It’s Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020. Chris, myself, and Ally asleep in the backseat, make our way to the dock. Those of you might already know and most of you don’t. As our current boat sits pretty in her slip, the entire rest of the Destin Charter Fleet races to the Gulf to claim their Red Snapper limit and idle back in. It is the first opening week of the 2020 Federal Red Snapper season, while normally Captain Chris would be 30+ miles in the middle of the Gulf right now; Chris and I are in a different, unfamiliar routine this morning. This will be our last time on board our 1971-40ft Infinity. As after today, she will have a new owner. With a very heavy heart we will say goodbye to the boat that has been more than just a vessel to charter fish on. She is the one who branded our company and gave Captain Chris his reputation and grew our company to the next level. She is the one who provided us the funds to purchase our home. Today is a bittersweet goodbye to one of the most important chapters of our lives. While we take her tackle off rod by rod and wheel them to the truck, I reminisce about all the fish stories we have made on board. I could only imagine if she could talk the crazy things she would say. There were so many good times and some bad, all part of the legacy that we will tell to our grandchildren one day. I am honored to have been apart of her fishing team and watch Chris fulfill his life long dream with her.
I first met Chris on a fishing dock and I am just as certain then as I am now that the man was born with gills. He is the “fishiest” person I know. A true gift given by God. I often tell customers that if you want someone to take your trash out or do your laundry don’t call Chris but if you want to catch fish and experience the luckiest fishing village in the world, then call on Chris. I was 19 years old when Chris and I started dating. He was 25 and had already purchased his first boat, the Adios. The Adios is a 22ft Cape Horn bay boat that Chris jumped head first into and officially started running his own charters on. He grew up on the docks of Destin and worked as a deckhand for some of the legends that still reside at the helm today. I love hearing his stories and cherish each one of the captains and deckhands he has surrounded himself with. I could probably recite these stories better than him. When we started dating, I was in college to be a radiologist and boy were my parents thrilled when I told them I would finish my AA and not be returning for the fall semester and that I was going to book fishing trips. After the second season in 2013 with me behind the phones and Chris on the Adios, we managed to save a little money in hopes to expand our business to a larger boat.
Captain Jason Mikel was in the market to sell off his 40ft infinity and Chris couldn’t jump at the opportunity fast enough. We worked the numbers and decided to go to a bank and get a loan. We were turned down at 4 different places and two of which laughed in our faces. Frustrated but not defeated we sat down with Jason and told him we were unable to get a loan. Jason then offered a deal that would change our lives forever. He made us a promise that if we saved up enough for a down payment by the end of the 2014 season he would owner finance the rest of the loan himself. Jason had many others that wanted the 1971 Infinity. Even offers greater then what we agreed to pay for her. Whether he admits it or not, I know he saw a piece of himself in Chris and believed in him. He wanted the Backlash to be his. After all Chris ran the deck for Jason for almost 5 years on that very boat and it was almost fate for her to land in Chris’ lap. We would not be where we are today with Jason giving us this leap of faith. This was an act that we will forever be indebted to him for and a piece of our story that was one of our greatest accomplishments.
The 2014 Spring Break season would start out with running on fumes both mentally and physically. Chris and I sat down and decided the only way we would be able to afford the down payment by the end of the season for Jason would be to purchase and expand our inshore company to two boats. With our entire life savings we drove to Mobile, AL and purchased another 22ft Cape Horn, The Amigo. We had $86 to our name by the time she was fish ready. I cried telling Chris we would have to decide whether to pay the power bill to keep the lights on or the phone bill to book the boats. We let three late notices show up in the mail before I booked enough trips to pay Chelco. A time in our lives I will remember and be humbled by until the day I die. I talked to God everyday asking him to send me a sign this was the right direction. While June and July are a blur every year, come September 2014 we were just a few thousand shy of the Backlash down payment. When the moment came to walk in and hand Jason the down payment and sign our names to the “big boat”, I had never felt a greater sense of achievement. Because God. That’s why. Funny to think, Chris would be driving a boat worth more than our 900ft shoebox we called home. November 1st, 2014 Captain Chris took over the charter boat Backlash. A date that set our sails to the future and the name we would brand over the next 5 years to become one of the most sought after charter boats in Destin, FL.
Once again we started the 2015 Spring Break season with pennies in the bank, a leap of pure faith, a few thousand prayers and an idea. We began our journey with one offshore boat, The Backlash and two bay boats, The Adios and The Amigo. This was the first season I would be booking for three boats. Three boats meant two to three trips a day, four to six passengers on every trip, seven days a week on each. I made a lot of mistakes. I shed a lot of tears. I didn’t sleep or eat. I didn’t have much of a life other than answering the phone and running errands for all the boats. I didn’t see Chris in daylight for 3 solid months. I lost friends and family time was nonexistent. But we got through it. Because God. That’s Why. By September 2015 we were able to breath again. We looked back on the 2015 season and were grateful. We survived it. We would do this over and over for the next two years getting better and more efficient each year. These seasons were spent perfecting our jobs and making our system more consistent. We went through quite a few hired captains and deckhands. We have had some of the greatest work on our decks and a few we could have lived without but we are thankful for each and every one. Charter fishing is not for the faint of heart or weak minded. Our business has blossomed since 2013. We do not take our journey for granted and will never forget what it took to get here. Chris does his job and I do mine. We can agree each of us cannot do the others and we are a team. Owning your own company is not easy. Owning your own business and running it with your husband or wife is not easy. We depend on each other. We depend on God.
While we eventually paid off our debt to Jason Mikel and could finally state we owned 100% of our company (WOW what a feeling), Chris came to me once again and said he wanted to buy a bigger boat. A boat he could retire on. A boat that could be certified and not be limited to just 6 passengers. A boat that would grow our business to the next level. I cried that night while he was sleeping. I didn’t want to buy another boat. I didn’t want to sell the boat that we had built our world with. I didn’t want to go into debt again. But if there is one thing Chris doesn’t take well, it’s no for an answer. (Also one of the greatest traits I admire about him). He is driven and when he sets a goal he is going to reach that goal no matter what. With long conversation and a business model in place he set out to find this “dream boat”. While researching and looking at hundreds of boats online and talking to different captains about what style they liked and didn’t like he stumbled upon one he thought would be the one to fit the mold. He tracked down the owner and met him at a dry-dock where the boat was being repaired from hurricane damage. When Chris left the boat yard that day he rant and raved about how much he loved this boat and saw so much potentially in it and that it was a good deal. Well a deal it was. The owner informed us that he was going through a divorce and couldn’t sell the boat until the divorce was final. We waited and by the time the owner called us to let us know he was ready to sell it was the start of 2020.
We had just got the Backlash finished up at dry dock and it was almost time for Spring Break madness. We took one more trip to look at this so-called dreamboat. Ally was two weeks old when we went to look at the boat. We walked up to the 57ft Miller and it was listing to the starboard side. It hadn’t been washed in a while and the owner had a weird era about him when he invited us on. With spending less than an hour with this guy on this dreamboat…we got back in the truck and headed back home. The condition of the boat and its owner was enough for both of us to decide this wouldn’t be the boat for us. A sign from God really. It was a great deal and a price we couldn’t turn down but we did. My Mama always said go with your gut and I am glad we did. We said no thank you and went about our lives. I knew Chris was beyond disappointed. A month later, the corona virus took over our lives. Spring Break 2020 was cancelled and the Destin Charter Fleet was asleep at her dock. An unreal time we will remember for the rest of our days.
Uncertain times that made us cling to God more than ever. With a new baby, I was thankful to have Chris home with me. Normally he would be gone while I manned the business side of things on land. The corona virus was financially devastating to a lot of people and business’ across our nation but one positive thing was having my husband home when I needed him the most. A blessing in disguise. With being home, Chris had time to research more “dream boats”. He once again stumbled on “the” boat. The pictures he showed me online were of a boat called “Boys in Blue”… a 57ft Gillman sport fishing yacht. I took one look at her and the price and rolled my eyes and said no. But Chris being Chris he called and lined up a showing anyways. It was only a few days later when Chris, one-month-old Ally and myself walked on board the Boys in Blue. Incredible, Clean, Great Bones, Powerful…. A few words that crossed my mind immediately while taking the tour of her. There was a sense of comfort and rightness I felt from the moment we stepped foot on her.
We finished up and while I was loading up Ally in her car seat Chris said he was going to make an offer. I felt like passing out. But I took one look at Chris and knew that I wouldn’t change his mind. It didn’t matter what I said, he was going to do this. He marched back to the broker and made his offer and Greg said he would be in touch and send over a formal, official offer later that day. The whole way home from Panama City I thought about how we would be going back in debt and with the corona virus already suffocating our income, the money we had put away was even more crucial and limited now. The next few weeks we spent calling our banks to get in touch with the right person about a commercial loan to lock in this boat. Talk about a nightmare. Every bank we spoke with was dealing with the hundreds of Paycheck Protection Loan applications and didn’t have two seconds for any other kind of loan. It would take us two months, 10 different banks and putting 50% down and having to have my Dad cosign to secure a loan. Not to mention having to sell our current boat. I have never been more stressed out in my entire life. I was so mad at Chris for putting me through this. But I didn’t want to let him down. We had to file an extension three times, even went out of contract to avoid losing our deposit. It was May 27th, 2020, bottom of the 20th inning and us hanging onto a prayer, driving home from Wal-Mart when we received news that we had been approved for the loan. I cried so hard. It was at that moment I was able to tell Chris he would be getting his dreamboat. I will never forget that drive home as long as I live and I thanked God over and over and over.
Our 2020 season would start full steam in June with a new boat and a new baby. There was no time to sit around and cry (even though I wanted to). In just 2 days we got her back to Destin, filled her with tackle and prayers and sent her out on her first official charter. Her name on the back still read Boys in Blue. Chris fished her that way until we could make a day to schedule a Nascar pit stop to get the name changed along with props tuned, trim tabs fixed, cut less bearings changed, rudders sealed etc. Another huge thank you and blessing to be surrounded with helpful strong hands who put other jobs aside to help us get it done to not be down anymore days during snapper season then absolutely need be. With a new boat comes a new obstacle. Chris had fished on the old boat for 5 years and knew the way that boat handled and could drive her as easy as breathing in and out. With the new boat there was no coaching or history between the two. He was learning just as much from his machine as the machine was from him. With just 1200 hours on the CAT engines as he took over the helm, the new Backlash had no idea she was about to get her sea legs. Full steam (diesel actually) ahead, Captain Chris Kirby would stretch them for her and put another 1300 hours on her engines in just a few months. Day light to dark, seven days a week, 16+ hours to make up for down days and replenish our savings account with a bigger picture at the end of the tunnel. With God guiding us we made it. Once again we finished another fishing season amidst the trials and not-so-easy times. Hello November, it is so good to see you.
To every person who fished with us this year and the years past, we cannot say thank you enough for being apart of our dream. For over a year and a half Chris had been telling customers that he was going to purchase a big boat to carry over 6 and each of these customers would call and book and ask if we had got the new boat yet. There were so many people who were praying and rooting for Chris to make his dream come true. It gives me butterflies every time I think about watching him drive the new Backlash out of the marina for the first time to bring her to her homeport back in Destin. I have never been more proud of him. We did it. This boat has always been Chris’ dream and his final goal in finding a forever boat to retire on. While he still has big plans for her and lots of trips left to run, this boat will be the final chapter to our business. If you would have told me 9 years ago I would be married to Chris Kirby running a charter boat company I would have laughed and told you lying is bad for your health. Because God. That’s why. Without Chris’ drive, ambition and fish minded soul none of this would be possible. (I will take partial credit for the accounting and marketing side of things ha!) Chris didn’t graduate high school because he was fishing. He had a lot of teachers, family members, co-workers tell him he would never make a living being a fisherman. I pray they look at him and smile now. I am humbled to have held his hand through all the good times and especially the bad to get this far. I hope one day our children will be proud of their parents and learn that anything is possible if you work hard, make goals and have a plan. It’s not easy being in the charter fishing industry. It’s an industry that separates the men from the boys and will chew you up and spit you out any chance it gets. Here is to the next and final chapter of our business and the short version of how we got here! I can finally say, this is the last and final boat we will ever purchase. WE DID IT!
Here is to the future built on the struggles and triumphs of the past.
God is so Good!