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Fishing - Meet the Captains - Captain Jose Angel Lada

Ed Kunze

This month's article is a deviation from Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo's sport fishing boat captains and their methods. It is true that this month's featured captain is a good fisherman... but he does not fish for a living. It is also true that he maintains and operates a boat... but it is neither a private yacht nor is it for hire. However, he is probably the most important captain of all the boats in these waters. He should be compared to a mechanism that quietly keeps the clock working.

Captain Jose Angel Lada (pronounced Ho-say On-yel) is responsible for search and rescue operations and for all the safety features required for each vessel. He works through the Port Captains office overseeing jurisdiction of approximately 130 miles of coastline, from Papanoa's Puerto Vicente Guerrero in the South and Northerly to Lazaro Cardenas.

Year round, the Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo district averages more than 200 crossings per day with the water taxis transporting tourists to Ixtapa Island and Las Gatas Beach. The local fishing fleet has more than 600 trips per month taking clients out to fishing areas that may be as far as 30 miles off shore, and numerous other trips by private boaters going as much as 50 miles out. At least another thousand small boat commercial fishermen trips per month fishing for the local restaurants, and several large commercial boats coming into port for fuel or repairs. Then, add in a couple of hundred private yachts that either make Zihuatanejo their destination or a primary stop in their long range cruises each season. Now, you have a major responsibility to be taken on by one man.

The boating industry is one in which Murphy's law definitely prevails. What can go wrong, will go wrong, and there are very few second chances to correct a problem. Setting aside commercial interests, could you imagine what would happen to the tourism industry here in Ixtapa / Zihuatanejo if people felt it was risky to visit Ixtapa Island or unsafe to go fishing? The fact that it is not even a consideration is a reflection of the man, Captain Jose Angel, quiet, never in the spotlight, yet reliably efficient, year in and year out.

Only 42 years old, he has been going about his work for 20 years now. Born and living in Zihuatanejo all his life, the son of a fisherman, he loved and learned the ways of the sea at a very early age. Not wanting to follow in his Dad's footsteps, subject to the seasonal fluctuations of the tourist industry, a steady job with the Port Captain's office was the answer. The custom in the Republic of Mexico requires the Port Captain to be rotated to a new port every two to three years. Throughout several regimes, he has quietly been going about his duties, respected by all.

Besides the occasional rescue, you can see him daily, looking sharp in his dress whites, walking about on Ixtapa Island checking for things like insurance and permit requirements for the personal water craft rented to the vacationers or on the municipal pier checking for life jackets and other safety devices in the water taxis and fishing boats. He is firm but congenial. He is liked and respected by all the captains. His sharp eye will pick out a possible problem and quickly, it is corrected.

Twenty-four hours day, Jose Angel always has a portable marine radio with him monitoring channel 16. His 27 foot Mako is either moored at Puerto Mio Marina in Zihuatanejo Bay or Marina Ixtapa. It is easily recognizable, with its center console design, white in color, and a diagonal 3 foot red stripe on the sides. When a call for help comes in, he is en route within minutes. Powered by twin 175 hp Mercurys, he can get to the disabled boat at 60 mph and even in rough seas, has no aversion to push it to the limit.

Due to the efficiency of the Port Captain's office, and his own, most of his rescues are simple engine failures with the only thing the stranded people need, is a tow back to port. Occasionally, a storm catches a boat before it can get to safety and lives are in danger. This is when he really goes into action. On one occasion a commercial tuna boat was floundering in rough seas with 40mph winds. The engine was dead and it was just a matter of time before the seas swamped her or beached her on the rocks in a rough area near Troncones. The 14 fishermen aboard were all experienced seamen and knew that odds were getting fairly tough. Captain Jose Angel got there and took the large vessel in tow. He knew could not make Zihuatanejo Bay, so he headed for the leeward side of Ixtapa Island. 13 miles of slow going under the most adverse conditions imaginable, but he saved the craft and the people aboard.

Another time, the wife of a pangero was worried because her husband, son and 2 other fishermen were overdue. She told Captain Jose Angel that they were fishing an area roughly 20 miles out on a 200º heading. He knows the wind and the currents. By the time he found them, they were 72 miles out to sea. They had a dead engine, no radio, their food and water was gone, and the next stop was Hawaii. It was like finding a needle in a haystack but the 4 fishermen are alive today, thanks to Captain Jose Angel.

The tourism industry of our area is thriving and the fact that people are confident of their safety is the proof of Captain Jose Angel's excellent work. Because there never has been a loss of life or serious injury from the many thousands of trips each year, and for the occasional disabled boat, there is comfort in knowing that no matter the conditions, help will be on the way.

And for this dedication, Captain Jose Angel Lada is being presented with the State's highest honor for civic duty from the governor of Guererro.

December 2000

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