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Vol 43 | Num 11 | Jul 11, 2018

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Fish Stories

Article by Capt. Franky Pettolina

There I was standing in the cockpit of my boat looking up at the bow of the 53-foot Viking “Kingfisher” as it closed the distance between our two vessels. My buddies Fishbone and Bobby were on the bow of the Viking cracking jokes. My sidekick, Mr. Evans was standing next to me with a mahi attached to a coiled rope. A moment or two later Mr. Evans tossed the long end of the rope to Fishbone and the mahi was hauled up on to the bow of the “Kingfisher.” Fishbone untied the mahi and heaved the rope back to Mr. Evans. A second mahi was made secure and Capt. Ted eased the “Kingfisher” back into range and a second mahi was transferred to the “Kingfisher” for the ride back to Ocean City. More jokes were cracked. Capt. Ted spun the wheel and throttled up, and I watched my fish and my friends heading away. Mr. Evans and I shrugged our shoulders and settled in for an extended trip back to the marina.

Rewind the clock about 8 hours or so and I was deploying the baits for the start of my first fishing day in the Ocean City Marlin Club Canyon Kickoff Tournament. On the “Last Call” our current program consists of me splitting captain duties with my Dad, and Mr. Evans runs our cockpit. Dad usually runs the boat out and I help Chris (that is how we refer to Mr. Evans in a less formal manner) set the trolling spread out in the morning. Once the baits are out and everything is settled into place I will take over the wheel, giving Dad some time to unwind and hang out with the fishing party. For the Canyon Kickoff our anglers consisted of my Mom (Maddie), my wife (Jen) and our friends Billy, Boz and Mike. Billy served as President of the Marlin Club before me and was a Board Member up until this year. Boz and Mike are both currently on the Board of Directors, with Mike serving as Treasurer. The seas were calm, fishing had been good the day before and I was looking forward to an enjoyable day on the water with good friends and family.

Then the starboard engine alarm started going off and the engine lost power. Sixty some odd miles out in the ocean and we were at half power. The bright side? We have two engines. The down side? Twin engine boats don’t perform very well on one engine. Instead of getting to unwind, Dad had to change roles and become chief engineer and mechanic. I took over the helm and Dad went to work in the machinery space.

No sooner was Dad in the engine room and hollering for me to try and start the engine when a white marlin charged the left teaser. Dad was hollering commands from the engine room, unaware that I was hollering totally different commands from the fly bridge. After a few minutes of laughter and miscommu-nication, we had successfully missed our first marlin of the tournament. Not the start I was hoping for.

My engine alarms are obnoxiously loud. This was done intentionally. I want it to be unmistakable. None of this “Whats that sound?” business. When my alarms go off it is obvious there is something wrong. The drawback to this is that the alarms sound when the key is activated prior to starting the engine, and when we are troubleshooting a problem the key needs to be activated in order for the engine diagnostic systems to be energized.

Once we were finished missing the marlin it was time to drive around with a loud buzzing in my ear for the next hour and a half or so while Dad traced a short in a wire that was causing our engine to shut down. In spite of all the alarm noise we managed to capture a couple mahi and the day was looking a little brighter. And then Dad gave me the go ahead to fire the engine up and we were running under twin propulsion again... for about 10 minutes. The engine ran just long enough to have a raw water cooling pump impellor failure. I mean what are the odds?!?!? Back down to engine room for Dad and back to driving around on one engine for me.

Déjà vu all over again. We missed another marlin (What the heck Mr. Evans!!!) and caught a few more mahi. Dad fixed the problem and gave me the ok to start the engine and go back to fishing under full propulsion. All was good. I mean what else could go wrong?

We finished the day on two engines and had a couple of contenders for the mahi category in the fish box. Everything was going to work out. Or so we thought.

As we accelerated to cruising speed, I noticed the starboard engine was smoking more than usual. I went up to the bridge and Dad pointed out that the engine was running at a higher temperature than normal. In order for the engine to run at a safe operating temperature we had to pull the throttles back quite a bit. Dad and I knew what the problem was and unfortunately we knew that it couldn’t be fixed until we got back to the marina. When the water pump impellor failed some of the pieces of the impellor ended up clogging our engine’s heat exchanger. We had hoped that we were going to get lucky and the pieces would wash through, but things didn’t work out that way. So we were limping home at 13 knots. That’s about half of our normal cruising speed. This spelled bad news for the contenders that were iced up in our fish box. At that speed we weren’t going to make it to the tournament scale before they closed.

I went down to the cabin and checked the rules for the tournament. I was pretty sure that there was an exemption in the rules that allowed for a transfer of fish to another boat in the event of a mechanical issue, but I wanted to be positive. After re-reading the rules I hurried back up to the bridge to start calling in a favor.

I called all of the boats I could think of that I knew had fished near me throughout the day. I tried the “Reel Joy” but they were too far into the ride home already. Capt. Andy is a good friend of mine and I am sure he would have turned around, but I couldn’t ask him to do that (or have his boss incur all that extra fuel burn). Next up was the “Par Five.” They had just passed us when we had to slow down. For whatever reason, I couldn’t raise Capt. Charlie on the radio. Same thing with the “Grande Pez.” Our radios just weren’t getting along. Finally, I was able to talk to Capt. Al on the “Roncito” and Capt. Ted on the “Kingfisher.” Luckily for me, Capt. Ted was only about a mile away. That led to the events at the beginning of this fish story.

We made it back to the marina (obviously since I am writing this). The boat got fixed up and we fished the next day, although we were tired after spending half of the night getting the repairs done. More mahi were caught and Mr. Evans was back to his normal marlin hooking self. One of our mahi from the first day even ended up being big enough to take third place in the Tournament.

I owe my friends on the “Kingfisher” a few cold ones for their help with that one. I will be sure to pay it forward too. They didn’t have to come to my rescue, but they did, and I am very thankful. Ted, Fishbone, Bobby (and the rest of the “Kingfisher” crew) I tip my riggers to ya! Top shelf all the way!

Capt Franky Pettolina is Co-Captain of the charter boat, “Last Call”, owner of Pettolina Marine Surveying, Inc. and multi-term President of the Ocean City Marlin Club.

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