No matter how well he does all his chores of maintenance and nursemaiding, the captain ultimately makes—or loses—his reputation on two points: how often he finds fish and how skillfully he sees that they are caught.
"Any good yacht captain can run a sport-fishing boat," says Jack Lance, captain of Ross Siragusa's Suzi III. "After all, no one is going to trust a $100,000 yacht to a gas-station attendant. But to find a yacht captain who is also a first-class fish guide is another thing. A well-rounded fish guide can fish anywhere, and if there are fish around, he'll find them and figure a way to catch them."
This is why the top captains are on the top boats today. An owner who goes out only 10 days a year wants to catch fish every one of those days, and he will settle for nothing less. Considering that each day may cost him somewhere in the vicinity of $5,000, this is understandable. But from the captain's point of view, it can also be a nightmare.
"My boss called me from Detroit one day," C. C. Anderson recalls, "and he said that a very important business associate was going to be in Palm Beach for a couple of days with his two sons. None of them had ever fished before. My boss said, 'It is imperative, I repeat imperative, that you take them out and catch them a sailfish.' The weather was wild. Wind howling, seas rolling. But it was the only day the fellow could fish, so out we went. The two kids got sick in the first half hour. We turned around and took them home. I had to hand it to the fellow. He was a gray-green color, but out we went again—waves breaking into the cockpit and all. Believe it or not, he caught five sailfish. That was one happy man when we hung them at the dock."
Many owners, like George Bass, maintain their sport fishermen as much for the use of friends and business contacts as for themselves. They not only enjoy showing off the quality and seaworthiness of their boats, but they also take an almost fatherly pride in their captains. Most owners are remarkably open-handed about offering the services of both. And most legitimate fishing tournaments would have trouble ever getting away from the docks were it not for the generosity of these same owners, who contribute boats, captains, fuel and often the tackle.
With few exceptions, these captains are poised, gregarious, likable men who are easy to talk to and easy to be with. Most are in their middle 30s; some, like Bobby Haines's brother Dicky, captain of P. C. Barney's Wallaby, are as young as 24; and a few are in their 50s and 60s.
Only a handful of the older captains stayed in school past the primary grades but, among the younger ones, the majority are high school graduates. Several, like C. C. Anderson, Sonny Barr and Alfred Nathan, are college men. Regardless of formal education, the good sport-fishing captains, like good professional hunters, are well-read and articulate. They have to be, in order to converse easily with the varied personalities who come on board. Besides, when the boss doesn't want company, reading is a good way to pass the long, lone leisure hours aboard the boat when it is docked at a strange port.
These long hours are one of the two major complaints of the fishing-boat captain or, perhaps more accurately, of his wife. "There never was a wife who could put up with the hours a captain has to keep," says Bill Staros of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Staros' wife nevertheless does, in spite of the 14 hours a day her husband averages aboard the Wind-song, even when the boat is at home. Most other wives—the majority of captains, like Staros, are married and have children—put up with it, too, but the hours and the periods away from home do not necessarily promote marital bliss. "This kind of work is a real hardship on wives," says Jack Lance, who missed the birth of one of his three children when he was doing a 15-week stint in the Bahamas several years ago. In 1951 Lance spent five straight months in the Pacific on the George Vanderbilt Equatorial Expedition. These trips are not without danger. A few years ago, off the coast of Peru, Captain Clarence Fine and his son disappeared, along with the boat. Only a few scraps of wreckage were found. However, the vast majority of deepwater battles with thousand-pound gamefish are remarkably free of lethal accidents, and captains like Bobby Haines and C. C. Anderson have ranged without serious mishap from Florida to Panama, Venezuela, Colombia and Chile to Nova Scotia.
"That's the trouble with the privates," growls Frank Ardine, one of the few skilled captains who works for no one but himself. "The privates ain't never home. Me, I got a nice home. I like to live in it."
Ardine is a grizzled, wiry little man of 55 who speaks Brooklynese and brandishes a bosomy mermaid on his right biceps. He is one independent captain who still manages to make a good living. But when he started in the business 26 years ago, most of the best captains owned their own boats and were their own bosses. Today, it is the rare one who is successful on his own.