In The Nick Of Time

March is a terribly unpredictable month for fishing along the upper Texas coast. Based on weather forecasts, a person could plan a trip two days away and when the day of the trip was reached, the wind could be blowing a gale, bucketfuls of rain, or it could be perfect. This particular day Carl Parkinson, a neighbor, friend and employee, and I had planned a trip to try and catch some big, spawning, black drum, not terribly good table fare, but great pullers! The day turned out OK, wind around 12 from the southeast, with 1 tide coming in all morning.

Having just purchased a used, 24, foot, boat with 2, 120 HP motors, this would be a good shakedown cruise for it. With no problems we launched the boat at the State ramp in Jones Lake, cruised down the channel until we intersected with the Intercoastal Waterway, under the Galveston Causeway and staying in the Intercoastal it passed through Pelican Island, we turned to the north side of the island and anchored up.

In the distance, north of us, we could see the end of the Texas City Dike, we baited up with a crab, attached the halves on to our hooks, cast out and waited for a drum to gobble them up. After a short wait, tap, tap, tap on my rig, setting the hook the drum took off stripping line from the reel. Stopping its run, the drum came in grudgingly, until I got it up to the boat, then it thrashed around until Carl grabbed the line and the fish’s tail, securing it. Smaller drum, under 5 or 6 pounds are quite tasty when filleted and fried, but this big fellow, 25 pounds or so, wouldn’t be that good, so Carl removed the hook and released the fish.

Rebaiting and casting back out, we sat for a good 30 minutes with nary a nibble. Suggesting that we move across the Houston Ship Channel to some 10 to 12 foot deep sand flats that I knew of, Carl took the anchor in, I cranked up to outboards, planed out the boat and we sped east, toward the ship channel. Thinking nothing of it, a huge tanker was heading up the channel too, but we’d just steer around it. We sped closer to the huge ship and gauging my right turn to steer behind the tanker, I turned the wheel and nothing happened!

We were really closing in on the big ship and my boat wasn’t responding and I yelled to Carl, “The steering is stuck, oh sXXX!” As I cut the engines back, we were still coasting right toward the tanker, but quick as a flash, Carl grabbed the fish knocker (billy club) out of the under gunnel storage and in the nick of time, whacked on the exposed mechanical steering equipment and, as a crash seemed imminent, the steering loosened, the wheel responded and we turned right, just behind the tanker!

In the past, Carl had been one of the first ocean racers in this part of the country and on several occasions he’d had mechanical steering problems that were solved with a good whack. Corrosion on the rod inside of the steering line turned out to be the problem, but that was too close for comfort and as we headed back into the launch ramp, I decided that I’d take the boat back to the dealer and replace the mechanical steering with hydraulic. This fixed the steering problem, but I didn’t want to ever again get into a loosing race with a big, tanker!