Picture this: Islamorada, Florida Keys, bay side. Six AM. A moonless night with just a hint of a glow from the dark sun on the ocean side of the Keys. Three doughty (note to self: Look up “doughty”) fishermen sitting at a picnic table under a Miccosukee Indian built Chickee hut, next to a 21 foot center console fishing boat, aptly named “SHIP OF FOOLS”. One of the three is Allan Brown, noted offshore racer and boat builder, former overall winner of the Everglades City International Tarpon Tournament. Another, Captain Craig Bailey, Sea Captain, Unlimited Masters license, any ship, any ocean, who captained a custom built Huckins sport fisherman to overall victory in a well-attended Women’s Billfish Tournament off Florida. Third, David Gillmore, World Champion throttleman from the “Love it” Offshore racing team, (There are still arguments whether the “It” was women, pot, racing or Vodka), who still holds the record for making people fall into the water, laughing.
The gathering was in response to an evening of heavy drinking at the “Hog Heaven” saloon, a little further up the road. The drinking was a result of attending the Captains’ meeting for the “Annual Hog Heaven Dolphin Tournament”. Forty or fifty fishing teams entered the fray. I had actually finished ‘tied for second’, once, when the kid who wins it every year caught one Mahi, and nobody else caught any. Another time, fishing with restauranteur Bill Beck, Mary Loesch and Lisa Blake (Natalie Wood with boobs), we caught eight or nine small dolphin from my 16’ Boston Whaler. We fished out of sight of land all day, and when we made landfall, we were north of Key Largo and about 20 miles north of Hog Heaven. What the hell! These small fish won’t win the daily prize. Let’s cook them for supper and go skinny (and/or fatty) dipping. The only Dolphin caught that day! This year, we were going for the gold! We had heavy side bets and threats. We agreed to meet at the Chickee at six, although I think I was the only one who actually went to bed.
The rules for the Tournament indicated “Lines in” at 7 AM. We (I) decided to leave the dock at 6:30, and run seaward until we found something, anything, floating in the Gulfstream, which would probably indicate the presence of the green and yellow beauties. We loaded the boat in the dark, which precluded the examination of my crew’s cargo and eyes. Bad mistake. We cast off, with me driving, and Craig and Gilly sitting on the seat on the front of the console. Bailey was waving a bait knife and mumbling in an unknown tongue. Gilly was taste-testing the Vodka. The sun had risen enough for us to find the channel next to Holiday Isle, and off we went. We turned the head pin and sped, wide open, directly offshore on a glassy, calm sea. 7 AM came and went, but we had not seen a thing floating. We kept on, until we found the mother lode! Just northeast of the “Humps”, about 25 miles offshore, we found a swirl that included an upside-down bamboo tree, several pallets, and some lobster buoys. “This is it boys, let’s do it!” Nobody moved. I woke them up by beating them with my hat. I put the spinning rods in the rod holders, deployed the outriggers and asked Craig for the rigs. “What rigs?” “In your tackle box!” “I didn’t bring a tackle box…” “What is in that box?” “A case of Bud”. “Gilly, give me a rigged ballyhoo”. “Huh?” “The bait”. “I didn’t buy it. They wanted 40 bucks for a dozen ballys, and I told them to screw off!”. “What is in that cooler?” “Two liters of Stoli and a small orange juice”. “Do we even have a hook? I will make baits out of your winkies!” “Nope”. Trying to remember that it was just for fun, I put away my 9MM Glock.
Bailey and I have been friends since the 70’s, and we have had some fun. We drink together at times, and Bailey’s capacity for Budweiser is the stuff of legend. It is widely rumored that when Bailey was once taken ill, that August Busch, III, sent him a get-well card. It is also rumored that his uncle, Festus Bailey, drowned in a Budweiser beer vat in the Busch Brewery in St. Louis, getting out only twice to pee. Drunken sea captains are a dime a dozen, but Bailey is special. His father-in-law was Dr. Alexander Lippisch, noted Nazi, and designer and builder of the ME-163 “Komet” rocket plane for the German Luftwaffe in WWII, the fastest plane in the world for decades. This was the fabled “Foo fighter”, often reported by gunners on B-17’s and B-24’s, shot at and missed, but never quite believed by the Brass. The USA won him in the postwar Lucky German Scientist lottery, along with Werner Von Braun. Lippisch also dreamed up the Delta wing, the Lifting Body, the T-105 American fighter plane, the Flarecraft flying boat and dozens of other radical schemes. Definitely one the brightest ever on this planet.
Enter: Renato “Sonny” Levi, another genius. Levi had degrees in both aero and hydrodynamics, and had invented countless breakthroughs and improvements in both fields. Sonny was uniquely qualified to design boats that flew, and planes that swam. He was a big fan of Dr. Lippisch. Several years ago, Sonny came to visit me in Florida for a couple of weeks. We did lots of touristy things together, Florida Keys fishing, motorcycle riding, stuff like that. One evening, we were enjoying dinner at Bill Beck’s restaurant. Sonny was trying to teach me to eat shrimp with a knife and fork (can’t be done by an American male) when Craig Bailey came in from the sea. Craig was managing partner in a huge tugboat, the “Doctor Daniels” that had been confiscated during the Cuban Mariel Boat Lift. He had not had time to replenish his Bud locker for the evening, so he was quite glib. When I introduced him to Sonny as Lippisch’s son-in-law, I felt that Sonny might have kissed his ring, had he had one. The conversation was all contrails and rocket fuel from there on. Toward the end of the evening, Bailey mentioned that he was going to Costa Rica the next morning to get his teeth sharpened. Sonny politely asked the duration of the trip, then asked if he could come along. “Sure, Sonny, I would be glad to have you” Bailey replied. There is a famous hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica that doubles as a house of ill repute, and is the site of certain illicit activities and competitions that might get you a stiff (har!) sentence here in the states. It is called the Park Hotel, and no matter what anyone says, I have NEVER been there! Of course, this was Bailey’s destination. Three or four nights later, my dinner date, Theresa Terrific, and I were enjoying Shrimp Scampi (finger food) in the same booth, when Sonny and Craig came in and sat with us. Sonny sat on my side, sidled up and whispered in my ear, “Are you quite certain that he is Lippisch’s son-in-law?”