Charterboart Captain: ‘best job in the world’
By Chris Landry / Senior Reporter
A barroom conversation in 1964 at Long Island’s Poop Deck in Freeport, N.Y., changed Allan “Skip” Bradeen’s life forever.
After serving four years in the Air Force, Bradeen worked as a deck hand on a fishing boat out of Freeport for the summer. “I just bought a new Chevy Impala,” says Bradeen, who is 65. “I was going to drive to Fort Lauderdale and take a two-week vacation. After that, I was headed back up to meat cutter’s school to become a butcher.”
Salary range: $15,000 to $100,000-plus, depending on size of boat, number of passengers accommodated, and type of trips offered
At the bar, a friend mentioned that he was Florida-bound, too. His destination was the Keys. Bradeen, who had never even heard of the island chain, gave his buddy a ride to Islamorada and “hung around for a couple days to check it out,” he says.
A couple of days turned into 44 years. The 22-year-old Bradeen quickly landed a job as a mate on a fishing boat in Islamorada, and two years later he bought his first charterboat, a wooden 28-foot Harkers Island sportfisherman.
Bradeen has owned two other wooden boats since, carving out an impressive career as one of the most well-known and successful captains in the Keys. His current vessel, Blue Chip Too, is a 52-foot Carolina sportfisherman built by Ray Lemay in 1972 and powered by twin 140-hp diesels. “She cruises at 10 knots, and that’s plenty fast,” he says.
Bradeen has strung together an eyebrow-raising list of clientele, including President George H.W. Bush, actor Paul Newman, singer Jimmy Buffett, and baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. (Skip loves the national pastime and has managed a Little League team for 27 years.)
Bradeen’s boats have set several fishing records over the years — for example, the largest amberjack (on 50-pound-test line), which still stands. The skipper rattles off the particulars without pause: “March 16, 1994; 128 pounds; caught by Joe Gazia from Danbury, Conn.” Other memorable days include the outing when the boat landed 11 sailfish: “Nov. 21, 1969; Barney and Marion O’Neill of Hollywood, Fla.”
“I have the best job in the world,” says Bradeen, whose father also was nicknamed Skip because he was a charter “skipper” himself on Long Island. “I love to meet people and talk, and I love the excitement of not knowing what we’ll catch each time we go out.”
That’s the allure of a career as a charterboat skipper. But Bradeen says it would be tougher today to establish an independent business like his in the Keys because of the competition. “Most young guys are captains of corporate-owned boats,” he says. “The dream I realized cannot be done today. My advice is to get an education.”
It may be tough in the Keys, but not in other places, according to Bobbi M. Walker, executive director of the National Association of Charterboat Operators. “The Keys are not illustrative of the rest of the country, says Walker. “Most captains own their own boats. It actually would not cost that much to set up an inshore small-boat business where the captain launched his boat for every trip at a public facility — basically, just the cost of the boat and a few licenses.”
Bradeen loves his wooden vessel, and enjoys the constant maintenance to keep her running. “If I’m not fishing, I am working on the boat,” says Bradeen, whose wife of 30 years, Lisa, runs the bookkeeping side of the business. “There’s nothing like the ride of a wooden boat.”