Ready: Tears and memories of a great old lady

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Recently I read that a charter boat had caught fire in Choctawhatchee Bay.

She was just returning from dry dock to HarborWalk Village when a burst of flames enveloped her, drawing the attention of drivers on Marler Bridge who called for help.

Captain David Nettles jumped to safety from his boat and except for being rescued in a state of shock, was unhurt. The Destin Coast Guard Station responded along with area fire departments. The boat was just north of the seawall on Okaloosa Island, witnesses say.

It wasn’t just another sad story of someone else’s loss; it was very personal. In fact, I shed a few tears for her in my state of senile sentimentality.

Once upon a time, my late husband Captain Frank Ready and I owned Gulf Ranger, the unfortunate charter boat that burned last month right around Christmas.

But the grand old lady, who began life by a different name, has a colorful past worth sharing with folks who “go down to the sea in ships.” (Psalm 107:23)

She was the creation of a respected member of the Destin fishing fleet and master boat builder Captain J.D. Morrison, who hand fabricated, from keel to wheel, the 47 foot wooden sport fishing vessel in his backyard on Sibert Avenue. Named for their daughter, working on the "Lady Rochelle" with his first mate Dorothy brought great pride to his family and friends. Sadly, both Dorothy and J.D. are gone now, but many in the fishing community remember his blessing:

“May the fish keep biting, and the seas remain calm.”

Sometime in the 1980’s (my dates may get a little fuzzy at this point), the Lady Rochelle suffered a minor fire, again in Choctawhatchee Bay. Captain J.D. lovingly restored her in the old Harbor Boat Yard, near A.J.’s. He enclosed the fly bridge during her makeover. My son James remembers helping with the re-painting.

Not long after, my husband and I bought her, but by that time she had risen from the ashes as Gulf Ranger. My husband and James continued to work on her with Captain J.D. showing them how to put cotton between the planks.

Since we also owned the Second Chance charter boat, we employed a number of captains who enjoyed her as much as Frank did when he was at the helm. Captains Roy Bess, Scott Robson, Butch Golden, and Brian Wargo were among them. For Brian, it was his first boat with his captain’s license, and Frank taught him the skills to be a good captain and fisherman. Captain Roy’s last trip was a sad journey with friends and fellow fishermen on the Gulf Ranger to scatter the ashes of his son.

We had some fixing up to do when we sold her, sometime in the mid 90’s. Right before handing her off to her new owner, we re-fastened, re-wired, and re-painted. By that time, I’d spent many hours underneath her bottom in boat yards every spring getting her ready for the summer season. This last time, we had to replace her wormshoe and stem after an over-zealous Coast Guard inspector hit her too hard with a metal hammer. I remember Frank was sooooo mad!

Dim memory prevents me from stating the name of the next captain-owner, but I do remember he was a very nice man in over-all’s, looking more like a farmer than a captain. He took excellent care of the Gulf Ranger, and together they brought in good catches of fish.

After Frank died, I lost connection to the local fishing community, so I don’t know if there were other owners or captains before David Nettles, her most recent. I put in a few phone calls to get additional information, but I think I caught busy boat captains and local historians at a bad time, so I didn’t get any calls back by column deadline.

I’d love to know the rest of her history. And I’d love to know if she will fish again.

So, why tears spilled for an old fishing boat who’d burned, not one but twice? It’s about memories.

Looking back over my life, I realize boats dominated my 48 year marriage. And remembering every one of them stirs up images of fishing trips, boat parades, blessings of the fleet, water skiing, on-board picnics with family and friends, moonlight cruises to an on-the-water restaurant, or to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the middle of the Bay.

And, oh yes, there was the deck scrubbing, varnishing, sanding, painting, and polishing as well.

As corny as it sounds, “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.