You could get envious: big-game captains usually live in heavenly climates and are always nicely tanned. They stand at the helm of blindingly white yachts game boats, and during a drill the process of catching a fish, they steer their powerful boats with the throttle alone as if there were nothing to it. Their lives seem to be happy go lucky, and what's more, they are paid well. Skipper Les Gallagher You could get envious: big-game captains usually live in heavenly climates and are always nicely tanned. They stand at the helm of blindingly white yachts game boats, and during a drill the process of catching a fish, they steer their powerful boats with the throttle alone as if there were nothing to it. Their lives seem to be happy go lucky, and what's more, they are paid well. Is being a charter-boat¬ skipper a dream come true? “Naw, only sometimes,” Les Gallagher says with a wave of his hand.
Les, who lives on the Azores, know what he's talking about ― there have been blissful moments when an angler catches appreciates the fish of a lifetime. But there are have also been plenty of broken-down motors, marlins that won't bite, and even the experience feeling of being ruined. For example, there was the time he was in charge of a million-dollar yacht that sank, and the only thing he had left to his name was the clothes on his back.
“It all started with the catching of flatfish with lugworms in my hometown of Hoylake, not far from Liverpool on the Irish Sea,” said Les. He became the owner captain of his first boat there at the age of 15. He christened it 'SERPAE' after a species of tetra in his aquarium. “It used to be an ex-ships lifeboat rescue boat, much, much older than I was and built with , made of larch planks on and oak frames. It was powered by an absolutely ancient and self-installed 22-horsepower diesel truck engine and a propeller that was much too large. I was constantly repairing the hull — always going at it with dull carpentry tools, always on the lookout for a good plank,” Les reminisces. He and his friends took the old boat out for adventures on the West Hoyle Bank, where they fished for mackerels, rays and dogfish shark.
His was a happy childhood, although everything changed on one fateful dark winter morning. On his way to school, Les passed a newsstand and saw a fishing magazine featuring a huge leaping marlin on the cover. “It was as if I'd been struck by lightning. That was the end of spending my allowance on snacks, and the beginning of an endless nightmare for my parents,”, Les grins.
In the summer of 1987, after completing school, he told his incredulous father that rather than go to college, he wanted to be a charter-¬boat captain on the Azores. He then backpacked through Europe for four weeks, ending his tour in the port of Lisbon. From there, a merchant ship took him to Madeira, and eleven days later he caught another shipa ride on sailing vessel to the Island of Santa Maria in the Azores. The last leg of his trip was a dangerous stormy crossing on board a sailboat to neighboring San Miguel.
Two weeks later, the first work began on the deck of the big-game boat RAOBÃAO. Les remembers his first season: “We landed a 912 lb. blue marlin on the very first day. The gaff was an iron hook attached to a wooden rod with hose clamps and waxed thread. We had ageing elderly rods with wooden butts, loud squeaky Senator reels and used lengths segments of copper fuel line tubing as for sleeves.
Yellow-fin tuna, and albacore, crazy captains, and gloriously sunny days. In the winter we overhauled the boat amidst saw dust, paint and motor oil. IWe put in 80-hour weeks and dreamt of a career as a captain. There were fishing magazines aton the breakfast table, during the lunch break and in the bathtub.”
To improve his meager salary, Les found got a small old boat that needed re-building with an outboard motor and fished for squid in the winter using a 200-meter handline made of wire. After countless failed attempts, he mastered the technique and was soon catching then caught one 20-pounder after the other. The fishing soon became highly lucrative and eventually y earned him enough escudos to buy a new, larger and more stable aluminum boat for the winter ahead.
After another summer during in which he learned countless lessons, Les became the captain of the CECILIA on the island of Faial in the Azores. His ugly duckling, once a Swedish patrol customs boat, was by far the slowest of the big-game boats in the areayachts, and his crew had hardly any experience, but nevertheless the boat still caught more fish than any other. Les, now 22 years old, was offered a dream job a year later: becoming captain of the 46-foot SING THE BLUES. On this comparativelye luxurious boat, he first fished in Florida and the Baha¬mas, then off Faial and the nearby island Pico. “Life was great,” Les said.
But something terrible happened during a regatta where he was on the water as a referee. During very questionable weather, Les miscalculated a wave that came up from behind, and managed to get surfed he rammed into the back of a sailboat. Eleven people had to abandon the SING THE BLUES and make their way to the life raft; after a mere ten minutes, the boat yacht sank in the ocean three miles off Pico.
The other captains never passed up a chance to pun on singing and sinking the “BLUES.” Les struggled not only with this humiliation and mockery but with massive feelings of guilt and shame as well. “I was at the end of my ropetether. Four years of hard work, and then everything was gone after a split-second miscalculation,” Les sighed. The only thing he had left was the shirt on his back ― no money, no passport. His father replaced the latter two and sent him a plane ticket.
In an effort to gain some distance from his moment of defeat, Les travelled the globe, and eventually he found himself in Watamu, Kenya, where he looked at working worked as a skipper.
for big game's It was here that he met “grande dame,” Jenny Slater. The clever woman saw how Les was suffering, and after a few weeks she took him to one side and advised that he return to his beloved island and start again, “you should do what you know”, she said, no matter what people might say.
Les took followed her advice: “It was the hardest thing I ever did,” as he recalls. When he arrived, it was winter in Faial. He slept on the CECILIA, which stood half-wrecked in dry dock. The nights were cold and damp. He borrowed a little boat to fish for squid, and then he spent weeks and weeks working in damp, often drenched wet slimy clothes that smelled of squid until he had saved enough money to buy weather gearwaders.
His diet was similarly spartan: nothing but squid and cabbage, morning, noon and night for weeks. It took time until Les found the really good hot spots. It was thenThen, however, that things started falling into place. Catching 7550 to 10060 kg squid a day becamewas a regular occurrence, and on good days he brought up as much as 270 kg. That gave him muscles, earned him money, and brought him new self-confidence.
After that, in the spring of 1992, Les revived got the wheezing 23-year-old engines of the CECILIA back in such good shape that not one of the subsequent charter days had to be canceled. DuringIn the following winter, Les began also workinged as a scientifictechnical illustrator -― his original career plan -– at the island's oceanographic and fisheriesmarine ¬biological institute. Over time he was gradually re-acceptedestablished by the localsmall community.
The boat's owner, Jörg-Dieter Haselhorst from Germany, made him the captain of the XACARA in 1994. Three years later, Les and his mate Zak Conde experienced the best fishing season on that boat that there had ever been on the Azores. Within 79 days of fishing, the XACARA caught 112 blue marlins. “Not to mention the numerous gigantic blue-fin tuna, which consistentlytotally wrecked our 80-pound tackle. The fishing was so fantastic that I worked for 61 days nonstop,” Les says.
Nowadays, a regular workday during a fishing season starts when his alarm clock goes off at 6:15 and usually finishes (pending on coorrespondence) by 9.00PM and often as late as 01.00AM. 6 hours is a good sleep during a fishing season which is usually 7 day routine for the best part of 3 months.
The nearly half-hour commute to Horta and the cold air through the open window of his old pick-up truck really wakes Les up. The breakfast he has in an island café is priceless: “20 minutes without the family — solitude so I can of precious reading time read something at leisure or think about the battle plan for theand moments for reflect on the plan of attack for the day work ahead,” Les says.
By 7:15 he's on board and of the BRASILIA and already at work in the engine room that, which is still warm from the previous day before. He checks the oil, cooling water, filters, pumps, fan belts, shaft seals and much more. By the time the charter guests make their way on board around 0910:00 am, the boat has long since been fuelled, the hooks are sharpened, drags have beenbait set out, and the lines checked and the boat is thoroughly cleaned.. “When everything works ―- when the fish are biting and, our angler'sthe customers are happy, then yes, and the sky and water are blue ― being a being a charter-boat captain is really is the best job in the whole world.”.
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