Haas turned on his heels. "It takes all kinds," he complained, then lowered himself into his boat. In a moment Lark was back at sea. "The wind's coming up anyway," he said. "Better get closer to home."
By the time Lark reached Charlotte Harbor the tide was going out and Haas had to reduce speed. He eased the boat across oyster beds and shoals and into twisting, brackish Alligator Creek, an otherwise inauspicious waterway that, because it led to a seafood restaurant frequented by the Haases, now took on the importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The boat made its way slowly up the creek, discharging its hungry cargo at the restaurant at 5:15.
An hour or so later, after dining on clams and shrimp, the Haases returned to their boat. Moving away from the dock it scraped bottom, at the usual peril to the props. "We may have to throw Inez overboard," Haas said with a wink, and his wife beamed. Back in the harbor the waning sun cast sequins across the water, which was perfectly still in the early evening. What had begun as a brief outing had wound up taking eight hours, with lunch melting into dinner, but there were no complaints from the Haases.
"I was hoping to write some letters today," mused Inez Haas. "I guess I'll do them tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," her husband repeated. "That's always our busiest day." The way Jim Haas, the skipper and navigator of Lark, has charted their retirement, he and his wife are nothing if not flexible.
Unlike Jim Haas, pipe-smoking Harry Tipton ventures into Charlotte Harbor for no reason other than to fish, and he considers his boat, a barnacle-laden 17-footer that sits heavily in the water, "one of my fishing accessories." The boat is certainly that. It is also a kind of island, one to which Tipton, who retired to Port Charlotte five years ago, can further withdraw when the mood seizes him. "Fishing gives me peace of mind," he says. "When I'm out on the water I don't have a trouble in the world."
Not that there is anything reclusive about Tipton. A friendly fellow with the roughhewn dignity of his native Rockies, he still cuts a commanding figure at 74, his frame topped by a glove-bald head divided into seas and continents by a mass of wrinkles. The grandson of a cattle rancher on the old Chisholm Trail, he was born in Cripple Creek, Colo., where his father ran a prospering gold mine. Young Harry climbed mountains, worked as a cowboy, studied engineering at Colorado A&M and managed a ranch in the San Luis Valley before going off at 38 to begin a new life as an irrigation engineer, in which capacity he worked in the U.S., and in Central and South America.
After so active and varied a career, Tipton, unlike either Ray Walton or Jim Haas, did not want to retire, but he reluctantly called it quits in 1966. He and his wife Nina moved to Port Charlotte and built a three-bedroom home on a canal leading into the harbor.
"I always thought the only thing in the world that would satisfy me was work," says Tipton, who had previously looked upon fishing, whether for mountain trout in Colorado or for roosterfish and dolphin in Central America, as merely an adjunct, albeit an important one, to his life. Now it would become something close to life itself. Port Charlotte offers some freshwater fishing, but it was to the potent waters of Charlotte Harbor, alive with a lavish variety of tarpon, snook, snapper, sheepshead and cobia, that Tipton was drawn.
He has since hooked them all, although he has seldom bothered to bring home his larger catches. A purist in such matters, he fishes neither for trophies nor food—he does not really care for the taste of fish—but for the sheer sport of it. "The thrill is to hunt them, find them and hook them," he says. "Then I release them. I don't even have to catch a fish to have a good time fishing."