The Pelican Pete Stories
Part II - Life On the Bounding Waves
In our last
installment, I had bought a converted lifeboat.
Pelican Pete and I set out on a 500 mile cruise down the St.
John’s River and around Florida, bringing the boat home
to Tampa. In spite of some fuel troubles, we were settling into
Pete Goes Eyeball
to Eyeball with a Ruffian
“Every fish on the Ottawa
has heard about Pelican Pete”
Folks who have never cruised
inland or coastal waters on a slow boat have asked me, “Isn’t
it boring going that slowly.” The answer is never. There’s
always something to do. There are water maggot riders and fizzboat
drivers to curse at, sailboaters to wave to and laugh at. Birds
to watch, dolphins to clap for. (An old salt told me once that
they like it when people applaud. Do you believe that?) There
are sights on the shore to contemplate. The engine needs worrying
over. Dock lines need whipping. The fuel mileage needs ciphering.
The lunch situation always calls for cunning calculation, and
of course the question of a snug anchorage for the night needs
considering. And for certain folks like Pete, there is always
As every fish on the Ottawa River
knows, Pete likes fishing. He had a trolling line out for most
of the trip. Nothing was biting though, and Pete was starting
to get depressed. He would fiddle with the rod and mutter subtle
hints like "The fishing is lousy in Florida". So as
we were rumbling and chewing our way through the water down
the intracoastal ditch I, spied one bait shop that looked particularly
rustic. There were signs with fish stuck on them, and nets and
floats and stuff all over the place. I figured they could give
us some advice. I swung the helm hard to port and cut the engine.
We managed to tie up without destroying the dock.
As we swaggered up the ramp to
the shop, I noticed that there was a sleepy pelican on the deck
outside the door. Now pelicans can be quite common and reasonably
tame down here, so I merely nodded politely at the bird as we
went in. But Pete bought some bait inside, and when he came
out clutching his paper bag he found himself nose-to-beak with
the pelican, who wanted the bait, and had been plotting while
we were in the store. The bird nearly got it too, backed Pete
up into the store again, with much flapping and snapping. And
the bird was pretty agitated too. But Pete's a red-blooded Canuck,
and from behind the shelter of a display counter he gathered
himself for a charge. Sort of like the original General Brock
up Queenston Heights in 1812. The bird saw the wild colonial
look in his eyes and decided maybe he'd let this one go. Pete
made it to the boat and we cast off in our usual 120 decibel
cloud of diesel smoke.
But despite that heroic battle
and much further effort Pete never did catch a Florida fish.
Not every story has a happy ending.
We were coming up to Cocoa. The
General used to live in Cocoa. That was where his former owner
John lived. John ran a sign shop in the touristy section of
town. So Pete and I tied up at Henderson's Marina and cleared
our stay with the dockmaster for a couple of hours. Then we
stumped downtown to visit John, maybe pick up a few pointers.
We found the shop open. All over the walls were nice signs made
from cedar with neat letters sandblasted into them. So that
explained how the General got his pretty cedar-trimmed interior.
John himself was in attendance, working on a layout back of
the counter. "Hi John," I called out, "Good to
see you again. This is Pelican Pete." "Hi uh... Hey,
you’re Paul, aren't you? The guy who bought my boat,"
he asked. "That's right," I answered, "We were
cruising by and I just thought we'd stop to see what you were
up to." "Cruising by?" he said, "What, in
the boat?" "That's right," I said, "We're
taking her round to Tampa." "All that way? But that
means you'll go through Lake Okeechobee," he observed.
"That's right," I confirmed. "But what if the
wind comes up?" he asked, and he looked at me like I were
nuts. "Well, the boat will take it," I answered, and
I looked back at him like he were nuts, "Won't it?"
"I guess so," sputtered John. Pete just rolled his
eyes. I should mention that Lake Okeechobee has a fearsome reputation
in some quarters. To begin with it's big enough, the second
largest lake in the USA. To make matters worse, it's not much
over six feet deep, so it kicks up a wicked chop in a hurry
when the wind gets its dander up. But the General was a decked-over
double-ended lifeboat, wasn't he? So what did John know about
him that we didn't?
"So where's the boat now?"
asked John. "Tied up down at Henderson's Marina."
I answered. "Henderson's! They let you tie up there?"
"Why not?" I asked. "Well, it just that they're
kind of...choosey," he answered, giving me that puzzled
look again, "Did the dockmaster see the boat?" "Well
yeah, sure he did," I said, giving him the look right back.
Pete rolled his eyes again. "So uh, anything we ought to
know about the boat John? I mean before we travel on?"
I asked. "Umm, nothing I can think of," said John,
"Uh...good luck crossing that lake." And on that confident
note Pete and I took our leave. "Got your life insurance
paid up, Pete?" I asked as the marina came into view. The
dockmaster didn't charge us for tying up. I guess he felt sorry
for us. Do they charge you for your last meal on death row?
Maybe John should have bought us supper.
The Old Man Instigates
A day later, and somewhere close
to Vero Beach, we needed some groceries. Well sometimes things
have a way of working out for the pure in spirit. And son of
a gun, there off to starboard was a Publix, just over the road.
Even better, there was a pier jutting out into the waterway.
Now this was just what the doctor ordered, a supermarket we
could easily walk to. If we could tie up at the pier for a half-hour,
Pete could hop over to the grocery while I stayed with the boat.
I swung the wheel and we headed in slowly. Pete stood on the
foredeck, checking the depth. The pier was tee-shaped. The end
was covered with a roof. And there were three guys out at the
end fishing. They weren't old men really, but they weren't young
either, maybe in their late fifties or early sixties. The wind
was blowing down the channel, so I planned on coming around
the end of the tee, and tying up behind where the fellows were
fishing. That way the wind would keep us off the pier, and we
wouldn't be interfering with the fishermen and their lines.
We crept in dead slow, nose to the wind now, watching the water
When they saw what we were up
to, the fishermen started shaking their heads. "Can't come
in here," one of them hollered. "We just need a few
groceries. Won't be but a half hour or so," I hollered
back. The men on the pier wore windbreakers and ball caps. They
seemed like regular guys. Surely they wouldn't mind. "Look,"
one of them said, "No boats allowed. This is a private
pier." It didn't look it to me, but then I saw a fancy
mobile home park over the road. Must be an over fifty-five retirement
park, and this would be their fishing pier, I thought. "How
'bout I just put the lad ashore?" I asked, "Then I'll
be out of your way." "Whazzamatter, can't hear? I
said no boats allowed," the closest fisherman said, and
the three of them glared at us malevolently.
Well shoot. There we were, sort
of hungry, a glitzy supermarket - probably with a deli, and
even some fried chicken (Mmm, fried chicken) right across the
road. We had no dinghy, we were drifting astern into who-knows-what
with the wind, and there was a perfectly usable pier right in
front of us, with three old goats standing on it looking ugly.
I was a little ticked off. Now the wind by this time had us
sideways, with our bow pointing out towards the channel for
our exit, but their fishing lines were strung across and ahead
of our bow. I backed and cranked the wheel, but the General
didn't want to point any other way any time soon, and I didn't
really want to drift much more downwind. It looked pretty shallow
over there. The old guys could see that I was having trouble
turning. No matter, they weren't about to pull in their lines
to give us room. I was getting even more ticked off. I looked
at their lines. I looked at them. They looked at their lines.
They looked at me. Then I just got angry. I pushed the gearshift
for'd and opened the throttle. The General sort of snorted and
then romped across the three lines, pulling hell-bent for the
Pete was back in the cockpit
by this time. "Dad, stop, you've caught their lines!"
he yelled. I could hear the commotion on the pier. "Hey.
Hey!! You.. Stop!! Ah &*$#!!" "Don't look back
Pete," I said, and I steamed straight out to the channel,
so it would be too far to see our registration numbers when
we turned. "But…" Pete said, and then he laughed.
"I guess the old man has some spunk in him yet," he
said. "I shouldn't have done it," I muttered, "but
they made me mad." "Some old guys just get mean,"
mused Pete. "Yeah, they deserved it," I said, and
I remembered being yelled at by older men a couple of times
when I was a young lad. Pete said it was funny watching the
three rods bending right down, the three of them fumbling with
the reels, the three lines snapping one after another, and finally
the three old goats stomping and cussing along the pier.
We found a restaurant a couple
of miles down the ditch and ate there. I half expected to see
three fishermen drive up looking for us, but of course nothing
like that happened. Now I realize that wasn't exactly the battle
of Trafalgar, but that's the first time I can remember ever
doing anything basically nasty to someone else on purpose. I'm
still sorry I did it, after all it was their pier. I suppose
half the pleasure they got from it was keeping others from using
it. Even so, if I knew who they were I would feel better paying
the few bucks their tackle cost. But then they just cheesed
me right off! Ever feel like that?…Wait a minute….
Pete said some old guys just get mean…. He was talking
about them; he couldn't have meant…?
…to be continued