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Chick Ludwig

The Old Mullet skiff

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                                              THE OLD MULLET SKIFF

 

       Back when I was a young pre-teen spending my summers at Snug Harbor, I loved anything and everything about boats. I’ve told y’all about some of my adventures with the Volksboat, Sailfish, Moth, and I don’t know what all, but I don’t think I ever mentioned that old mullet skiff.

 

One morning I woke up, got dressed, and as always, wandered out to the front yard to see what was what with the waterfront. Doggone if there wasn’t a gift from the sea awaiting me. There, washed up on the beach, was a beat-up old wooden skiff. You know the kind that the Tamper---excuse me, Tampa bay mullet fishermen used. These guys always netted on the shallow mud flats around the edges of the inlets, bayous,  and little bays that were all around the shores of the bay. They netted off the backs of the boats with long gill nets that they would stretch out to catch the schools of mullet. Usually, two or more boats would work together to run the nets out.

 

With the nets over the stern, they couldn’t have old Mr. Johnson or Evinrude sitting back there, so they made him work in a well all the way up in the bow. An added advantage to this location, was that as the boat planed off, the bow would rise, allowing them to operate in shallower waters. There was also a tunnel running all the way back to the stern.

 

Today, these boats are often called “Bird dogs”. I dunno why. Here’s an article about a reproduction being built. http://www.saltwateranglersguide.com/?tag=mullet-skiff  These days, mullet skiffs are still being made, but usually of plywood or fiberglass.

 

So much for the lesson on mullet skiffs, and back to the story. The old boat that washed up was made in the traditional way, out of cypress boards. It was pretty beat up. There were areas of rot, but she still floated. Hey, wait, back up. I can’t really make myself think of this thing as a “she”, so let’s start again. “IT” still floated, but my guess is that it had been abandoned as too far gone to repair. Anyway, that was our opinion, and no one ever claimed it. I don’t remember if there were registration numbers on it or not. These things weren’t too carefully watched back then. This was in the good old days, late 1950s and early 1960s.

 

I immediately claimed the poor old thing as my own. I, and some of the rest of the gang, pulled the 15 hp Merc. (It was a Mark 15) off of the Volksboat, and clamped it down on the transom---if it’s called that when it’s in the motor well up in the bow. The motor was steered in the bow with the motor tiller. No remote control. A problem quickly reared its ugly head. The “transom” was too rotten to support the motor. Well, really not a problem for us. We just moved it back to the “back” of the boat, also known as the REAL transom. We weren’t gonna be doing any netting.

 

So here we were, a bunch of kids imagining the adventures ahead of us. The trips we would take. The pirate treasure we would discover. The Indian mounds we would find across Master’s Bayou on Weedon’s island. The explorations on the other side of Gandy bridge in Old Tampa Bay. We finally had a boat big enough. I can’t remember how big it was. Probably never knew back then, anyway. I’m guessing it was about 16 or 17 feet.

 

Here is where my old memory fails me. I can picture in my mind running around in the boat, but not the specific places we may have gone. I don’t think we did any of the things we had imagined, but I do remember one adventure. A couple of friends and I were spending the night out in the yard in a tent. We often did that during summer vacation. I should explain that the house at Snug harbor was a weekend and summer house that my folks had. Our regular home was down on the South side of St. Pete., but most weekends and summers were spent at “Snug”. There weren’t other kids living around there, but I often had friends out for a day or two.

 

Back to the tale. In the wee small hours, we decided that the only thing to do was to take the old skiff out. I need to interject another aspect of our lives back then. These were the days of Sputnik and the space race. All of us boys were nuts about rockets. Hours were spent in the library, and in our rooms and garages trying to learn to make rocket fuel, and how to make rockets. Mostly we wound up with things that more-or-less exploded. That was ok, too. Now, back to the narrative.

 

 

It was a beautiful, calm, moon-lit night. We quietly untied the old skiff and swam it out into the channel, and out of hearing of the house. I guess you’ve figured out by now that this wasn’t on the parent approved activity list. When it was safe, we climbed aboard and cranked up the old Merc. Now, where to go, what to do. We did have a mission of sorts. Remember that we were just talking about things that go bang? Well, we had brought one of those along. Now we just needed a place to try it out. I’ll tell y’all a bit more about exactly what “it” was in a minute.

 

From our house, it was only a short ride of about ten minutes to get out to the bay. We’d just follow the left hand shoreline around to where it followed Gandy Blvd. (Take a look on Google Earth if ya wanna see just where we’re talkin’ about.) Just as we made it out to the bay, there was a channel leading into the Florida power generating plant on Weedon’s island. This was the outflow channel where cooling water empties back into the bay. We turned into the channel and followed it in to the first big lit-up channel marker that was on a platform. Perfect! We tied up to the platform and set our exploding device close to the edge.

 

Here’s where I tell a bit more about this device. It’s really quite simple. We’d fill a coke bottle with a carefully prepared mixture of saltpeter and sugar, with  match heads cut off of hundreds of paper matches mixed in. Then we’d shove a pencil down the side of the bottle to make a passage for a fuse that we’d buy for our Jetex model rockets. Now, don’t try this at home, kids. It’s really very dangerous. Best to use the fuse for it’s intended purpose. (Here is where you can find out about Jetex rocket motors. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jetex)

 

Are ya still with me? Are you over 18? Here we go. One of us lit the fuse, then we all lit-out for the boat. A few quick pulls of the starter cord, and ----NOTHING. Panic ensued. We’re all gonna DIE! Thanks to God that He watches over young fools. The old Merc caught, and we were off---just in time---BOOM!!! WOW! COOL, man. It was just like fireworks with those burning match heads flying through the air. I wonder that none of us were hit by the glass shrapnel from the bottle! But let’s get outa here before someone comes to see what the explosion was.

 

 

Safely back home and snug in our tents. I guess we got a little sleep that night, but I don’t remember. But I do remember that we just HAD to go back to the scene of the crime to see the results of our handiwork. So, next morning, back into the skiff and back out to the platform. We found the coolest thing. No sign of anything except a perfect imprint of the bottom of the Coke bottle. We could read the name, where the bottling company was, and whatever else was on the bottom. Some of you young-uns may not know that back then, all of this information was molded into the bottom of the glass bottle. No plastic bottles then.

 

 

Well, I guess this is it. Maybe we drifted away from talking about the old skiff, and wandered more into my early career of blowing things up. There is more to tell about those explosive experiences, but maybe another time. I’ll have to figure a way to weave it into a future boat story.

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This is very similar to the oyster boats out at Dolphin Island Ala The owners would take the motor off and sink them at their mooring when a big storm was coming. Pump them out at low tide and were ready to go again.

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