Men reel in memories from James

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The sky is overcast and gray, just a few shades lighter than the water lapping at the rocks that hug the James River shoreline.

Samuel Porter ambles along the riverfront, a solitary figure walking toward the two fishermen at the other end of the vacant field on Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus.

Despite being within sight of the heavily-traveled Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel and just minutes from the city’s rapidly-growing “Sim City” corridor, the grassy field – one of the northernmost corners of Suffolk — is surprisingly tranquil on this Wednesday morning.

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“I’m waiting to pick my granddaughter up after her class (at TCC),” said Porter, 71, a retired school custodian from Chuckatuck.

“I like looking out at the water and seeing the fish jump up now and then,” he said. “It makes me want to go fishing.”

That is, as long as he doesn’t have to get on a boat.

Laughing, Porter recounts the last time he was out in a boat, more than 30 years ago. He had gone fishing with some friends on the Chesapeake Bay when a mid-afternoon storm rolled in, sending waves the size of “mountains” crashing onto the 42-foot motor boat.

“Those waves just kept rolling and rolling and rolling onto the boat,” Porter said. “We were racing back up to Willoughby and those waves, they just kept coming at us.

“Then our engine gave out. We shot up flares and … a big boat hooked us up and pulled us in. We bailed water all the way in.

“I saw all the water I wanted to see that day,” he said. “I haven’t been on a boat since that happened in 1976 … and I didn’t fish for five years.”

As Porter walks toward the two fishermen, Kelvin Beatty and William Taylor are just about finished packing up their poles.

“If you really want to catch a fish, this is not the best place,” Beatty said, stashing a cooler in the back of his car. “But this is convenient. I can come out here for a couple of hours and get on with my day.

“Just being out here is good therapy.”

Taylor agreed, saying that he loves the water and often stops by the campus to enjoy the peace.

“I come out here sometimes and watch the rabbit tails,” he said, referring to the whitecaps that form on the river during storms.