"Charlie? Charlie? Charlie, get up. Come on, get up. Fishing's red hot."

The hand kept shaking me. The cabin lights were on. I could hear water sloshing against the steel hull and every few seconds the slippery clatter of a fish being boated, then thrashing away on the steel deck above my head.

I rolled over and looked at my watch. Five a.m. I'd slept three hours.

"Jeez," said the head attached to the hand that had done the shaking. "You ain't Charlie. Sorry, mate."

No matter, I thought. Time to fish. You come 1,200 miles by air and land to the place the natives call "the last resort" -- Key West, Florida. Then you pay a man in a boat $93 to take you 75 miles farther, to the Dry Tortugas Islands. And then you sleep when fish are being caught. Shameful.

So I rolled out of the clammy, narrow rack, slipped on wet deck shoes that turned out 1 1/2 days later to be someone else's and clambered up the ladder to the deck.

The anglers were lined up under the glare of the mercury vapor lights, 70 hard-core fishermen encircling the rail of the 140-foot party boat Viking Starship.

The water looked almost gray in the glare of the lamp. The light illuminated strange beasts cruising the surface -- flying fish, yellow moray eels, schools of skittish, luminescent minnows.

They were indeed catching fish -- two-and three-pound yellowtail snappers mostly, bearing out what Capt. Paul Forsberg had said earlier that night. "You'll find the best hours are 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. If you have to sleep do it some other time."

For most of the people who were along on the Viking Starship's 42-hour nonstop fishing journey to the Turtugas two weekends ago, sleep was not in the game plan anyway.

Like Jack Barber, who spends his weekdays working as the Army recruiter in Key West and who happened to have the fishing spot next to mine.

We were on the starboard stern quarter, which turned out to be the right spot when eight-and 10-pound mutton snapper put on a show a little later that morning. Ninety percent of the ones boated in the half-hour blitz came from our corner of the boat, by sheer luck.

I was awake for that, our finest fishing hour of the weekend.

Barber was awake, too, of course.

"Hey, I'm not out here to sleep," he said. "When they start biting I'll be here." And all other times, too.

Barber had his honor to uphold, anyway. He fishes weekends on the Starship. His wife fishes the one-day overnight trip that leaves Tuesday evenings and returns Wednesday before dark. No, they don't hate each other. They just both love to fish. They go every week.

Next to Barber on the rail were the Duncans, Jim and Cheryl, from Newport Beach, Calif. They were traveling cross-country on vacation, looking for fun. What induced them to subject themselves to marathon fishing?

"We're going to hurt at the end of this weekend," said Jim Duncan, smiling.

Even his wife was smiling.

"Look," he added, "I like fishing for the challenge it presents. I think it's very challenging to be among the 10 percent of the fishermen that catch 90 percent of the fish.

"I fish for trout in Colorado, for bass in California. I have a 40-footer for ocean fishing. But this is something different and I want to be good at all of it."

He was. The Duncans had stringers of mutton snappers, yellowtails, groupers and giant porgies when we got back to the dock.

There was an indisputable collapse of spirit, though, after the all-day Saturday vigil extended to all night and all morning Sunday. By the time the sun was high on the Lord's day tempers were flaring, the mates were testy. Even the cook, an irrepressible New Yorker named Joe, was finding his jokes wearing thin.

The fish got sick of it, too, and stopped biting.

As we moved from spot to spot under the glaring subtropical sun anglers began to drop off to the steamy, smelly bunk room.

Then, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Forsberg blew the whistle and called, "Lines up. We're heading home."

The mood swung instantly to wild glee. Anglers stopped in the middle of snarling disputes over snagged lines and patted each other on the backs, grinning happily.

Cheryl Duncan found a bottle of champagne in her bag and exploded the cork with a bang.

A poker game began and crowds gathered around to kibitz.

Edna P. Hawkes of Westwood, Mass., who at 68 was one of the senior anglers aboard, said in clipped New England tones what everyone aboard was thinking.

"It was a very nice weekend, but I want to go to bed now."

We cruised east over flat blue water, past the green of Boca Grande Island and toward the white of the harbor buildings at Key West.

It was simple. People had made this voyage for obvious reasons.

It felt so good to stop.