All of you who know me know I share the best of times and the worst of times. How do I prove to those who believe in me that you live every day with the most that God gave you? How do I prove this by example? Sometimes the Lord doesn’t let us know until the situation arises. This Memorial Day Weekend I had Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. It also brought in the calmest, most perfect weather the Florida Keys has seen in almost 10 weeks. Dorothy and I had made many different social plans over the weekend and I would fish 2 days out of the weekend. One day offshore and the next day a light inshore day while I was recovering.
The first day on a mirror like ocean I drifted for swordfish on a placid sea all day long without a single bite. I was discouraged as was my dear friend Captain Laurence Walker and a new friend of mine Captain Gary Nichlos. Besides being a boat captain, Gary now in his early 80’s was an aircraft mechanic on many aircraft including C130 transport. I could see in Gary’s eyes the excitement he had by being offshore again. He is great company.
When we arrived back at the marina I was very tired. Dorothy was there to meet me and give me the encouragement I needed. She got me home quickly, had dinner made for me and put me in bed. At the dinner table she saw me looking at the forecast. She had already looked at it. To my absolute astonishment she said to me “I know you want to go tomorrow. Do you think you are strong enough?” After considering it for a millisecond Dorothy packed our lunch and Captain Laurence, myself and Dorothy cleared the headpin for the 40 mile jaunt.
Day #2: There was zero wind, the ocean like a mirror. It was hot. It was a tough day. Not one bite, not one tickle from any fish. We made 5 drifts. Dorothy stood with me like the great woman I knew she was. We returned to the marina empty handed. We were putting in 11 hour days. Dorothy and I usually attend Island Christian Church on Sundays at 10 o’clock. We would wake up at quarter to nine and be ready. Dorothy got me to bed on day 2 at 6:45 PM. She had an already prepared dinner which I ate in bed. Something was wrong here. Could anyone be this nice and this supportive over a holiday weekend even though I was a newlywed?
Without me knowing it the alarm went off at 5 AM. I awoke to the most beautiful words I ever heard. “Tred, I’ll pray for both of us today. Go fishing.”
Day #3: Today would be just Captain Laurence and I. The day was long. We fished a new area and after 10 hours of using every trick in the book we again were skunked. Captains and mates at the dock were talking. People who follow me were in disbelief that I had the strength to pull this off. My closest friends couldn’t believe that Dorothy would allow me to try this but she did.
On the fourth day it became clear to me what this entire weekend was about. It wasn’t about catching a swordfish. It was about me proving to myself and to others that life is what you make it. That one can never win without losing. This was an opportunity for me to show so many who are afflicted to never ever, ever give up.
It seemed like day 4 would be impossible. I don’t know when Dorothy realized how important my mission was but somehow she did. I train a lot of mates the hard way, the Barta way. I am rude, I am obtuse, I push them hard and I try to break them. I am ruthless with regards to teaching that the devil is in the details. I always teach that all you need is 5 minutes in the right place with the right conditions and if you are prepared, failure can change to success in a moment. The evening of Day 3 I told Laurence that he had graduated from the Barta School of Swordfishing. That there was nothing else I could teach him and that I had given it my all.
The alarm went off on day 4; Dorothy had written me a note wishing me to catch the big one. She put down in her morning correspondence “Have fun and praying this is the day you hook the big one. Psalm 118:24.” Along with me today as my guest was Pastor Wayne Porter who always has time for other people but rarely enough time for himself. Almost everyone in town knows him as someone who is always there to support people in need. Wayne explained very simply to me that Psalm 118:24 is “The Lord makes everyday a wonderful day so that we may rejoice in it.”
The weather was not perfect and in 1,800 feet, 46.3 nautical miles from the marina a 15 knot south easterly wind churned up the ocean to a 3 to 5 foot sea. I kept nodding off to sleep, was forced to take more methadone than I should and probably defied every doctor’s order that was ever given to me. I struggled trying to understand whether I was being irresponsible, ignorant and stupid or in my own way was trying to be courageous and trying to spread my message. At 4:15, less than 5 minutes from heading for the barn and being skunked for 4 days in a row, the rod tipped down once and then went silent. Captain Laurence pulled up about 60 feet looking for another bite and the rod tipped, bent over pretty good, the fish was still there. As we retrieved vast amounts of line, no fish was hooked up. I had no more strength in me. I was overtired and overheating, I wasn’t in trouble but I was close to it.
What you do on the battlefield, what you do when you have a personal crisis in your life? Do you quit, do you whine, do you give up? Or do you take the attitude that as long as there is one breath left in you, you keep on trucking.
With no fish hooked up we dropped back all the way to the bottom, some 250 feet. We waited for a miracle. And then a miracle did happen. By bringing the line slowly up, the rod bowed over with 20 pounds of drag and after 4 days of failure, with 5 minutes left we were hooked up. Everyone did their jobs to perfection and at boat side, with two witnesses to confirm my story, the great fish tried to take my life. Slamming against the hull of the boat, almost going in the boat the bill of the swordfish missed my throat by about 6 inches. I have always said I never wanted to die by being hit by a milk truck. What a great way to die, impaled by a swordfish….cool.
We finally subdued the fish and brought him on board and its beauty graced all of us. This is a story not necessarily about success, nor is it about catching a swordfish. It is a story about faith in yourself, it is a story about not giving up, it is a story that should inspire others who are handicapped and for those who believe as I do that if you walk with Him you never walk alone. Let me just say this. We had a crew of three plus One.
I would like to thank all of the Captains and staff at World Wide Marina in Islamorada who without their help it would be impossible to go fishing. I would also like to thank Captain Stanczyk on the “Broad Minded” and Captain Billy Chapman and his crew for helping me be the best I can be.
Enjoy the pictures. Thank you for letting me share.
PS – If you do not believe in the grand divinity of life, this particular swordfish meat was pink, as one in a million swordfish are. Unequivocally and nonnegotiably a pink meated swordfish is the best eating in the world.