At this point I’m in Cabo San Lucas with a stopover in La Paz for a day of fishing with Jonathan and Jill Roldan’s Tailhunter operation. In total, I’ll be there nine days to direct the WON/Yamaha Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot, now in its 16th year.
This was the year it was to rise to record money and a field of 150 teams, up from 135 teams last year as the numbers have climbed in the past five events. Climbing out of the recession hole was daunting, but slowly the economy was taking hold. People were coming back, feeling safe. Airline tickets were dropping in cost.
Then nature at its most violent and capricious took its best shot and Baja took a beating with the full frontal brunt of a hurricane followed by national media focusing on the three days of desperation before the military arrived with another army of technicians for another full frontal attack. This “attack” being the rebuilding and cleanup and humanitarian efforts that has brought the tourism region back to life.
The effort was fast, efficient, staggering in its speed and scope. Our state and federal government agencies would still be arguing over who should go in while governors whined about bureaucracy, begging for tied-up federal funds.
The media has moved on. There’s no budget for feel-good stories and real journalism any more. The web lives on forever, sadly, unlike newspapers that eventually line bird cages and are tossed with the weekly trash as fresh news replaces it. Websites remain packed with thousands of photos of the devastation. Try to find one that shows the result of the cleanup.
A writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune who covers Mexican-American relations wanted a quote from me about the disaster and our tournament plans, but we never connected at deadline. But when I suggested a story about how the region is rebounding and that we and others didn’t abandon Cabo and cancel the tourney, I never heard from her. Misery loves company and it pays the bills.
If she cared to “investigate,” a month after hurricane Odile, we are holding the biggest tuna tourney in the world and a helluva lot of people, amazingly, are coming to Fish Hard and Party Harder and likely be in a generous mood to help local fishermen — captains and crews, as they rebuild their homes. The hurricane was a surprise. Most residents of Cabo are new arrivals in the last 10 years. They had never seen a direct hurricane and did not think it would hit. None had in recent history.
Most residents and tourists had thought the worst wasn’t so bad when the eye came over and winds subsided. Then the violent back end of Odile whipped the San Jose del Cabo region, and winds reached 160 mph in mere seconds. It was like a bomb going off, which is why you see video of tourists running for cover in hotels after going outside and saying, ”Hey, that wasn’t so bad.”
There’s a ways to go. Several jet engine generators are still providing power in some regions until transfer towers and thousands of power poles are installed. But lights are on. Signals are being repaired, debris being carried away. Stores are open. The mud flows through homes shoveled away. Hotels are open at about 60 percent capacity with some, a few, in the San Jose del Cabo area, staying closed through the year. Few people are coming down to that region anyway.
On our end, our expectations for one of the biggest events — and the most lucrative in its history — have been tempered. But our tourney’s slot in the schedule, a week after Bisbee’s, proved to be fortuitous, giving the area more time to heal and flights to resume.
Of course, we took a big hit. There were damaged boats, flights were cancelled, we lost some Florida and Canadian teams, but we will be over 100 teams, maybe even 110 to 130 as people jump in. You never know, but the phone is ringing. The last-minute surge is heartening. It really is. The decision to forge ahead was never questioned, and believe me, we had a lot of “input” as the images came in from the storm areas. The usual comment was, “Hold off on the tournament, let Cabo heal.”
Cabo heals best when people are fishing, golfing, dancing and drinking. We never considered bailing out. And what kind of message would that have been to Cabo and its leaders, our supporters who depend on tourism? (Sammy Hagar, are you listening, you lousy bum?) So, yeah, we are ecstatic and a little proud — of ourselves, of Mexico, and our fishermen and sponsors. Not one attending sponsor cancelled.
Amazingly money in the optionals is very close to last year, meaning we lost some basic entry teams but few of the real high stakes players.
This has been a crazy year, but you learn who your buddies are when things go south. There is a benefactor or “patron” in Cabo who is buying entries for Cabo tournaments to get more charterboats on the water. He forked over 30 base entries of $1,500 or something like that for the 2-day “Baby Bisbee’s” so they had a nice field of 81, and another 50 entries at $5,000 a pop for their Black and Blue 125-boat field over three days. That’s 210 charter days over five days he contributed to the economy at a personal cost of almost $300,000.
He’s offering the same deal in our event, and it might generate some more teams. Again, his identity is unknown to me and he does not want any publicity, and I am honoring that request. So far, the interest in a free team entry of $800 — and being in a random drawing for an $800 a day charter boat, is drawing mild interest. It is obviously not the same as a $5,000 freebie and a chance for the average Juan to whip the guys in their yachts.
Backstory on that deal for the Black and Blue is that one of those 50 charter boats won the tourney last week and donated its $258,000 in winnings to a local orphanage, Casa Hogar. As usual, a big bucks team, Team Sporty, that competes each year and was across the board at $60,000, won most of the money, $1.6 million. Congrats to those guys who sit at the high stakes table.
But the real bottom line is that the tournament went on and captains and crew were fishing, hotels had people in them, jets were flying, bait was being sold, and Cabo inched forward toward a feeling of normalcy.
We hope to continue that effort, and while drinking, fishing, dancing, eating and meeting good friends we see each year — Mexican and American alike — we will be raising money to help the local fishermen rebuild their homes. It feels good to be a part of something like this, year after year. If you want to see some results and photos, go to our Facebook page through www.loscabostunajackpot.com (look on the right and just click) and also wonews.com where we will be updating the Cabo Tuna Jackpot blog each day.
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Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Cabo, Catalina, and San Diego jackpot tournaments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.