CAPTAIN KELVIN "RED" BAILEY, A LEGEND ABOARD THE ABIGAIL III
"If you're interested son, you can start tomorrow," the late sports fishing captain, Tommy Gifford, said to a teenage Kelvin "Red" Bailey.
Red said: "That tomorrow was many, many years ago, and I've kept showing up ever since."
In his near forty-year sports fishing career, Capt. Red Bailey has logged more hours fishing in Virgin Islands waters than any other local captain and has been a trendsetter in his profession.
A native of Antigua, Red came to St. Thomas in 1965. Ironically, it was his first job working at a hotel restaurant that put him, as they say, in the right place at the right time. Each afternoon, Red traveled to Johnny Harms Lagoon Marina (now the Fish Hawk Marina) to buy fresh fish. As Red dutifully chose the choice catch, his eyes wandered to the big fishing rigs and he imagined the excitement of being out on the water each day. Breaking into his daydream, Gifford issued his memorable offer that set the stage for Red's sports fishing career.
Red began working as a first mate for Gifford on his boat "The Princess". Then, he moved onto the "Savanna Bay" and served as a mate for Johnny Harms. Both Gifford and Harms are sports fishing legends who pioneered and charted the fishing grounds off the coast of Florida as well as in and around the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
With his eagerness, intelligence and drive it didn't take Red long to become Capt. Red, having earned his license in the late 1960's. Capt. Red continued to work with Harms, taking charter guests out from the Caneel Bay Resort on St. John as well as such local gamefishing personalities on St. Thomas as Dr. Lyman and Nancy Spire. It was Capt. Red's chance meeting of the Spire's that proved another pivotal point in his career.
Dr. Spire and his wife were an avid fishing couple that, when it was time for Lyman to retire, decided to move to St. Thomas and purchase a sports fishing boat. Though highly recommended by Harms, Spire had already planned to have Red for his captain, having been impressed with Red's skill on numerous charter-fishing trips. The Abigail II was named for the Spire's daughter and it's successor, the 44' Custom Built Abigail III is now the oldest local fishing boat on the island, according to Capt. Red.
Through the 1960's, the sports fishing industry in the Virgin Islands blossomed. Zealous interest, on the part of a few dedicated sports fishermen, prompted the charter of the Virgin Islands Gamefishing Club in 1963. The Club had an ever- expanding membership that included such illustrious members as Capt. Johnny Harms, Capt. Tommy Gifford, Eddie Bertrand, Chunk Senf, Capt. Jimmy Loveland, Capt. Jerry Black, Joseph "Spike" Herbert, Dr. Lyman and Nancy Spire, Frank and Jerry Miller, and Nelson and Gloria Applegate.
Soon after its formation, the VI Gamefishing Club members set for themselves a challenge. Anyone who caught all of the big five fish - blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and wahoo - on 20-pound test line, would receive the distinction of being called a Master Angler. Shortly thereafter, looking for an even greater challenge, Club members upped the stakes by dropping the test line to 12-pounds, thus creating the conditions for the Tommy Gifford Grand Master Award.
The achievement of this feat for New York attorney, Frank Miller, a long time charter client at Harm's Lagoon Marina, was something in which Capt. Red played an essential role - through bad and good luck.
Capt. Red explained: "I was working as a mate on a sports fishing boat from Grenada, which Frank Miller had chartered. Once out, our bad luck started almost immediately. Early on, after Miller carefully played the line on a fighting blue marlin, he lost the fish. But this wasn't the worst part of the trip. On our return to shore the boat caught on fire. We all jumped overboard and that was when we first learned that Frank couldn't swim."
Wet and tired, everyone including Miller, returned to shore safely.
Two days after this unpleasant trip, Miller was down at the docks saying good-by to his wife, who was going out fishing with Harms. Looking dolefully at the dock, he saw Ruth Gordon and Ellie Heckert who were getting ready to go fishing with Capt. Red who was helmed the Abigail II out to the North Drop with Miller bumming a ride.
Capt. Red said: "As soon as we put the first bait in the water, a blue marlin snapped it from the rigger."
(Photo right: Capt. Bailey and son "Junior")
Watching the excitement from his boat trolling nearby, Harms radioed over "Let us know when the line breaks," Capt. Red said. "We expected that to happen any minute on the 12-pound test line."
Miller's skill as an angler, in concert with Capt. Red at the wheel, put an end to the marlin's fight. The fish was boated just one hour and 15 minutes after it had taken the bait. Once boated, Capt. Red estimated the marlin weighed 450 pounds. Later at the dock, the marlin weighed in at 448 pounds.
"Miller was spaced out and just could not believe it." Capt. Red described. As the instant dock party began, International Gamefishing Association (IGFA) representative Eddie Bertrand verified both the catch and the test weight of the line. Not only did Miller gain the most major step toward winning the Grand Master Award, he also set a Virgin Islands Record that still stands today.
Photo Below Right: Capt. Bailey's 2004 induction into ABMT BOC "Hall of Fame". Captains L-R: OB O'Bryan, Bubba Carter, Ray Walters, Johnny Fulgueira (center holding plaque), Red Bailey, Mike Lemon, Derick Beal
Although the 1960's and the early 1970's were ground-floor, trendsetting times in the world of sports fishing in the Virgin Islands, Capt. Red is one individual who continues to be a mover-and-shaker within the sport. For example, he is an avid conservationist, encouraging tag-and-release and the use of single hooks. In fact, the red, white and black "Red Bailey" lure manufactured by the Florida-based company, Mold Craft, contains only one hook. In addition, Bailey is an avid promoter of sports fishing in the Virgin Islands and Caribbean as a whole.
A legend in his own time, Capt. Red will tell you that his exhilaration for sports fishing today is the same as it was in the 1960's. "It's the thrill of the catch and never knowing what each day's fishing will bring."