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May 13, 2014

Take a Trip to the Virgin Islands with Capt. Jimmy Loveland

Capt. Jimmy Loveland has built a unique and lasting legacy in the Virgin Islands.

Although he would argue otherwise, Jimmy Loveland has put the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin, aka “Boy Scout,” Tournament on every big-game competitor’s bucket list. Along with his brother Stewart, who operates the island’s only big-game tackle store at Red Hook, Jimmy Loveland is the face of fishing in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and they are its unofficial ambassadors. With fat Rolodexes, they provide advice to visiting fishermen in need of everything from boat repairs and dockage to pickup mates, travel assistance, lodging and restaurant recommendations. 

Known simply as Jimmy, Loveland has been a fixture in this scene since arriving here in 1964 to take a job as a mate for Capt. Johnny Harms, who discovered marlin fishing after catching the island’s first 169-pound blue in 1958 after running to the North Drop from San Juan, Puerto Rico. When Harms accepted land developer Laurance Rockefeller’s offer in 1962 to create a charter fishing enterprise at the family’s Caneel Bay Plantation resort on St. John, Loveland was one of the fishermen he hired to make it happen. Interested in blue marlin, Loveland was more than pleased by his decision to move to the Virgin Islands instead of Cat Cay, Bahamas. His first year there, Harms caught an 814-pound blue and set a world record on 80-pound tackle, the first of more than 15 set off St. Thomas.

Discovering St. Thomas

Harms recognized St. Thomas as a land of fishing opportunity, and Loveland and Palm Beach Capt. Jerry Black, who Harms had also recruited, followed the piper to St. Thomas that year, helping him create the island’s first marine facility, the Lagoon Marina, just a few miles from the town of Red Hook and present-day American Yacht Harbor, which Harms built in 1968. After running the facility for Harms for a while, Loveland became a partner with Black in the Lagoon Marina, the first of many enterprises he’s successfully run in St. Thomas. 

Born and raised just south of Miami, the Loveland brothers come from a family that helped found Homestead, Florida, in 1908. “Our grandparents homesteaded 160 acres there under a federal grant, bringing farming and the railroad to the area,” Stewart Loveland says. Both grandparents were entrepreneurs, he adds. “My grandfather was an electrical contractor, who, with my grandmother, got involved in real estate investment and development.” Their father, however, was a fisherman, who, during his 30 odd years on Miami’s legendary Pier 5, owned and ran Polly D and Melody. “He docked next to old man [Vince] Spaulding, across from Capt. Buddy Carey on the SeaBoots,” Stewart Loveland says. 

Those were colorful times, when anyone and everyone in fishing came to Pier 5, and that’s where Jimmy Loveland learned his trade. After graduating high school in 1960, the newly licensed captain headed to the Haulover Docks north of downtown Miami, where he freelanced as a mate and soon was hired by Vera and Ray Shand to help run Rave. In the summer of 1963, he took a seasonal job at Montauk, New York, with Capt. Jimmy Sarno and the Akins family on Nikka and got his first taste of surface-baiting swordfish, chumming for giant tuna and catching striped bass. There, he also met a captain he counts as a lifelong friend.

Old Friends Reunite

Capt. Ron Hamlin recalls meeting Loveland in 1963 as he was washing the tower of a boat in Montauk. They didn’t bump into one another again until 1972 in St. Thomas. “I’d just gotten in, and I’m looking down the dock, and there’s this skinny-as-a-rail, red-headed guy dressed head to toe in khaki walking towards me,” Hamlin says. “I looked at him and said, ‘Damn, I know you.’” 

Loveland was running a tour with a former headboat from Miami, taking tourists out to see the sites. “Jimmy was quite the entrepreneur,” Hamlin says. “By then, he owned restaurants, his travel and tour businesses — Treasure Isle Cruises and Travel — and an airbrush company that sold T-shirts to tourists, plus the Imagine Advertising Agency. Jimmy has one of the most creative minds I’ve ever encountered. He was into everything when it came to promoting St. Thomas.”  

The King of St. Thomas Fishing

Harms remains the undisputed father of Virgin Islands sport fishing, but as locals, including Capt. Mike Lemon, are quick to point out, Loveland has been more like its godfather, guiding the Boy Scout Tournament and creating everything from October Sunday to Marlin Fest.

After returning to Haulover Docks in the fall of 1963 with his new bride, Linda, Loveland met Harms. Loveland recognized Harms, who was standing on the dock waiting for him to tie up Rave. “I guess he’d been over talking to Buddy Carey on Pier 5, who recommended me to him as a mate for one of the two charter boats he was running in the Virgin Islands,” Loveland says. “At the time, I was considering a job on a boat fishing Cat Cay but when Johnny offered me the position, I said yes. Then I said, ‘Where are the Virgin Islands?’ ”

Arriving by air in January 1964, Loveland found Harms and his Savannah Bay sport-fisherman waiting to whisk him to St. John where paradise awaited. Fishing up to 250 days a year and exploring virgin fishing territory meant you never knew what the next day would bring, Loveland says. “Actors like David Janssen and famous politicians like Mo Udall, Lady Bird Johnson and Hubert Humphrey all sailed with us.” But by the late ’60s, Loveland was phasing out of day-to-day sport fishing to take care of business. He’d just sold his half interest in the Lagoon Marina to Black to fund his new venture taking cruise ship guests on guided tours to nearby sites.

Economic Opportunity

The first cruise ships -— Royal Caribbean’s Song of Norway and Nordic Prince -— arrived in 1968 and were followed by Carnival and others. Sensing economic opportunity, Loveland was the first to offer snorkeling tours to destinations like the Virgin Gorda baths that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, St. John, Jost Van Dyke and some 50 other islands. 

In Miami, Loveland purchased a wooden 54-foot headboat and talked Stewart Loveland into helping him pilot it from the States to St. Thomas. The boat was called Fish-N-Fool after the charter boat Jimmy Loveland ran at Lagoon Marina, and the brothers did a refit, adding sunshades, creature comforts and a big galley for lunches and snacks. The island’s first 49-passenger excursion boat was an instant success not only with tourists, but with locals jamming aboard Sundays for Loveland’s unscheduled “gunkholing” cruises to unexplored islands. 

In 1974, he upgraded to a 76-foot catamaran, which he recently sold, along with Treasure Isle Travel, to devote himself full time not only to the Boy Scout and Spanish Main tournament series but also to Marlin Fest and yet another new tournament series he would like to start. For Loveland, business endeavors have always grown organically. Recognizing the coming tourist boom in the ’70s, he bought Sib’s on the Mountain Bar and added an outside dining area to the popular watering hole. Its success led him to open Sib’s on the Beach, which he sold in the early ’90s. 

During this time, Loveland was a freelance captain for anglers like Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, bringing the young scion’s new 46-foot Bertram My Ladies Three from Miami to St. Thomas — again with Stewart Loveland riding shotgun. In 1973, Jimmy Loveland and Rockefeller won the second Boy Scout, known then as the Governor’s Cup. Designed to showcase the island’s great blue marlin fishing and to raise funds for the Virgin Islands Boy Scout Council, early tournaments were run by the Chamber of Commerce. 

Name Change

Intent on turning the mostly local light-tackle billfish event into a world-class blue marlin tournament, Loveland changed the tournament’s name when he took over in 1980. “The Governor meant nothing,” Loveland says. “I wanted the Virgin Islands up front in the title, so we called it the United States Virgin Islands Open Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament. With that being a mouthful to say, it became known as the Boy Scout because they are beneficiaries of all profits.” 

To grow the tournament, Loveland needed to attract top Florida boats, which he knew had little interest in catching blue marlin on 12- and 20-pound tackle, even though there were 50- and 80-pound divisions. “It was a scoring nightmare,” he says. Creating the first set of what has universally come to be known as “Jimmy’s Rules,” he made it a 50-pound tackle tournament. Earlier tournaments were kill events, but to Loveland, the sight of 15 blue marlin hanging dead on a rack was offensive. He went with a modified release format (400-pound minimum) soon after taking command. 

At the time, the Boy Scout was the first such marlin event to do so; today, it essentially is a release event since no fish other than a potential world record can be landed. From the beginning, the idea was controversial. To police it, Loveland added observers, tapping fishing experts, such as the late John Rybovich and Tommy Gifford and, more recently, Rick Alvarez and captains O.B. O’Brien and Bouncer Smith.