Owning a charter boat has its ups and downs, but the one constant is the boat, which in my case is a 50-foot Hatteras I call Duchess. For 45 years she’s been home, business and the essential tool in my offshore fishing arsenal.
She was built in 1967 and was the first production boat with three staterooms and two heads. I ran her for her owner in Grenada, and what I loved about fishing her was the full tuna tower and deep keel. She is one of the finest sea boats ever built. In 1976 I bought her from my boss and started chartering out of the Bahamas.
From 1977 to 2004, Walker’s Cay in the Abacos was my home base. Duchess was one of only two charter boats there at the time, and everyone knew me, my boat and my dogs — Huggy Bear and later Littlefoot — who fished and lived aboard with me.
Life was good until Hurricane Frances and, three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne swept over the island. The storms left Walker’s Cay and Duchess in sad shape. Her port bow cleat ripped out and left a hole that I could see daylight through. To keep the salvagers away, I sat in my fighting chair like Clint Eastwood, a .44 Magnum at the ready. I eventually made my way to my son’s dock in Indiantown, Florida, and started putting Duchess back together.
In 2009 she underwent a three-year, $100,000 refit. We replaced everything, from the engines to the electronics. Her Whisper Grey hull is now Fighting Lady Yellow, and a pair of turbocharged Cummins 903s gave her an additional 5 knots, making her a 20-knot boat. Inside and out, Duchess is more beautiful than ever — customers hardly recognize my girl. She’s yacht-quality now, thanks to my wife Karen’s decorating, with Afromosia teak and varnished mahogany interiors, maple flooring, granite heads and a varnished teak transom and toe rails.
These days Duchess and I fish out of Stuart, Flor-ida, and Walker’s Cay, where I regularly run trips — the fishing there is better than ever. Duchess is more than a boat. She saved my life during those hurricanes. She’s my greatest ally. I love her.
Longtime charter captain Billy Black has held many Bahamian records for blue and white marlin, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, dolphin, wahoo and sailfish. He operates in Florida and the Bahamas through the Guy Harvey Outpost network. guyharveyoutpost.com/adventures