A Month To Celebrate
July always starts off with a bang - literally - the July 4th Independence Day celebration and the traditional accompanying fireworks (legal and otherwise!)
Celebrations are a great to enjoy such special occasions and one of the nice things about having an “up-scale” charter fishing boat like the “Hooker” - a sleek 47’ Buddy Davis with lots of custom features - is that people seem to think it’s a great environment in which to enjoy some of those “special” days of their lives. In the past, we’ve celebrated the happy start of a new life for a young couple as wedding vows were exchanged and have also celebrated the end of a life as a husband’s ashes were spread by his wife on the sea. We’ve had multiple birthdays, anniversaries, and bachelor party groups as well. The nicest part is that, because of the personal nature of those occasions, you almost automatically become “part of the family” as you help them celebrate. It’s a pretty neat thing! I’ve created some wonderful friendships and memories with some great customers just because of that special connection and May 2013 was a great month on our boat for just such occasions.
It kicked off on May 5th, when Coast Guard Legal Officer Casey Chmielewski brought his young “birthday boy” son, Nate, on board. The trip was one of Nate’s birthday presents, Casey having told me beforehand that Nate “loves to fish.” My mate and I were excited by that, because having a young kid on board, especially one who loves to fish, is always a blast - it just revs up our enthusiasm seeing how much fun they have - and having it be part of a birthday celebration just amped us up even more. Better still, Nate was a joy to have on board the entire day - just a really neat, well-behaved kid. He also did a great job with the rod when we hooked up a fish (as did his dad and his dad’s buddies) and the smile on his face as we pulled in a nice bunch of medium to larger mahis just brightened the whole boat. Most importantly, at least from from what I observed, Nate had a birthday he’ll remember for a long while. His mom even came by later and told me that Nate now thinks I’m a pretty cool guy. That’s about as good as it gets in my book!
Just four days later - on May 9th - we had the chance to celebrate another birthday. This guy was a little older than Nate - try the “BIG FOUR-O” - but they had a couple things in common. They both love to fish and someone else was paying for the trip. You can’t beat that combo! In Nate’s case, it was his dad, Casey. In Eric Wachsning’s case it was his wife Dawn. The Wachsnings are repeat customers, and Dawn had contacted us several weeks before to tell me that she wanted to treat Eric to a trip on the “Hooker” as a surprise for him on his big day. Dawn wasn’t even going to tell him about it until they were at the airport on the way down. I wish I could say that I remember my 40th, but it was so long ago that it’s just a vague, indistinct impression. (As usual, I’m sure the alcohol I had that day has nothing to do with it!) But I do remember that it’s a big deal, so we felt pressure to make it a great one for Eric, especially because he is a hell of nice guy.
Fortunately, that was no problem, as the fish gods cooperated and we managed to catch Eric and Dawn two big dolphin in that 15+ pound range. Happy 40th again, Eric!
Then, just two days later on May 11, we had a “first” on the “Hooker.” Jason Vickery had made the reservation several weeks before and advised us that he wanted to use the trip as the time and place to “pop the question” to his longtime girlfriend Juliann McQueen. As I said earlier, we previously had wedding vows exchanged on the boat, but never before had anyone proposed marriage on the “Hooker”. What really intrigued me about the idea was that Jason had a great scheme for how he wanted to do it. He asked if our mate could somehow slip a fake ring on one of our lines, run it out and then have his girlfriend reel it in without knowing what was there. When she would finally see the ring, Herb would propose and give her the real one. I’m just dumb enough to think that it was a pretty cool and classy idea, and my mate Cullen was more than willing to make it happen.
Jason had booked a six hour trip. About fours in, when Julianne was distracted, Cullen tied the fake ring to one of our port outrigger lines just above the plastic-squid-skirted ballyhoo and began running it out. Suddenly, he acted as if the line had been hit by a fish and handed it to Julianne, who was positioned in the fighting chair. Although it was obvious that no fish was there after the initial bogus bite, he told her that the fish had gotten off but to reel it in anyway while he tended to getting out another line so that he could check the condition of the bait. The ruse worked perfectly. When the hook was brought into the boat, she was made aware that something had become attached to the line. When she finally noticed that it was a ring, Jason was kneeling next to her on the port side of the chair, real ring in hand, ready to pop the question. It was really cool to see and even cooler to have been an integral part of such a big moment in Jason’s and Juliann’s lives. Hopefully, many, many years from now, they’ll be on a fishing charter somewhere and remember that “it all began” on a charter in Key West with that old captain and nice young mate on the “Hooker.” Who knows, maybe we’ll even get to celebrate an anniversary or two with them or the birthday of one of their kids.
Reunions are also a great cause for celebration, and we had a very personal one the weekend of May 18th-19th. My two best buds from my old law school days at Georgetown- Jack Billick and Tom Briggs- came to town and we fished both of those days. A lot of laughs, fish and beers (mine only after the trips of course) later, we had another great memory to share.
The final celebrations of the month were more mundane, strictly fishing events - the Florida Keys Dolphin Championship and the Yamaha Dolphin Masters tournaments. The former was a brand new event this year, while the latter is a long-time favorite local event. The latter also just barely qualifies as a May event, as the pre-tournament Captain’s Meeting - which involves cocktails and appetizers was May 31st, even though actual fishing didn’t occur until June 1st. But, hey, to me any party is still a celebration, so that part of it definitely fits the theme of this story. We had a group of servers from the Conch Republic Seafood Company lined up as our clients for the event, so you can easily imagine how the prevailing atmosphere was a party one.
The Florida Keys Dolphin Championship, on the other hand, needs no asterisk to qualify for this theme. It took place the weekend of May 24th-26th and was a Keys-wide event, not just a local Key West thing. Our customers included part-time local and long-time customer/friend Paul Brown, who recently opened the Adam Scott Rote Gallery on Duval St.; his brother Steve; Dean Slone, who manages the gallery for Paul; and two of Paul’s friends from back up north, Dave Cieslak and Will Phillips. Unfortunately, the fishing wasn’t that great for us. Although we did have a 19 pounder on Saturday - fifth place in our Key West Region that day - someone else caught a 44 pounder. So, on Sunday, we knew that it was “go big or go home” to try to find a fish 45 pounds or better. We tried like heck and went out a long way in rough seas but couldn’t pull off the miracle. Still we had a few beers together all three nights and celebrated our friendship and the opportunity to compete with friends on the water. Not a bad way way to spend a weekend!
So, while you’re planning your July 4th holiday, or some other upcoming big event, why not think about spending it on the beautiful waters we have around us with one of our great local professionals to do all the work for you while you just relax with family or fiends. It doesn’t have to be on our boat or even a fishing charter - you can have great times snorkeling, diving, dolphin watching or just plain cruising. Try it once and I’m pretty sure that you’ll do it again. In the meantime, Happy Independence Day to all of you and Happy Birthday to this great country that affords us the opportunity to live the unbelievable lifestyle we do!
** The celebrating continued into June as Capt. Gene, Cullen and the Conch Republic crew defied the odds and won the 2013 Dolphin Masters Invitational.
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