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SUBJECT: Christmas on Cypremort Point

Submitted by TallTailTeller from NEBRASKA on

Christmas at Cypremort Point

Captain Jack Guillory burned his forearm on the hot manifold of his cantankerous four cylinder diesel engine and cursed a Detroit engine maker with kind of curse only a woman with the power of voodoo could break. If Jack couldn’t get the diesel running again, he’d fail to make it back to Cypremort Point to off-load. He would not have the money he needed for Christmas with his family.

The Duchess was an old shrimper by any standard, though she wasn’t always a shrimper. She had started her life as a shrimper tender, content to ferry shrimp ashore and supplies to sea. Changes in the fishery was the death on the deep water shrimpers and smaller boats like The Duchess were converted to day boats, content to work the Vermillion and Cote Blanche Bays. She could drag a single trawl, forty feet wide and twelve feet deep. On a good day, four trawls could be hauled and upwards of a six hundred pounds of eating shrimp and a six hundred pounds of bait shrimp. The eating shrimp would bring up to two dollars a pound, depending on grade. The bait shrimp brought fifty-cents a pound. Jack looked over his shoulder at the baskets on ice arranged on the lee rail. Today was not a good day.

Capt. Guillory had departed before dawn without a crew. It was cheaper to run without a mate, but the shrimper wasn’t planning on that. None of the regular mates wanted to work on Christmas Eve. Jack hadn’t planned on working Christmas Eve, but Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita had rearranged his schedule. The water had destroyed not only his home, but his father’s and his brother’s. There’s no insurance company in the world that will insure a stilt home on Cypremort Point. Now Capt. Jack had three mortgages to pay as well as repairs to his boat and payments on the furniture and vehicles. Most months Capt. Guillory fished the first eighteen days just to break even and if he was lucky, he’d make money on the last six days. Nobody fished on Sunday.

But the Duchess was a difficult mistress. She objected to fishing too early. She objected to fishing too late. She objected to fishing too long. She objected to fishing with a full spread. Sometimes she objected to fishing at all. The Duchess was just difficult. Other times, like now, she made Jack climb elbow deep in hot oil and diesel fumes to scratch her innards and make her run again.

“Duchess, Duchess, are you there Jack?” The radio in the small cabin squawked. Jack considered ignoring it, but he recognized the voice of Capt. Roadie and knew if he didn’t answer, Roadie would come steaming over to find out what was wrong. Jack struggled to his feet, sweating despite the chilly air blowing the cold front in east Texas.

“Go ahead Pelican, this is Duchess.” Jack held the microphone in a greasy rag, trying not to make it too messy.

“Got trouble Jack? I see you’ve been holding that spot for an hour or so.” Jack scanned the horizon and could see The Pelican pulling a trawl through the water to the north of his current position.

“Fuel pump, fuel filter, injectors, who knows? I’ll get her going again in a bit. How’s fishing?” Jack wiped the copious sweat from his brow, mentally inventorying the spare parts in the locker under the bench. If it was the injectors, Jack knew without looking, he was dead in the water.

“You know Jack, some good some bad. We are going to pick up and head in early. The boys want to head to town for some last minute shopping. Kelso is shutting down early too. You need me to carry anything in for you?”

Kevin Kelso was the buyer for Coastal Shrimp Co. Jack looked at the pitiful amount of shrimp on ice. “Nah Roadie, no need. Ain’t got much in the boat and I am going to finish this pull and head in myself.”

“Suit yourself. Holler if you need anything or change your mind.”

“Will do.”

Capt. Jack eased back down onto his knees and then his belly and put his head down into the stinky engine compartment, determined to get his Duchess back underway. The radio crackled again.

“Duchess, can you hear me? Come in daddy.” Jack smiled at the sound of the voice on the radio. He got back to his feet.

“Hello Jackie! This is Duchess, what’s going on?”

“Mama says for you to come home. It’s Christmas Eve and you need to get ready for church.”

“Tell your mama I’m trying son. Duchess is having one of her fits. I need to do a little work here and then I am going to pick up the trawl and come on in.”

“Ok daddy! Hurry up! Santa’s coming!”

Jack smiled at the thought of his little boy on the radio in the kitchen in the house on the shell road. His wife would be baking pies, the house would smell like nutmeg and pumpkin, and the tree would twinkle in the corner. There would be music playing from the stereo by the woodstove. “I’d better get a move on,” he thought to himself. Back onto his belly, Jack stuck his hands back into the muck and began to fiddle with the fuel pump.

An hour later the radio crackled again.

“Daddy! Come HOME!” Captain Jack could hear his son pleading with him to finish with whatever he was doing and head in. Jack wished with all his might he could comply, but he was in an awful predicament. When he had loosened the fuel pump, it had fallen away and trapped his wrist against the casing on the bilge pump. It had startled him and in his rush to extricate his hand, Jack had dropped a long end wrench and it had fallen between the fuel pump and the engine block and somehow wedged. Now the fuel pump wouldn’t budge and Jack only had left hand to work with. For the last forty-five minutes he had sweat and cussed and gotten nowhere. Now his right wrist was swelling, wedging the mess even tighter and Jack’s head was beginning to throb from being lower than his waist for so long.

“Come in Duchess,” called Roadie. Just finishing his off-load, he was making notes in the wheelhouse when he heard Little Jack calling for his father. “Come on Duchess, I know you are out there. Don’t make me come after you.” While Capt Roadie was waiting for a reply, his cell phone rang. It was Maggie Guillory.

“Roadie, I’m worried. It’s not like Jack to go silent. I think something’s wrong.”

“Don’t worry Maggie, he’s probably upside down in the engine compartment. I’ll go fetch him back.”

“Hurry Roadie. I have a bad feeling.”

“Don’t worry too much. I know just where he is.”

Capt. Roadie punched in a number on his cell phone. When the phone was picked up he said simply, “Jack Guillory’s in trouble. I’m leaving in ten minutes. Channel 9.”

A shrimper in trouble on Cypremort Point was the same as saying a member of the family needed help. The rest of the fleet rallies around him. Roadie’s call rang to the phone behind Bus & Helen’s Bar. All fishermen on the Point drank there. Bus simply rang the ship’s bell and said “Jack Guillory….Channel 9.” The bar emptied quickly.

Up and down the gravel seaway, diesel motors were coming to life. It was late afternoon and in a couple hours it would be dark. The Pelican pulled away, heavier by three crewmen that had crossed the narrow spit of land from Bus & Helen’s to Coastal Seafood’s Cypremort Point buying and shipping facility.

In an hour they would reach The Duchess. Roadie worried that they would be too late and pushed the diesel on the Pelican a little harder. Black smoke trailed behind them as they punched through the swells. The cold front that stretched from Galveston to Shreveport was pushing through and the wind was whipping up the shallow water in the Vermillion Bay. Spray was washing the windows on the wheelhouse and Roadie pressed on.

Onboard Duchess, Jack Guillory was drifting on the edge of consciousness. The blood in his head was causing him long periods of shadowy blackouts. When he did come to, he could feel the boat straining against the trawl as it acted like a sea anchor. The wind had really come up and with every heavy roller he could feel the boat drag along. The sandy bottom and patches of weed doing nothing to slow the boat. The rigging would sing as it came taut when the steel guide wings would occasionally catch on a rock. Not too far to the east was the well field owned by Shell Oil. It was illegal to trawl that area, not that any shrimper dared. The whole section of bay was crises-crossed by underwater pipelines, huge piles of cast away iron, protruding well heads, and service piers. If the wind kept pushing him east, Capt Jack and The Duchess would be in peril. Jack drifted into darkness again. At least the pain in his wrist had stopped.

The Cypremort Point shrimp fleet arrived at the stricken boat’s last known location only to find Capt. Jack and the Duchess no where in sight. The water was too shallow for the boat to be entirely sunk, at least the tower masts should be visible unless the old boat had broached broadside and rolled to the bottom on her side. Scattered throughout Vermillion Bay were the wrecks of fisherman that went out to sea and never returned. Now Capt. Roadie was worried.

“Blue Crab, Dorothy, Freeloader and Eighty-Eight take from the Shell terminal north, look for anything you can find.” Calling each skipper by his boat’s name was commonplace. “Tinker, Belle Allee, Gull, and Miss Anne come with me. We will start near the Pass and work our way east as well.”

The boats spread out. Though it was unlikely that Jack had gotten underway, moved west and broke down again, so the boats ignored the western bay. It took twenty minutes for Belle Allee to spot The Duchess, just a few hundred yards short of the Shell field.

“Got him,” crackled the radio. “Three east of the bell buoy.” The entire fleet turned in unison, disregarding the heavy seas.

A crewman on Belle Allee had already leaped aboard The Duchess and secured a tow rope to a bow cleat. Now the Capt. Mo Richard was attempting to turn her about and drag both boat and trawl clear of the danger. The best they could do was arrest her eastward drift.

“Skip, it’s not good. He’s unconscious and wedged into the engine compartment. I think his arm is caught. I can’t budge him,” the crewman declared over Duchesses radio to the fleet. “I’m going to need help and a lot of it.”

“Stand by Belle Allee,” Capt. Roadie called. “Pelican will come aside and lend assistance.”


In a few minutes the Pelican was matching the heading of The Duchess and attempting to move rail to rail.

“Doc, take the wheel. The rest of you, come with me.” Captain turned over control of the Pelican to his second oldest friend while he prepared to scramble over the side to board the boat of his oldest friend. This was a move that few men would attempt in heavy seas. Fewer still would do it without safety equipment. Falling in would mean grave injury or death as the heaving trawlers lurched to and fro would crush a man. None of the men on the Pelican gave it much thought.

The waves carried the two boats close and that was enough, three men scrambled over the rail from the Pelican to the Duchess. Once aboard the distress boat, two men went forward to attach a second line to the bow. Now the Pelican was helping Belle Allee in her efforts to pull the distressed trawler further from danger.

“Jack! Jack! Jack! Jack, can you here me?” No response from the man lying with his head and upper torso in the open engine compartment. Roadie felt along Jack’s arm as far as he could, but the tight space made it impossible to reach all the way to the problem. Jack only groaned in response.

“What do you think?” Captain Roadie asked the other crew. They all shook their heads. It was obvious that Jack was stuck, but not why.

“Let’s get the access plates off.” The engine compartment on the Duchess was covered by two interlocking steel plates that were cover in non-skid rubber. They locked into the frame of the vessel with eight bolts and were fashioned in a manner to form a lip to keep seawater from spilling in. The men went to work and soon had all the bolts out.

Accessing the situation, Roadie could see what was coming. With Jack Guillory sprawled out on the cover plates, they could not be removed.

“Rig a harness.” A couple crewmen took a length of nylon line and fashioned a six point sling to slip around Jack Guillory. With a few adjustments, the sling was ready to take his weight. It took two men to lift the load. With the weight of the skipper off the deck plates, each was slid out from under him, exposing a much larger access to the engine compartment.

It took Roadie a few minutes to find the wedged wrench. With a couple swift blows with a small hammer, he knocked it loose. He then lifted the fuel pump out of the way and Capt. Jack Guillory was free. The sling was suddenly easier to hoist and Jack raised a couple of feet before the men on the ropes eased the haul. The men on the sling ropes pulled him to the deck and carefully lowered him. Once the blood in his head and arm was free to circulate again, Capt. Jack Guillory came to.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” Jack Guillory asked in a broken whisper. He was shaking and weak.

“Get him inside and get him warmed up,” Roadie ordered. “Coffee and blankets.” The men on deck would take good care of his friend; Roadie turned his attention back to the balky diesel. With plenty of room to work, Roadie removed the injectors and fuel filters and cleaned them both. Then he put it all back together and whirled his finger around, the international sea sign for “fire her up”. The four cylinders Detroit Diesel roared to life, stuttering only twice to clear its throat of black soot and buildup.

“Put her back together and let’s get this trawl aboard.”

Quick work was made of the steel deck plates and engine cover. The trawl was finally retrieved and rail dumped. The buying station was closed and two day old iced shrimp wouldn’t sell at all.

The fleet was halfway back to Cypremort Point when Capt. Jack felt well enough to talk.

“Thanks fellas. My hand got wedged in there and I couldn’t get it out.” They all grunted in reply. The seas were really rolling now. That cold front had moved in with vigor. The light at Cypremort Point was beckoning them closer. Jack Guillory was silent as they crossed through the jetties and approached the tie up area. Christmas was going to have to wait a day or two until he could get a good day on the water to make enough money to go shopping for the family.

“Daddy!” screamed a little boy from the seaway. “Look mommy, there’s daddy!” Maggie Guillory stood there with tears welling in her eyes as her husband appeared at the wheelhouse door. The boat was tied up and all of the crew climbed ashore. Jack Guillory went about the chores required of a shrimp boat skipper at the end of the day, sore arm and all. Little Jackie and Maggie were content to look on.

“Jackie, come here.” The little boy clamored over the side and into his father’s arms.

“Christmas might be a little late this year son. Santa may not be able to make it in this storm.”

“Sure he will, Daddy. Santa knows the way. The wind doesn’t bother the reindeer.”

“I don’t know son. It was sure tough on me today. Let’s go home.”

The Gillmor’s climbed out of the boat and up onto the seaway. They all piled into Jack’s pickup and drove through the narrow roads to the stilt house. Little Jackie ran up the stairs two at a time. Jack and Maggie held back.

“I’m sorry baby. I’ll make it up to both of you, I promise. I’ll fish the day after tomorrow and then we can finish our shopping.”

“It’s OK Jack. We don’t mind, really. We just want you to be here for Christmas.”

Little Jackie came bounding out of the house and unto the front porch. “DADDY! MOMMY! Come SEE!” Jackie flew back into the house.

When Jack and Maggie Guillory got to the front door, they could scarcely believe their eyes. Every inch of counter space in the kitchen was covered with food and desserts. Half of the living room was covered in Christmas presents. Jack looked quizzically at Maggie and Maggie looked quizzically at Jack.

Marine radios have more than one channel. Crusty old shrimp fishermen have the romance of the sea awash in their hearts. Each skipper had called their own homes and wives from around the Point had quickly responded. As soon as word had come that Jack Guillory was found and was in good shape, the fleet wives took over.

Christmas always found a way to come Cypremort Point.

  1. Wade Fisher from TEXAS says From Rock Creek to Cypremort Point .....
    There's always a good read wherever you are. Thanks TTT and a very Merry Christmas to you and the family.


  2. 3rdbar ( from TEXAS says Looks like
    Cypremort Point is fine place ...I love the tales of the salt since I seem to have in my veins. Hurricane IKE ripped us pretty good and the folks around us felt a like those in Cypremort. Many thanks for this piece of heaven ... 3rdbar

  3. Crowbar from TEXAS says Thanks a bunch TTT
    Curious to know how much fiction, if any, there is in that tale?

    Thanks again and Happy New Year!


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