This week's column isn't going to be about what's biting because I have no idea whatsoever what has happened around here over the past week. Why? Because my wife, Karen, and I just got back from the first vacation we have taken in years and quite frankly, I am still in that vacation mode where you aren't sure what planet you are on.
So where did we go? Believe it or not, Karen dropped a business card into a bucket at one of those chamber deals and she won a seven-day cruise. Call it karma that it would be of all things a cruise. But, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I left the destination up to her to decide while I went along for the ride.
I've been on cruises before, but this was Karen's first. Quite frankly, I am not a cruise kind of guy, but she was so excited I swallowed my pride and tried my best to get into the spirit. The cruise she picked was a "Fun Cruise" with Carnival Cruise Lines and the ports we were to visit included Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and finally the Grand Caymans.
I guess the first thing you are wondering is, why do I regard myself as a non-cruise type person? The answer to that is easy, and anybody who knows me well also knows that I am somewhat of a rebel at heart and I am not good when it comes to rules and regulations. "Stand in this line;" "be back by this time" -- it has always gone right in one ear and out the other. I think this part of my character comes from attending one too many prep schools as I was growing up, especially since it was during the '60s.
We drove to Tampa where we boarded the ship, and I must admit it was pretty neat. The dècor was a touch gaudy with an "urn" theme going on with large murals of naked women that were somewhat Rubenesque. And when I say there was an urn theme, I tried to count just how many urns were on board but stopped counting at 1,000. The accommodations were the best part with a large stateroom with a balcony, and watching and hearing the waves was worth the trip alone.
There was only one problem: I couldn't get fishing out of my mind. As we crossed the Gulf of Mexico, Sargasso weed lines were everywhere and I can assure you that Karen got very tired of hearing me shout "I'll bet there are some mahi under that thar weed line!"
Did I bring a fishing rod? I almost didn't, but at the last second I grabbed a spinning rod and put together a tackle bag with spoons, jigs and -- GULP! -- lures. I swear I tried to put fishing out of my mind so the trip would be more one-on-one time with Karen and for the most part, I kept to that agenda.
Our first stop was Cozumel, which I had been to a few times, and our time there was "fish free" as we waded through vendor after vendor that tried to sell you anything and everything. It was probably my least favorite port, but we got into the spirit with the help of margaritas and by the day's end I think the vendors were glad to see us go.
Belize and Roatan were by far the best ports. In Belize, we found this island called Caulker's Caye that was awesome. It was laid back and just a 45-minute boat ride from Belize City. We definitely would go back there. The style was Bahamian with brightly colored homes, white sand beaches and the snorkeling was great.
When we arrived at Roatan, we rented a kayak. Breaking every rule in the book, I convinced Karen to paddle way out in the ocean and let me fish from the kayak over a huge coral reef. I caught grouper, big triggerfish, barracuda and other colorful fish, that is until Karen started getting queasy. That should tell you how far away from shore we were.
One of the best moments for me occurred while we were snorkeling in the Grand Caymans. I have seen just about every type of tropical fish but just off a reef I encountered a pair of giant squid, something you don't usually see during the day. Watching them change colors and patterns was amazing and I would have given anything to have an underwater camera.
But you know what? As much as I enjoyed myself, the best moment of all was when I got my first whiff of our Lowcountry salt marshes as we arrived home. When it comes to cruise ships I'll stick to my "I'm not much of a cruise kind of guy" but when it comes to cruising our waters, I'll do it all day long, every day of the week.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.