The Misadventures of “Captain Z.”
One of my closest and dearest friends is Dr. David Zaritsky. We worship together at the same church and have been friends for over twenty-five years. After God miraculously healed David from a horrible automobile accident resulting in a broken back a couple of decades ago that required David to give up his radiology practice, he has taken upon himself the role of praying for the healing of other people. His reputation in that spiritual endeavor has taken him all over the world where he specializes in medically document healings that have taken place.
But aside from this ministry, David’s real passion is fishing, more specifically surf-fishing on the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina. Twice a year, “Captain Z.” as we have dubbed him gathers a group of men from our church and a few invited guests on a four-day fishing excursion to the coast.
We take three or four four-wheel drive vehicles on a ferry over to the National Park Services’s collection of cabins on Portsmouth Island, about an hour’s ferry ride from Atlantic, NC.
I was able to get myself invited to my first experience of this type of outing because ever since my Boy Scout days, I have enjoyed cooking for other people, especially men with hearty appetites. Dr. Z allows me to plan the menu for the weekend, buy all the food for the trip and that becomes my contribution to the cost of the weekend.
As the years have gone by, it seems I have learned valuable lessons from Dr. Z, often at the expense of his embarrassment. Here are a few of those lessons.
Stay in the Channel
The sound that separates the mainland of our coast to the Outer Banks is extremely shallow. That’s why the Army Corp of Engineers keeps channels dredged of sand and marked so that the ferry boats that go back and forth carrying vehicles and passengers to the islands can get across the sound no matter what the tidal conditions are.
One year, Dr. Z had bought a brand new, flat bottomed fishing boat so he decided to take his own boat over to the island so he could fish from the water all around the point of the island, as the sun was quickly setting.
Dr. Z said something like this, “You see those boats in front of us? They have to follow the channel because they have a “V-shaped” hull that requires deeper water. With my new flat -bottomed boat, we don’t have to worry as much about the shallow water as we can almost skim across the top in as little as six inches of water.” With that statement, he made a sharp left turn out of the channel as we chased the setting sun across the sound.
All of a sudden, we hit a sand bar that literally threw two of us out of the boat! We were stuck! Grounded! With the low tide going out that would soon leave us on sand above the water!
What’s Your Position Captain?
Luckily for all of us, “Captain Z” had just equipped his new boat with a ship to shore radio, and a newly acquired subscription to “Triple AAA of the Seas.” Soon he was able to contact a sea rescue unit on the mainland and over the radio we hear a voice say, “What’s your position Captain?” Very sheepishly, David said, “Oh, please don’t call me Captain,” while giving our rescuer his coordinates. He was informed that in order to be rescued, we would have to abandon ship and walk through the shallow water to the channel, where we were supposed to be in the first place, so the rescue boat could pick us all up. Dr. Z’s brand- new boat would have to be retrieved, at a later date when the tide rose to a level that would lift it off the sand bar.
So, picture six weary fishermen with their packs or suitcases, their fishing gear and coolers for the fish they hoped to catch, trudging through shallow water with who knows what other sea creatures, as the sun is quickly disappearing behind the distant sand dunes.
To add insult to injury, I was still recovering from a total hip replacement! And the rescue boat that picked us up was a rubber pontoon style high-speed craft where we as passengers were supposed to sit on either side of the pontoons. The real Captain told us to “hold on tight” because he had to rush to get us to our island destination so he could return to the mainland by dark. With the tide coming in, sometimes the boat would leap six feet off the waves with us passengers holding on for dear life. With each bounce I felt my new hip being driven into the socket so badly that at one point I begged Dr. Z, to “just throw me overboard, and let me swim to the island!” Thankfully the rescue boat finally got us to our destination, and we all settled into our cabins for a much-deserved rest.
Hire a Professional Guide
Luckily, and perhaps to save himself from the ribbing he was surely going to get from his passengers the next day, Dr. Z contacted a professional fishing guide, probably at considerable cost to himself, who delivered his boat to him at high tide the next day. Then, as if the whole scenario had been prearranged, the guide led us to the choice fishing holes on the island that his years of experience had made him aware of. But don’t you ever think that the next day, my sore hip wasn’t reminding me of the ordeal we had endured the night before.
Always Set Your Anchor
When you have access to your own boat, often the best place to catch the really big fish is on the ocean side of a sand bar that is too far away from the shore to walk to, even with waders on. By taking the boat out to the sand bar at low tide and setting your anchor, you can step out of the boat and walk in the shallow water on the sand bar and cast into the deep ocean channel on the other side.
On one of my early trips, that Dr. Z took my son and me on, Dr. Z took us out to the sand bar. I don’t like to wear waders because I’ve fallen in the surf with them on before, and because of my size and my artificial hip, I almost drowned when my waders filled up with water and I couldn’t get my feet under me to stand back up. But on the sand bar, I didn’t need waders.
I had never experienced a really big fish taking my bait, so I asked Dr. Z, “How will I now when I get a bite?” Almost as soon as he replied, “Oh, you will know,” I felt like a train hit my line as my rod almost got jerked out of my hand. Soon my son had a fish on his line too and within half an hour we each had caught our limit of one large Red Drum per day. As we proudly carried our catch over to the boat, we noticed the boat was drifting into the ocean, dragging its anchor behind it! Thankfully, Dr. Z did have waders on and was able to wade out to the boat, pull up the anchor and come pick us up.
Share Your Tackle
Any seasoned fisherman knows his fishing tackle and takes pride in his accumulated gear, often spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on it. Do you know that I have never had to take my own tackle on one of Dr. Z’s excursions? He furnished the rod and reels, hand ties the knots for the leaders, and selects the proper weights and hooks according to the surf conditions and the type of fish we might encounter. If your line breaks, he has another rod and reel ready for you to use while he re-rigs the other one.
Save Some Bait
Dr. Z phones ahead to find out when and where he can buy the best shrimp for bait and buyd it right off the shrimp boats on the coast. Being the smart cook that I am, he always lets me go through the shrimp, collecting the choice pieces for at lease one of our meals while we are away. Some of the best shrimp linguini, or shrimp and grits, or shrimp gumbo has been shared on these trips.
On another infamous trip the Captain had learned that live blue crabs were good fish bait for the bottom feeding red drum we were trying to catch. So, on the way over to the island he picked up several dozen live crabs in a cardboard box with a lid on it Well, it didn’t take long to learn that those craps were hard to get on a fishing hook without them taking a “pinch” out of our fingers! It soon became evident that live crabs weren’t going to be the bait for the day, so we placed them on the porch of our cabin and basically forgot about them.
When we finally turned in for the night, my son, Rob, who was on this trip with us too, asked me, “Dad, what are we going to do with those crabs?! They will die if they stay in that box!” My response was, “Let’s cook them!” So, from about 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. we boiled crabs and picked the meat out on top of newspapers on the kitchen table. I didn’t tell anyone what we had done, but you better believe I got rave reviews on the fresh crab cakes I made for dinner the next night. Sometimes the unexpected meals are the very best!
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
I think one reason our surf fishing excursions are so much fun is because the Captain assigns responsibilities to most of us on the trip. It is usually my responsibility to plan the menu, buy the food, and cook the meals while we are out there. Someone else may have the responsibility of bringing enough fresh drinking water to keep twelve thirsty men hydrated while on the island. Others are responsible for rigging their four-wheel drive vehicles with rod and cooler holders, gassing them up before going over to the island and making sure the tires are properly inflated for beach navigation. Someone else may be responsible for securing lodging on the mainland the night before we catch our early ferry for the island. If everyone carries out their responsibility, its not that much work for one person, and we all have fun.
Let Him Go
One of the hardest things to do on a fishing trip is to release back into the surf a fish that is either too small or too large to keep. Here is where your true Christian integrity can be put to a real test. No, I have never been visited by a game warden while on one of these trips, but I have learned that one infraction of the rules related to the size or number of fish you are allowed to keep can cost way more than the trip itself and you may even lose your future fishing privileges.
An Angel in the Chapel
If the fish aren’t biting, sometimes we will drive to the north end of the island where Portsmouth Village is located. If you have brought plenty of bug spray, it is worth the half mile trip to the village where buildings still stand from an old life saving station that used to be on the island. The National Park Service still maintains several buildings on the property including the old Portsmouth Island Methodist Church.
My brother from Florida was with us on one of our trips, and we all decided to have a prayer meeting inside of the church. We were the only ones there and before long the twelve of us were praying for each other and praising God and singing hymns. All of a sudden, one of our brothers said, “There’s an angel standing over there in the corner near the back of the church.” I didn’t see him with my own eyes, but we were all able to testify that he was there.
Stay Above the Tide
Every owner of a four-wheel drive beach vehicle knows you must stay well above the tide while your lines are in the water, so your vehicle won’t get caught in the rising tide. Many vehicles have been lost to the sea, and if a National Guard helicopter is able to reach it in time to rescue it, a rescue operation can cost thousands of dollars.
On one of Dr. Z’s trips, two of my grandsons were with us. Being like most teenagers, when the fish quit biting and the day became hotter, they retreated to Dr. Z’s vehicle to take a little nap while waiting for the tide to come in and for the fish to start biting again
Rested from their nap, when one of us caught a keeper drum, the boys jumped out of the vehicle and inadvertently locked it, with the keys still in it! What were we going to do!? The tide was rising, and water was beginning to lap around the tires. We all tried to jimmy the doors and windows to no avail. We were able to get a fish hook through the top of one of the windows in an effort to “hook” the door lock, but no luck. Finally, Dr. Z took a Cutco Fishing knife from his tackle box with a serrated edge and was able to saw through the bar that kept his back window closed. Then one of the boys was able to reach into the window, unlock the door, and Dr. Z jumped in and started the engine while the rest of us pushed the vehicle out of the rising surf, much to the relief of all of us men, but to the embarrassment of two teenage boys.
Minister While You Are at It
Who says ministry has to happen only in church? I think the fondest memory I have of my last thirty-five years of fishing trips with Dr. Z is watching his servant’s heart minister to all of us who have the privilege of accompanying him. He ministers to us with his own financial resources, because I am sure the trips cost him more than he charges us. There is nothing like standing shoulder to shoulder with a Christian brother with your bait in the surf waiting for a bite, and praying with and for the man standing beside you.
After all, isn’t that what Jesus did and why some of his favorite disciples were fishermen? I think Dr. Z understands that and I for one will forever be grateful for his ministry.
Side note to this story: Perhaps because of his love of fishing together on the Outer Banks, my son now lives on the coast of North Carolina. On one of my recent trips to visit him we were sitting on a bench overlooking the harbor talking about our lives and the years that lie before us. I said to him, “Rob, some day when I pass away, I’d like for you and Robby to come scatter my ashes in the surf at the Outer Banks where we have fished together. He quickly responded, “Dad! Do we have to talk about that now? That makes me sad!” As I apologized to him, the thought actually makes me happy that Robert Clifton Snider, III and Robert Clifton Snider, IV would be casting their namesake on the waters we had all enjoyed so much together.