There have been some real characters I’ve had the pleasure to know who made their living on the waterfront.
I don’t remember his first name, but a gentleman with the last name of Whitehead was a commercial fisherman and grew up in our area and kept his boat on a mooring adjacent to the American Legion in Balboa.
Mr. Whitehead was on the smaller side in physical appearance with a robust personality and huge sense of humor. Following a stint “on the beach,” a reference to working off the waterfront, he decided to return to commercial swordfishing in the late 70s.
Rumor had it that the shrimp quotas in Louisiana allow license holders to receive a buyout from the government to retire their commercial license. This caused a large amount of boats on the market which lowered the price of the boats.
Mr. Whitehead purchased one of these boats and had it trucked out and launched at a local shipyard.
The ocean conditions in the gulf are much different than the Pacific Ocean and it was common for the smaller commercial shrimpers to be dory-like in design. Picture the Newport Pier dory fishermen boats two and a half times larger with a cabin in the bow (front). The engine was mounted in the middle area so the stern (rear) allowed for a fish hold.
I had never seen a dory style boat this large before, and a few of the fishermen older than me shook their heads and murmured that the design was not conducive to our ocean conditions.
It was not uncommon for Whitey to be teased at the Snug (now closed Snug Harbor Bar) while nursing his beer. It is also not uncommon for commercial fishermen to be big teases amongst each other and spin large yarns as to their fishing prowess.
Following a couple of years of successful fishing and bragging about the low cost of his vessel, word leaked out that Whitey hadn’t returned on schedule from a recent trip. The Coast Guard was notified and a search for the next few days provided few clues. Eventually the search was concluded and our worst fears now appeared to be fact.
During my lifetime several commercial fishermen have been lost at sea and several pleasure yachts have never returned. These tragedies have routinely reminded me that the most important part of boating is safety. The second most important part of boating is having a good time.
Hope to see you along the waterfront.