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Thread: Captain Ponce de Leon Ham

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    Default Captain Ponce de Leon Ham

    Captain Ponce de Leon Ham,

    I have to kinda think of him in my minds eye as Captain Ahab in the old writings of Moby Dick with what happened to him one time flounder fishing on his trawler off the North Carolina coast.

    A good ’ole Carolina man about my fathers age who I briefly knew among the men that worked the North Carolina fishing fleets. I as a young and adventurous man, going down to sea looking to make my mark in the world after leaving school at a young age before I graduated. I got the rest of my education from the School of Hardknocks as my father put it; on the deck and at the helm of commercial fishing boats.

    In days gone by in some of the small fishing communities along the spits of sand, and dunes of the Outer Banks, where yaupon bushes grew all up and down the coast. The locals that lived there made a tea drink out of the leaves of them, hence the nickname “Yoponers”. Not many generations back they would take a dory and go out on the open sea and harpoon a whale, they were not sissy‘s. Sometimes after killing it, it took them days to pull it back to shore rowing with oars. We, during a blow had gone into Silver Lake on Okracoke Island, Blackbeards old haunt where the English had caught and beheaded the old pirate generations before, some of his begats still live in that area.

    So laying about during the winter waiting at times for the weather to clear enough to go out on the sea fishing, visiting one another on the many small wooden trawlers used in those days tied up to each other in the Lake, he did tell me this story. He owned and operated in those days a small ruggedly built wooden trawler named “VENTURE”, she was about 60 some feet in length, not a big boat but larger than the shitpots Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean on. To use an old, very old cliché, When ships were wood and men were made of iron.

    His daughter, about my age, maybe a little older, worked with him and his small crew and she worked like a man. No disrespect to her at all only admiration to her in my telling of this story of her father, I salute you. Now every Captain needs a Mate he can depend on to put at the wheel or attend to other needs of the vessel in the Masters stead, one that he can depend on that his orders will be followed or he called when in doubt. I cannot remember her name, but she was Captain Ponce’s mate on the boat. I will call her Susan in this story, though it is probably not her name, I just cannot remember, this is going way back in time for my memory bank.

    It was a beautiful crisp late winter morning when the VENTURE put to sea with it’s crew scuttling about readying her nets and gear to bottom trawl for flatfish, or flounder. Captain Ponce was at the helm and all the preparations that were going on was under his watchful eye to insure nothing was to go amiss. They all aboard his boat needed a payday. Winter that year had had a long hungry mouth and both he and his crew’s families needed something in their homes besides just the canned goods that had been put away the previous summer from the vegetable gardens everyone kept.

    Now it was not unusual in those days to in a day or two catch a “Square” of the flounder as we all called it. A Square was 100 boxes or 10,000 pounds of the fish which would make about a $400 payday to the crew per man aboard with the proceeds. The gear was strong enough that if a Square of the fish were to be caught in a single one hour tow on the bottom it could easily be handled by the vessel and its crew, it did happen sometimes with the fish schooling and moving feeding on the bottom.

    The captain and crew of the VENTURE set their nets and went to work to try and get their load of fish before came back another blow of bad weather which frequents that area. And so they worked loading the boat with the flounder. And when they had just about finished getting what they needed for a nice payday; they had a surprise for them all in the cod end of one of their two trawl nets that wound up putting the fear of God in all of them.

    They had stopped the boat to take on board a tow of the flatfish and in lifting one of the cod ends and snapping open the bronze tripper on the end of it, out came sliding and violently wiggling, a baby whale about 10 or 12 feet long and big around as a barrel. It must have been a fairly recent new born. All were on deck in the retrieving of the nets as normally happens on those boats when the VENTURE was struck with a jar that knocked them all on board to the deck. They were being attacked by the mother of that baby whale.

    Captain Ponce getting to his feet looked out and saw that basturd was every bit as big as his boat and was swinging around to make another ram against the boat. With urgency on his face and in his voice he told his daughter, Get up to the helm, run, put this boat in gear and shove the throttle as far as it will go.

    Now in the animal kingdom any mother will fight over it’s offspring till it can defend itself . It pains me that in mankind some human mothers will abort or even kill one of their live birth offspring only to rid their life of it, I say this as a former fetus, I just do not agree with murder for fun and profit. I am a Baptist and believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and there are just to many ways in the world now a days a woman can protect herself in the first place to not get knocked up. If you don’t like my outlook, lump it, this is my blog and as that crazy Stoner Mick Jagger sang, Hey, you, get off of my cloud.

    So as Susan was getting the VENTURE underway to try and save the boat and themselves from the whale attack, it hit them again and tried to whack it with her tail which was almost as wide as the boat was. Meanwhile Captain Ponce and the rest of his crew down on deck were getting a stout rope around the animals tail to lift it. It trashing all about and crying in baby whale talk. This was for the purpose to swing it over the side of the boat with a strong whip line so as to cut the rope around it’s tail to do the thing no harm getting it off the boat in a live release. But the mother whale was not aware of what was going on the boat running away from her. She like all the others in the animal kingdom lacked intellect which separates humans from animals.

    As the VENTURE was not only trying to get away and return the baby whale to the sea unharmed; the mother whale in her rage and able to swim faster than the slow displacement hull speed of the boat; rammed the stern of the boat. And in doing so a bloody sea water was churned about the stern of it from the 3/8” steel rudders back edge and wash from the propeller that had cut her head. And yet with another tremendous jolt to the vessel she was doing with her head butts to the boat to rescue her baby. Captain Ponce almost shit as the stern of his 55 net ton boat was nearly lifted from the water. The whale almost jamming the rudder of the boat into the propeller and up into its hull. When they finally did get the baby whale back overboard and only till then, they were left alone by her. The boat was taking a bit of water and the rudder was left with but a limited use but enough to get them back to the dock with her bilge pumps able to handle the incoming water.

    The boat had to be put on the dry dock for replacing several planks in her hull, a fractured rib or two had to be sister ribbed and repair to her rudder and lower shoeing from the Moby Dick incidence; and if it is a lie Captain Ponce de Leon Ham told it over a friendly penny ante card game that I participated in on a visit on board the fishing vessel VENTURE, tied up in Silver Lake on Okracoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, waiting for a break in the weather for another trip of fish.

    Which all this leads into another story about;

    Captain Kenny Land

    From Oriental North Carolina and his 70 foot trawler fishing vessel “Miss Diana” named after his only child. I was chief cook and bottle washer and deck ape aboard her when I did meet Captain Ponce de Leon Ham written about earlier. Captain Kenny had a fine brick home on the water with a private dock heavily built and a yard big enough for us to do net work as was needed once in a while. He had had an only daughter and grandchild living with him and his wife from a failed marriage of hers.

    Captain Kenny was one happy man in the golden years of his life. This is before a person lives long enough to go into their second childhood and needs assisted living again. He worked when he damn well wanted to and staying home otherwise. His home and boat were paid for, they had a little nest egg in the bank and his daughter and grandchild around him and under his feet. He was about 50 years old when I was part of his crew. He was not an overly religious man but he did attend a local Baptist church when ashore, but he would make anyone sitting down to the galley table remove their hats for a meal in respect to God. And never once did he not push himself away from the table I had laid out, that he did not say. I have a full belly and I wish every child in the world felt like I do now, God bless and take care of them. That was how he ended a meal on the boat. And all of us would say Amen to it.

    With the stroke of a pen his daughter made him heartsick and a Simi broken man in his mind.

    Sorry, under construction, TO BE CONTINUED.
    To be called a "Has Been" I must surmise, is much Greater than to be called a "Nevah Been"... JW...



  2. #2
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    Default Re: Captain Ponce de Leon Ham

    What? Don't leave me hanging too long on this one.

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