A Cult of Personality...
Key West Captain Gene Chrzanowski, a successful attorney turned Key West charter captain....
Key West Captain Gene Chrzanowski is a member of the Florida Keys Cult of Personality.........
It hit me, right on the head. The hatch lid going into the engine room of a Hatteras that was for sale and docked in Miami. It had popped loose from it’s temporary support and had come down, with the full weight of it’s fortified fiberglass, right on my head. To say a Hatteras is built well is an understatement. I saw the light fading... As I gathered my composure, Captain Gene Chrzanowski, who had already climbed ahead of me into the engine room, looked back and said “This one is no good”. I agreed.
We were on a search to replace the aging Key West charter vessel named the “Fatal Attraction” that ironically had been the conduit for the owner Captain Gene and I to meet. We had located a few possible replacement vessels that were in South Florida and decided to go together. Why would I, with a schedule that started at 4:30am, be motivated to spend the day with another charter captain on the road to Miami searching for his new vessel? The French term “Je Ne Sais Qoui” is why.
“Je Ne Sais Qoui”
The phrase “Je Ne Sais Qoui” generally means that there is something intangible and undefinable that sets a person apart or makes them what they are. Something that is in every successful charter captain within the Florida Keys “Cult of Personality”. In Captain Gene’s case, as his boat broker Mike Lesko put it - Gene had a unique way of making people feel like family. Ironically Captain Gene never did buy any of the prospective vessels that Mike Lesko had located, including the Hatteras. He ultimately chose a 47’ used Buddy Davis now known as the High Class Hooker. Captain Gene located, negotiated and purchased the Hooker himself but to this day, Mike Lesko still feels the same about him even without a closed deal on one of his own brokered vessels.
Captain Gene Chrzanowski bought his first vessel in 1982 while at the Annapolis Boat Show, a small 19’ runabout that sparked his sincere love for boats. An important characteristic in a charter captain. To get on the boat with friends, away from the rigors of his chosen career as an attorney, fit him well. He couldn’t wait to have his time on the water.
A new job opportunity became available that prompted a move to California with the 19’ runabout in tow. The Pacific Ocean forced Gene to sell the smaller boat and purchase a more substantial 28’ Boston Whaler. Bigger water, bigger boat was the philosophy and with the bigger vessel, his buddies started to line up with offers to cover all of the expenses if Gene would take them out on the water fishing. A normal progression leading to an abnormal career as a charter captain. But wait.........Why would a successful and well respected attorney want to become a charter captain? The answer was happiness. It seemed that the more time Captain Gene spent out on the water guiding his friends and family, the less he liked being a lawyer. Something had to change.
I have often referred to the Florida Keys as the “Island of Broken Toys”. Many people move here due to life changing events that stop them in their tracks and force them to re-evaluate their life’s direction. Captain Gene is no different. After the loss of his father at the age of seventy four, shortly after Gene’s relocation to California, it reality hit. The need for change was then solidified when his mother, who lived in Naples, Florida, became more and more disabled by the rigors of old age as the years passed. As good sons do, he made his way to Naples often to spend time with his mother as she battled along towards the inevitable. It was during that period – in 2002 - that Gene made the decision to change...completely. He gave his law firm in California and his clients several month’s notice and left his legal career behind to move to Naples , FL. Single, with no kids, his idea was simply to take a year or two off, have some fun, and spend some time around his mom before age took her.
Fate and the Fatal Attraction
His mom passed away a little over a year later. In that time period, however, he had taken a course and passed his captain’s license exam, more just to become a better informed boater than for any other reason. However, after his mom passed in late 2003, he decided that Naples was not where he wanted to spend the rest of his life and that he needed a new challenge. With his captains license in hand and a clean slate, he decided to find a charter boat to buy. His search reached as far as Hawaii, San Diego, Ft. Lauderdale and finally the Florida Keys and Key West. On a walk along the Historic Key West Seaport Gene came across the charter vessel the Fatal Attraction at A&B Marina. He thought to himself how great it would be to own a charter boat in a location like that – the “perfect spot.” The next day, as fate would have it, he found an advertisement on an internet site for an unidentified charter boat in Key West. He called the number, learned it was that same Fatal Attraction – the classic “message from God” - and eventually made the deal with former owner Captain Keith Cohen. The dream of owning a charter boat in Key West became a reality.
The Learning Curve
One of the stipulations included in the purchase of the Fatal Attraction was to have the former owner and captain stay for a month to help with the transition. After that, Captain Gene was on his own. Being a new charter captain in Key West is a tough gig. The seasoned veterans aren’t too interested in helping the competition follow their dream, especially a former attorney. He knew he’d have resistance but was confident he could be successful and eventually be accepted by the other captains through hard work, fair dealings and discipline.
Another important skill that always comes out in successful captains is the gift of gab. Captain Gene made his rounds along the seaport to each restaurant getting to know the managers, servers and bartenders making sure that if anyone was to recommend his charter boat he would thank them and show the passengers a great time. This created a growing client base that blossomed into his present average volume of close to 200 trips per year. A large amount of those are many-time repeat customers. These trips are completely without booking fees, something Captain Gene decided a couple of years ago not to pay and deems unnecessary based on his trip volume.
Retiring the Fatal Attraction
I remember the day it happened. Captain Gene had just painted the hull on the aging Fatal Attraction and it started peeling off. This was unacceptable to him, embarrassing too. Along with the hull melting, the mechanical portions of the old wooden vessel were begging for retirement. It was time to buy something newer. At 54’ the Fatal Attraction was the largest vessel on the dock and he didn’t want to change that status by purchasing a smaller replacement, 47’ would be the minimum length considered. The long search ended with the purchase of a pristine 47’ Buddy Davis. Leave it to Captain Gene to find the best priced boat available at the time AND one that was built by the iconic boat builder Buddy Davis.
Successful captains in the Florida Keys and Key West have to be good businessman too and he is. Boat broker Mike Lesko was astounded that he had even found the boat available. Captain Gene pondered new names for months knowing that retiring the Fatal Attraction meant putting an end to the many years of name recognition that the wooden vessel had created. Everybody seemed to remember the boat and where it was docked. After wrestling with ideas the decision was made to name the new vessel the High Class Hooker.
A Decade to Remember
The ten year mark is closing in and within those ten years Captain Gene Chrzanowski and the High Class Hooker have become a well known and respected fishing charter combination in Key West just as he had planned. I’ve photographed, interviewed, promoted and been with Captain Gene the entire time watching his progress which is also well documented in his articles every month within the pages of FishMonster Magazine. He’s been here since the beginning and is an important part of our operation. Each year he makes new strides, this year was his best yet. I spoke with A&B Marina Dock Master, Mark Miller recently. Mark touched on many of the important habits that Gene possesses that have been important to his success. Boat handling, marketing, social skills, discipline and just being the nice person that he is. That’s what makes it all happen for him according to Mark.
We also talked about his fishing skills that contributed to first place in the 2013 Dolphin Masters Tournament and a second place in this years Key West Marlin Tournament. The High Class Hooker was unable to fish the first day of the tournament due to a generator problem but still took second place with one marlin release. Captain Gene is at the top of his game right now.
More personalities to come,
They are different. They are YOUR adventure coordinators.They are the Florida Keys Cult of Personality.....
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