Those of us that work at Angling Destinations see all sorts of new opportunities each year including lodges, tent camps and motherships. While we are often excited about the potential these new operations may hold, we are particularly wary when evaluating mothership operations. This is because the recipe for success with motherships is daunting. As a result of this, we have given our stamp of approval to only a very few. These successful liveaboards include Martin McCord's Meca in Belize, the Outpost in the Bahamas and the now famous Indian Ocean Explorer in the magic atolls of the Seychelles. These ships made the grade because they balanced superb access to great fisheries with careful attention to the needs of weary anglers including good food and a comfortable, private environment in which they can rest, sleep and get ready for the next day's adventure. Done right, mothership fishing is the best way to explore any fishing destination. On a mothership, you live in the fishery and again, this optimizes your time on the water doing what you love to do... fish, fish, fish!
And so when I got the phone call from Carter Andrews, of Crooked Island fame, telling me about a great liveaboard ship that was hoping to operate seasonally in the Bahamas, I snapped to attention. I was excited because I knew that with his experience, he would only recommend the real thing! Enter the Sea Hunter. Based out of West Palm Beach, the ship has been prowling the waters of the Bahamas for many, many years. Owned and operated by a local Floridian family, her purpose has been to play in the sun during the summer months ranging from its Florida base to Andros and beyond. Over the years, the family has explored most of the Bahamian archipelago. They have made it their family's mission to gather up some 20 or so members of their clan and visit almost all the islands at one point or another each summer. Sounds like nirvana to me! The conversation with Carter got me so fired up that I decided to book a flight in January and go have a look at the ship. It was a gamble that I suspected would work out well.
The professed mission for the Sea Hunter has been to have family fun, entertain guests, and do some diving and fishing. But the ship's real mission can be deduced by noticing the 36-foot perfectly built and maintained sportfisher she drags invitingly at her stern. The Sweet Jessie is a purpose-built vessel with one goal in mind, chasing, hooking and landing the ocean's alpha predator, Makaira nigricans, a.k.a.: the blue marlin. With a Bahamian crew and the family's patriarch, Peter, at the helm, they tally some amazing numbers of marlin hookups. With their mobility and self-sufficiency, Peter can analyze water temps and currents with his onboard computers systems and make the next day's fishing more targeted. This high tech approach greatly increases their chances for success. Having spent 50+ years plying these waters, Peter knows where to look. He knows every sea mount, shallow bank and shear edge over the breadth of the Bahamas. Peter's wealth of knowledge on marlin is truly remarkable and although too modest to admit it, I suspect he is one of the world's leading authorities on the subject. Although I do love marlin, my fishing career and affections have steered me towards the coastline where my beloved bonefish, permit and tarpon hunt and I, in turn, hunt them. And although Peter and his crew have overlooked some of the inshore habitat as they focused on big game fishing, the inshore habitat of the areas they fish are world class and hold some of the finest bonefishing available anywhere on earth.
So a few days after the call from Carter, I found myself in West Palm Beach asking the Sea Hunter's captain, Zyndall McKinney, for permission to board. With permission granted and after being graciously welcomed aboard, I took a tour of the 84-foot, steel-hulled ship and spent the night onboard. Built of 5/8th inch hardened steel, the ship feels as if it was built in one piece. The Sea Hunter has two complete reverse osmosis water making systems that can create 80 gallons of perfect "bottled water quality" drinking water every hour. Hence, a long hot shower at the end the day is no problem whatsoever. She is cooled by dual air conditioning units and propelled by two 450 horsepower diesel CAT engines. Amazingly, she carries an average load of 16,000 gallons of diesel allowing her to sit steady in the water. This massive load combined with her considerable displacement buffers almost any sea motion while the Sea Hunter is at anchor. You name it, the Sea Hunter has it and most likely a spare to boot. Captain Zyndall McKinney is completely certified to maintain all of the ship's systems having cut his nautical teeth piloting oil tankers in and out of Freeport and Nassau harbors. In addition, Zyndall was the captain of the national Bahamian mail boat for many years and as a result, he knows the nuances of every nook and cranny in the Bahamas. There is no better-qualified captain running a ship in the Bahamas today.
Spacious and fully air-conditioned, the Sea Hunter can comfortably sleep 12 to 16 guests. The stern's four cabins have two complete bathrooms outfitted with sinks, full shower facilities and regular flush toilets... a very nice touch aboard a mothership. The master suite is quite large with a queen sized bed and it also has it's own well-appointed bathroom, again complete with shower, sink and full flush toilet. The main salon is huge and has a brand new 52-inch flat screen TV complete with a DVD player, VCR and stereo system. One side of the main salon is devoted to a commercial kitchen where the ship's chef prepares all of the meals while chatting and taking custom orders. Meals are generally eaten under a canopy on Sea Hunter's massive aft deck. Sporting a 30-foot beam (width for those of you who are not familiar with nautical jargon) she is wonderfully spacious and stable. In fact, the stern area is so inviting that it looks like it was built specifically for the "post-fishing, golden-hour, Kalik-sipping', lie-swapping'" sessions that have become a fishing tradition here at Angling Destinations. While her exterior lines are that of a "working vessel" and not the sleek, svelte lines of a boat built for aesthetic beauty, the Sea Hunter's interior is impressive and richly appointed for the comfort of real world living. I can't imagine a better vessel from which to base a fishing adventure.
That being said, we are very excited that the owner has asked our agency to develop an inshore fishing program that will base small groups of anglers from the Sea Hunter with the goal of optimizing their bonefishing experience. He has offered to position the boat at many destinations we know and love and the first one on our list is at the southern terminus of South Andros Island at famed Jackfish Channel. Far enough away from land-based lodges (we do not want to ruffle our lodge friend's feathers), our efforts will focus on the creeks to the north and west, as well as the outside flats that surround Jackfish Channel that at times hold ridiculous numbers of bonefish. We will be offering selected weeks aboard the Sea Hunter beginning this fall. The exact details are still being formed, but I can tell you that the ship will tow two shallow draft skiffs, as well as the 34-foot Sweet Jessie. Our intention is to offer up an eclectic stew of angling options. From where we will be anchored, we will have easy access to some of the best wade fishing in all the Bahamas, as well as the pristine reef edges that run for miles just south and east of our mooring. And of course, it's an easy shot to the vast big blue that lies just over the aforementioned edge where the legendary Tongue of the Ocean begins. This is where the Sweet Jessie will come in handy and offer some unique excitement uncommon on a "bonefishing" trip!
In my mind, the Sea Hunter will offer days like those we've had in the Seychelles aboard the Indian Ocean Explorer. If they wish, anglers can spend the early morning trolling the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean for tuna, wahoo and marlin. They can choose traditional tackle or perhaps we'll drag hookless teasers and try a bit of "bait and switch" with a fly rod. As the tide and sun come to the right intersection, we'll head to the huge bonefish flats for which South Andros is so well known. Then, as the tide ebbs and the bonefish head to deeper water, we can hit the patch reefs with fast sinking lines, a bit of chum and a bulky Clouser minnow which ought to take care of dinner for that night. Then it's back to the Sea Hunter to do some of that Kalik sippin' that I mentioned earlier. The end of a perfect fishing day!
The final details for this program are being formed as this is being written. But we do know a few things for sure at this point. We know that Carter Andrews will be on board to direct and assist with the fishing operations. He will train the bonefish guides and he will run the Sweet Jessie for all the reef and blue water fishing. We are planning for the bonefishing to be semi-guided meaning that each skiff will take three anglers to the flats for wade fishing. The two guides will shuttle anglers and explore as much backcountry each day as they can. As such, this is a program for experienced anglers who love to wade, but it may also be appropriate for less experienced anglers who love to explore virgin areas and are willing to forego traditionally guided days. Right now the Sea Hunter will be stationed in South Andros for four weeks between October 18th and November 15th, 2008. We will take 6 to 8 anglers each week and the cost for the week is $2995.00 per person.
All of us here at Angling Destinations are very excited about the opportunities the Sea Hunter can provide our clients. The South Andros option is just the beginning as we hope to explore some of the most remote areas in the Bahamas aboard the Sea Hunter. We also feel that for the chance to comfortably and safely visit some of these very remote areas, the price is simply incredible! Needless to say, I was glad to have made the last minute decision to flee the great white north and jet off to West Palm Beach for a day or two to see this fantastic opportunity in person... stay tuned and please call us for updates.