In July of 1981, Dewey Stringer and I, along with one of his good customers, had a big offshore trip lined up. We had heard that some big kingfish were hanging around the rigs in the Buccaneer Field, thirty miles south of Galveston. Dewey’s customer had never been offshore fishing before, but he had been insistent and even though he was a “pilgrim”, we thought we could handle whatever came up.

Way before the sun, we gassed up Dewey’s twenty-three foot boat, pushed by a two hundred horse, outboard, filled both of the big coolers with ice, bought some cigar minnows for bait and cleared the marina. We headed out through the Houston Ship Channel, turned south at the end of the jetty and before long could see the lights of the twelve mile rig. Not stopping there we sped on past and just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, we tied up to a rig in the Buccaneers.

A little history on the Buccaneer Oil Field, at the edge of the continental shelf, it was drilled in the 1960’s at a water depth of seventy feet. The relatively shallow wells produced mostly oil at the start, but now production is primarily natural gas. In 1983 the name of the field was changed to the Blue Dolphin Oil And Gas Field and, although still producing, it was included in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Reef Program.

The sea was slick as we baited up, cast out and started a chum line, whereupon, one glance at the chum, a mixture of cut up trash fish, fish guts and other nauseous items, Dewey’s customer ran to the side of the boat and threw up. Senior Mal-De-Mere reared his head! All we could do was have him stand up and concentrate on a spot on the horizon, sometimes this will settle things out, but this time it didn’t work and the disease was catching as I started feeling bilious, however locking my vision on a far away rig, mine passed.

The customer quickly recovered as a big king hit one of the baits and took off on a sizzling run, another shorter run, then a splashing fight around the boat, before Dewey gaffed it and tossed the twenty-five pounder into the cooler. For this trip we were using light to medium offshore tackle with twenty, pound line and a three, foot wire leader because most of these fish out here have plenty of teeth!

We caught several more kings, the customer got his second wind, but as the morning progressed, with the glare off the water, it started getting hot, really hot and by noon we were all ready to call it quits. Then, the radio crackled with a severe storm warning from NOAA, “A severe storm with high winds, heavy rain and lightning is moving east along the Freeport beachfront and is expected to reach the Galveston beach’s by 2:00 PM. All interested parties should seek shelter. This is a fast moving, dangerous storm.”

Looking northwest we could see a thin, black line along the horizon and as I untied us from the rig, Dewey started the outboard and told his customer to find a seat and hold on, then he muttered, “Were going to beat this thing to Galveston!” Our calculations were that if we could make thirty-five, we could beat the storm in by thirty minutes. However our “calcs” were wrong because we underestimated the storm’s size and speed!

Heading north at forty, thank goodness the seas were almost slick, but we could see the storm growing to our northwest. One option was tying up to the twelve, mile rig, letting a lot of line out and ride it out. As the storm approached us, we were all wondering why we didn’t just stay at the Buccaneers?

The back edge of the storm hit us before we got to the twelve, mile rig making it impossible to tie up to it. In an instant the wind went from five to fifty, the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees and the rain came in almost parallel to the sea. Then crack, boom, lightning hit the rig and it was popping all around us, who knows why we didn’t get hit? The wind was so strong, that for now, it was flattening the seas, so we sped on.

Almost as fast as the storm came upon us, the seas became rough, six to eight, foot waves that slowed us down considerably, that, on top of the wind from the northwest making it hard to hold the boat on course. It was getting scary and thinking to myself, If we don’t hit the jetties, we’ll probably end up either on the Bolivar Peninsula or the Louisiana coast!

Shouting over the storm Dewey asked us, “What’s that up ahead?” Both looking ahead we saw a boat coming toward us, closer inspection showed a Coastguard Zodiac, with two sailors aboard, bouncing up and over the waves. With a hailer they called us, “Did this boat request assistance?” Since we couldn’t be heard over the storm, we shook our heads no. Then they asked a funny question, “Which way to the beach?” we pointed north, then their radio crackled, oblivious to the storm they turned around and bounced back toward the beach. Someone else must have been in trouble.

The storm was intense and we made out in the distance what we hoped was the old, unused lighthouse at the end of the South Jetty. Other than the Coastguard, we had seen no other boats, so we plowed on. Nearing the jetty, on the Gulf side we saw a capsized boat and as we drew nearer, three men were clinging to the side.

One man was waving, trying to get our attention, we saw him, but the up and down of the eight foot seas made maneuvering over to them very difficult. Finally we pulled up on the downwind side of them, the motor keeping us steady and two of the three men, one a Latin with his valuables clutched tightly in a plastic bag, were ready to come aboard. Dewey shouting, ordered them aboard, but one of the men was hesitant saying, “I’m staying with my boat!” this drew a heated response from Dewey, who yelled, “Get aboard or stay out here and drown you Son-Of-A-Bitch!” We started to pull away, but the man in the water said, “But my fishing tackle!”

Both of our internal alarms went off because his tackle was long gone, but I told Dewey, “I’m sure he was worried about something else,” as I edged closer to the Billy club, or fish persuader, we kept stowed under the gunnel. Three against three, they didn’t appear to be armed, so we put them in the front of the boat, but the last man in was a hard case shrugging our attempts to help him, then we up and downed around the end of the jetty, finally getting into calmer water.

As Dewey called the Coastguard to let them know we had retrieved three men from a swamped boat, he mentioned that they didn’t look like fisherman. Our guests were surly at best so I stayed close to the Billy club. As we pulled into the Galveston Yacht Basin, the Coastguard was waiting for us and they arrested the three men!

The “fishing tackle” was a couple of bales of cocaine and the Latin was being smuggled into our Country. The two men had gone out to a shrimp boat, picked up the dope and the illegal and, unlucky for them, got swamped by the storm. Lucky for them we insisted for them to come aboard!

This was a violent, killer storm and we had traveled right through the center of it. As the storm plowed through the beachfront and Galveston Bay, many boats were capsized and sunk, however it was a miracle that only three people, in a sailboat, were killed. For a while, that was enough storm for me!

Dewey’s customer never asked to go fishing with him again.