As our trip to San Diego was coming to an end, my son invited me on his boat for a tour of the back bay, where the water is shallow and people fish mostly for spotted bay bass. My nine-year-old grandson, Alex, was coming along. I negotiated for a later start time of the trip and, it being a Wednesday and not very crowded, we settled for nine in the morning. Hurrah!
I arrived first and parked in the middle of a deserted lot. In front of me, the water looked like melted crystal. The pale moon was translucent on the western sky. I walked to the boat launch ramp and looked towards the wooden pier. The carcass of a tuna floated by one of the pilings. Someone must have caught the fish, filleted it and discarded the bare carcass. Cackling, a few seagulls swirled above. The land around the narrow channel was covered by lush vegetation typical of marshes. A man with a large dog stopped near me and threw a stick into the water. The dog lurched in with a splash, retrieved the stick and returned it to his owner.
My son’s white car appeared where the road dead ended. He made a sharp turn and then another one and slowly backed up his trailer towards the ramp until the car’s rear wheels reached the water. Alex jumped out. “Good morning,” he said. “Morning.” My son handed me the car keys. “I’ll get into the boat and start the engine. You back up the car one more foot, careful on the incline. I’ll tell you when to stop. Can you manage it?” “I think so,” I said nervously.
A few minutes later we unhooked the boat and launched it on the water. My son parked the car and the trailer, while Alex and I waited for him in the boat by the pier. When my son returned, he turned the boat around and let Alex take the wheel. Imitating the guides and instructors he had seen, my grandson said in a low voice, “Welcome everyone. Please remain seated while we proceed at high speed and I hope you’ll enjoy your ride aboard the F. V. Denise.” That was Fishing Vessel Denise, after my son’s wife’s name. We traveled at the neck breaking speed of 4 miles per hour along the pier, my grandson proudly steering into the larger bay carefully following the route in between the pillars and buoys.
We sailed past Pasha Hawaii, a vehicle transport vessel looking ridiculously tall and massive when viewed from close to the water’s surface. No matter how impressed we were, Alex made sure we knew it wasn’t as big as the Titanic. (He had watched Cameron’s movie six times, twice with me.) The gray silhouettes of military vessels came into view on the right, followed by the lazy, long arch of the Coronado Bridge. Deceivingly close in the mist we distinguished the red pointed roofs of the Dell and the rugged outline of Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma. A small sandy beach in front of a white cluster of homes with green, manicured gardens became visible straight ahead.
“We’ll take you through the canals,” my son explained. “Increase the speed, Alex.” Gently, the boat jerked forward. “I like being here,” my son continued. “Just us, surrounded by water, the birds and the sky. And earlier in the morning, the sun rising over Chula Vista.” “It’s nice,” I responded appreciating his serenity.
Soon Lowes Coronado Bay Resort appeared on our right. We sailed through a narrow channel and under a bridge and admired the neat and modern single-family houses with balconies overlooking the water. My son knew the make, type and price of each boat docked at those private piers. “We have friends who own a boat and a house on a canal in Fort Myers, Florida,” I said. “This reminds me of it.” “Yes,” my son said. “But this is here, in San Diego, where I live.” I facetimed with my wife and showed her the houses. “Take pictures,” she asked. I said yes, but I didn’t. I’m not great at following prompts.
For a while, I talked to my son about what we’d do if we had much more money — the yachts we would buy, the house I would build, the private jets. But we were regular mortals and Alex kept steering the boat.
On our return, by buoy number one, we killed the engine and started fishing. I mean, they did. I didn’t have a license and watching them was good enough for me. Slowly, we drifted away. Two people on jet skis flew by. A larger white boat came in our direction and turned. A pelican swooped by the water surface. A military helicopter hovered above.
My son caught the first bass. It wiggled and twisted at the end of the line, and violently moved its gills. Its red eyes were bulging. The hook that went in through its mouth and came out on the side of its head was hard to remove. My son dropped the fish back in the water and it happily darted into the deep. “Next time we come here, we’ll fish with hooks without barbs,” my son said. The name of the game was ‘catch and release.’ They used thin, flexible rods and artificial lures. To me, it felt a lot like drinking decaf. Why do this if you don’t keep the fish? Where I come from, you eat what you catch. “Good thing you never went hunting,” I said to my son. “I mean…as a child. I’m afraid you’d have liked it a lot.” “No,” he said. “I don’t like killing mammals. You know, the look in their eyes.” “Then why torture the fish?” “It’s for the sport.” “Fish don’t have any nerves in the mouth,” my grandson announced with expert assurance. “They don’t feel anything.” I wondered how one knows such a thing.
The next fish my son pulled out of the water squirmed and flapped just the same, proving my point again. After my son caught the third fish, my grandson became agitated. “I want your rod. It’s better,” he complained. They exchanged rods and my son caught another fish, the largest of the morning. “You have to know how to cast,” he said with a smile. It was all Greek to me. At that point Alex changed tactics. His father would hook the fish and Alex would reel it in. Then the father would unhook the pray and release it back into the wild.
There was an unspoken bond and balance between the two of them, no matter what I thought. I was just along for the ride.
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