Mayport, Florida is in Duval County, in the Jacksonville metro area. The community name derives from the “River of May” the French name for the Saint Johns River. Mayport is primarily the homeport for a large U. S. Navy fleet. However, there are other interests there including deep-sea fishing boats. B. J.’s and my interest on this particular trip was a deep-sea fishing trip with our friends Donald and Jerri Lewis.
It was still dark. A heavy fog hung low and foghorns moaned as we crossed the St. Johns River on the Mayport Ferry. The lights along the river glowed eerily in the early morning fog enshrouding us. This was our first such experience. Donald and Jerri, our church members, were veteran deep-sea fishers. They assured us that everything was normal and that heavy fogs on the river were common.
Upon docking, we drove off the ferry. We had not had yet eaten. For breakfast, Jerri and Donald would carry us to their favorite restaurant, “Ben’s Diner”, on the St. Johns River. Dainty Jerri, with jet-black hair and blue eyes that sparkled when she talked was colorfully dressed and looked more as if she was going to a fashion show than deep-sea fishing. B. J., Donald and I in blue jeans were dressed more appropriately for fishing. It was 5:30am. We would board the fishing boat at 7:00am.
We wound our way in the ghostly fog through the narrow twisting streets along the waterfront until Donald turned a street that headed straight toward the river. I hoped he could see the river in the thick fog.
Shortly, he pulled into a gravelly parking area in front of a quaint looking building. “That’s it,” Jerri informed pointing toward the building barely visible in the fog. “They serve great breakfasts here for early morning fishers.” Donald maneuvered the car into a parking place. We got out and walked toward the building. As we approached, we could see a boardwalk spanning a short distance over the water to the main building. The restaurant, showing signs of weathering many a storm, rested on poles in the water. We would eat breakfast over water. When they told us that we would eat breakfast on the river, they meant it literally. The aroma of cooking bacon and sausage mixed with the fog and whetted our appetites to no end.
Inside, a number of people had gathered and were chitchatting excitedly as they ate breakfast. Donald told us that they would be our fellow passengers on the fishing trip.
We found a table near a porthole-type window that would have given us a great view of the St. Johns had it not been hidden in the fog. We attacked the bountiful buffet and helped ourselves to scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, grits, big biscuits, coffee, and pancakes. Yum it was tasty. As we ate and conversed, we made acquaintance with others who would be with us on the Mary Anne.
Following our fun delicious breakfast, we made our way outside to the boardwalk that led to the Mary Anne. It was daylight by then. We would assemble at the boarding area to await the Captain who would check our tickets and escort us aboard the handsome vessel.
Shortly, Captain Ray Singleton arrived and greeted us warmly. A wiry man in his mid-thirties, Captain Singleton stood about six-feet two. Wearing white pants and a black shirt, a deep tan bespoke of long hours in the Florida sun. With a sporty captain’s hat, an Errol Flynn mustache and flashing a wry smile, he could have doubled for the dashing superstar. We would learn that he was a wealthy Florida entrepreneur who owned a fleet of fishing boats along the Florida coast and had converted some of them into fishing craft to carry groups out to sea to go after the big ones. The group would fall in love with Captain Singleton before the day was over, especially the women. Heavily under the influence of bacon and eggs and Dramamine, we boarded ship.
It was good daylight and the morning sun was working hard to penetrate the fog as Captain Singleton moved the Mary Anne away from its berth and headed her down the St. Johns toward the open sea. We were told that one of the great experiences of sailing is to enter the Atlantic from the St. Johns River. Well, we were doing that.
As we moved along the river, we could make out through the mist great ships moored end-to-end on our right; they were giant U. S. Navy aircraft carriers only a few yards away from us. I told B. J. (she was known only as Billie June back then) that if I did not catch any fish, I already had my money’s worth. —Next week: at sea in a fishing boat.