Task Force Dagger: Warriors On the Water Fishing Tournament
American independence and freedom is alive in Key West. The celebration of freedom can be as simple as the sunset or a quiet backcountry beach, or as elaborate as diving the wrecks or traveling to the Dry Tortugas. All of the freedoms we continue to enjoy are riddled with stories of sacrifice and effort played out daily all over the globe by our fighting men and women.
Key West is also a military town. It is a military town that has red brick installations that date back to the 1800′s. Many veterans and their families who call Key West home have served and understand the magic and power of this island. Key West is a free society made possible by the sacrifices of our military personnel, and that fact is deeply understood by most.
Ernie Saunders has been the Harbour Master at the newer facility on Stock Island called Key West Harbour Marina since 2009. He came to that position with every other marina in Key West attached to his resume’ from the years past. In fact, his father, Captain Ernie, was operating his charter business just up the channel at Murray Marine as far back as anyone can remember, until he was well into his 80′s. As I sat down in front of Ernie at his desk, I could sense the seriousness and depth of the moment. “I have to give back,” he said. This was common for Ernie Saunders in all that I had seen him do. A strong conviction to the heroism of the military was never hidden from view, and he was now to the point of action. “I want to open this facility for a day to wounded soldiers and their families – to take them fishing on some Key West Charter Boats as a tournament of sorts. Can you help me?” He knew what the answer was going to be before the question was asked. This was classic Ernie Saunders.
The Task Force Dagger Project (TaskForceDagger.org) is a non-profit foundation that has been instrumental in this type of philanthropy, and June 20th through July 1st, 2012 was their next event in Key West. When it comes to tournaments, we knew Captain Mike Weinhoffer of Compass Rose Charters had to be involved. Captain Mike is known for a long running radio show featuring him and his father in law, Captain Jim Sharpe. That show has been on the air a while, starting well before the goliath grouper closure, and Captain Mike is known for his ability to organize events. “Of course I’m in!” he said.
Captain Mike Weinhoffer is one of the busiest guides in the Florida Keys, and maybe on the planet, so I knew right away this had to be important to him since he was willing to give up a day pro-bono for our warriors. “I’m a Charter Captain in Key West that is able to do what I do because of the sacrifices made by these men and women,” he said. With the list of tasks that he would be responsible for in hand, Captain Mike made calls to Captain Rob Harris of the Gotta Go , Captain David Esquinaldo of Esky Rods, and Captain Jeff Burns of On The Fly. They all agreed to provide their vessels free of charge for the day with a patriotic and resounding, “Yes!”
My list started with Captain Gene Chrzanowski of the High Class Hooker because of his veteran status and passion for the military. “Whatever you need, I’m in,” Captain Gene told me. He and his mate Run Yuong have, for years, offered a Memorial Day trip for free to any military family who has suffered a loss. “In fact, I have clients who would gladly sponsor boats to take these heros and their families out for the day,” he said. I then went to Captain Jay Miller who was gracious enough to offer both of his boats, Outer Limits and Mr.Z, if we were unable to fill a slot. “I’m proud to do it,” he said, and no doubt believed it was his duty. The call to Captain Paul Wachter of the Captain Hook was taken in the most stressful part of a busy schedule with a calm and cool, “Hell ya. Count me in.” I knew he’d do it. As word hit the docks, the other captains offering their vessels included Captain Brice Barr of the Double Down and Ryan Conizzo the mate of the Double Wrap, plus some supply donations by Captain Barry Andrews on the Eva Marie and cash donations to Task Force Dagger Foundation by clients of the Key West Charter Boats. With an overwhelming response of giving by everyone asked, the message came clear that Key West is a military town. Key West is an American town.