For most of my adult life, I’ve been a partner in some sort of boat. Typically, they were bowrider-style run-abouts in the twenty-foot-long range. These boats generally had a bimini top and slant cover which allowed us to spend the night on the fold-down seats. Though it was not especially comfortable, I enjoyed waking up out on the water on those occasions on which we spent the night anchored out at the barrier islands.
After we sold our company, Triton Systems, I was burned out from helping to grow our company from around twenty employees to four hundred in four short years. The idea of exploring the Caribbean and the Bahamas aboard my very own vessel held enormous appeal.
In an earlier post, I related the story of my first large boat, a forty-foot long Mainship sedan bridge. I loved this boat and enjoyed anchoring out in quiet harbors. But it was not a boat that I would want to take far offshore, nor one which was suited to live aboard for long periods of time. So DeeDee and I set out to look at new boats.
The enormous array of styles, manufacturers, and types of boats is overwhelming. At first, we concentrated on used motoryachts in the fifty-foot range. Must have looked at a million of them.
My buddy Randy is fond of reminding me of my vow not to consider a sportfish boat. So of course, at some point, we began looking at sportfish boats, which offered comfort plus the ability to safely go far offshore.
After spending days walking the docks at the Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Boat Shows, we finally boiled our choice down to Hatteras, Bertram, and Viking in the fifty- to fifty-five-foot range.
I was torn over which one to get and recall awaking one morning and telling DeeDee, “I’ve had clarity of vision. A fifty-foot boat is all we really need. It will handle everything we want to do.” That very afternoon, we signed an agreement to purchase a fifty-five-foot Hatteras and I have never heard the end of my “clarity of vision” comment.
The boat was a beautiful “battlewagon,” a term that the boat marketing people like to use. It could take us anywhere we wanted to go and handle most everything the seas could throw at us, at least a lot more than I wanted to experience. I recall the first time I stood on the bridge, feeling like I was really at the helm of an enormous battleship.
It was equipped with a water maker, a high-capacity ice maker for keeping our catch chilled, an extensive electronics suite including a single side-band radio which could transmit for hundreds of miles, satellite TV, and even a washer and dryer. In short, everything we needed to be self-contained for long periods of time. However, along with this new boat came a steep learning curve.
The boat broker hooked us up with a guy I’ll call Captain Bligh, a former charter boat captain, to help outfit the boat. For several days, we would meet up in the early morning after which he would drag me around south Florida buying mounds of supplies and equipment. This included spare parts, fenders, lines, handheld radios…and fishing gear.
I remember calling DeeDee one day in the midst of this to tell her that I did not know it was possible to spend so much money so quickly on boating and fishing gear. With my credit card threatening to melt down, he made DeeDee seem like a shopping piker.
It was a happy time in my life as I prepared our new vessel to fish bluewater. The furthest thing from my mind was the thought of someone committing suicide. Little did I know.
Our broker got us an invitation to fish the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout in the Abacos, so our schedule was being driven by this event.
He had lined up a seasoned captain, we’ll call him Bubba, to run the boat during the tournament. Though I had not yet met him, we had spoken by phone and planned to meet on my next trip to south Florida.
A couple of weeks later, my good friend Don and I arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale. I was surprised when my broker retracted his recommendation that I use Bubba. It seems that he had been trying to help out an old friend who was down on his luck.
But just before I arrived, they had found Bubba passed out on my boat beside an empty bottle of whiskey. As this was one of a series of similar mishaps, my broker felt he could no longer recommend him and had arranged for Captain Bligh to run the boat during the tournament, provided that I was agreeable.
My next conversation with Bubba was somewhat awkward as I tried to “un-hire” him while keeping what my broker had shared with me in confidence. Of course, Bubba figured it out and after we hung up, headed straight for the broker’s office, where an ugly scene ensued.
The next day, Don and I went down to the boatyard, where they were hauling the boat for our final inspection of the bottom and running gear. One of the broker’s salesmen met us there and as we were walking out to the boat he told me that Bubba had committed suicide.
At first I assumed he was screwing around with me after the episode the day before, but from his somber expression, it quickly became clear that he was not. It seems that the previous day’s incident was the last in a series of bad breaks for Bubba.
So as he headed home from the broker’s office on I-95, he clipped the fender of another vehicle with his van. He stepped out from the van, examined the damage, returned to the driver’s seat, took out a pistol, and shot himself.
Needless to say, I was horrified. My first thought was that I was, at least in part, responsible. But as we spoke, it became clear that he was already well along in his death spiral. My second thought was to consider what might have happened had we headed off to the Bahamas with my family aboard. Either way, I felt sick and so sorry for him and his family.
Suddenly, fishing didn’t seem nearly as important.
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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