Lost Shades and Stitches in Venice

In the time since last week’s story about the Okatoma debacle was made public, I’ve received quite a few messages and had even more face to face (but not too close) conversations questioning my ability to operate a boat. And rightfully so. That day on the Okatoma was a disaster and my wife reminds me of that occasionally. To everyone that has had a good time at my expense in the last week, I remind them of the most important fact of the story…a life was saved that probably wouldn’t have been had I not sank that boat. This little tidbit hasn’t stopped the people that I once thought of as friends from poking fun at me. So this week I’m going to pass the buck along and do some poking for myself.

Rewind to May 2014. We had just finished up our baseball season after being eliminated from a tournament in Montgomery, Alabama. Upon hearing the news that we were finished for the season, my good friend, Chris Coulter, gave me a call to see if I wanted to unwind for a couple of days on a deep sea fishing trip to Venice, Louisiana. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. After a long season with a disappointing finish, I couldn’t imagine a better way to drown my sorrows than in the Gulf of Mexico chasing yellowfin tuna.

We headed down to Venice a couple of days later and rented a room at the marina to stay for the night. We took in a fresh seafood meal at the restaurant at the marina and got all of our gear prepped for the next morning. The weather forecast couldn’t have been any better for a day on the water. The high temperature was going to be in the mid 70’s with gentle breeze all day. The seas were forecast to be two to three foot in the morning and calming down to less than one foot after lunch. We were planning to head out of the south pass of the Mississippi River and go about 60 miles offshore to some floating oil rigs. If I’m not mistaken, the name of the particular rig that we were supposed to fish around was Thunderhorse. I could hardly contain my excitement the night before the trip. I hadn’t been deep sea fishing in a couple of years, and this was to be my first trip out that far.

We got up early the next morning and started to head out. Chris also brought along two other friends for the trip, to which I was very grateful. As we began to run through a check of our gear before we left the dock, I had no idea what the heck I was doing, so I was glad to have the other two guys there to make sure everything was right. As we pulled out of the harbor, the sun was beginning to rise, and the views from the Mississippi River were breathtaking. We passed massive cargo ships that were traveling up the river toward New Orleans, as well as many other anglers headed out for the day. You really don’t appreciate the size of some of those cargo ships until you’re alongside of them in a 31 foot boat. We headed out the south pass and toward open water. Freedom was just ahead!

One of the unique things about fishing out of Venice is how close you are to the continental shelf. As we headed south toward Thunderhorse rig, the water color turned from an emerald green to the darkest blue you can imagine. As we entered blue water, I also noticed that the depth finder on the boat was blinking instead of giving a reading. I asked Chris why it was doing that, and he explained that it was because when we dropped off the shelf that it wouldn’t pick the depth up. We went from being in water that was around 400 feet deep to water that was over 2,000 feet deep in the matter of minutes. I’ve never felt so small in all of my life. This is where I began to be a little nervous for the first time that morning.

Remember that I mentioned the seas were supposed to be two to three foot? Yeah, that was a little off. As we traveled further south those 2-3’s turned into 4-5’s. About an hour and a half into the trip we took a wave over the boat. It felt like getting a Gatorade shower after a big win in a ballgame. This is the second time that I felt nervous on the trip. Now I’m soaking wet and freezing as we keep pushing the 31 foot Fountain toward our fishing spot. In an effort to beat other fishermen out there we keep going through the rough water. Not twenty minutes after the first wave, we took on another. This time it felt like hitting a wall. When the water had washed over us, I noticed that the windshield was mostly missing. Jagged pieces of plexiglass remained. It was also in that moment that I felt something warm running down the side of my face and chest. I was wearing a light green shirt and when I looked down, it was red. Vaughn, Chris’ friend, alerted me that I was bleeding pretty bad. I reached up and felt a gash under my chin and another on my right ear. Vaughn was right, I had a couple of pretty nasty wounds.

As Vaughn tried to tend to my wounds and stop the bleeding, Chris did his best to keep us from being rolled by another big wave. I looked down again and noticed another large cut on my left hand. After the boat was stable, Chris began to look for superglue in his tackle box to help stop the bleeding. With no such luck, we wrapped my wounds as best as we could. In all of the commotion I also realized that my sunglasses were gone, and the blow from the windshield had knocked my contacts out. I couldn’t see much further than arm’s length away. This is the third time that I got really nervous on the trip. Not being able to see just how bad my cuts were made me anxious. Vaughn freaking out made me even more anxious. Chris, however, was as stoic as ever. We made the decision to turn the boat around, given the scope of my injuries, and head back to the harbor.

By the time we got back to Venice, two hours later, most of the bleeding had pretty much stopped. We loaded the boat on the trailer and headed north to get me stitched up. I fell asleep in the backseat and when I woke up we were almost back to Hattiesburg. A half-blind trip to Wesley Medical Center and 18 stitches later, my fishing trip was finished. I’ve since gone back to Venice with Chris and had a lot of fun, but I learned some lessons from that trip. When given the chance to sit in a bean bag or behind the windshield, choose the bean bag, and don’t ever forget to pack super glue…just in case.

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