The exorbitant initial cost of buying and equipping a sport fisherman is only part of the problem. Just keeping it at a dock is expensive. Each of the boats moored at the Rybovich docks in West Palm Beach pays $1,200 a year for the privilege of being part of the "Rybovich navy." To dock a boat at Hillsboro Inlet, farther south along the Florida coast, costs only $385 a year. But on top of this is an additional annual charge of $50 by the Hillsboro AIA Charter Fleet Association (which pays for local dock advertising, billboards, the dock phone and electricity); other similar charges bring the annual total to about $500.
These are all minor expenses when compared with heavy annual insurance and boat liability premiums, fuel bills (the engines on a sport-fishing boat run all the time when out), the cost of a mate (average $16 a day) and the miscellaneous but staggering—up to 10% of the boat's value per year—costs of normal maintenance and repair. The $85 to $100 that the average boat earns on a day's paid charter might cover these expenses if the boat went out 365 days a year. It does not. The result is a pyramiding debt structure, which sooner or later may bankrupt anyone dependent solely upon his boat for a living.
"It's a losing battle," says Captain Stone. "Years ago all the wealthy sportsmen chartered to go fishing. Now they own their own boats, and when they are not fishing themselves they often charter them out. The independent captain doesn't have a chance against this kind of competition."
Many of the private boat owners charter not for the cash, but because they need to show tax-deductible reasons for owning their boats. They have no trouble finding customers, who are dazzled not only by the sheer luxury of the super-sport fishermen and the skill of the private captains, but also by the thrill of fishing—if only vicariously—with a famous boat owner. What auto dealer, for example, could resist the chance to tell the folks back home in Prairie City, Iowa about the day he spent on Benson Ford's Onika?.
The increasing popularity of private-boat charters has set up a current of resentment among the captains who are going it on their own. "The privates never live up to the charter boats," claims Frank Ardine, "because they don't do enough fishing. Me, I got to make a living, so I go out every day. And I catch fish." There are, in fact, few captains who catch so many fish, but Ardine's success financially is less certain. More than one dockside wag has suggested that he would be on somebody's payroll, too, if his wife were not a prosperous hairdresser.
Almost as good as having a money-making wife is having an angel. Angels are wingless, wealthy people who for one reason or another do not want it known that they own or have an interest in a sport-fishing boat. Publicly, the boat is owned by the captain, who operates it as a regular charter craft. Privately, it is subsidized by the angel who may fish from it regularly, several weeks a year or, sometimes, not at all.
"Each deal is different," says Bill Staros, "but the trouble is that they are not always good deals. The best deal of all is to work on a boat that is owned by a corporation. Then you have real security. You get a good salary and all the benefits like Blue Cross and insurance. Even a pension plan. But these jobs are getting scarce now because the government is after corporations to get rid of their boats.
"The strictly private deals are a lot harder," Staros adds. "Sooner or later the boss starts wondering what you are doing on the days when he's not fishing. The next thing you know he has you mowing the lawn and painting the screens. Before long you are a combination chauffeur-captain taking the dog to the vet and the kids to dancing school."
"After all," says Mrs. Alfred Nathan, whose husband owns and runs the Wendy II out of Singer Island, Fla., "there really isn't any difference, you know, between driving somebody else's Rolls-Royce and driving his Rybovich." Mrs. Nathan can afford to wrinkle her nose at such a distasteful idea because she is not dependent upon charter fees. Her husband, a graduate of Lawrenceville and the University of Virginia, turned to charter fishing to relieve the boredom of coupon clipping.
For the average captain, however, the best and most logical means of catching his fish and eating, too, is to work for somebody else,. "Sure, I drive the car up to Detroit for the boss each season," says C. C. Anderson, "and I pick up the dog sometimes, too. But the boss also invites the wife and me to dinner and a show every now and then, and they treat us like members of the family. It's like a father-and-son relationship. If we didn't have respect for each other, it would never work out. Certainly there are some fringe disadvantages, but there are plenty of fringe benefits, too."