By Sean Horgan
---- — The first two boats headed out of Cape Ann’s Marina Resort in the first inky moments of Friday morning, steaming out under the stars, hoping that the early-bird truism still held some juice.
By sunup, the other 43 tuna boats had joined them, making their way out with the sun in their eyes and visions of giant bluefin tuna — and the prize money it could bring — dancing in their heads.
And with that, the second Bluefin Blowout tuna fishing tournament was fully under way.
The tournament, which this year drew entries — at $1,050 a boat — from as close as the North Shore’s phalanx of seaside communities and as far away as Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine, will dominate the marina through Saturday night, when the new tuna tsar is crowned.
“It’s really gotten off to a great start,” said Drew Hall, one of the founders of the tournament along with his buddy Rob Bouley. “It will really get going (today) with our first brewfest, and we get closer to seeing who brings in what.”
Hall was administering to final details Friday just as the sun reached its zenith in the azure sky. The 25 sponsors’ banners were hung and the tournament’s merchandise apparel was being unpacked in the tournament tent. Vendors were setting up their tables.
All around him, the marina went about its usual business of selling fuel and servicing the recreational boats heading out for a day on the water. But the air around the marina carried something else beyond a hint of autumn on its way. It carried the whiff and buzz of an event. And the talk was of tuna, much like three years ago, when Hall and Bouley, sipping a couple of cold ones, first raised the possibility of resurrecting the tuna tournament that ran in Gloucester decades ago.
“I had done tournaments on Mexico and Florida and it just didn’t make sense that we had never had anything big up here,” said the 37-year-old Hall, a boat captain in his own right, in addition to working in the construction business. “I mean, we’re in Gloucester. Why didn’t we have a tournament?”
So he and Bouley got to work. Last year’s tournament drew 30 boats and the winning tuna, landed by the Beverly-based boat Maya Elizabeth, tipped the scales at 582 pounds. The second-place fish, landed by the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Bulldog, was 406 pounds.
Those landings earned the Maya Elizabeth, which grabbed its behemoth on that Saturday, $9,000 first-prize money, plus $1,000 for the day’s largest fish. The Bulldog, the early leader in the clubhouse last year when it landed its tuna on Friday, got the $2,500 second-place money and another $1,000 for the largest fish of the day.
The prize money pool this year is $15,000 and the cash awards go to the top three boats based on single heaviest qualifying (greater than 73 inches) bluefin tuna, according to Bouley. If it is split three ways, the winner gets $9,750, second place gets $3,375 and third gets $1,875.
If there are only two winners, the first-place boat receives $10,687 and second earns $4,313.
One winner takes the whole $15,000, with optional daily jackpots. But there are other perks, as well.
There’s the prestigious Bluefin Blowout trophy. There’s the cache of winning a tournament that’s sure to show up in an episode of “Wicked Tuna,” not to mention the honor of beating some of the best giant bluefin tuna fishermen on the East Coast (including all of the “Wicked Tuna” boats).
And there’s this: The biggest surprise at Thursday night’s captains’ meeting was when Warren Waugh, the managing partner of chief sponsor Lyon-Waugh Auto Group, rolled out a brand new blue Mini Cooper convertible and announced, to a standing ovation, that the winning captain would have free use of the car for a year.
The tournament also benefits others beyond the fishing participants.
The Cape Ann Marina Resort gets a nice economic boost for hosting the tournament. Its hotel’s 31 rooms are booked solid for the weekend, and the Mile Marker One restaurant and bar were doing a humming business Friday. Then there’s fuel and the other services the fleet of tournament boats require.
“It definitely makes a big economic impact for us,” said assistant manager Heather Ryan.
“Tobin and the folks at the marina have been just fantastic,” Bouley said of Tobin Dominick and her staff. “We can’t say enough about them.”
Also, the tournament’s lineup of events includes a silent auction and 50-50 raffles, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Tufts Floating Hospital for Children. The organizers hope to make that a lasting relationship as the tournament moves forward.
Spectators can also enjoy live music each night, as well as the Bluefin Brewfest that runs today from noon until 5 p.m. with a variety of beers from brewmasters throughout New England.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT