Cast & Blast

Teach your children well: How my dad chucked Manhattan to sail to work on Hilton Head

My dad didn’t drive to work. He would sail.
My dad didn’t drive to work. He would sail.

I know that every so often I mention how courageous my mom and dad were when they ditched a cozy and lucrative life and, with five kids, moved us to Hilton Head Island before it was Hilton Head Island.

Just yesterday on my evening walk to the May River, I sat and wondered whether I would have had it in me to make such a bold move with five mouths to feed.

My conclusion? Absolutely not.

Call it a flaw of sorts, but for most of my years I have taken the safest route and, though I have no regrets, I often utter two words that may have changed my entire life. Those two words are: “What if?”

So, bravery to make radical decisions may not be my strong suit, but after a bit of pondering, I realized that the way I raised my children and where I raised them did have something in common with my parents’ brave adventure. We both chose “lifestyle” over possible fame and fortune.

My dad was a big time Madison Avenue advertising executive, but at the same time was an avid angler and it was only by chance that he happened on Hilton Head while he was heading back from a business trip in Florida. I cannot tell you for sure what the allure was but I suspect the sand between his toes and the snail’s-pace lifestyle on the island in 1962 was just too much for him to resist.

Oh, what I would give to hear the conversation he had with my mother that brought her on board. Being a Madison Avenue bigwig, all I can say is he must have been great at his job to sell her on such a thing.

The Datsun 510

Sure, I had fished with him prior to the move but I was only 5 or 6 and, like most kids that age, it was strictly freshwater fishing for bream and largemouth bass.

Once we moved, I was his go-to child when the fishing bug would hit him. I chuckle when I think back on those times because I was like a dog.

“Come on Collins, load-up! That’s a good boy.”

I can’t remember when I hooked into my first big saltwater fish, which was probably a channel bass (aka: “redfish” these days), but that experience hooked me for life. There isn’t a largemouth bass in existence that can match the power of a big redfish.

Year by year, he and I upped the ante. And if my memory serves me correctly, I caught my first sailfish when I was 7.

Genetically, he and I have so much in common.

Even when it comes to automobiles, his fishmobile, a blue and white Datsun 510, always, and I mean always, had multiple fishing rods in it — along with a fishy aroma that no chemical could cure. One ride in my Nissan Xterra and the resemblance is uncanny.

When school didn’t get in the way, he and I would be out trout fishing or Spanish mackerel fishing at daybreak, and in both cases, catch a hundred or more fish regularly.

He was also responsible for my love of fishing offshore. Along with a handful of his buds, I was once again the little dog onboard.

“Load up Collins! Good boy. “

Giant snapper, grouper, marlin, dolphin, wahoo — we would load the boat.

Most of these trips were onboard boats run by Capt. Buddy Hester who pioneered offshore fishing here. The “Buddy,” the “Buddy II,” the “Cloud 9,” the “Elisabeth” — I fished them all.

All these times with my dad, fishing lagoons, nearshore or in the Gulf Stream, forever changed my life.

“Lifestyle” over fame and fortune any day.

Like any father-son relationship, we had rough spots. But it was fishing that always made things right again.

One last trip

My mom and dad opened The Island Shop, one of the first stores in the island’s modern development era. During the summer months, my dad didn’t drive to work, he would sail.

Both of my parents — Charles and Sallie Doughtie — were extremely civic-minded and I credit them for teaching all five kids the importance of being involved and not just sitting on the sidelines.

As I became an adult, we still fished together, but as soon as we stepped onboard whatever boat we were fishing that day, our bond changed from me being a dog (or son) to being best buds.

There were no secrets between us and even when he reached his 80s, our bond grew that much stronger.

At 82, he asked me to take him on one last trip to the Gulf Stream. Physically a wreck, I worried if he could survive such a trip, but along with two of his surviving fishing buddies, we went.

They all took a beating that day but with six wahoo in the box and about as many mahi, they all said the price they paid to their old bones was well worth it.

I hope you can feel my words, Dad, and thanks for teaching me well.