Back on the Bridge

Capt. Skip Smith is back in the game aboard The Hooker.

marlin boat sunset illustration
The boat needed a lot of work but the project is coming along nicely.Dennis Friel

Being a boat captain for so many years and now being an insurance agent nerd, I had to start repairing and checking off the surveyor's recommendations as I continued the rebuild of my 48-foot G&S, The Hooker, in Panama. I am really safety conscious these days, so I called in companies to inspect the fire-quenching system, fire extinguishers and the Zodiac life raft mounted on the bow. Meanwhile, I had set a goal of being ready to fish out of Tropic Star Lodge in August and September for its great blue marlin season.

Cleaning the boat’s interior was crazy too. I dumped out every drawer and sprayed inside the cabinets for bugs. I peeled off the wallpaper, pulled up the carpet and threw away two really beat-up old couches too. The 32-year-old salon door had some rot, and when we tried to remove it for repairs, it crumbled in half as we were trying to disassemble it. Now it was time to find a carpenter. As I started to take the cabinets apart, I remembered the lead carpenter at G&S, Julian, who had done a lot of the boat’s interior work. He told me back when we were building the boat that someone would have to take this all apart someday. Now here I was doing the work myself, and his ghost was talking to me with each turn of the screwdriver.

Getting around Panama City is no easy task either, because it has plenty of traffic. One thing it does not have is road rage though. The drivers are really polite since you have to merge a lot, and they do not mind you cutting in on them. I had to make sure we had a complete shopping list of parts and supplies when I headed to the marine store in town — I had to ensure we got everything in one trip because it would take three to four hours to get in and out of the city. Once I had the parts, it would be back to work on the boat for hours on end.

I also started to order equipment from the United States and have things shipped to Panama. The country was really nice and did not charge me duty because I was considered a yacht in transit. Two new air-conditioning units and a watermaker from Dometic, a refrigerator, a bunch of new Garmin electronics, couches, a new microwave/convection oven and an order of rods and reels from Shimano were soon headed south.

Now it was time to go to work as we pulled the old air handlers and compressors out of the boat. The new air conditioners are so nice. They’re one-piece units and fit perfectly where the old air handlers were, which left space in the pump room for the watermaker we would really need. We also had a Panamanian installing the new wallpaper, and the carpet was being cut as well.

After we changed the fuel and oil filters and were finally ready to sea trial with the new props, The Hooker ran great, just like I remembered from more than 25 years ago.

We still needed to haul out to go over the bottom and install the new transducer, along with the rest of the Garmin electronics, but that would wait until we got to the new boatyard at Marina Pez Vela in Quepos, Costa Rica. I was back on the plane headed home with one last parts list, and we still had plenty of work to do. I was not too sure we would be ready for the very first trip. My friends wanted to catch an IGFA world record on either 8- or 12-pound-test line. No pressure there!

We were barely ready when we left the port of Balboa for Tropic Star Lodge. We ran through the Perlas Islands out to the canyon and put the teasers out. Our first bite was a sailfish, and our guest, Kathy, hooked it on 12-pound-test line — it was like I had never missed a day. The Hooker slid back so smoothly, and in no time we released our first billfish. We caught another sailfish on 8-pound-test line and missed a few blue marlin, but it was awesome to be back fishing on this old girl, and even better yet to be back on the bridge once again.