PHOTO: Sea of Solidarity Boat Parade (photo credit Capture 808: Victormac)
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – The Sea of Solidarity started by Classic Boat Rides Capt. Dan Schade brought more than 30 boats into the River Parade from the Yacht Harbor to Sea Bright Saturday, and also brought hundreds of spectators along the shore on both sides of the river to show their support, wave flags, carry signs of enthusiasm, dance and give a heads up to the captains of cruise boats, fishing party boats and charter boats who are are suffering economically in an unusual way during the shutdown of businesses.
Every fishing boat captain was quick to say the Parade was not a protest, but simply a wake-up call to let legislators, at all levels of government from the Harbor Commission where they are docked to the President, with an emphasis on the Governor to set out parameters which will enable them to get back to work.
Most of the captains are in business for themselves and own their own boats, so they are not eligible for unemployment. Yet in addition to hefty insurance premiums which must be kept up in spite of the boats not going out, rents for their slips run upwards of $27,000 a year and must be paid in three payments. As of this time, the Harbor Commission has deferred their March 2020 payment to May 1, 2020 and that could be subject to further adjustment or extension.
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PHOTO: Sea of Solidarity Boat Parade (photo credit Capture 808: Victormac)
The Harbor Commission sent a letter to each Captain April 13, outlining the details. In addition, the Harbor also provided Captain Shade with a list of legislative leaders for our area. “The Harbor Commission is following the executive orders of the Governor’s Office” said Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny. “The commission has always been committed and supportive of the commercial boating fleet in our harbor and we will continue to do so” added Harbor Commission Chairman Frank McDonald. “We are hopeful that when the Governor’s Office releases the restrictions, people will rally around our fishing industry and come out and support of our Captains.”
With Schade’s Navesink Queen leading the Parade, the boats slipped out of the Yacht Harbor and headed east along the Shrewsbury River, responding to crowds waving from beaches, lawn chairs, paddle boats, kayaks, in front of closed restaurants and patios and balconies as high as East Pointe and as close as Bayview apartments. With Schade playing “Rolling on the River” many spectators were dancing to the music on their lawns or porches and youngsters ran up and down the beaches trying to count the boats in a parade that stretched, at one point, from the Capt. Joseph Azzolina Bridge back past the Atlantic Highlands borough line.
PHOTO: Sea of Solidarity Boat Parade led by paddlewheeler, Navesink Queen. (photo credit: Muriel J. Smith)
Schade had put the parade together as a show of solidarity and to bring attention to how the pandemic restrictions are hurting not only their families and their businesses but with their shutdown, numerous other businesses as well.
Captain Tom Buban, who has been sailing out of the Yacht Harbor for nearly 50 years and captains his Atlantic Start fishing boat, said the charter and head boats are like a pebble you toss in the water. “We sink and the ripples from the sinking go far afield.. our customers won’t be here to stop at the food stores, get gas, shop in our stores, eat at our restaurants. We bring business to town, and without it, there’s no doubt, a lot of that business will be gone as well.”
Buban, like most captains, thinks it is still too early to have the boats go back to business as usual. “My daughter’s a nurse and she’s right there on the front line. I worry about her, so I don’t want to go back too soon. But something has to be done, and we have to be able to get back out there, with some restrictions. The parade is just to make people aware, to let them know we’re here and we aren’t getting anything or making any money to pay our bills.”
Capt. Rob Semkewyc of the Sea Hunter said the same thing. “This is the worst we’ve ever had. Hurricane Sandy was awful, but at least that wasn’t at the beginning of the season. We haven’t had any chance to make any money yet. This used to be a good business, and I’ve been since my first Sea Hunter, a wooden boat in 2005. But we’ll never be able to recoup our losses from this because as it is, we work seven days a week.”
Fishing boats have been hit in recent years as well with the larger size restrictions on the fish that can be caught. “It’s heartbreaking to hear a grandmother who’s taking her grandchild out for a day of fishing tell him first fish he caught has to go back in because it’s half an inch too small.”
Capt. Hal Hagaman has had two Sea Tigers at the Yacht Harbor, his first nearly 40 years go, and the current Sea Tiger for the past 22 years. “We aren’t going to make up what we lost, you never do,” he said. Still, he added, “We don’t want to go back until it’s really safe or there are safety restrictions in place.” But, he added, he’s anxious to get back to his two half day fishing trips seven days a week.
These three Captains, Buban, Semkewyc and Hagaman are also borough residents in addition to having their businesses here.
Capt. Joe Ochipinti also offers two half day trips every day and has be operating his Little Hawk for 35 years, and fishing from the time he started with his father as a youngster 45 years ago. “April, May and June are our best months,” he said, “all we really want is for all of us to get back to work.”
Things aren’t any better for Capt. Kevin Bradshaw on the Dorothy. He started fishing as a child alongside his father and grandfather, a business that started in Sheepshead Bay with his grandfather in 1920. The changes in the head boat industry have also impacted this present crisis, he said, pointing to how many fewer boats there are operating now. “In Sheepshead Bay, there used to be 40 fishing boats, all making money….now, there are only a handful that are still up there.” Pointing to the unique attributes of the business, Bradshaw said “Try to tell the Governor we really need some help here. And we won’t go back to work until it’s safe.”
The Festiva, captained by Everett Moore and owned by him and his wife Katie, is like the Navesink Queen, a boat for private parties, conferences, dinners and events for 20 to 150 people. Moore said they usual book a couple of events every week, but added glumly, “we haven’t had a call in six weeks.” He agrees with the other watermen “we’ll never make it up.”
One visitor to the Festiva Saturday is anxious for this season to be over and all the men to get back to work, but she’s really looking forward to June 25 of next year. That’s when Jessica Coyne of Rahway is being married aboard the Festiva and holding the reception there as well. The lucky groom is Ted Rittle of Belford, a mate on the boat.
After the nearly three hour long parade, Schade said he was pleased with the turnout, and pleased even more by the response from the people along the shorelines. Throughout the cruise, he thanked the supporters for coming out and showing their enthusiasm for the passing boats, appreciated the signs calling for help in the crisis, as well as the American flags and friendly waves along the way. He is still trying to bring the plight of the watermen to the Governor “so he knows that for the type of work we are in, for the expenses that we have to bear regardless of no income, he has to do something. And has to do it quickly.” Schade hopes to arrange for a dialogue with local and state officials soon to help come up with guidelines to allow for the entire boat industry to return to work safely and soon. “Now, who’s got the Governor’s cell phone number,” he said jokingly.