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A trip into the Atlantic and outside my comfort zone
Captain Raymundo greeted us with a big grin and fist bumps.
He was about to take me far out of my comfort zone, into the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the island of Vieques. My three friends and I chartered his small fishing boat for a few hours of morning fishing under sunny skies. Vieques is part of Puerto Rico, both U.S. territories.
Why the discomfort? Well, I don’t swim. Generally, I sink. I come from a long line of non-swimming German sinkers. U-boats that don’t surface. So the risk of being tossed into the drink raised my blood pressure. Can you be terrified and excited all at once?
I wanted a life jacket. Raymundo had some on board, but smiled and proclaimed we wouldn’t need them. No one is going overboard, he promised. When we needed one, he’d let us know.
Would this be before or after I plopped into the Atlantic? I put one on anyway, looking like a bratwurst stuffed into a flotation device.
“Smile!” Raymundo yelled, sensing my anxiety.
Soon we were bouncing across the turquoise sea before slowing to a crawl and tossing lures into the water to troll behind the boat. I sat in a folding camp chair in the stern, watching two poles for any signs of a hit. Soon, one jerked hard.
“Roll it in, roll it in,” Raymundo yelled. I reeled like a madman while the fish fought to break loose. It turned out to be a roughly 20-inch snapper. Our first catch of the day.
Raymundo gave me a fist bump with one hand and a cold Medalla, a Puerto Rican beer, with the other. I’m pretty sure I smiled.
Well, at least if this trip ended badly, I’d be remembered as a fisherman.
Soon we were moving to a different spot and Raymundo opened his twin outboard engines. We careened across the waves at 30 knots. The boat spent as much time in the air as in the water.
It’s the fastest I’ve ever traveled in a camp chair.
We cruised along the coast of Vieques, which is a beautiful Island full of a lot of friendly Raymundos. Horses, roosters, dogs and cats have free run of Vieques, creating some curious traffic problems on its potholed roads. Stop signs and turn signals are largely optional.
Tourism is critical to the island’s economy. Still, I was a little surprised to be welcomed so warmly by our fellow Americans after the U.S. military used much of Vieques for bombing practice for 60 years. Civilians were caught in the middle. In 1999, an off-target bomb killed a civilian security guard. Protest and civil disobedience followed. The military finally left Vieques in 2003.
As our excursion rolled on there were more fish, more Medallas and, you guessed it, more fist bumps. Raymundo sang Spanish pop songs at the top of his lungs. We caught several barracuda, which apparently aren’t good eating, so we tossed them back. My friend hooked a large mahi-mahi that took its fight airborne several times. But we lost it just a few feet from the boat.
Hey, Raymundo knows a lot of English swear words.
We had a great time in a warm place. The snapper was delicious. And best of all, I didn’t think of the Iowa Legislature or governor even once. Now I’m back in my comfort zone, with all its discomforts.
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