Ted lived in a small town on the west coast of Florida, where he
worked as a carpenter for a number of years. Upon his retirement,
however, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a boat captain. He bought
a forty foot shrimpboat and went into the business of supplying bait
to a local distributor, who would in turn stock the bait shops in
the area. I was his deckhand. While I worked for Ted, I had the opportunity
to learn about some of the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shrimp accounted for only a small percentage of the total contents
of a typical thirty minute drag of the nets. There would usually be
rolling moss, a kind of tumbleweed of the sea. Often, there was some
kind of trash that had been thrown overboard by humans, as well as
an assortment of sea creatures, ranging from the harmless to the dangerous.
The most benign of these animals were the very small sea horses,
cowfish, triggerfish (so named for the shape of the front spine of
their dorsal fin), sea urchins, which are golfball-sized, prickly,
little things, and squid, which exhibit striking shades of blue, red,
and green as they attempt to camouflage themselves.
Sometimes, we would run across a bed of scallops, whose shell is
the classic seashell shape that is seen on some gas station signs.
Occasionally, there would be a grouper or flounder, either of which,
along with the scallops, could be saved for a fresh seafood dinner.
Some of the fish we caught, however, were more aggressive. Dogfish
are devilish creatures, about ten inches in length, with ugly bodies,
wide mouths, and tiny teeth. They lay motionless on the picking table
until one of your fingers got too close. They then clamped down on
it so quickly it is startling, and I have flung many of them back
into the sea through the air as an instinctive reaction.
Scorpionfish, on the other hand, are quite pretty with colors of
red and black but will flop around on the table to face you, the front
spine of their dorsal fin pointing forward. If one manages to stick
you with that spine, your hand will be numb for hours.
I was always very careful when dealing with a moray eel. It is a
snake-like creature with razor sharp teeth and a bad attitude. It
rears up like a rattlesnake, baring its teeth and hissing as it looks
for a chance to attack. That one is better scraped overboard with
something about three feet long.
The two years I spent working on my grandfather's boat gave me an
appreciation for the diversity of aquatic life, and they also cured
me of any desire to swim in the ocean.