When I was old enough to stand without falling over, my father began taking me on his fishing trips in the backwaters of Everglades National Park. We skimmed across calm waters at 50 MPH to places no one else knew how to get to, except the old salt that taught my father where to find these elusive spots — Herman Lucerne. At any one of them, we were guaranteed a boatload of fish to show off at Flamingo’s cleaning docks. People always asked where we went. We never told them.
Fast forward nine years — I am snorkeling and fishing
in the crystal clear waters off of one of the Abacos, keeping very close to a good friend of my father’s, Bob Walker. We were cruising the islands in his wooden sport fisherman, the Islander. Fascinated and very nervous, I was awestruck. The corals, the fish, the vibrant life on the reef entranced me. I had no idea then that it would stay with me my entire life.
A few years later, I joined my father and his friends to make it official — scuba certification. I only found out years later that the certification I earned, “Junior Scuba Diver”, didn’t actually exist, but was created just for me so at 13 years old, I could embark on even greater adventures than I already had. The class was led by Dick Rutkowski, a former Navy frogman. He was tough but effective, teaching me skills that would ensure I responded calmly in even the worst situations.
Diving in the Bahamas, Roatan, and the Florida Keys continued throughout my teens. Finally, at 13, I struck a deal with my mother. I would find a home for my ball python and two boa constrictors in exchange for my first saltwater aquarium. Needless to say, she was thrilled.
And so it began, all those years ago, in 1975. Compared to what we know now, we knew so little then. First, it was a 30-gallon tank with an undergravel filter and outside power filter. Then, with the invaluable mentoring I was fortunate enough to have received from Dick Boyd, a true pioneer in the hobby, I set-up a 125, huge for that era. It was a tremendous success and motivated me to continue after returning to the States from St. Thomas and settling in New Orleans.