The day was Saturday January 11, 1969, and the wind was blowing about 40 mph out of the northwest. A cold front had blown through south Florida on Wednesday, and the weather was snorting. Each day, later in the week, had gotten colder and the northwester had picked up steam. It was 28 degrees as we all stood huddle on the end of the Sail Fish Club main dock at 6:00 A.M., getting instructions and box lunches for the final day of the Master’s Sail Fish Tournament. The temperature was so cold that the Lake Worth Lagoon had steam rising from it and we could only see the tops of the candy cane striped Florida Power & Light plant’s, 250″ smoke stacks, 1/2 mile across the turning basin of the Palm Beach Inlet.
Unfortunately, the tournament committee had already called the tournament off for the one allowable weather day, of the six day tournament, on Tuesday (Jan. 7th), as weather was getting worse, while the cold front was approaching. the weather had continued to deteriorate each day thereafter. As crews and anglers we had been fishing in 10 to 12 foot seas and cold nasty weather since Wednesday. Fishing had been good, but conditions were not only miserable but had reached the dangerous stage.
One “old salt”, Captain Freddy Voss, was vocal about the committee not calling off the last day of the tournament. Of course he had been at the Inlet Bar most of the previous evening. He was standing on the dock barefoot, wearing cache shorts and a Rybovich & Son’s T shirt from the day before. Capt. Fred had little credibility with the committee, even though he was making his point known. As crew, we all pretty much agreed with him.
At 6:45 A.M. our feet of 30 boats were heading out Palm beach Inlet, into what we all knew would be a brutal day of huge seas, blustering cold winds, salt spray everywhere, and even dangerous conditions. But it was the last day of the Master’s Sail Fish Tournament.
If there was a bright spot in the circumstances, it was that the Sand Kat, a 40 foot sport fisherman, that my older brother, Capt. Doug Oliphant, and I were running, were starting the day in second place, only 2 fish out of first. As the luck of the draw our two anglers were Dave Carpenter, the previous years Masters’ Sailfish Tournament winner, and JoJo De Guercio, probably the best angler alive at the time. It just so happened, that JoJo was already in the lead going into the last day by 1 fish, and Dave was in the hunt only 2 fish back.
The Sand Kat had been raising our share of fish all week, and Doug & I were stoked concerning the quality of our anglers. We truly knew we had a good shot at winning, if we raised the fish.
As expected, the seas were monsterous, the wind was freezing, cold salt spray was everywhere. There was so much steam coming off the water you could not see the baits, and in those conditions, on a day boat, there is no place to hide.
In spite of the conditions however, sail fish were tailing down sea, and we were in fish all day long. Dave and Jojo were on the rods constantly, and we often had pods of fish up. They were eating everything. When the action started, we knew we were going to be tough to beat. The competition was on between Dave and Jojo, standing shoulder to shoulder baiting and fighting sail fish. As a young mate, I was watching the best in their sport, doing their “thing”. These guys both were great anglers.
By 2:00 P.M., we had 11 hookups, but Dave had released 1 sail, and Jojo had released none. Both were sliding down the leader board and out of contention.
At that point Jojo personally had jumped off or lost nine fish, that were hooked, taking drag, and jumping. He turned to me and asked, “Mickey, do you see anything I’m doing wrong?” I was speechless. The best in the world is watching a Master’s win slipping away, and he’s asking a 20 year old mate what’s wrong?
By the end of the day, the Sand Kat was 1 for 18, and Jojo was zero for 12. As we strolled in Palm Beach inlet after a brutal day on the ocean for all of us, Jojo, standing on the bridge with Doug and me, apologized and said, “I’m sorry guys, you and I all should be standing on the podium tonight as winners and I let you down. I don’t what I was doing wrong.”
I turned to him and said, “Jojo, I watched the two best anglers in the business today have a bad day, and you guys did nothing wrong, That’s just Fishing”.
Read more about JoJo Delguercio – http://fishingtackledepot.net/sportfishings-pioneers.html