By Carol M. Bareuther, RD
The first time I met Captain Jimmy Loveland was in the late 1980s. His brother Stewart, asked me to write a press release announcing the upcoming USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT), better known as the ‘Boy Scout’ tournament for its chief beneficiary at the time. What I thought would be a short straightforward fact-finding interview with Jimmy as we sat at the head of ‘A’ Dock in Red Hook, St. Thomas, turned into a four-plus hour education on the tournament’s rules. Not IGFA rules.
Rather, Jimmy’s rules. Why the swivel must hit the rod tip to call a blue marlin truly caught before release. Why 100 percent release, not a minimum weight for release. Or worse yet, killing and bringing a fish to the scales, was essential to the future of the sport. And, why four anglers and hourly rod rotations were required for fairness for the Top Angler prize. This was something that got Jimmy in hot water with boat owners who preferred to be the sole anglers.
To say that Jimmy didn’t care about the flack he got for his rules and ardent enforcement of them would be a misnomer. He cared deeply, because in a sport with as much luck as skill, it was all about fairness, integrity and the future of the sport to him. It’s not by chance that the ABMT was known for the over 50 years it operated as the Super Bowl of sportfishing.
A Native Floridian Finds His Roots in Sportfishing
Jimmy was born and raised in South Florida. His grandfather, Edward C Loveland, was an electrical contractor and president of Homestead Light, Power and Ice Co. in the early 1900s, while his grandmother, Agnes Steward Loveland, was a past president of the Longview Women’s Club. Together, under a federal grant, the two homesteaded 160 acres including where Loveland Road, located just outside the Everglades, is today. With Flagler’s railway built, South Florida served as the fruit and vegetable bowl for the Northeast in the winter, and land for agriculture and ice to keep the crops chilled were big business.
Jimmy’s father, Stewart (not to be confused with Jimmy’s brother, Stewart Loveland, Jr, who owns Neptune Fishing in Red Hook, St. Thomas), inherited the family’s entrepreneurial spirit but took it in a different direction: out to sea. For over 30 years, he owned and ran the Polly D and Melody, out of Miami City Yacht Basin’s Pier 5. It was a time when tourism boomed and celebrities, as well as everyday folks, came to sportfish. It was here, on the docks at Pier 5 (today Bayside Marketplace) that Jimmy grew up.
“I sold live bait, washed boats and mated for my father,” said Jimmy, in a 2013 interview he did with me for All At Sea magazine. Neighbors on the docks included fishing greats like Buddy Carey, Whitey Fulton and Pudgie Spalding, who worked as mates, as well as the late legendary captain Tommy Gifford. “Thousands of people would come down each afternoon when 20 or more sport fishing boats would line up on either side of the docks to sell their catch,” he recalled.
Jimmy graduated from high school in 1960 and set out to make money the way he knew best—fishing. He moved over to the Castaway’s dock and, with captain’s license in hand, he started running the 45-foot Rave for dock owners Ray and Vera Shand.
“People would come to charter and ask me where the captain was,” said Jimmy, who was then a boyish-looking, tall, thin redhead.
The traveling bug hit three years later. Jimmy headed north to Montauk on Long Island for a summer season of swordfishing with Capt. Jimmy Sarno and the Akins family on Nikka. The commercial fishermen at the time were still using harpoons, so since Jimmy’s interest was recreational, he’d spot the fish, get ahead of them and surface-bait them with squid. Giant tuna and striped bass were also in his scopes. This summer was momentous in another way too. Jimmy married his now-former wife, Linda, and the couple honeymooned in Lake Placid, New York. Not fond of the cold, the couple moved back to Florida. There Jimmy started freelancing as a mate and captain.
“One day, I got to the dock to see a gentleman waiting for me. Capt. Johnny Harms asked me if I’d like to run a sports fishing boat in the Virgin Islands. I said, ‘Sure, where are they?’. That night, I told my wife, and we both got out the atlas we’d received as a wedding present to look up the location.”
A Young Salt Makes Waves
Harms was hired a few years earlier by philanthropist and land developer, Laurence Rockefeller to explore the potential for sports fishing to entertain Rockefeller’s guests at Caneel Bay on St. John. On January 14, 1963, Jimmy landed on St. Thomas, took a taxi to the Caneel Bay dock, and found Harm’s Savannah Bay waiting for him. His second year in the Virgin Islands, Harms, with Elliot Fishman as angler, caught an 814-pound blue and set a world record on 80-pound tackle.
The global eyes of the sportfishing world turned to St. Thomas and Jimmy was in the middle of these heady times. In 1966, Jimmy as captain caught a 761-pound blue marlin, the fourth largest ever caught at that time. Later, he caught a 124-pound wahoo that back then established the 50-pound class men’s world record.
“Those days were paradise,” Jimmy said. “We’d fish every day, some 250 days a year, exploring, never knowing what we’d see.”
Celebrities flocked to the Virgin Islands for fishing, including actor David Janssen and politicos Hubert Humphrey, Lady Bird Johnson, and Mo Udall. Charters back then cost $125 per day.
In the mid-60s, Harms purchased land in Red Hook for a marina, while Jimmy, Jerry Black and A.T. Horn took over Harms’ old marina in the Lagoon. By then, says Jimmy, “At a young age I had had all the ice cream I could eat working for others and I knew from my father’s struggles that I didn’t want to be an owner-operator.”
Jimmy’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. He launched a tour company in 1971 called Treasure Isle Cruises and became a major tour operator for the cruise ships, offering passengers everything from island tours to excursions to neighboring St. John and the British Virgin Islands. He also offered charters aboard the 54-foot party fishing boat, the Fish ‘N Fool, which took him 9 days to bring down from Miami in 1968. Jimmy also ran the Hassel Island ferry for a while, a succession of three restaurants including Sib’s by the Sea next to the Anchorage in Cowpet Bay and the last being Sib’s on the Mountain, which he sold in 1994, and into the 2000’s he continued to offer day sails as well as island-hopping multi-day tours on the 76-foot Spirit of St. Christopher.
The Making of an Industry-Changing Mover Shaker
Virgin Islands anglers were casting about for a way to spread the word about the magnificent marlin fishing. In 1972, Chuck Senf, along with other avid anglers that included Winthrop ‘Win’ Rockefeller, created what became the ABMT. The tournament was fixed on the three days before and one day after the August full moon. Part of the monies raised by the tournament benefited the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America, one of Senf’s favorite charities. Hence, the tournament’s ‘Boy Scout’ nickname. Jimmy won the 1974 tournament as the captain for Rockefeller’s 55-foot Hatteras, Alchemist. In 1987, Jimmy took over running the tournament.
“Energy behind the tournament and entries at the time were both waning,” he said, adding that he knew he “could bridge the local boats and the Florida boats and bring everyone together. I also wanted to change things, like start releasing blue marlin rather than boating them; I took a lot of grief over the special tournament rules for this. But gradually anglers were willing to follow these rules.”
The ABMT became the first fishing event in the world to release marlin. Instead of weight on a scale to determine the tournament winner, it was points earned through the number of blue marlin caught and released. To keep it fair, Jimmy created his ABMT Certified Observer Program in 2009, where trained and impartial observers rode along on tournament boats to verify catch and releases. That same year, the International Game Fishing Association founded its International Game Fish Tournament Observers organization to train more observers as other tournaments around the world took their lead from the ABMT and implemented catch and release rules.
Jimmy innovated other industry ‘firsts’. He spearheaded the development of the ‘Big Game Room’ at the Miami Boat Show. He developed the Bermuda Triangle and Spanish Main Series of tournaments. Jimmy also founded a magazine, On the Edge, that promoted the Virgin Islands as a major global blue marlin destination. He did this as well when he orchestrated the mount of the 1142-pound Atlantic Blue Marlin caught by Larry Martin in 1977, and the all-tackle record for years, on permanent display in the baggage claim area at St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport.
Jimmy also created Marlin Fest, something he called ‘building the bleachers’ around the ABMT so that marlin aficionados not just anglers could participate. Mocko Jumbie dancers, an arts and crafts fair, day trip excursions, beach parties, a chowder culinary competition and more turned the Red Hook community into the place to be to celebrate all things blue marlin.
Jimmy was awarded the distinguished Boy Scout Silver Beaver Award in 2011. The Billfish Foundation recognized Jimmy with the Winthrop Rockefeller Lifetime Achievement Award.
Towards a New Generation of Marine Professionals
As he retired from running the ABMT, Jimmy dedicated more time to creating, developing, and running the MVP (Marine Vocational Program). The non-profit organization he founded in 2008 is based on the idea that by offering the island’s young people the required training and skills, they can attain a lucrative and potentially lifelong vocation in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ marine and marine hospitality industries.
As such, the MVP recruits grade school, middle school and high school age boys and girls from local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands. Hundreds of young people to date have learned to swim, dive, snorkel, kayak, fish, operate a powerboat and sail through this program, all at no cost to them or their families.
Captain Jimmy Loveland passed away at his residence in St. Thomas on February 3, 2022, at the age of 79. In his last MVP Helm Report, which he sent out in December 2021, his final paragraph sparks a reminder back to when Capt. Johnny Harms offered what turned out to be a priceless, life-changing, opportunity to a teenage captain from Florida that ultimately changed sports fishing forever.
“Let’s face it, we don’t know how many of our MVP students will become boat captains, tour guides, divers, fishermen or someday hold the positions of hotel and marina managers – or Tourism Director… but with MVP training, they’ll have a head start!” – Captain Jimmy Loveland