Captain Joe Mercurio still gets up at 5:30 every morning, but now he doesn’t have to check the wind and sea forecast while loading ice and handling his Triple Time charter boat at the A&B Marina.
Mercurio, who has been a fixture in and on Key West waters since his family moved here in 1946 when Mercurio was three years old.
“My father, Joe Mercurio also, started here in 1946 with a ceremonial boat called the Storm King. They used to fish bottom grouper. Then I bought my first boat when I was 18 around 1951, but at that time, you couldn’t make a living by The charters are all year round, only in January, February and March. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough people in town to support the family with, but sea fishing. Lots of hired men would work in the navy yard when they couldn’t fish.”
But Captain Joe always wanted to hunt. “So I started commercial fishing, first for Yellowtail, but then I realized the money was in lobster, so I did it for several years.”
This was all in the days before the marine reserve was created and before strict fishing laws required saltwater products to be licensed to sell fish.
“There were no licenses for anything at the time; I just needed to register the boat,” he said. “My first yellow-tailed commercial boat was a Ruth C. I had that for four or five years before I decided that lobster was the place to go.” There is money in it. So I bought commercial lobster Donna Marie, then Tyne Marie. Then, around 1965, we bought a Fiji 3 and that’s when I went back to charter trips, and out of Garrison Bate, before there was now Charter Row.”
I had the Mercurio Fiji 3 until 1979, “Then I bought the flagship boat Gulfstream 3 and the charter boat Jolly Roger, which was next to it. It’s funny that Gulfstream was my father’s competition, but I’ve known these guys since I was 4 or 5, and I was I always say I will buy the boat from them whenever they are ready to sell it.”
This childhood dream came true in 1979, and Captain Joe would take 50 people at a time on the boat he was fishing from because he could barely see from over the railroad.
Eventually, he said, I got tired of dealing with 50 people at a time, and stuck to making pacts on my Jolly Roger. “We bought a boat today, Triple Time, 23 or 24 years ago and have been running this boat ever since. I sold a Jolly Roger to my son, Joe III, and we moved Triple Time downtown to Marina A&B.”
Mercurio’s wife, Sandy, was always handling reservations, reservations, and all the phone calls and questions from charter clients, most of whom returned year after year.
“Sailfish, marlin, and any of the blue water fish have always been my favorites for fishing,” he said. “But we will go after whatever customers want, including mahi mahi and snappers. But if I had Druthers, I would go after the big ones, always catch them and let them go. I was always taught, as a young child, that you never take more than you need and you will not hunt in the same place. Two days in a row.”
So, what’s next for Captain Joe?
“I still get up at 5:30, but I don’t have to do anything. I’ll get another job, though.” He said he plans to apply for a job driving the bid back and forth to Sunset Key, which will keep him on the water and around people.
“This way you don’t have to worry about maintenance or repairing the boat,” he said.
Considering 61 years of doing what he loves, Mercurio has no regrets.
The Triple Time charter boat stays on its regular glide at the A&B Marina. Mercurius sold the boat to their longtime companion Keith Hebert. “He’s been with us for nine years, so most of our customers already know him, and we really wish him the best.
“The fishing experience isn’t always about fishing, it’s about spending quality time on the water with good people,” he said. “It was the best way to make a living, and I’ve been very fortunate to have lived through the old saying, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.'”