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Feature Article: Vets Aboard Malihini

Vets bag tuna aboard Malihini

San Diego Rotary Club Veterans Fishing Day outing

BY BOB SEMERAU/Western Outdoor News Staff WriterPublished: Oct 17, 2019

POINT LOMA — The yellowfin tuna bite had been going strong in recent days and Malihini’s Captain William Wilkerson wanted to make the most of it.

“Let’s head out to the ‘9; and see if we can’t get some for the vets,” said Capt. Bill as the 40-resident-veterans from Veteran’s Village of San Diego, VVSD, climbed aboard Malihini.

VVSD RESIDENTS, Point Loma Rotary Club members, volunteers, and the Sweethearts of Swing all were on hand for the 2019 Veterans Fishing Day.


The idea of taking a boatload of military veterans, each working through a live-in drug and alcohol recovery program at VVSD, was the brainchild of Point Loma Rotary Club members Allen Brown and Carter Shuffler. The pair of long standing members of the local Rotary are making this an annual event with the help of sponsors and Rotary volunteers.

Donuts and Starbucks coffee were on hand for the veterans as the group assembled in front of H&M Landing to prepare for the day’s outing. A trio of singers, known as the “Sweethearts of Swing,” dressed in period WAC outfits and singing World War II standards, added to the festive atmosphere for the excited group.

Most of the veterans had never been fishing offshore and the idea of 40-inexperienced anglers fly-lining live baits for tuna aboard the deck of the rocking and rolling Malihini recalled an image of tangled lines and busted hopes. But their resilience and commitment to each other made the thought vanish as the day ran smoothly with little exception.

The run out to the tuna grounds over rough seas took a minor toll, however, as no less than nine vets succumbed to the effects of seasickness and took refuge in the galley salon for most of the trip.

Malihini deckhand, Peyton Freeman, gave a brief seminar at the bait tank explaining the technique used to fly-line the lively sardines for tuna, which would later be augmented with hands-on training at the rail. The vets proved to be quick learners when the bite got busy, avoiding most of the usual snarls and tangles throughout the day.

jubilantventsJUBILENT VETS AND volunteers display the catch of yellowfin tuna bagged during the recent day fishing aboard Malihini.


The cost of the Veteran’s Fishing day outing is completely covered by the Point Loma Rotary and their sponsors with the trip, the food and even fish cleaning and fillet services by the boat, all being covered. Rotary guys Brown and Shuffler pulled out all the stops giving unlimited food and drink for the vets throughout the trip and California Fish and Wildlife allowed a “free” no-license day for the vets.


“For us,” smiled the affable Shuffler, “this is an opportunity to give back in a way that would allow maximum benefit. Working together with the folks operating VVSD, and after hearing about the work they do to help vets that might be homeless, recovering or going through reentry, we felt this was the right thing to do.”


Personnel from VVSD were along to support the troops and get in a little fishing time of their own. Marilyn Cornell, Clinical Director at VVSD, explained how the program works at the beautiful campus near the old MCRD location.


“Any veteran in need is welcome at our facilities and our brand-new Steven A Cohen Military Family Clinic is open to post 9/11 veterans and their families for out-patient counseling and services,” explained Clinical Director Cornell. “A broad spectrum of programs and evidence-based treatment plans can be available for any veteran or their family member.”

Captain Wilkerson set up the first drift after a short two-hour run and the anglers got busy at the rail. Sardines were run out and some jigs were tossed for the fish being marked on Malihini’s sonar.


First to draw blood, catching his first-ever tuna, former US Navy Seabee “Builder” Korey Wright boated a schoolie sized 20-pound-plus yellowfin after a 10-minute fight. Later Korey explained that it meant a lot to him to be here on the water, taking a break from and putting into action, the work being done at Veteran’s Village San Diego.

ERIC DIAS PROUDLY displays his first-ever tuna, taken while along for the Veterans Fishing Day aboard Malihini.

Not long after another tuna hit the deck for US Army Specialist forward observer, Alberto Tamayo, followed by a hard-fought battle won by VVSD program director Shellie Bowman. Shellie would follow up with a second fish of her own a short while later and had another two-yellowfin come unbuttoned after a short fight.

The Rotary Club scored a 28-pound yellowfin for member Carter Shuffler, giving him big-fish honors.

Other yellowfin came over the rails throughout the trip including a bruiser for former USMC Sergeant, Eric Dias, giving the VVSD resident his first tuna.

Activities, counseling and training at the Village are all geared toward a complete and comprehensive reentry into society for the veterans, with job placement a key element. One veteran related his story that after months of being homeless and on the streets, he and his wife found the program at VVSD. During his stay, his wife returned to her folks’ home in the bay area and he found work as a marine mechanic. In a few months, with hard work and a commitment to his recovery, the vet sees himself getting an apartment and bringing his wife home again to begin a new life, clean and sober, building for a bright future.

The call finally came for a final drift and with plenty of tuna in the bags, it was time to head for the docks at H & M Landing, as the crew of Malihini set to preparing the fish and bagging the fillets. During the smooth run home cook Kimo grilled burgers and other delicious eats for the lively group.


The combined catch made up a feast to be shared amongst all the residents at the village at a dinner the following day.

Taking a break from the grind of daily life, catching some amazing fish and achieving some personal firsts while sharing in the excitement of a day on the water, each of the veterans participating in the Veterans Fishing Day will remember this special day for years to come.

Veterans Village of San Diego, VVSD
(619) 393-2000 4141
Pacific Highway, San Diego, CA 92110


The Point Loma Rotary Club, Carter Shuffler

(619) 884-9275

P.O. Box 6454, San Diego, CA 92166

H & M Landing

(619) 222-1144

2803 Emerson St, San Diego, CA 92106


H Sweethearts of Swing

(619) 583-6391


NAVY SEABEE Korey Wright, right, broke the ice with this yellowfin, gaffed by Malihini deckhand James O’Brien.

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