By Capt. Jen Copeland
Recent evolution in the sportfishing industry is creating opportunities for younger, level-headed, smart captains. These days, many of the owners are younger and many of the boats are faster with more range. For many operations, young captains provide the perfect fit between experience and confidence that allow today’s sportfishing programs to flourish.
At just 29-years old, Captain Chris Kaulen found himself jumping from the cockpit to the bridge in the middle of the Bahamas tournament season. Owner Bobby Jacobsen’s confidence in young Chris was realized in May of 2015. Having worked for Jacobsen the previous three years, Chris knew the boat and hoped he was ready. The pressure was on, but Jacobsen’s decision proved true in June that same year when the Marlin Darlin won the Baker’s Bay Invitational, only to repeat the win in 2016.
To what does Chris credit the seeming ease of his transition to the bridge? “Staying positive and working hard,” says Kaulen. “No one treated me any differently once I became the captain,” he said, “I didn’t have to do anything special to prove myself, I just did the job and stayed humble.”
If you are lucky enough to know “Little Chris,” you know he is humble. Soft-spoken, supportive, and friendly, Chris knows how to make you love him—unknowingly of course.
Respected for his warm personality and integrity, Captain Chris has been at this boating thing for a while. Growing up on Pumpkin Cay, an isolated island in Biscayne Bay just a half-mile from the Ocean Reef Club, Chris found himself in a small boat at a very young age. In fact, Chris drove his boat to and from school each day. For as long as he can remember he had an interest in fishing. And at 13, young Chris was freelancing and working charters for the likes of Captains George Mitchell, Greg Graham, and Ron Crisp.
Landing his first private, traveling job on Captain Kevin Dunn’s Cajun Dancer at the age of 18 soon led Kaulen to more distant locales – mating for Ohana’s Captain Eddie Wheeler and Captain Bryce Garvey’s Bree. “I fished with as many people as I could,” says Chris, “I tried to adopt the best attributes from each captain so I could create my own style, my own philosophy.”
So, what exactly makes him Captain Chris? “Attention to detail,” he insists, “you must stay ahead of things – the boat’s schedule, the boss’ schedule, the maintenance. When you are suddenly propelled from a position of “neck-down,” it takes a little adjustment. Trying to grasp the fact that your responsibilities are now totally different…that’s the hardest part.”
Today’s young, aspiring captain must work hard and continue to learn from his mistakes, without putting the entire program out of business. Chris believes one of the biggest worries owners may face when considering a young gun would be lack of experience. Additionally, the mate who has his eye on the helm must go above and beyond the scope of his job without stepping on any toes.
“When the time is right, it will happen,” says Kaulen. “No one knows that magic number (of years) when it comes to experience, but each year – each day – counts.” Obviously, nothing beats real-world experience on the water, and Kaulen believes you must be honest with yourself and know your limitations. “Mental maturity – way past your years – is extremely important in this business,” he says.
On a boat there must always be the voice of reason—a leader—and that is the captain’s job. And Captain Chris tries to be sure anyone who steps foot on his Darlin enjoys sportfishing as much as he does. He continues to learn—as we all should aspire to do—at the helm of the Marlin Darlin, perfecting his style and his team in the never-ceasing quest to be a competitive force in this industry.
With no plans of moving on anytime soon, this skipper believes most in leading by example: “Be happy, work as a team, continue to compete, and try to win as much as possible.” After all, happy boats catch fish, don’t they?