Monday, March 06, 2006

Pelicans, Looking For A Handout

George Helker built and owned Helker's Yacht Basin at the North Miami end of Broad Causeway. It was a really pretentious name for what it was. There was a gas pump selling Gulf Marine White gasoline for a dime more than regular at the gas station up the street. The fill dredged up from the basin, and the channel leading to it, was used to build the other two sides, the natural shore and the causeway fill completing the surround. A rickety wooden dock ran along two sides with pilings out in the water to secure the bows of the boats. Then there was the bait shack where you could buy live shrimp as well as frozen shrimp, mullet and balao. The coffee pot was always full and beer, soda, and an assortment of munchies were available. Jack worked at the bait shack. He had a glass eye and he was known to pop it out and place it on the counter staring at anyone who got into an argument with him, then he'd just walk away leaving the staring eye to complete his "say so". Tenants included a drift boat (party boat), the Lady Lou with Capt. Jerry German, a small charter boat, and a New Jersey sea skiff of about 28 ft. that a retired couple would take from New Jersey to Miami every winter. They commercial fished for striped bass in the summer and for kingfish in the winter, trolling with rod and reel. Lots of fun and it paid expenses. Dozens of pelicans would arrive every afternoon to gobble down the fish scraps as people cleaned the day's catch. Helker also had half a dozen 16 ft. rental skiffs for people who wanted to fish for sea trout in the bay. When I was 14 I got a job there after school and on weekends, cleaning the rental skiffs and working the gas dock. I also got invited to fish with the Jersey couple and aboard the Lady Lou. I was in heaven, being a kid who loved fishing more than anything else in the world (I hadn't discovered girls yet). Helker added a boat ramp and started building a second basin just before Hurricane Donna struck in 1960. That was the end of the whole thing! The boats, the shack, everything, and he never rebuilt. Eventually the city bought the property for a park, cleaned it up, and built a wooden walkway around the basin. There's a place there you can fish but no boats. The pelicans still come around looking for handouts but it ain't like the old days, either for them or for me. Here I'm out on that walkway and the pelicans are hoping somebody will catch a fish or leave their unused bait behind when they pack it up and go home.


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12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the granddaughter of George Helker, owner of the yacht basin. I grew up in Miami in the 1970's and loved hearing stories about the docks, boats, fishing and movie stars. My grandfather loved that little boat basin and talked about it all of the time. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in North Miami at that time, and I am extremely lucky to have had such a wonderful grandfather too.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous norwood s wilner said...

Great memories. Helkers must have survived Donna in 1960 because I frequently took my 14' squall king with a 40 Gale there for gas, across the bay from the Beach. I got the boat at 14 in 1962. I don't recall any rental boats there, only a little gas dock.

5:18 AM  

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