Scalloping from a Bay Hen 21

Steve Tonnesen

After finally having fixed up my '96 Bay Hen's foredeck, bowsprit and seat hatch cover seals to my liking, I was able to go sailing again, both Labor Day and this past Sunday. Outboard engine problems almost scuttled the expeditions, but replacing the water pump impeller and blowing out the water chamber cured the problems at the last minute. Since scallop season was to end in just a few days, the main objective was to get my kids in the water to snorkel and gather scallops for their first time ever. Both days, we sailed from my brother's house on the Weeki Wachee River, where we had the luxury of using his private boat ramp. (See Google Earth, 28.535161°, -82.630822°) On Labor Day, I took two of my nephews and two of my sons. We were late getting out, early afternoon, so the tides were against us. We only found exactly one scallop between us. Snorkeling from a Bay Hen can be a bit of a challenge with naught but a rope ladder, but it is workable. The boys all enjoyed seeing sea life up close and personal, including two delightfully close passes of sea turtle. Some was a bit too personal though, with remoras attempting to cling to our legs at times. One nephew passed up the opportunity for an easy remora catch by chasing it back out of his baggy swimsuit pant leg. There were also remora attached to the hull for most of the day. Maybe they liked the green hull? I do not have anti-fouling paint on this boat, as it is only tailored. Seeing how remora liked it that way, I think I'll leave the antifouling paint off. A single dolphin adopted us for about an hour on the way in, averaging maybe 20 feet from the boat, but getting almost close enough to touch at times. I was standing up in the cockpit with the tiller handle so as to enjoy the view, but looking down at one point I saw the dolphin swimming abeam but on his right side, as if by doing so to be able to get a better look at me. It puzzled us that a dolphin would cavort in such low water, as we were only in between 2 to 4 feet on the way in. This I know because the original boat owner had installed a depth finder which still worked well.

Last Sunday we both planned and executed the plan much better, sort of. (Note to self: put drain plug in before launching.) Same venue, but one of my sons brought a girl friend along and one nephew stayed behind due to homework demands. I had again only forgotten to bring along a compass, but at least we had 2 Garmins. Some day I will need to read the books so that I know what to do with at least one of them.

We were afloat and riding the ebb tide out at 7:00 AM this time. We Johnsoned out of Bayport half way to channel marker number 1 before setting the sail, as there was little to no wind at that hour. Fortunately, the Bay Hen excels in light air, as that was the best that was going to be available until mid afternoon. A couple of very large twin masted sailboats appeared to be anchored several miles West of Hernando Beach, but they were so far away one could not tell much about them from where we were. Two jet skis appeared from far out of the Gulf, rapidly whining their way East. My nephew had the tiller just long enough to discover that the main sheet cleat will come off if the brass screw head are weakened from corrosion and you pull on it and the main sheet hard enough. While cruising slowly North, I pondered both how to fix this right now without any hardware and what spare hardware I should remember to bring with on the next trip. Although our destination was about 10 miles North, just West of Chassowitzka where I had heard of the scalloping success of friends, ghosting at just 2, 3 knots best just didn't do the trick, so we struck sail and settled for the idea of discovering our own turtle grass beds. For a few hours on both sides of dead low tide, we slowly drifted in 6 to 8 feet of glass smooth water under a light overcast sky, snorkeling for scallops and enjoying a quiet day of nautical solitude. Very few boats were in sight, maybe three all total. Not many scallops per acre there either, but if you looked long enough, you could find a few about, each looking up at you with dozens of little blue eyes. We also found numerous of what appeared to be the equivalent of underwater tumbleweeds that rolled in and out with the tides. Some were 5 feet long and like giant, porous cucumbers. I supposed that the numerous holes seen about contained stone crabs, but lacking a proper crabbing stick, I elected not to find out if such was the case. Besides, I had no idea what the rules were about crab harvest either. A pod of dolphin appeared today, this time with at least one young one. The baby even jumped a few times to provide entertainment, but they did not bother to investigate this shallow water sailboat. I partially marred the day's enjoyment by having misplaced the boarding ladder. A dock line lashed tight alongside the sharpie hull from stem to stern provided one suitable foothold for clambering over the side, so all was not lost. While the younger ones were snorkeling, the old man, having recently read a book about knots, began plotting on how to re-attach the jam cleat to the tiller handle without screws. The plan included some 1/8" line, an icicle hitch to hold the front very securely to the front of the tiller handle and a poldo tackle to tension the other end toward the tiller pivot. If anyone had been paying attention and watching, it would have appeared that the old man knew what he was doing, as this worked so well that I might just leave it like it is instead of replacing the screws. I also took this opportunity to try out my new marine radio, but not too much. I just listened. Sea Tow likes to do radio checks it seems. Also, the Coast Guard was busy trying to reach one particular guy on a particular fishing boat. They did not sound happy with him, nor did he ever answer. Some day I will have to learn more about the radio too.Calling it a day around 3:00PM, the wind and tide now having shifted to onshore, the un-named Bay Hen and crew slowly made its way back in the general direction of Bayport, enjoying the scenery along the way. Cloud cover gone now, we try out the bimini; what a perfect accessory. The cooler chest became a primary attraction, all remaining food and drink quickly disappearing and leaving the ice with nothing to do but keep the scallops fresh. I stood on the foredeck with one hand on the mast, looking down into the glassy water for whatever might be there. A silver flash and a swirl in the water to port caught my eye. About 40 feet away, what looked like a foot long jack was in an unnatural position, his bent right side reflecting the sun's rays right back at me. An unidentifiable shadow suddenly covered all but the jack's head, which I then saw thrash violently forward and backward before spiraling away all by itself, the rest of him having abruptly parted company for parts unknown. And this is where we were snorkeling?

The wind became slightly stronger and more helpful as the day aged, sweeping us directly toward our destination, but still not enough to create more than nominal seas. As planned and expected, we were returning in perfect weather with several gallons of scallops, a flood tide and a tailwind. Under sail past the pier into the river delta, I now had to strike sail while the wind was the strongest of the day, maybe 10 knots. Having planned poorly, I was now doing this in the middle of the channel, with impatient power boats both up and downriver from me wondering what my course actually was, as stalled sideways across the channel did not communicate much other than inexperience. While motoring up the river with all the powerboats, even a motorized canoe passing us, certain relatives who will remain unidentified made the expected jokes about possibly needing a bigger Johnson. Other than bending the VHF antenna which found a tree because it was on top of a mast that I keep forgetting is up there,docking was wonderfully uneventful.

The first attempt at tailoring was going so perfect that only forgetting to lock the winch ruined it, the boat staying put while the trailer deftly slid right back out from under it. Back in the trailer again, position the boat and out again. But wait, it is too far to port. No matter, just push it over, as we have several strong guys. This would have worked if the bilge boards were up all the way, which they weren't. (Note to self: raise bilge boards all the way before tailoring) Re-Launch, raise bilge boards, re-trailer. The third time's a charm. Strap her on and head home.

The scallops were delicious though, and a good time was had by all.