Today is Father's Day, a day to remember the lessons we learned (or didn't) from the ones who helped bring us into this world. So, this Sunday morning, we're going to rise and shine and share the stories of our fathers — old-school men of many different worlds. Get on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and share the pictures, stories and keepsakes that carry, for you, the lessons of dads and granddads. Use our hashtag: #BSDaddyStories.
To inspire you this morning, we bring you the full version of a story from the recently published "Saints of Old Florida" — an essay from author Emily Raffield's father, Danny, about his own dad, Captain Carl Raffield. Enjoy.
Captain Carl and His Crew
By Danny Raffield
When my dad passed away in 2002, the Panama City News Herald ran a front-page story about his passing, the title of which was “GOODBYE, CAPT. CARL.” There was a large picture of him on the front page, and the words were devoted to him and to remembering his life. To say that he was well known and respected is an understatement. I surely thought the world of him.
My dad, Carl Jackson Raffield, was born to a fishing family near Crooked Island Sound and learned to fish the Gulf waters from his father, Clayton and many uncles who owned boats and led crews. It was a way of life for his entire family. Dad attended the local one room schoolhouse and worked around the fish camp through seventh grade. He always remarked that he “graduated” from the highest level they offered.
After finishing school, dad joined his father’s fishing crew where he worked for several seasons until he had mastered the skills of a top crewmember. There were many rites of passage to become skilled and eventually earn a full share, I know them about the same: how to steer a compass course, navigate and read weather, build and mend nets, hand bail fish, handle tow lines – the list goes on because a fishing boat is a living thing that requires constant attention.
During the winter season, local fishing all but ceased, which left my grandfather’s fishing boats tied to the docks waiting for the spring runs of fish. Ever an adventurer and entrepreneur, it was during this slower time that my dad sought his father’s blessing to crew aboard a commercial snapper boat captained by a family friend, Capt. Lambert Anderson. Capt. Lambert set out for South Florida every winter, where he fished Florida’s Middle Grounds and Dry Tortugas during the days of hand lining red snapper. Dad was able to get his father’s blessing by agreeing to return home upon the first catch of mackerel in the spring – Capt. Lambert also had to agree to the terms. With everyone in agreement, dad joined the crew at fourteen years old. A few days after Christmas that year, they cast the dock lines off and followed the falling tide into the Old Pass and out to the Gulf of Mexico. They waited for a cold Nor’wester to blow through and fill the sails with 35 mph winds – enough to push them south to Tampa. Dad told of how they drifted through the night, sitting on the boat’s rails and looking into the darkness toward the shore back home. He recalled seeing a small light flickering in the distance and his imagination carried him to the light in his mother’s kitchen, as their house was one of the first on the dark shoreline to have electrification. He envisioned the long dinner table she always filled with his nine siblings and with good food – buttered biscuits with syrup was his favorite.
The crew eventually made it to South Florida and started their ten-day fishing trip in and out of Tampa. With each return to the dock, dad would look forward to mail sent from his mother. As months went by and spring grew closer, dad began to read the letters with hope of fishing news heralding the first catch of spring mackerel. After a trip in late March, he got the news he was hoping for. I can picture him skimming through each word of the letter and spotting the sentence requesting his return home. “Your father and Uncle Henry caught mackerel last night in the White Light Hole near the Old Pass.” With the letter in hand, dad told Capt. Lambert that he was needed at home. He caught a ride on the fish truck hauling a catch to Apalachicola. They arrived in Apalachicola where dad paid 50 cents for a night’s room and board at the Gibson Inn until he could book passage home the next day on a mail truck. The mail truck’s route passed by his family’s homeplace on Crooked Island – on the new Coastal Highway (US 98), constructed in 1929.
That first snapper expedition had a lifelong impact on my dad. He discovered a lot about himself and his potential that winter. He found strength deep inside when times were trying and built the consciousness of a can-do attitude. Since then, he was never held back with the fear of failing. This was a theme for him – he never lost his way and steered a true course the rest of his life.
At the age of 18 and with much ambition, he bought his first boat. In the coming years he married and moved his wife, Evelyn, and their then two children, my older brothers, to Highland View, a community near the Gulf County canal on St. Joseph’s Bay. The canal’s opening in 1937 was a major part of dad’s success in the area; it offered a calm harbor as a base of operations. Knowing the fishing potential, he founded his own fisheries and went on to establish Raffield Fisheries, one of the largest seafood businesses in the Southeast, which still employs many of his family today.
His business was steered by his eye for innovation and resilient work ethic. He didn’t mind trying something new; he carried the flag, leading by example, and engaged everyone to action. My dad never stopped to count money; any profit he made he invested into having the best equipment he could afford. I remember having pots and pans on the floor in our house when it would rain; instead of paying for a new roof, he spent what money he had to get his nets right. He always invested in the working power of the business.
Dad was one of the first fishermen in North Florida to take his boat south to fish during the cold winter months. As the business grew, my brothers and I followed in the tradition. After fall sein fishing ended, we would rig the fleet for mackerel fishing in the Florida Keys. I recall many Christmases spent in South Florida, one in particular was when I was about eleven years old.
That year, my dad was fishing on the boat named “The Three Brothers;” after he settled up with his crew he sent them home by bus to have Christmas with their families. At that point, my brothers, my mom and I would join him on board to spend the holidays and fish with dad.
I remember that scene so well. Christmastime has a feel to it anywhere, but it was different in South Florida. It felt tropical and unusual to us North Florida folks. We would have festive music playing on the radio, someone would string a few colored lights and we would put a little Christmas tree in the small space of the cabin, in the bow of the boat. During those off days, it wasn’t uncommon for dad to ease the boat out and find a tranquil place where we could hand-line a few fish for fun and mom could cook a meal in the galley with ease.
One day, we were anchored up so mom could cook our big Christmas dinner. She was a pioneer woman and had a gift for doing a lot with what she was given, which meant the small galley space and traditional menu were no match for her. She had a 15-pound ham in the oven fancied with pineapple rings and cherries with all the meal’s fixings. The whole boat smelled like Christmas. All of us boys were anxious to eat and I remember running in and out of the cabin trying to sneak a taste. As everything was coming together for the meal, she was ready to put the biscuits in. The boat had an oven where the ham was resting to stay warm and a broiler tray underneath, both powered by propane gas. When she leaned down to turn on the broiler, the gas ignited and the whole damn thing blew up. The explosion shot the ham out of the oven door; it was charred black and in flames, the pineapples like black tires. The biscuits flew out like shrapnel going left and right; we even found some up near the Christmas tree in the bow. I remember dad grabbing the fire extinguisher and suddenly the whole ham was white foam. Mom was madder than she was scared at the time; Christmas dinner for her boys was crumbling. We went around the cabin grabbing biscuits to show her that we’d brush them off and could still eat them. Dad assured her that is was alright and set the big white ham up on the counter. He studied that ham, looking it over with his knife. He found the layer of skin and cut through the white extinguished layer until the bright pink ham began to show through. He set it in a new pan and we ended up having a fine Christmas dinner. We didn’t need a fancy restaurant, we were happy having exactly what we had.
After winter fishing dad would always return home ahead, never having to dip into his savings from the previous fishing season. That’s one thing people don’t always realize about the fishing industry – it’s either feast or famine and it’s a year-round job. To be a fisherman is a true test of faith. You get everything ready for the journey with the faith that there will be fish.
My parents always felt blessed to have their four boys: Gene, Harold, Ronnie and me. Having four sons kicked the numbers for the business and each one of us brought unique talents and gifts. We afforded extra strength and ability in all facets – running the boats and handling daily operations of the fisheries. When you gather people with a common goal, it’s extraordinary what they can accomplish together. As the business grew, fishing methods improved and we diversified by enhancing and developing new fishing techniques including utilizing an airplane for fish spotting, building high volume freezers and targeting baitfish species for the recreational demand.
When we first got into fish spotting, I was interested so I got my pilot’s license. It was a dangerous job and dad never pressured me or discouraged me, he wanted me to decide to do it on my own. It was one of the means to grow the business and, as many things that happened in our family’s history, I believe it was a divine opportunity for us. I learned to fly for one reason, to find fish. I saw my accomplishments in fish spotting as a personal journey, similar to dad’s time on Capt. Lambert’s snapper boat. It was a right of passage; experiencing all that I did was something no one could take from me. I had to learn the power of “can,” like my dad did. That outlook has been a steady source of strength throughout my life.
Amidst great success, my dad lived a very modest and humble life. He worked hard, had faith and never missed an opportunity to show up – for his family, the business, his friends and anyone in need. He loved God, people and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He walked in faith and trust and was a pioneer in today’s seafood industry. He was a high liner fisherman, but most of all a good man. Whatever he applied his effort to soon took on a change for the better.
Buy "Saints of Old Florida" in The Bitter Southerner General Store.