Not too long ago a popular indoor sport from Park to Worth Avenue and from Nob Hill to Bryn Mawr was a game called Cook-Stealing. It was played in deadly earnest. No subterfuge was too outrageous; no trick was out of bounds. The game is still being played today but in another form. In 1963 the big status symbol is not one's cook but one's sport-fishing captain. Never, in its brightest moments, did Cook-Stealing reach the heights, or depths, of skulduggery that Captain-Stealing has now attained.
In the small and select world of the deepwater sport fisherman, boat captains are being bribed to abandon ship (for another, of course) by promises of new sports cars, split-level homes, radar de-
vices worthy of the U.S. Navy and other inducements ranging from private Medicare to public matrimony. One captain in West Palm Beach drives to work in a Cadillac Eldorado (his own); another is driven around by a liveried chauffeur (his boss's). In Brielle, N.J. there is a captain who boasts that seven different hand-tailored dinner jackets hang in his closet; another claims twice that many closets in his newly built Bahamian hideaway. One fisherwoman went so far as to offer herself in marriage in order to snag a captain. The only difficulty was that the captain-turned-husband then lost interest in running the boat.
This sudden lionizing of fishing captains is a direct consequence of the rapidly growing feminine interest in angling. As more and more women take to blue water, more and more captains become involved in the game of musical fighting chairs.
Around the smart clubs at Cat Cay and Bimini, Marathon and Nassau these days there is a drumfire of gossipy speculation on who is trolling for whose captain—and what extra-sporting methods are being used this time. The accents may be Shipley or Miss Hewitt's, but the descriptions are often deckhand-graphic.
Some of the gossip is true, as one jet-setter proved to the satisfaction of the courts this winter. His wife wound up with the captain, but the husband walked off with the boat as well as the cook, the cars and the kids. The majority of tales that circulate, however, are simply fish stories, based to a large extent on the unique relationship a boat captain has with his employer.
The men piloting the multimillion-dollar sport-fishing fleet that patrols the big-game waters from New Zealand to Nova Scotia are the heart of one of the most demanding—and expensive—of all sports. In most cases, these captains were born to the sea; in all cases they have married it. They are a 20th century version of the men of Hatteras and New Bedford. But instead of whales, they pursue sailfish and marlin, broadbill and bluefin. To land these trophies, no effort is too great: the sleekest and speediest boats with the newest and best equipment are used, and the fish are hunted with an educated, precise knowledge of their habits and habitats.
But the captain does not pursue these fish for himself. He fishes for an employer. At the end of the week or month, he is paid a salary. More often than not, part of it goes toward the mortgage on a neat little ranch house in a neat little community not far from the sea.
Despite his wage-for-personal-service situation, the sport-fishing captain is not a servant. Neither is he socially on a level with his boss. Yet, depending upon the time and the situation, he may be expected to be both, sometimes simultaneously. One day he may be asked to mix the Martinis, the next day to help drink them.
"Some sportsmen are looking as much for companionship in a captain as they are for a fish guide," says Sonny Barr, captain of F. W. Roebling's 42-foot Blue Fin IV. "They want someone they can take out to dinner who won't embarrass them in a good restaurant. And they want somebody they can trust. Take Jackie Harmes, who used to work for Bob Maytag. Jackie spent more time on land than at sea. Maytag never went anywhere in the islands without taking Jackie along. He liked yakking and drinking with him. That was part of it. But he also knew he'd get back to the boat eventually with his wallet still in his pocket."
The strong, protective arm of a responsible boat captain is valued even more by women anglers who frequently travel the tournament circuit alone. "When I'm staying in one of those island marinas," says platinum-haired Mrs. James (Billie) Lynch, owner of the Toss Up out of Hillsboro, Fla., "I want my captain in the room next door. I don't care who talks about it. There are enough problems at a fishing tournament without my having to fend off drunks hammering on my door all night." Besides relying on his strong right arm after hours, Billie Lynch is quick to credit Captain Frederick E. Stone, better known as Punch, for a big part of her success in the major tournaments, where she has collected a shelf full of silverware.