California Dreamin Part 4

Jim Jenks, owner of the Ocean Pacific, had left his boat in the very capable hands of Captain Jon Ingram after spending the summer of 1986 fishing, diving and exploring the cluster of islands surrounding Vanuatu. Jenks returned to the States, and Captain Jon and the crew traveled the nearly 1,100 nautical miles to Brisbane, Australia.

The cruise allowed ample time to review the ever-growing “to-do” list for the haul-outs and maintenance for both the mother ship and the Innovator in preparation for their next adventure at Lizard Island and the Ribbon Reefs … long lists developed during the two-year, 25,000-mile journey. In addition, there was the deferred maintenance, which included bottom paint for both boats plus a new set of stabilizers for the mother ship.

Arriving in the late summer, the allotted time for repairs and maintenance was short as they were scheduled to depart for Lizard Island in late September to take advantage of the complete three-month season.

“The entire crew worked seven days a week for almost three months to complete the needed boat work and to prepare the tackle for the giants that awaited us at the Reef,”

Ingram recalled. Finally, the last item was checked, the final reel was loaded with fresh line and it was time to set a course for the Great Barrier Reef/Lizard Island some 953 nautical miles away. One can only imagine the crew’s excitement as they completed their chores, and once again got underway.

The long ride was punctuated with a few bites – predominantly billfish, but also tuna and wahoo. In several places the temptation to slow and box a few of the more productive looking areas was overwhelmed by the need to meet Jenks and his guests when they arrived at Lizard Island in early October.

Rick Gaffney, friend and guest, returned to the Ocean Pacific once again at the Great Barrier Reef, meeting the new Captain, Jon Ingram, for the first time and catching up with old friends Kenny Hughes, who had fished with him in Hawaii when he worked for Black Bart Miller; and Vicki Nelson, the former-wife of longtime friend Pat Nelson from Kona.

As Gaffney recalled recently, “Jim (Jenks) was his typical, relaxed self, warmly accommodating as always, and soon I discovered that fishing on the Ocean Pacific on the Great Barrier Reef was different from my other experiences there. The most significant difference was that it was far less intense than my previous fishing adventures in Australia. Jim was comfortably settled in to the routine of his mother ship and game boat. He was also hosting another old friend from California who he had known for decades, Steve Pezman, a longtime surf magazine publisher/editor. The demeanor of a couple of laid-back California surfing buddies was way more mellow than that of your average uber-wealthy American big game fishermen on charter in Australia; and the demeanor of the crew was the same. Sure, the game boat was in a state of constant readiness, the meals were awesome, and you could not want for anything, but the kick-back attitude of the owner, his guests and his crew was a whole new experience for me and I liked it.”

Gaffney continued, “ . . . Although there is a lot of intensity in fishing for giant black marlin in one of the most spectacular ocean environments on the planet, the camaraderie between Jim and Steve kept everything light, kept everyone laughing and proved to be a fascinating lesson for me. Having grown up with a surfboard in Hawaii, I had idolized many of the surfers that Steve and Jim talked about as though they were brothers. One after another, first Steve, then Jim, would subdue a big black marlin, but the stories never stopped, and the good-natured ribbing never let up. If it had not been for the cost and complexity of Jim’s mother ship/game boat operation, located half-way around the world from his home and business in California, it could have been a couple of old friends hanging out in a dinghy, catching bass.”

Steve Pezman, publisher, Surfers Journal, had nearly total recall of his trip. “Debbee and I thought the entire adventure was a surreal dream-like experience from the moment we arrived. Fishing for monsters and scuba diving with potato cod as big as we were was a unique journey that we have never forgotten.”

Jenks had invited them several times and finally impatient with their hesitation, he laughingly informed them that it was costing him a $1,000,000 a year to do a trip of this proportion and they better come soon before the mother ship operation returned home.

“We both felt like a couple of kids invited to play in the coolest sandbox that happened to belong to our friend, Jim Jenks. It couldn’t have been more fun,”

they agreed. Steve, a first-time angler, hooked one huge fish that he battled for nearly an hour before it threw the hook; and not a minute too soon for an excited Steve, who was exhausted from the battle. The photographs that were developed much later confirmed it was at least a grander.

After battling the fish in the fighting chair – using his arms and not his legs – by his own account, he commented, “I didn’t have enough strength left to strike a match or open a pop-top can.” After hearing about a young woman angler barely weighing 100 pounds aboard another boat, yet catching a black weighing 1,200 pounds, Steve had difficulty understanding the dynamics of how it could be done.

Every few days, the supply boat would arrive with boxes full of provisions ranging from legs of lamb to ample bottles to restock the bar. Then, each evening, all the mother ships in the anchorage would raft up for parties. Steve and Debbee soon joined in the routine and mingled with the boat-hopping clients from one rig to another, meeting other anglers and friends who were spending thousands of dollars a day just to be there. They couldn’t help but be smugly amused at their luck to be a guest of their friend, Jenks.

The Ocean Pacific hosted a constant stream of guests for the rest of that first season as it worked its way up and down the Reef in search of the best fishing. Guests included many friends mixed with clients who had ordered one of the new 31-foot Innovators that Jenks had begun to manufacture back in Southern California. Anyone who ordered an Innovator received a Barrier Reef trip on the OP as an incentive.

As the weather started its seasonal change, the black marlin season began to wind down and the crew prepared for the next leg. Finally, the float plane soared above the OP with the last departing guest and the owner; the crew stowed the remaining gear, loaded the Innovator on deck for their departure to Cairns, Australia and then on to Bay of Islands, New Zealand some 2,180 nautical miles away. While for most, a cruise of that distance would have been daunting; OP’s crewmembers looked forward to the adventure and were eager to be on their way.

Exhausted after the 24/7 routine for the past three months, they stopped at Cairns for fuel and a little R & R over Christmas. Captain Ingram and crew alternated taking turns touring the town and surrounding area, even doing some camping in a van in spite of the hot and humid rainy season, until they finally resumed their journey in mid-January after celebrating New Years.

When Captain Jon first arrived in Australia, several Aussies had commented about the boat flying both U.S. and Australian flags, recalling that they remembered all that the U.S. had done to protect their country during WWII. The locals went on to say that it was too bad many harbored bad feelings toward Americans, convincing Jon that he was really an unofficial ambassador and should behave accordingly. Whenever they reached a new landfall, he would find the most popular local pub and would always make an effort to make friends with the townspeople. “There would be one [pub] where most of the locals would gather,” the skipper confided. After becoming acquainted, he would invite the local children out to the boat for a tour, a marvelous way to open doors and receive the welcome of those in the towns he visited during the trip.

The weather gods were with them during the long voyage. Cruising at nine-knots, the spread went out before the first cup of coffee each day and remained until sunset. During the 10-day trip, there were only a couple of dry days where only skipjack showed up in the wake. Other days brought tuna, wahoo and enough billfish to entertain the crew.

They were awed by the beauty and the friendliness of the locals at historic Russell, the first permanent European settlement and seaport, but the fishing was slower than they had hoped for. The primary catch was striped marlin … somewhat larger than those found in Southern California. Even the Bay of Islands Billfish Tournament was slow by local standards. The Jock Albrights, who had been on the second leg to Clipperton, were once again there in March during the event and Jock commented, “Though the fishing was slow, the awards party made up for it. The Kiwis’ definitely know how to party!”

With the “slower–than-expected” fishing, when there was a lull in the near constant parade of new guests, Captain Jon decided to run down to Auckland, a mere 800 nautical miles round trip. While there, he took care of some housekeeping as well as re-varnishing the entire interior of the salon in the mother ship.

Chores completed once again, they fished their way back to Russell, Bay of Islands, where they awaited the next group to arrive from the States. During that stay, they had met some of the local townspeople and became friends.

One afternoon, two Canadians guys and a girl show up at the boat, apparently after a few drinks, and belligerently demanded a tour of the OP, which Captain Jon refused. They then proceeded into the town Pub, claiming they were staying onboard the Ocean Pacific and getting into a fight at the local pub with the crew of a navy patrol boat stationed in Russell.

In the meantime, the crew had been invited to someone’s home for a barbeque. As was the policy throughout the trip, the boats were never left unattended, and Kenny was left behind to keep watch on the equipment. After the crew left for the barbeque, the local military showed up at OP, half in the bag, and threw seal bombs at the boat in anger, scaring the crap out of Kenny who was on the boat alone. When Captain Jon and the rest of the crew returned, a shaken Kenny described the incident assuming that the Captain and crew had encountered the navy sailors in the local pub.

Ingram went to the Police Station the following day and when he identified himself as the Captain of the Ocean Pacific the desk sergeant became belligerent. After a great deal of explanation, the officer understood what had happened and apologized to Jon. Meanwhile, an Auckland News reporter found the story on the police blotter and submitted it, resulting in the headline: New Zealand Navy attacks American Yacht!

Late spring of 1987, the OP departed from Bay of Islands on a circuitous route up to Vanuatu Island (1,306 nautical miles) and from there, to the Solomon’s Islands (1,124 nautical miles), partially to avoid the summer trade winds.

When traveling long distances, the Innovator remained on deck. However the mother ship was designed for trolling which allowed the crew and guests to fish even on major moves from point to point. Of course, traveling long distances, there were bound to be dry spells when the clickers remained silent for a few days at a time and everyone aboard turned to other distractions – books, tapes or maybe lounging on deck, enjoying the tropical sun and breezes.

On some of the crossings there might be days where they didn’t see another vessel … just endless water as far as the eye could see. What better time to have a security drill and target practice? The Captain had been briefed prior to departure about security measures in case of a pirate attack. The crew had been told that the bad guys preyed on yachts believing that they would be “easy pickings.” In OP’s case, the gun locker had an impressive array of weapons: M14s with banana clips, mini-13 stainless shotguns and enough pistols for the entire crew. If threatened, the drill was to place shooters on each bait tank and another in the tower, then open it up with all defenders firing at once. Hopefully this would send the message to the pirates: Nobody is messing with us!

Fortunately, no pirates were encountered; however, the drills and target practice were definitely a hit with both crew and guests.

When they arrived at Vanuatu Island, one group departed and another boarded for the next leg to the Solomon’s. Fueled and provisioned with the Innovator still onboard, they departed.

The 600-nautical mile island chain and the fertile waters surrounding them were ideal for both diving and sportfishing for marlin and tuna. By all accounts, the diving was spectacular with excellent visibility. Diving among the wrecks of ships and fighter planes was a constant reminder of those who had suffered and died in the vicious battles of WWII, 40 years before.

The guests and crew couldn’t resist going ashore on the islands covered with lush tropical jungles and beautiful waterfalls cascading from high above. They found more reminders of battles fought long ago, made very real by the poignant pieces of wreckage scattered about that would be remembered for a lifetime. “The Solomon’s were so isolated, we were on our own much of the time,” Ingram recalled.

Next stop was Rabaul, New Guinea. Headed to one of the local pubs on one of his unofficial missions as the goodwill American ambassador, Ingram met a teacher and invited him to bring his entire class out for a tour of the OP. The goodwill tours had become more and more important to him and when the entire class sent him handwritten, thank you cards they became mementos of the journey that he still cherishes.

From Rabaul they traveled to Port Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea (422 nautical miles) before continuing to Cairns to stage for the second visit to the Reef (435 nautical miles). There, they fished local until it was time to head north to Lizard Island for the 1987 season (141 nautical miles).

The Ocean Pacific set up was ideal for fishing the Reef. With the mother ship on anchor, the entire gang would go out in the 33-foot Innovator in the afternoons to fish the giant blacks. The beauty of the Innovator was that even with six passengers, she fished well in the afternoon trades. Built of aluminum, she cruised at 12 to 14 knots, somewhat slower than the later fiberglass production models.

Basically, the routine was diving with the potato cod in the morning and then fishing outside in the afternoon. While the cod were entertaining, the divers quickly learned it wasn’t wise to get between one of the huge fish and its meal.

One morning, loaded with a closed Tupperware™ bowl full of scraps to feed the fish, Ingram made his dive. One of the cod managed to remove the lid with one swipe! Meanwhile, Ingram was trying to fend off the creature and somehow stuck his hand inside the huge cod’s mouth all the way up to his forearm. The fish bit down. Struggling as he might, Ingram did manage to remove his hand, but he couldn’t save his wristwatch. The watch was gone forever and a very important lesson had been learned.

The second season was even better than the first according to Jenks. “While we were on the Reef, we also had a steady parade of surfing buddies, friends and Innovator buyers. There were usually only small groups, fewer than six guests, on the boat at one time. We played lots of country music while out fishing, but when it was slow and we were hurting for a bite, Eric Clapton was the man,”

Jenks explained.

“Every time we put a CD of his in, we had an instant bite! We caught plenty of granders … the largest was 1,100 pounds … huge fish for many of my guests and friends.

“Some of the visitors were the Albrights, who fished with us on the Clipperton trip and Bay of Islands; Rick Gaffney, Tommy Pfleger, Captain Joe Mike, Peter Groesbeck and Michael Farrior also visited us there.

“Our friends Bruce and Joanie Kessler were at the Reef aboard their 70-foot Delta, the “Zopilote,” the first yacht sportfisher to circumnavigate the world. It was a special time in a very special place.”

When the season at the Reef ended, the Ocean Pacific headed back to Cairns to fuel and provision before returning to Port Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea (533 nautical miles). While there, Jenks sold the 33-foot Innovator prototype, which had served them so well on their entire voyage. He heard later that just a few months after the sale, the Innovator went aground and sank.

When the OP arrived in Port Louisiade Archipelago, Jenks’ partner had become ill. Jenks made plans to return home, while the boat and crew returned to Hawaii to await his return. A few days later, Jenks flew out of Rabaul.

Ingram and three crewmembers departed, for Tarawa Island (1,270 nautical miles) where they waited for three weeks to fuel. Then they worked their way uphill along the shortest route for fourteen days, traveling straight into the fierce trade winds all the way to Kona, Hawaii (2,165 nautical miles). When they arrived, they learned that Jenks’ partner had passed away, which meant that Jenks would be taking an active part in the day-to-day operation of his company.

This would lessen the amount of time he would be on the boat. The Ocean Pacific hung out around Hawaii – Oahu, Lahaina, Kona, Molokai and Maui – for nearly a year. Jenks and his guests would arrive for some fishing, golf or just R & R whenever he could get away. Finally, in early 1989, he brought the boat back to its home slip at the Kona Kai Club in San Diego (2,208 nautical miles). The boat had logged nearly 35,000 nautical miles of point-to-point travel, not including miles traveled while fishing.

Jim Jenks had pursued his dream successfully –

from line drawings on a napkin to the final detailed drawing with the help of many. The Ocean Pacific, with the deck-loaded 33-foot Innovator, was the first of its kind, a monument to Jenks’ determination and tenacity.

While that successfully closed the book on Jim Jenks’ dream, the Ocean Pacific continues on. Captain Jon Ingram remained with the boat when it sold in 1992. “With the new owner I took it to Alaska, as far as Glacier Bay. Back to Mexico, though the Canal via all of the western Caribbean and Florida before I moved on. Since then the boat has been to South Pacific twice, back again up to Queen Charlotte … fished a lot outside Queen Charlotte,” he proudly noted. “That was eighteen years ago and the boat still has not slowed down. Coincidently, I just saw the boat and spoke with Captain Chuck DeLuca on the Gordo Bank last week.

My guess is that the new owner put as many or even more miles on the boat as Jim did which, of course, is a lasting tribute to Jenks, his boat and his dream.”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...