Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Yankee and the Dixie

It was in 1983 that the government moved us to Paraguay. We had lived there more than two years before we realized that we were in the middle of a fisherman’s paradise. It took two co-workers from our office to convince me that the tales about enormous fish were true.

Jeffrey (Jeff) Tippen from Tyler, Texas and James (JJ) Jepson from Hurricane, Utah had gone with some friends on a fishing trip on the Paraná River near the town of Ayolas. They came back with some fish stories that not even the most gullible person could believe. I had heard many a fisherman’s tale but had never heard such lies in all my life. I said, “You guys have got to show me some hard evidence or else I’ll never let you live this down.” Within a couple of days they had developed a roll of film that backed-up their story. Could it be true? I had never been a real fisherman. Over the years I began to believe that if I should even as much as touch the bait, the fish would be repelled. I had heard and read about many great fishing trips but had never been part of one. So I said jokingly, “OK you guys, your supervisor’s appraisal is on the line. Your going to have to take me on one of these trips that fisherman dream about.” An so it was, I went with them and some other friends from the embassy for a two day fishing trip during Holy Week of 1985. The fishing was beyond my maddest dreams. It was real. There was a place where the fishing was so great that any fish weighing less than 5 kgs. (11 lbs.) was thrown back. We had a grand time and this was the beginning of several years of fishing adventure.

Renting a boat and a guide was always a hassle. We would try to set things up from Asuncion but it seemed that there was always a problem when we got there. Often we would have to make other arrangements after arriving. Our best guide was Daniel Misco but he was not always available. Some of the other guides wanted to go out late and come back early or there outfit was so slow that we lost valuable time getting to our favorite fishing spots. It was Jeff that made the first move to solve the problem. He bought a used outboard motor. With such he could rent a boat without the guide. By this time we had been with a guide enough time to know where the submerged rocks were and where the best fishing was. The motor was a ‘lemon’. On the second or third trip it sheered the drive shaft. We got a break from Peter Podest from our Panama office. He was an avid sports fisherman and he offered to purchase us a new 25 hp outboard motor at wholesale price in Panama and then ship it on one of the monthly MAC flight out of Howard AFB. Jeff had a fishing buddy in the embassy by the name of Sam who was also from the south. They decided to go in together and purchase a motor and have a fiberglass boat made. So as not to be left out JJ and I decided to do the same. What ever Jeff and Sam did we did the same. We got identical motors, both arriving on the same military flight. We contracted the same builder for an identical 12’ fiberglass boat. Jeff and Sam had theirs painted white with red trim, naming it Dixie. Ours was white with blue trim and we named it Yankee.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this was the beginning of a rivalry, two identical boats with names like Yankee and Dixie. It was the Civil War all over again. It was Jeff who started it. He came into to the office one day bragging about the Dixie and how it was going to leave the Yankee in its spray the day they were both out on the water together. He kept this up almost on a daily basis. Then Sam also got into the act. Of course it was all in fun but JJ and I would have loved to see them ‘eat their words’. It was bad enough to know that we had been the ‘copycats’. As the days and weeks went by, it never seemed that our fishing trips coincided with each other. The more they talked the more we wanted to see them get beat. At this point we were willing to do almost anything to gain the advantage. While thumbing through a marine catalog I came upon the answer, we would change the propeller for one with more pitch (speed prop). JJ was all in favor of this plan so we ordered and installed the new prop on our motor in the most confidential way. Michael was the only other person who was aware of what was going on and I swore him to secrecy. There was only one problem, the original prop was black and this one was white. Hopefully, they would never notice.

Finally, when Michael and I were taking Tío Alberto fishing did we find Jeff and Sam launching their boat at the boat club. JJ was in Panama receiving some training. There was not a word said about racing but there was no doubt in their mind or in ours what was about to happen. The normal niceties were spoken including greetings and inquiring where we planned to fish. Yes, we were planning to fish the same area, some 25 kms. (16 miles) up stream. The setting was perfect. These were not speed boats but of course they could get up on top of the water and move. We busily loaded our gear, food, bait, coolers, and drinking water. They were the first to launch and were a couple of hundred yards ahead us when we departed. By the first bend in the river we had caught up with them. We waved to them greetings and then throttled the motor to full power. The race was on. Naturally, we pulled away from them. Within a few kilometers we had almost pulled out of sight. When pulling around an island we met a wave that caused the bait bucket to over turn. It was necessary to stop to gather up the bait. In the meantime they caught up and pulled over to see if they could be of any assistance. We said that we were fine and that we would soon be on our way again. So they departed. There was still no mention of a race. By the time we had gathered up all of our bait they were almost out of sight. We went full throttle again and shortly were passing them again. We proceeded on to our favorite fishing spot and did not see them again until some time later. When we saw each other again we had both been fishing for some while. We had caught a couple of nice fish and they may have had one or two. We both avoided the subject of the unmentionable, the results of the unofficial race. We talked about the fishing, the beautiful day, what we brought for lunch, and other small talk. Finally, Jeff said, “We’ve got a problem with our motor”. And I playing the innocent responded, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know when you passed us up this morning I yelled to Sam, “give it all its got” and Sam said, “I’m giving it all its got” and you know you passed us up like we were standing still. I guess we will have to take our motor back and have it checked out.” And I showing my deepest sympathy said, “I am very sorry to hear that. I hope that it is nothing serious.” I was enjoying every minute of their stress and watching them react to this humbling experience. I think that Michael was enjoying it as much as I. I, also, wanted them to stew over this for a while at least until JJ got back.

I had briefed JJ before he got back so he could savor the defeat to its fullest. It was a couple of weeks later that JJ returned to the office and he immediately started in. “Jeff, I hear the Dixie and the Yankee were out on the river together. How did she do?” Jeff kind of hung his head and told JJ what had happened as if JJ didn’t already know. He again stated that they had a problem with their motor and would have to have it worked on. Now JJ was having his fun. “You see Jeff, you have been letting you alligator mouth over run your humming bird behind.” Jeff was squirming, I could see he really hated this moment and JJ was enjoying it to its fullest. When he got through having his fun, I said to JJ, “Shall we tell him?” Those four word caught Jeff completely off guard as if he had been wounded. “Tell me, what?” he retorted. “I guess so, he will find out sooner or later anyway.” So we told him the details from the beginning to the end. JJ and I had a big laugh but Jeff appeared mortally wounded. How did we dare humiliate him in such a conspiring way? We didn’t play fair.

When Sam found out about our conspiracy to humiliate them, he too was offended. This only lasted a couple of days and then it was all behind us. However, we were never again challenged for another race between the Yankee and the Dixie.

1 comment:

Sarita Baker said...

Wow Presi!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everyone's fish are GIGANTIC!! That is so awesome!