I was the charter master on the recent Qualifier 105 trip and want to share our story. Our scheduled departure was on September 2, and all thought and discussion was about was Hurricane John raging up the
. I fielded a dozen calls and emails before the trip and I know the Q-Girls at the Qualifier office, Vicki and Erica, did the same. We tired to assure our anglers that the storm would most likely dissipate when it hit cooler water, that Captain John Klein had the latest state of the art weather and communications technology and would never put his passengers, crew or his large investment, (aka, boat), or his children’s father in harm’s way.
Most of the anglers aboard the long, beautiful sport fisher had been planning and anticipating their annual trip for months. Jamal Nehme couldn’t sleep or work for the past 60 days suffering from excited anticipation for his first long range trip. All of us were hoping the big yellowtail off of Benitos and Cedros would continue their rampaging and the big yellowfin tuna at Guadalupe would continue to perform at epic proportions, but the nagging concern about the hurricane was causing a nervous tension throughout the boat.
We left the point enjoying perfect weather, assembled all of our gear, exchanged fish and weather stories from past trips, enjoyed a spectacular sunset and a gourmet dinner served by Chef Mark. That night we all finally went to bed while the boat was making a course to
and the gathering Hurricane. The gentle roll of the sea always puts me into a deep sleep, which was abruptly interrupted at 4AM by a giant jolt against the sturdy steel hull of the Qualifier 105, immediately followed by a shuddering sensation and what appeared to be explosions. I heard the instant pounding of foot steps by the crew and a few stateroom doors open by curious passengers. I knew I could be on deck in less than 5 seconds and knew if water was gushing in we would have heard the shouts of crew and passengers, so I stayed in bed. After 5 and then 10 minutes of hearing no engines restart I thought there must be something wrapped in the props or a problem requiring a little more effort to remedy.
My buddy, Norin Grancell, knocked on the door after another few minutes to inform me that we had hit something BIG and had sustained major damage to 2 of the Qualifier’s three gear boxes. I decided the charter master probably should take a look and was amazed at the extent of the damage. The ¾ inch metal casings were blown apart, shrapnel had flown through the engine room, the props were insecure and had been shoved 1 foot astern and a small 1 inch slit that had been taking in water was already patched. By the time I had gotten up the crew had done a complete hull integrity check, assured there were no other leaks, and removed a majority of the shafting to check for other damage. Captain/owner John Klein wanted to wait another hour or so until there was sufficient daylight to do an outside, underwater inspection of damage. At daylight second Captain Eric, secured with a line jumped overboard with a mask and reported the damage to the middle and starboard props and the starboard rudder. Fortunately, the port prop and rudder seemed OK and the rudder moved when the wheel in the house was turned.
We don’t know what we hit and it doesn’t really matter. The fishing part of the trip was over. Our only concern was getting back home safely. John gathered us in the galley and provided a complete update of what he knew and our new game plan. We would limp back to
at about 5 knots and be home by approximately 7PM the following day. He told us the coast guard had been alerted within seconds of impact and other boats in the area were steaming towards us just in case we needed them. He expressed surprise and satisfaction that there was not more damage to the boat given the magnitude of the impact and the damage to the props, rudder and engines. He restated the first priority and immediate concern had been for the safety of the passengers and crew, and once this had been assured the crew had been put to work assessing, securing, rechecking, cleaning and fixing.
All of us were very impressed with the competence and speed to which the crew went into action. The intense coast guard training, retraining and recurring safety drills really paid off. The Qualify 105 crew was like a finely tuned machine working on auto pilot. It also reminded me of the importance of listening to the safety seminar at the beginning of each trip. I felt good knowing where the fire extinguishers were and how to use them; where the life jackets were and how to don them; and where the life boat and EPIRB were and how they were deployed. I felt good the crew knew every inch of the boat’s mechanical and safety features. And I felt good the Qualifier 105 was sufficiently sturdy and beefy to sustain a major hit and not sustain major hull damage.
Yes, the crew did perform at an exceptional level of competence. They were not able to perform in their normal capacity helping us with fighting fish, tangles, getting bit, getting over the bow or under the anchor line, but they gave us the confidence they could save our lives if the conditions had been worse or if they had deteriorated. That is more important than a load of fish.
This brings me to the next and equally important note. Nearly all of my fellow passengers must have felt the same as I did. At least a dozen passengers took me aside and asked me the question that I had been mulling since we started limping back to
. How do you tip in such a peculiar circumstance? We didn’t even wet a line. We never caught a fish. We sustained the damage in the first 20 hours of the trip and we would have to incur 2 boring days slowly motoring back to port.
But the crew performed flawlessly in the job that was relevant in the given circumstance, we had 3 great meals and 2 great snacks every day and enjoyed a relaxing 3 day sail along the Mexican Riviera on a beautiful boat with great companions. A normal tip on a long range fishing trip is 15%. Some guys thought a half tip may be appropriate; others thought a full tip and then some was in order and a few thought why tip at all. But we all were wondering what an “appropriate” tip was? A few folks suggested a meeting to discuss the issue so I arranged a meeting in the galley without any crew members present. We thoroughly discussed it and I shared my views about how expertly the crew performed in a potentially critical situation. I also shared my “wisdom” learned after 100’s of fishing trips – the volume of fish caught may affect your enjoyment of any particular trip but probably does not reflect how hard the crew worked. I shared my observation and experience that a really sharp, professional crew often shows their caliber when the fishing is scratchy.
We ended the meeting concluding any decision about a personal tip was OK and that, as charter master, I should be the one to collect the tip. I can’t describe the feeling of respect and honor I felt for my fellow passengers as I sat down and started receiving the money for the tip fund. People really wanted to show their appreciation for the great performance by the crew under incredibly challenging circumstances. I also want to thank and honor my fellow passengers for the incredibly high spirits, upbeat attitude and acceptance for the rotten hand we had been dealt. We all know shit happens and it was our turn. No blame, no shame, no bad attitudes. It will be my honor, pleasure and hope to fish with every angler and crew member in the future. Congratulations for all of the passengers and crew for a sobering and great experience.
By Larry Brown