Breathe Easy Wins the 2016 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship
The Wharf, Orange Beach, Alabama
From wire to wire one team led the field and on Saturday night the results were made official—Breathe Easy is the 2016 Gulf Coast Triple Crown Champion. The 68 Viking, based in Orange Beach, is owned by Matt McDonald of Daphne, Alabama. Captain Patrick Ivie, also from Orange Beach, is the boat’s skipper, with first mate Nick Knoepflein plus Shane Toole and Ryan Fields serving as additional crew members. American Marine Brokerage was this year’s GCTC presenting sponsor.
“This is really a big deal to clinch this here at home,” McDonald said after the formal presentation of the custom trophy Sunday morning. “It all started when I hired Patrick. I’ve known him for years, but he took a leap of faith in me coming aboard and it’s humbling to have that kind of dedication. Once he did, I knew the Triple Crown was a possibility. You always think big but you also have to be real about it too. Winning this took a lot of luck and hard work. It’s not something that happens every season so we’re definitely going to enjoy it.”
The Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship consists of five events in the central Gulf of Mexico. The affiliated tournaments include the Orange Beach Billfish Classic, Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic, Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic and the Blue Marlin Grand Championship.
The Triple Crown is scored on a hybrid system that includes both weight and release points for the top three finishes in the blue marlin divisions only. Bonus points are also accrued for series participation, weighed marlin lengths and tournament marlin records. The winning team receives The Championship Trophy, a seven-foot tall, one of a kind masterpiece handcrafted by metal artist Frank Ledbetter that is valued at $18,000. In addition, the Triple Crown Champion earns bragging rights amongst the region’s top big-game contestants.
To win the crown this season, Breathe Easy placed second in the Orange Beach Billfish Classic with a 574.0-pound blue, third place in the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic with a 392.3-pounder, and second place in the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. That last entry, a 835-pounder, missed first place by less than three pounds. The team also earned bonus points for competing in all five events, along with length allowances, for a total of 580 points.
“The Triple Crown is not just a one-time deal,” says Ivie. “It is a seasonal accomplishment and really means a lot since we were competing against the best in the world as far as the style of fishing that we do. I owe this to Matt and my crew. All my guys grew up on charter boats like me, so we all have the same background. That really helps.”
Sherry and Buell Polk, owners of Share-E, a brand new 72 Viking run by Capt. Mike Roberto, made a late charge at the crown by weighing a 652.8 blue at last week’s Blue Marlin Grand Championship. But that fish wasn’t quite enough and the team had to settle for second place in the GCTC standings with 460 points. Share-E is based in Venice, Louisiana.
Last year’s runner-up, Rise Up, came in third this time with 365 points. The 54 Viking is owned by Rusty Skalla and calls Destin, Florida home. Capt. Jason Hallmark is the boat’s skipper.
“Congratulations to Matt, Capt. Patrick and the entire Breathe Easy team for an outstanding season,” says Scott Burt, GCTC director. “They started out strong and never looked back as they piled up catch after catch. Share-E, Rise Up and some other contenders made a strong push only to come up a little short. That just shows the caliber of the teams and the competitive spirit on display every summer here in the prolific Gulf.”