John Havlicek didn’t say much on the way back from Nantucket, but then you really have to have something important to say to holler over a diesel engine growling at 3,000 rpm.
It had been a long seven hours at sea for Mr. Havlicek, with the time spent bouncing around Nantucket Sound telescoped in a way only those who have been seasick can describe.
The former Celtics superstar was quiet, and through the murk of his dark brown wraparound fishing glasses it was hard to tell whether his eyes were open or closed as he sat facing the stern and the slowly disappearing line of Nantucket.
So ended the first John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tournament for its namesake, a day of mediocre fishing and queasiness made better by the fact that it was all endured for a good cause.
Havlicek and 11 other celebrities gathered early on Saturday morning to catch some fish and raise money for the Genesis Fund, which supports the work of the Boston Floating Hospital for Children to prevent and treat birth defects.
The 12-boat armada left the dock at Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown before eight, with Mr. Havlicek and his 11-year-old son Chris aboard Bob Perimian’s 29-foot Foolish Pleasure. Joining the Havliceks were Terry Keleher of Duxbury and Paul Rasmussen of Boston, who quickly instructed everyone to call him “Raz.” Mark Bos served as the Foolish Pleasure’s crew.
A haze hung over the sea as the boat chugged toward Nantucket, and Mr. Perimian offered dramamine tablets to ward off seasickness.
The conversation was abbreviated but established that Mr. Keleher was in real estate and did most of his fishing in Florida, while Mr. Rasmussen, a restaurateur, was an avid fisherman all along the Massachusetts coast.
Mr. Perimian spotted a group of sea gulls hovering off the beach at Siasconset and Mr. Bos readied the trolling rods as the captain throttled down the engines and yelled: “I see some fins. Get ‘em ready, Mark, they’re gonna hit fast.”
Only a few seconds after being handed a pole, Mr. Rasmussen had a hit, quickly followed by Chris Havlicek, who was nearly yanked off the deck as the fish bit. His father grabbed the pole and helped steady Chris as Mr. Rasmussen battled with his catch, yelling over his shoulder to the boy: “Pretty good fight, huh?”
Mr. Havlicek then got a strike, and the three men hauled their bluefish aboard after tiring skirmishes, letting them go after admiring examinations and guesses about weight.
But the birds and the smell of fish were gone and after a few minutes of fruitless trolling, Foolish Pleasure puttered over to another hunting ground where fishermen from six other boats were busy dropping their lines.
The commotion on the surface from all the fishermen apparently scared away the blues. After a few minutes the crew pulled in the empty lines and Mr. Perimian eased the throttle forward to look for better fishing.
It was then that Chris noticed his father leaning over the side and asked, “You seasick, Dad?”
“Not anymore,” he replied, walking unsteadily back to his seat.
Moving away from the crowd of boats, Foolish Pleasure stopped again and the fishermen dropped their lines in the quiet sea.
“We’ve got to get some action here,” said Mr. Keleher, almost as a command to the uncooperative blues.
“I can’t believe we haven’t had a hit,” said Mr. Rasmussen, who was stopped short as his rod bent over with a hard tug on the line, 50 yards out.
Mr. Havlicek then had a hit, and handed the rod to his son, who held on with all his might, his tongue hanging out as he worked the crank.
“Reel him in, reel him in, c’mon keep reeling him in, keep up the tension,” Mr. Havlicek coached. Meanwhile, Mr. Rasmussen swore as the line went slack, his prize managing to break free of the nasty hook.
“I think I just got the biggest one that got away,” he said. Then, looking seriously at Chris, who had since won his battle, said gravely, “It must’ve been a shark.”
Chris looked in awe at the pudgy man in the Beck’s beer T-shirt who had suddenly been transformed from just another fisherman to a fearless shark fighter.
After another few minutes, Mr. Havlicek grabbed a pole, and shrugged off the concern of Mr. Perimian with a wave of his big hand.
“This happens to me sometimes, so I know what I’m in for when I come out,” he said. With that, he dropped in his line and soon had the open mouth of a big blue chasing after the plug as he furiously spun the crank.
“C’mon, John, just pretend it’s a basketball hoop and drop that plug right
in,” Mr. Perimian shouted out.
Meanwhile, Chris watched intently as Mr. Rasmussen battled with yet another fish and asked, “Is it that shark again?” “Yup, the same one,” Mr. Rasmussen chuckled.
“This guy is infatuated with sharks,” Mr. Havlicek said, watching his son. “Every time he has a report to do in school he does it on sharks.”
The group decided to try their hands at casting with surface plugs as the afternoon began, and after Mr. Perimian began turning off the engine to avoid the fumes and let the boat drift. Mr. Havlicek cast his plug far off the stern with a renewed enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, the fish weren’t cooper­ating, with only scattered strikes and about a dozen fish recorded on the score cards as the midday sun began to burn through the haze.
Mr. Havlicek handed his pole to another crew member and gave pointers to Chris, when he got a strike, showing him how to pump the rod and tire the fish while steadily cranking.
It was a big fish this time and the crew decided to keep it as its entry in the contest for the largest fish.
The lines were kept in the water until 3:30 p.m.. when the call went out over the radio that the tournament was over. Mr. Perimian pointed Foolish Pleasure back toward home.
Chris went below and immediately fell asleep, undoubtedly dreaming of the sharks that got away. Later, as the boat slid into Edgartown harbor. Mr. Havlicek looked down at his sleeping son and recalled how Chris became interested in fishing.
“When we were getting him toilet trained. I promised him a fishing pole if he was a good boy and learned fast,” he said, removing the sunglasses and rubbing his eyes with long fingers. “I think we probably cut six months off his potty training by doing that. I used to tell him stories to get him to fall asleep, and 1 told him old fishing stories because I didn’t know any nursery rhymes, so I think that’s what got him started.”
Mr. Havlicek got up and called below to Chris as Foolish Pleasure nudged the dock at Larry’s, with about a dozen spectators taking pictures of the incom­ing crews.
Part of the dock was cordoned off earlier, as the weight of the spectators collapsed the end of the dock, sending several people into the water.
Foolish Pleasure’s crew ended up with 18 fish, not bad enough or good enough to be given an award at a ceremony Saturday night at the Harbor View.
But the children served by the Genesis Fund were the real winners of this first John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tourna­ment. The object was to raise more than $20,000 for the Genesis Fund through the generosity of 27 participants who paid $1,500 a piece to spend the weekend and go fishing with Mr. Havlicek and 11 other celebrities from the sports and television world.
And help came from Island circles everywhere. The Island coordinator for the weekend was Edward (Spider) Andresen of Chilmark. Ruth Burnham of Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown served as tournament commissioner.
Mrs. Burnham received high praise for the time she devoted to making the day so successful, and for donating her business quarters and dock as the tournament headquarters. Winthrop Lanz. Brandy Harrison, Bruce Pratt and Nelson Smith, all of Edgartown, and Chilmarkers Dick Leeson and Diego Messina donated their boats for the fishing.
Mr. Havlicek said because of the success of this year’s tournament he’d like to see another tournament on Martha’s Vineyard next summer, adding that he should be feeling better by then.