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Article - August 2005

Aileen Maal

By Carol Bareuther

A WOMAN'S PLACE - WORKING THE COCKPIT AS MATE There's something different that you may notice about Ralph Christiansen's 60-foot Rybovich, Pescador. There's a women in the cockpit. She's not in the angler's chair and she's not posing as eye candy. Aileen Maal is the mate. Now, consider that Maal and husband/captain Juan "Tito" Martinez have worked aboard Pescador for a decade, that there's usually no other mate aboard, and that Christiansen has caught a spectacular 636 blue marlin as of July 15th, and you instantly recognize Maal's caliber.

"I'm me in the boat," Maal says. "It's not a woman or a man, it's just me."

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Maal grew up hand lining along the docks and rocks of the South American country's northern shores. Her family would spend summers seaside in La Guaira. Later, she bought an 18-foot boat with outboard engine and from this caught a 200-plus-pound yellowfin tuna.

Professionally, Maal pursued interior design. She moved to Isla de Margarita and worked in a store for five years. "It was boring. I could see the sea and I wanted to be out there," Maal explains.

She made the move at age 25, coming back to La Guaira and buying a 27-foot boat for locals to charter as well as for commercial fishing. "We caught everything you can think of. Billfish. Meat fish," Maal says.

Maal was working her charter operation when Capt. Martinez cruised into port.

"I was there at the docks when I see this lady working, moving a big cooler. There's a man that's her business partner and he isn't working," Capt. Martinez explains. "I left and went to Madeira, then came back. This time I see her working on two big Yamaha engines. I think to myself, she's pretty. She's tall. She's strong. So I go over and offer a cold bottle of Coca-Cola because it's very hot. I told her, 'Come fish with me and you won't have to work this hard."

And that's just what Maal did.

"I'd never been further than Grenada before and here I traveled 500 miles north across the Caribbean Sea with a man I had just met," she says.

Two years, and lots of successful fishing later, Mall and Martinez married.

Their life together, though on the move between Christiansen's favorite fishing haunts in the Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands and Venezuela, has its division of labor just like all married couples.

"The fishing is all Tito. When the engines turn on, he's in charge. He's the captain. He says where we go and what teasers we use," Maal says.

Yet back at the dock, engines off, Maal washes down the deck while Capt. Martinez heads into the kitchen. "He does all the cooking. I only set the table," she adds.

It's in the cockpit, with a marlin on the line, that Maal really shines. In fact, she and Martinez have devised a way to film Christiansen's spectacular catches for posterity. The equipment? A handheld camcorder with 60-minute cassette tape, mobile power supply composed of eight 12V AA batteries, and a small color security camera lens that is bolted under the front bill of Maal's visor. She snaps the camcorder in her fanny pack, dons the visor and takes her position behind the fighting chair so she can film over Christiansen's shoulder. As the marlin comes up to the back of the boat, the lens picks up Maal's hand as she wires the fish, grabs the tag stick, makes the tag and then releases the fish - all from a close up and personal perspective.

So why has Maal chosen to add videographer to her already full job as mate? "It captures the moment. It's a challenge and it makes it so much more exciting."