On the last weekend of June, a couple that was good friends with Mom and Dad came to visit us at our cottage with two of their children who were close to me in age. They would stay with us for about five days after arrival on Friday night and they were scheduled to go to the Gulf Stream on Monday. Ah, the Gulf Stream, that great current of warm water from the tropics that ran off the coast just over twelve miles out, carrying with it tropical fish and trophy fishing opportunities for the charter boats out of Oregon Inlet. We enjoyed the weekend but then, on Sunday evening before supper, Mom gave me the news. I would be accompanying them on the trip to the Gulf Stream. I would finally have the chance to sit in the fighting chair challenging some big fish, quite different from my heretofore experience of catching flounder, blues and similar tasty fish either by surf casting or off the Nags Head Pier.
To say I was excited in the predawn hours on Monday was an understatement. I jumped out of bed and was dressed in a flash and helped in loading up the car with all the drinks and goodies that would be taken with us that day. And we arrived at the docks just minutes before the sun would begin it's slow rise from the ocean. The captain and his mate were ready and we were underway almost immediately, rounding the protected bend into the inlet where we would first traverse the rough surf at the line where the ocean and the sound competed with current flow. As we then moved into an almost glassy sea, the sun was slowly showing itself as it majestically rose from the sea and, to my surprise, the family friend who chartered our party told me Captain Joe wanted to see me at the wheel.
Captain Joe was a very neat and soft-spoken man and he greeted me by telling me he understood I was celebrating my birthday. He was the first black charter boat captain I had ever seen and that told me he was a hard-working man devoted to a job and business he loved. It was a major personal accomplishment for him in those days. A few moments later, he told me to take the wheel, showing me points on the directional bulb to stay between as the boat would sway slightly to port and then back to starboard due to the current and the soft waves.
He spoke and said, "Young man, I understand that Captain Albert was your grandfather."
I guess I surprised him when I said, "Who is Captain Albert? My grandfather was James Albert Etheridge and I share his first name."
Captain Joe just laughed as he said, "Oh, yes, I know that but on the island everyone called him Captain Albert. When I was a young man before the war I used to sometimes sit and talk with him while fishing and he was also quite the singer. Did you know that he often sang in Norfolk on Sundays with a large church choir?"
I was enamored by what I was hearing and responded, "Please tell me more, Captain Joe."
He continued by telling my that grandfather also worked for the Coast and Geodetic Survey and farmed and gardened regularly and that my grandmother, Martha, also was very kind. He said he remembered the occasions on a hot summer day when he walked by their home barefoot and thirsty and she would invite him up on the porch for a glass of cool water.
Then he told me to go get ready, for I would be in the fighting chair next. Well, we had a wonderful day of it, but missed our one chance for a really big sailfish when, after fighting him for over thirty minutes, he finally threw the hook as we were getting him near the boat. But we had a great catch of dolphin, tuna and wahoo and we took home enough fish to last us all summer. It was the first really fresh tuna I ever tasted and wow, what a difference. And wahoo, a very light meat which is neatly nestled in sections by the four large cartilage components off of the spine, is cooked like a steak. If you ever try it grilled, you'll want it anytime you can find it.
"Summers at Old Nags Head" were always wonderful, but that wonderful experience to celebrate my tenth birthday was really something special. I've been back to the Gulf Stream many times since, from Oregon Inlet, Hatteras and even Fernandina Beach, Florida, but none will ever replace that special day in my list of favorites.