Seventy boats participated in the 1996 Bertram/Hatteras Shootout big-game fishing tournament held in the Bahamas. The team composed of 35 Bertram boats won the competition by catching the most pounds of fish.
After five hours of fighting a 500-pound fish your hands are blistered, your arms are dead weights and your knees are jelly. But you keep going-which is what Tom Watson III did on the second day of this year’s annual Bertram/Hatteras Shootout. Watson, grandson of the founder of IBM, was pitted against a blue marlin that had put on a spectacular show during the first 10 minutes of the fight, leaping and soaring above the surface, and, in the process, had become tail-wrapped. The leader had wound around its tail on the last jump and the huge fish then headed straight down-way down. For the next five hours and 46 minutes Watson pumped and wound, retrieving line inch by inch, while Capt. Jerry Pohl maneuvered the boat.
Back at the dock at Marsh Harbour’s Boat Harbour Marina in the Bahamas’ Abacos chain, the crowd waited. The day’s “lines out” 5 p.m. deadline had passed, and Watson, aboard his 50-foot Bertram, Palawan, was still hooked up. He had until 7 p.m. to reach the dock, 20 miles from his ongoing tug of war, in order for the fish to count.
Watson, a lifelong sailor, began big-game fishing just over a year ago, and this was only his second trip to what has become so famous that it’s simply called “The Shootout.” “Bertram/Hatteras” is understood. For some of the veterans, the numerals that follow the name are markers in time as meaningful as calendar years. “Remember Shootout X?” “Sure, that was the year it was so rough we had to turn around and come back to the dock.” For the rest of us, this is 1996; for the tournament regulars it’s Shootout XVII.
Veteran Bartow Rainey has missed only two of the 17 Shootouts, as has his Hatteras fishing partner Doc Coppage. Rainey used to tournament-fish 100 days a year, but he now enters only the Shootout and the Bahamas Billfish Championship. He and Coppage, both of whom have won the Shootout, would each love to be the first angler to post two victories. With 70 boats in the field–35 Bertrams and 35 Hatterases–it’s a formidable goal. Since yacht brokers Jim Schaefer and Hutch Hutchengs first launched the event in 1980, no angler has won it twice. At the start of this Shootout, Bertram held the lead 10 to six, but Hatteras was on a roll with wins last year and the year before.
An exclusive club
The brand rivalry and two-team format imbue the Shootout with an excitement and an electricity that elevates it to a unique level in the rarefied realm of big-game fishing tournaments. Owners who gain an invitation achieve membership in an exclusive club as well as participation in the most famous of all bluewater competitions. Schaefer and Hutchengs have distilled the pageantry as well as the rules and rituals of other angling events they’ve attended through the years into three entertainment-filled, intensely contested days of offshore rigor and onshore revelry that rival the sports world’s other five-star festivals.
The boats leave Boat Harbour–home to the Shootout for the second year after a 13-year run at Walker’s Cay (the first two were at Bimini and ChubWand head toward the rising sun to the blaring lilt of a Bahamas band that rocks the docks. They return, catch and release flags flying, to the same amplified island strains and to a crowd of onlookers gathered at the weigh station to see how huge a marlin will tip the scales. Only fish over 88 inches (about 200 pounds) count towards overall victory. Smaller fish are released 43 this year.
The chance that the crowd will see a local record or even a grander (over 1,000 pounds) is always a possibility at Boat Harbour, which serves fishing grounds that have accounted for some of the largest blue marlin caught in the Bahamas in the last decade. (The day after the Shootout, a 1,030-pounder-the second largest blue ever caught in the Bahamas-was landed out of neighboring Treasure Cay.)
At big-game fishing tournaments you can always expect the unexpected. On the Shootout’s first day, no sooner had Al Behrendt, voice of the committee boat, announced “lines in the water” at 9:00 a.m., than Capt. Pat Brogan replied “Bumpers, hooked up!” A mere eight minutes into the event, and the action was already under way. Bumpers, a customized 50-foot Hatteras, belongs to Bernie Boniface of Stuart, Fla., and Vail, who has fished the last five Shootouts. Boniface and his crew first saw the marlin under a frigate bird and were prepared for the bite. The fish jumped once after it took the lure and then screamed off about half the spool on its first run. Unlike Tom Watson’s fish the following day, this blue stayed on the surface and Boniface, Brogan and mate Mitch Scherfer were able to boat it in exactly half an hour. The fish was big. Just how big was a question that the boys on Bampers would ponder for the next eight hours-until it finally hung from the scale.
Later on day one, Tom Prince hooked up aboard his Bertram 50 Caribbean Soul. Prince, from Winter Park, Fla., is a six-year Shootout veteran who fishes all spring and summer. He and Capt. Gil LeDuce thought the fish was small from the bite, but-long before it was in the boat 21 minutes later-they realized it was definitely a keeper. Prince weighed in first, and put Bertram on the board. The fish surprised even longtime scale-watchers because it did not look as heavy as its actual weight-548 pounds.
As soon as Caribbean Soul pulled away from the weigh station, Bumpers pulled up. No one was about to underestimate the weight of this one, which looked big. It was-605!
So Hatteras was in the lead by 57 pounds, which brought smiles to the faces of Tom Sanders and other representatives of the Allied Marine Group, the Shootout’s main sponsor on the Hatteras side, and to Alton Herndon and Bryant Phillips from Hatteras Yachts. On the other side, George Jousma of Richard Bertram, Inc., the main Bertram sponsor, and Werner Kuhnke and Mark Sweeney of Bertram Yachts, knew that the battle was far from over.
Back at Bertram
Both Bertram and Hatteras are riding high these days. Kuhnke’s return to Bertram, after many years as president of Richard Bertram, Inc., has inspired renewed confidence in a company that has gone through a series of management changes. Orders for new Bertrams from 30 to 60 feet, especially for the reborn legendary 54 and the luxurious 60, are sharply up, and the Bertram workforce is back to over 400, with Kuhoke, who originally joined Bertram back when the 31,28, 35 and 46 were evolving, directing his efforts toward making sure that the finished products live up to the standards that Bertram is famous for. Handling rough seas at high speeds is still what Bertram is all about.
At Hatteras, the magnificent 65 is still a very hot boat. In fact, 11 of the 35 Hatterases at the Shootout were 65s, many with enclosed, air-conditioned bridge stations. Hatterascal, the 65-foot factory demo that Alton Herndon fished alongside (parent company) Genmar President Jim Farrell and Executive V.P. Bill Munsell, topped 35 knots with Detroit 1692TA DDECs, and cruised at a bit over 30 at 2030 rpm (only 75 percent of available power). Hatteras already has 82-foot Convertibles in action, and a 90-footer is in production. Bodacions owner Pat Thomas, at this year’s Shootout in a 65, plans to return next year in a 90! Hatteras’ 92- to 130-foot Custom Yachts have established the North Carolina firm internationally as a formidable megayacht builder. Its new 84- to 100-foot series will earn it an even greater share of this major-league market. But sportfishermen, which made Hatteras famous in the first place, are still at the heart of its reputation for high quality, impeccable workmanship and seaworthiness.
Hatteras extended its lead on day two when Charles Patterson, aboard Harry Patton’s Hatteras 53, Won Buy Land, weighed in a 405-pound blue. But Tom Watson was still out there pumping and winding. Would he make it? The crowd waited and wondered. Then came the announcement: “Palawan, fish in the boat, 6:01.” A few minutes before the 7 p.m. deadline, Palawan appeared on the horizon at full throttle, and made it to the dock just under the wire. Watson’s blue weighed in at 533. Bertram took the lead.
It was a lead that held, because the only fish caught on the third and final day was a 226-pounder by Mike Wilde on Luis Bacardi’s 50-foot Bertram, Rum Bum. Final score: Bertram 1,307, Hatteras 1,010–one of the closest Shootouts on record. The individual winner was Bernie Boniface, whose 605-pound blue, hooked just eight minutes after the opening gun, with-stood three seemingly endless days of challenges. For Bernie, it was a long time to hold his breath. But he’s no stranger to victories at Boat Harbour. Boniface has won the Penny Turtle Billfish Ball (which follows the Shootout) three times.
Booming Boat Harbour
Penny Turtle and Boat Harbour Marina have become synonymous. As a Shootout tournament committee member, along with Schaefer and Hutchengs, it’s Penny who has been responsible for ensuring that the tournament’s new 180-slip home is as comfortable as possible. Marina owners Peter Sweeting and Manny Alexiou, who are on hand throughout the event, have provided both moral and financial support. Additional slips, a bigger fuel dock, more megayacht facilities, a new dive group to offer cave diving, and plans for a new airport are just some of the signs of progress that promise Boat Harbour’s continued expansion and success.
The Shootout will return to Boat Harbour next year. The boats will be bigger, the bands will be louder, the trophies even more impressive. One thing will remain unchanged, however: the camaraderie that has developed over almost two decades of competition between the owners of some of the best battlewagons in the world–a camaraderie that tops the list of reasons why they’ve returned year after year–and why they’ll continue to do so.