Last week, I noticed Brian Blair, captain of the 45-foot Ultra Pacific, offloading his catch at the commercial sea wall between the Bluewater Grill and the Cannery restaurant. When I asked to speak to the skipper, Blair quickly introduced himself.
I have to assume many local fishermen and surfers already know the name. Brian Blair was raised in Newport Beach and graduated from Corona del Mar High School. By 19, he had already obtained his captain's license and was running sportfishing charters.
When he was 23, he purchased the Ultra, a 50-foot Delta Marine that quickly became known around the docks as a fishing machine. Blair's reputation grew as one of the hardest-working captains along the California coast.
In 2012, Blair sold the charter company and headed to Millennium Marine in New Brunswick, Canada, where he had the Ultra Pacific built.
"The boat took almost a year to build," he said. "I moved to the boatyard the last three months of the project and then followed the boat to Newport Harbor Shipyard, where we commissioned the boat."
He designed the boat to fit his needs as primarily a light fisherman. The boat is a 45-foot downeast-style commercial fishing vessel with a 16-foot beam and single diesel. It features two auxiliary generators. When I asked if one of the generators can propel the vessel as a get-home engine, Blair said, "No, we rely solely on that single Man Diesel and provide all the proper maintenance to keep her running."
I have to say that the Ultra Pacific is one of the best-looking vessels in our harbor.
I did not know what a light fisherman is, and Blair explained that he goes out looking for squid and then turns on lights to bring the squid to the surface while the other boats are setting their nets. These types of trips can last from one to three weeks at sea.
The squid fisheries are only open between Sunday and Thursday. On the off days, he is hunting for the next spot.
"We are the hunting dog," the captain explained. "We go out and find the best spots and then attract the squid to the surface. For this service, we get a percentage of the catch.
"It's very competitive. We are all fighting to take the biggest percentage of the quota."
Blair said all of his boat's electronics are Furuno, from auto pilot and radar to sonar and radios, and they are all integrated. He talked about his Nobeltec marine navigation software, how it works through the sonar and how he has been charting the ocean floor bottom to improve his catch.
I had to ask who his go-to people are for keeping the Ultra Pacific working and at sea. In other words, who is his pit crew? "I try to keep all my maintenance work local," he said.
I then asked how the harbor and ocean have changed over the past 10 years and how these changes have affected him as a commercial fisherman. He said the Marine Life Protection Act has not affected him so much as it has the local lobster fishermen.
"We are already highly regulated by the different government agencies, and our fisheries are some of the healthiest in the world," he said. "To us, it felt more like a land grab."
We then talked about the harbor and the reduction of the commercial sea wall, where I first met him. When the city built the guest dock, it left the harbor commercial marine industry with only 800 feet of working sea wall.
"It gets rather busy in the Rhine Channel during summer between the two restaurants, boats on the public dock, lobster fisherman, mooring maintenance crews and other commercial all trying to fit into that small space," he said.
Most of Blair's catches are sold in San Francisco. Few if any of our harbor's restaurants purchase the fresh fish off the boat. It is my understanding that our local restaurants prefer to outsource their purchases.
To me, that's just wrong.
Also, if there are any TV producers who read this column, there is a good potential reality series following the Ultra Pacific. I know I will be.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.