Motor Boat Boys Among the Florida Keys; Or, The Struggle for the Leadership
AT ANCHOR, INSIDE THE BAR
“Get busy here, Nick; now’s your chance to make a big score for a starter!”
“It’s awful kind of you, George, to let me out of my part of the work this afternoon, and that’s a fact. I appreciate it, too; because I just want to beat Jimmy out in this thing the worst kind.”
“Oh! shucks! don’t mention it, Nick. We’re all interested in your game, and you know it. Besides, there goes your rival, Jimmy, right now, in his little dinky boat, and with a wide grin on his face. Jack’s given him a holiday, to celebrate the opening of the great fishing contest. Get a move on, you slow-poke!”
“Gee! then he’ll get a start on me. I must hurry. Now, where in the dickens is that other oar, George? Oh! here she is, tucked away under the thwart. And can you tell me what I did with that mullet the cracker gentleman gave me, to use for bait? Please help me get started, George. Seems like everything wants to go wrong at once!”
“Here you are, Nick. Got your tackle all right, have you; and sure that life preserver is in the boat? All ready? Then away you go; but keep clear of the inlet, if the tide changes, or you might get carried out to sea in that eight-foot dinky.”
Three minutes later, and Nick Longfellow – who belied his name dreadfully, in that he was short, and fat, and built pretty much after the style of a full meal bag – was rowing clumsily toward a likely spot, where he believed he might do some successful fishing.
A trio of motor boats were anchored just inside Mosquito Inlet, not far from the town of New Smyrna on the east coast of Florida, having come in that very afternoon, after making the outside passage from the mouth of the St. Johns River.
They might have entered at St. Augustine, and taken the inside passage down to this place, only that something was wrong with the connecting canal that led to the Halifax River, and it seemed unwise to take the chances of being held up.
The boat from which Nick had put out on his fishing excursion was a slender looking craft, and evidently capable of making high speed; but from the way she rolled whenever any one aboard moved, it could be seen that she must prove rather an uncomfortable home on which to spend very much time. The name painted in letters of gold on her bow was Wireless; and her skipper, George Rollins, took more or less pride in her accomplishments; although, truth to tell, he spent much of his time tinkering with her high-power engine, that had a way of betraying his trust when conditions made it most exasperating.
The boat from which the said Jimmy had started was called the Tramp. Her lines were not so fine as those of the hurry boat; but, nevertheless, an experienced cruiser would have picked her out as an ideal craft for combined business and pleasure. Her skipper was Jack Stormways, really the commodore of the little fleet; and his crew consisted of Jimmy Brannigan, a boy who sported many freckles, a happy-go-lucky disposition, and a little of the Irish brogue whenever he happened to remember his descent from the old kings of Erin.
As to the third motor boat, it was a broad beamed affair, that really looked like a pumpkin seed on a large scale; or, as some of the boys often called it, a “tub.” It was well named the Comfort, and its owner, Herbert Dickson, content to take things easy and let others do the hustling, never denied the claim George was fond of making, that he could draw circles around the “Ark” with his fast one. The engine of the Comfort had never failed to do its level best, which was limited to some nine miles an hour.
Herb also had an assistant, a tall, lanky lad, by name Josh Purdue. By rights he and Nick should have exchanged places; but Josh had had one experience on the dizzy speed boat, and absolutely refused to try it again.
These lads belonged in a town far up toward the sources of the mighty Mississippi River. They would have been attending high school, only that a fire had almost demolished the buildings, and vacation season was enforced until after New Year’s.
Owning these boats, and having had considerable experience in making long trips, the boys had, with the consent of their parents, shipped the craft east to Philadelphia, and some five weeks previously started down the coast by the inside route.
And now they were starting on the second half of the remarkable voyage, which they intended would take them around the end of the peninsula of Florida, among the keys that make this region the small boat cruiser’s paradise, and finally land them at New Orleans in time to ship their boats north by steamboat.
Spending several days in Jacksonville, and taking aboard supplies, before making a start, Nick and Jimmy had fallen into quite a heated dispute as to which of them could be called the more expert fisherman.
Now, truth to tell, neither of the boys had had very much experience in this line; but, egged on by Josh and Herb, they had finally entered upon a contest which was to last until they reached New Orleans. Jack had solemnly entered the conditions in his log book; and the one who, during the duration of the cruise, could catch and land unassisted the heaviest fish of any description, was to be declared the champion.
Eager to accomplish wonderful “stunts,” the two boys naturally seized upon this very first chance to get their lines overboard, in the hope of starting things moving by a weighty capture.
And the others, anticipating more or less fun out of the bitter rivalry, lost no opportunity to “sic” the contestants on. Just as a breeze fans a flame, so their frequent allusions as to the budding qualities of the rivals as fishermen kept Nick and Jimmy eager for the fray.
As might have been expected, when George secured a tender for his speed boat, while in Jacksonville, as they were told they would need such things right along, in order to make landings where the water was too shoal for the larger craft to get close to the shore, he selected a dumpy little flat-bottomed “dinky,” just about on a par with the Wireless when it came to eccentric qualities.
An expert with the oars or a paddle might manage the affair fairly well; but as Nick was as clumsy as he was fat, it seemed as though he would never get the hang of the squatty tender.
When he sat in the middle, one dip of an oar would cause the boat to spin wildly around as if on a pivot; and as to rowing in a straight course, the thing was utterly beyond Nick’s abilities. So, when he was aiming for a certain spot, he was wont to approach his intended goal by a series of eccentric angles.
The flood tide was still coming in lazily, for they had managed to hit the inlet when the bar was well covered, wishing to take no chances. So Nick, after managing to propel the “punkin seed” over to the spot near a bunch of mangroves, that he had selected as most promising, set to work.
He tied the boat, first of all, by a piece of cord, so that it would not float away while he fished. Then he laboriously got his tackle in readiness.
Those on the motor boats had kept an eye on the actions of the two rivals, as if anticipating that sooner or later they might have something to laugh over; for Nick was forever tumbling into difficulties of some sort.
“I don’t believe Nick will ever get the hang of that dinky, George,” remarked Jack, as he leaned over the side of the Tramp, peeling some potatoes which they intended having for supper; and, as there did not seem to be any decent chance to cook this ashore, the voyagers would have to do as they had often done before, use their little kerosene gas stoves aboard the several boats.
“It takes an expert to run that cut-off runt properly,” said Herb, who was also engaged, wiping his engine, while Josh started operations looking to the evening meal, the lanky boy being by all odds the best cook in the party.
“Thank you for the compliment, Herb,” laughed George. “It happens that I’ve always been at home in small boats. And there was something about that stumpy little affair that made me take a fancy to her. Nick will do better after he learns the ropes. And he generally manages to get there, even if he does cover twice as much distance as I might. Look at Jimmy, fellows!”
“He’s got something, for a fact!” exclaimed Herb; “and Nick is excited over it. See him wiggle around to watch, just as if he feared the game was going to be settled right in the start. Hi! sit down, Nick! Want to upset that cranky thing, do you? Well, it’s good you’ve got your air bag fastened on; for without a life preserver you’d drown in this tideway, if ever you fell over.”
“Watch Jimmy, will you, boys?” chuckled Jack. “Look at the grin on his face as he pulls his line in. You can see that half his fun is in keeping an eye on Nick, to enjoy his confusion and disappointment.”
“Wow! why, the fish is pulling his boat around, do you notice?” demanded George.
“That looks as if it might be a good one. There, I thought Jimmy couldn’t keep still much longer. Listen to him yap, would you?” Herb called out.
Jimmy had started to crow over his rival, as any ordinary boy would be apt to do under similar conditions.
“Don’t be after gettin’ downhearted too soon, Nick, me bhoy!” he shouted. “Sure, this is only a little one for a stharter, so it is. Wait till I get going, and I’ll open your eyes good and sthrong. Och! how he pulls! If only ye were a bit closer now, I’d let ye fale of the line, to know the sensation. Come in, ye darlint, and let’s have a look at ye. Whirra! but he’s bigger than I thought; and it’s me as hopes he won’t upset the boat when I pull him over the side!”
Of course much of this talk was for the purpose of making his rival squirm with envy; though the captive did show signs of being a strong fighter.
After about five minutes of apparently strenuous effort, Jimmy concluded that it would be unwise to risk losing his prisoner by playing it longer; so he dragged the hooked fish over the side. There was a flash of bronze and white that told Jack the story.
“A channel bass, and something like fifteen pounds in weight, too. We’re sure of fish on this trip, anyway, with the two of them bending every energy to the winning of the medal!” he exclaimed.
“There goes Nick back to his work,” said George. “If there are fish here, he hopes to get his share. But ten to one he’s nearly choking with envy right now, because Jimmy drew the first blood. It’s an uphill game for poor old Nick.”
“Well,” Herb went on to remark, “the game will last a whole month, and more; so nobody can tell how the finish may turn out. Nick might get hold of a bigger fish any minute. But it’s up to us to encourage ’em right along. We’ll never want for a fish diet if we do, for they’ll stay up nights to keep at it.”
“There, I declare, if Nick didn’t have a jerk at his line then; but he failed to hook the rascal!” Jack exclaimed.
“And came near upsetting the boat in his excitement, too,” complained George. “If he does, I can see the finish of my oars, which will go out of the inlet with the ebb tide.”
“But what about Nick; you don’t seem to worry about how he’ll act?” laughed Herb.
“Oh! he’ll just float around, with that life preserver holding him up, till one of us pushes out and tows him ashore. Whatever is he doing now, do you suppose?” George demanded.
“Throwing out that shark hook of his, with the clothes line attached,” Jack explained. “You see, Nick has evidently made up his mind to go in for something worth while. He wants to knock the spots out of Jimmy’s hopes right in the start.”
“But, my stars! if he hooks a big shark while he’s sitting in that punkin seed of a boat, there’s bound to be a warm old circus!” Herb declared.
Some little time passed, and those aboard the anchored motor boats, busily engaged in their various occupations, had almost forgotten about the bitter rivalry going on so near by, when suddenly they were startled by a great shout.