• How they caught Pilot Whales Back in the Fifties!

    Captain Tommy Williams of Miss Judy Charters told me this true story about the pilot whales many years ago. So I thought I would put it to print so you could know exactly how they caught pilot whales back in the good old fifties! By the way Captain Tommy is holding a nice flounder. What’s for dinner? Crispy scored flounder!
    “Little Miss Judy’s Believe It or Not!”

    How they caught Pilot Whales Back in the Fifties!

    It’s definitely not what you think. It’s not about fishing or harpooning it’s more about trying to rope a steer or in this case a pilot whale!

    Big Tommy William’s yesteryear owner of Williams Seafood restaurant shared a great story with me. Tommy and I are about the same age, we were raised on the same island, swam in the same creek, and raced cars on the same street. In our driving years Tommy drove Jags, I drove vettes, we raced a lot, and we had fun. However, that is another story, which sooner or later I will share with you.

    His son Little Tommy used to work with us over here at Miss Judy Charters taking inshore/offshore charters on a regular basis. Big Tommy now works here at Miss Judy Charter’s full time. Big Tommy is one of our resident story tellers and takes out inshore trips fishing trips. He wears many hats here. Tommy also catches our bait better known as live shrimp, but that is another story! I am just trying to give you a little background. I must add, this subject came out of the blue when Tommy said, “my father caught a whale!” Being a storywriter myself as well as a good listener he definitely got my attention with this real time whale of a tale.

    Back in the fifties pilot whales found our area a “hanging out hotspot!” Everyone wanted to see one up close and personal! In the fifties it was the talk at the Williams Seafood Restaurant. So therefore Mr. Williams, Big Tommy’s father decided to offer to take some of the patrons to see the whales. Elder Mr. William took quite a few onlookers over to see the pilot whales. It was a “whale of a show” from an old wooden boat. One day while Elder Williams made yet another whaling adventure he found himself making an executive decision. He decided that he would bring the whales or whale to the dock, which was in a short walking distance from the restaurant. Elder William’s thoughts were then that everyone could see the whales!

    In his mind he had already figured out how he was going to do it. The next day he loaded up his old rowboat with the necessary “catching the whale stuff. “ Once he got his boat loaded he headed out to snarl himself his own personal whale. Once arriving to whale haven, one was selected, he basically slipped a “noose” over the tail of the whale, tied the other end of the rope to the boat’s bench seat, and off he went in the direction of the restaurant’s dock. The Williams Seafood dock was then located and still is in the Bull River. The whales were staging at Tybee Island better known as Savannah Beach. It’s a long winding ride especially in a rowboat when pulling a live whale.

    According to the story it still hasn’t been decided who pulled who! The whale, which had a noose of sorts around its tail gladly at least most of the time, went with the flow of being towed. However, there were a few times that the whale wanted to go in the opposite direction. The rowboat, which had a small out board engine, certainly didn’t have a much pulling power as the whale. On some occasions the whale pulled the boat backward even when the engine was still going forward. So therefore it took Elder Tommy quite a while to get the whale back to the dock. As Tommy told me this story I had a vision of exactly what was going on! Just think about this pilot whales are normally about 10 to 12 feet long much like the length of a rowboat. The fact of the matter is the whale was just about the size of William’s rowboat. In fact they could be in most cases “bigger!” At any rate, my mind’s vision of Elder William’s whaling quest was to say the least oh so “priceless!”

    Photo by Captain Judy Helmey
    (It was taken many years ago! And yes it was film!)
    This is not a pilot whale’s tail. This is the tail of a right whale!

    Believe it or not, Elder William did in fact basically pull the pilot whale backward all the way back to the restaurant dock. Once arriving back, news traveled fast even without the aid of the un-invented as of this time frame “cell phones!” The dock was lined with lots of “onlookers.” The proud, but very tired Elder Williams stood strong, and pointed at his large live catch. The whale didn’t seem to mind all of the attention. In fact it didn’t bother the whale at all. All was good at least until someone made what seemed like at the moment a “simple suggestion.” One onlooker asked, “I wonder what the underside of a whale looks like?” As soon as the question was asked, “All those onlookers wondered immediately.” Mr. William, scratched his head, looked up, and replied, “Let’s flip her over and see!”

    Elder Williams thought for a moment, but quickly made an executive decision on exactly what to do so that all could get a look-see at the underneath of the whale. It really did seem like a simple thing at the moment. Elder William looking directly up saw the “old block and tackle system” that was used to swing bushels of crabs and shrimp to the top dock. He had them lower the tackle’s hook and he looped the end of the rope, which was attached to the whale’s tail around it. What happen as soon as the whale felt any upward pressure certainly made history and still is being talked about today.

    The whale upon feeling the pressure of having his tail pulled up and the main thing of having its blowhole submerged un-preparedly was not a good thing! This large 11-foot plus whale that no one knew how much it weighted, got real excited and was quickly uncontrollably strong. The first thing to break was the pedestal that the block and tackle was attached to. It broke off like a toothpick and that quick! While the whale was pulling around and not turning over it become semi-lodge around the pilings that held up the main part of the dock. Back in the old days dock piling were made from cut palm trees. Having said this you already know where this is going. Pilings broke in half as quick as the old block and tackle. Lines and piling snapped in half as the whale made its way through underneath of the main dock. After it was all said and done a noticeable path was laid! Onlooker’s flee to the nearest hard ground area, which thank goodness wasn’t moving like the stationary dock. As soon as the whale freed itself of the pilings, loosen the nails holding Elder William’s bench seat in the row boat, and all other binding ropes it swam off un-harmed back to its friends to the east. All of this puts in prospective this moral of the story, which is a simple one, “Sometimes what’s lying underneath is just not that darn important or easy to get to, after all!”

    Thanks for reading! Captain Judy