By Zachary Granat
“He looked at boats the way most guys look at women,” says Diana Allbritton of Charleston, South Carolina about her late husband, Joseph. But he had eyes only for her.
Almost four years after his death in a private plane crash headed to the Bahamas on Oct. 25, 2018, Diana remembers when she first visited his bachelor pad in 2006.
“His bedside table was literally a stack of professional sportfishing magazines,” she says. “Across the windows, the blinds were covered in hooks, lures, and wire dredges.”
Joseph started at the bottom of the fishing world, but he was determined to make a name for himself. Upon graduating from Clemson University, he obtained a job as the mate of a 130-foot sportfishing yacht, Mea Culpa, owned by Las Vegas millionaire Tony Marnell. Diana was as passionate about fishing as he was. She was not one of “the girls who just want to tag along, get all cute, and sit in the front of the boat,” as she puts it.
Diana wanted to be a part of the fishing community herself. Before they even met, she worked at the City Marina as both a dockhand and a hostess at the on-site restaurant frequented by captains.
From Accomplished Mate to Lauded Captain
As for Joseph, after traveling around the world on the Mea Culpa for several years while long-distance dating Diana, he became the mate of the 80-foot Lady Columbo. Those who knew Joseph tell Diana that “he was really good at what he did. He was extremely professional, extremely organized … He was just passionate.”
Joseph obtained his 100 Ton Captain’s license while in California. From that point, Joseph’s reputation took off, and he was ready to put down roots with Diana. Their wedding song was Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You.” They chose it for its lyrics, especially the lines “I’ve been all around the world/ Marching to the beat of a different drum/ Baby, but… the best is yet to come.”
Like many captains, Joseph was torn between his love for the water and his love for his family. After his death, Diana framed one of his beloved poems, “A Traveling Captain’s Poem” by Capt. Ed Thompson
Fishing was always their shared passion. Over summer and spring breaks from her job as a First Grade teacher, Diana would join her husband’s fishing trips in Florida and the Bahamas.
Joseph’s Final Days
Joseph’s last employer was Hutch Holseberg, the owner of Key West Boats, for whom he worked five years as the captain of his personal fishing boats, specifically the 70’ and 58’ Viking boats, both named Billistic.
On the day he died, Joseph, 34, was one of five aboard a private plane bound for the Bahamas with plans to tend to boat maintenance and take guests out on the water.
It was Holseberg who called Diana to let her know that his plane had gone missing.
“Joseph’s travels had become so routine. It never crossed my mind that their plane didn’t make it to Governor’s Harbour, Bahamas,” Diana says. “I was driving 65 mph down the interstate expecting Hutch to need me to bring something boat-related up to the factory!”
Diana Moves On
The cause of Joseph’s death—a plane crash at sea about 110 miles off the Charleston coastline left Diana ambivalent about the ocean. She took to art as a form of therapy, painting “angry oceans,” “peaceful, sunset oceans,” and “everything in between.”
It so happened that Joseph had been taking donations of clothes to the locals in Eleuthera when the plane went down. So when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019, Diana collected supplies and donated the sales of her paintings towards the relief effort.
That same year, Diana decided that she had to return to a place that she and Joseph had been in order to overcome her struggle to love the ocean again. So she flew to Costa Rica and fished out of Los Sueños, met Capt. Shinn and old friends, and visited their old haunts.
From then on, Diana resolved not to let her grief prevent her from returning to the sport. She crossed off another bucket-list destination, Puerto Rico, and released sailfish side by side with her father.
“I didn’t want to be … the poor widow. I didn’t want to ride on [Joseph’s] coattails,” she says. “I really wanted to figure out, ‘Do I want this for myself?’”
From Tournament to Tournament
Back in the States, she fished the Big Rock Fishing Tournament in North Carolina. When she returned home, the South Carolina Governor’s Cup was underway. Diana participated in the tournaments during the series.
Now, Diana assists the SC Governor’s Cup as the committee boat relay reporter. When captains radio in their hook up and release of fish, she follows up and lets the committee on land know what’s happening offshore in real time.
With this job, “I get to have an active role and be involved in this fishing community, and it’s been such a blessing for me,” she says. “It’s such a good feeling that I’ve taken the next step, that I’m doing what Joseph would hope for me, that I wouldn’t just sit in my grief, that I would take that active process to stay connected.”
Diana most recently participated in the Keli Wagner Lady Angler (KWLA) Tournament at Big Rock, where she caught her first blue marlin aboard the High Yield. Next, she will fish at the Carolina Billfish Classic, followed by the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament to round out the 2022 SC Governor’s Cup series.
Diana still owns the 1964, 14-foot McKee Craft that her husband purchased right after the birth of their son, Joseph III, or Tripp (for triple).
She remembers when they got it: Joseph took her to pick up something from a friend only to have him sheepishly admit that it was… a boat. Diana, rocking a newborn, was shocked, but forgave him for making a purchase without consulting her. “I knew that this boat would hold years of memories as Tripp grew up,” she says.
Although he said you don’t name boats that small, Diana came up with the name Fishing Tripp.
“Joseph immediately began refurbishing that boat, and it is one of the most sentimental and meaningful things that he left us,” she says.
Tripp has his parents’ love for being on the water. He recently attended a weeklong, kids fishing camp. He had a great time learning how to find and catch bait, tie rigs, and catch “big” fish! Joseph’s friends have stepped in to mentor Tripp as well.
While Tripp treasures a cedar plug and lure his dad bought him the day before he died, Diana is glad to have the accompanying selfie Joseph took and texted her of he and Tripp making the purchase. It’s the last photo ever taken of her husband.
“Joseph literally never woke up in a bad mood. He always woke up excited for whatever the day was going to hold, and he lived every day,” she says. “I make many decisions by thinking ‘WWJD—‘What would Joseph do?’ I don’t postpone anything in life. Take every opportunity. It can all change in an instant.”