The first time I visited the Dominican Republic, more than 15 years ago, I almost twisted my leg off trying to keep Tred Barta from prematurely entering Davy Jones’ locker. It all went down when my buddy Dan Jacobs and I were staging an event for Bacardi rum that would become a precursor to Marlin University.
We put together a three-day curriculum and had about 15 people show up at the Bavaro Beach Resort to fish with Tred Barta and party in the Caribbean. One of the first problems we encountered was a lack of good working charter boats in the area. We booked three boats for the event, and Jacobs and I were making bets before the start on which ones would be able to fish the entire three days before breaking down. We gave Barta the best of the lot but warned him repeatedly to take it easy or he might not be coming back.
The fishing was pretty slow for the first two days. We caught a single blue and a bunch of big dorados on my boat, and the billfish weren’t showing for anyone else much either. The other two boats might have had a whitey or two apiece.
On the last day, Barta decided to head out wide and try to catch a big one, and sure enough, he hooked a big blue that he said would have gone 800. Unfortunately, Barta got a little overzealous during the backing-down stage and managed to rip off the swim platform. The resulting holes were under the waterline, and the boat began to sink. The marlin got off, and Barta got on the radio and started calling for assistance. The only problem: The boat didn’t have any kind of positioning gear on board. After a brief bit of back-and-forth over the radio, Jacobs and I both started steaming out to sea to search for the stricken boat.
We were pushing the little boats about as fast as they would go, and I was holding onto the flybridge railing, scanning the horizon for any sign of Barta’s boat. The seas were building in the afternoon sea breeze, and the little boat hit a wave that almost stopped it cold. The railing in my hand snapped like a dry twig and sent me hurtling outboard, with one hand reaching out and grabbing the bottom rail after twisting completely around on my one good knee. I felt a pop and watched as my knee started to swell to the size of a basketball. Just about that time, we spotted Barta and came upon one of the most bizarre sights I’ve ever seen on the water to date. The boat’s captain was standing at the helm in his underwear and was shouting instructions to Barta and the crew below, whose heads were sticking out of the lazarette! The quick-thinking captain had used his clothes to stuff in the transom holes to try and keep them afloat. It worked. In the end, my leg stayed on and Barta and his crew were rescued, with the best story by far from the trip!
Man, what a difference 15 years makes. Nowadays it’s relatively easy to secure a top-notch charter in Punta Cana, Cap Cana Marina or Casa de Campo; and the fishing has been off the hook for the past several years.