoff Canal toward peace and solitude. It was a several mile float at idle speed, so I got to do a lot of sight seeing on the way. My favorite was a marina/port with several stunningly beautiful old cargo schooners quietly decaying away at their moorings. They always stimulated fantastic daydreams of sailing among the Caribbean Isles . . . gentle breezes and carefree days . . .

The US-1/Dixie Highway bridge was a bottleneck of sorts. Not boats, but water. On a changing tide water rushed through the bridge at high velocity, requiring the strictest attention to avoid disaster. Tide was slack, so I just idled through and on my way.

Further along there was a passage under overhanging Australian pines. A troop of monkeys lived there and made great sport of rushing out on the limbs to shriek at passing boats.

When I reached the Intracoastal Waterway I was allowed to get up on plane, so the last mile or so North to Port Everglades went quickly.

As I bore to starboard to exit Port Everglades into the Atlantic I was greeted by a rare sight. The Ocean was as flat as a pool table.

I had seen it before. It was a double-edged blade . . . good and bad. On the good side it was a much more pleasant trip out to the Gulf Stream in a Boston Whaler famed for pounding in any chop and finding the weed lines that sheltered the Mahi-Mahi was a lot easier.

On the bad side it tempted boats offshore that were entirely unsuited for normal offshore seas. Pontoons, deck boats, even jon boats show up in the Gulf Stream joining in on the Mahi-Mahi and small tuna harvest. If they were still out there when the usual afternoon squalls came off the Everglades and rolled offshore they were usually in grave danger.

I jumped SUNSHINE on plane and soon found the Gulf Stream’s sky blue waters only about 3-4 miles offshore. There was a small family in a Boston Whaler Sport 13 catching Mahi-Mahi from under a floating raft of newsprint. A little girl who must have been about 7 had a “schoolie” on a light fresh water rod. She squealed in delight as the 5lb or so jewel of the sea repeatedly leapt high into the air throwing enough spray to create a small rainbow. I hove SUNSHINE to and watched, enchanted by the scene.

I hailed the young father and cautioned him to get inshore before the afternoon squalls arrived. He replied that he would do exactly that in spite of the fact that he felt quite safe in a Boston Whaler. I said that safe is not the same thing as comfortable and his 2 lovely daughters might not like getting their kidneys pounded up between their shoulder blades. He laughed and said that they were tougher than their Dad; he would go in to protect his own comfort.

I deployed two surface skippers and two Krocodile spoons and set out to find my own Mahi-Mahi. I rather quickly found a floating door that produced two simultaneous strikes as I trolled by. Fishing four lines at once while alone can be the proverbial “chinese fire drill” when two of them are hooked up at once. I managed to boat one 6-8LB schoolie and then sat down to untangle my tackle.

I grabbed my casting rod, tied on a 1oz Krocodile and cruised back to the door. For about 15-20 minutes I had a fish on with every cast and boated about half of them.

A sudden gust demanded my attention. I looked to the west and beheld a great black anvil cloud rising out of The Everglades. Time to go home.

The Gulf Stream flows North at 3-6mph. I had exited From Port Everglades at the south end of Ft. Lauderdale but was now off Boca Raton, several miles north, and about 8 miles offshore. I was still about 3-4 miles offshore when the seas began to rise. I slowed down and quartered the waves, angling southwest for the Lighthouse Point entry to the ICW.

The waves got bigger, the wind blew harder and spume came horizontally off the whitecaps. This was nothing new to me. SUNSHINE quartered up one side and down the other just fast enough to keep following seas following.

About a mile out I came upon a semi-swamped deck boat with a drowned inboard and half a dozen panic stricken young women in stylishly brief attire waving their arms and screaming for help. I came alongside and had one of the girls come aboard SUNSHINE. I then asked for their bowline, looped it onto a cleat and told my new passenger to hold the end but not to tie it onto my boat. “If we get in any trouble don’t let your boat run over mine, throw the line over and we will hook it up again after we get straightened out”.

I eased SUNSHINE forward to tighten up the tow, then set out for Lighthouse Point at about 3-4 mph. Quartering the seas was more difficult but still possible and in about 45 minutes we slipped into the cut.

We stopped and bailed the deckboat, which turned out to belong to an infamous strip club and was named CENTERFOLD. The engine was toast. They asked if I could tow them to their dock, about 3 miles away. I agreed. It was accomplished with no difficulty.

It turned out that my passenger had actually appeared as a centerfold model. She was, as you would expect, a beautiful blonde who kept telling me that I reminded her of her Dad.

When I finally made it back to my dock I had decided not to tell my sister’s girls about my adventure.

(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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