Within 15 minutes of my story going live about Liquid Apple, a Cigarette 39’ GTS built in the 2015 and powered by triple Mercury Racing Verado 350 outboard engines entering the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic June 21-25 at Sandestin, Fla., a text from a smart-ass marine industry friend appeared on my iPhone.
“Must be a slow news day if you’re writing about that,” the text read. “They’re gonna get killed out there in that boat.”
Of course, he was taking more of a good-natured jab at me than the Cigarette. (For the record, I have a lot of friends like him.) But I understood where he was coming from. Hardcore sportfishing machines in the 45- to 105-foot range—not 39-foot performance oriented center consoles—comprise the vast majority of the fleet in the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic in the Gulf of Mexico. The boats often run more than 100 miles offshore, where rough water is almost always par for the course. Size matters out there.
But then, my friend didn’t get to interview 60-year-old Gary Applewhite and his son, Blake, the 21-year-old owner of the Cigarette. The buoyant senior Applewhite owned a 60-foot Bertram sportfisher and competed in more billfishing tournaments than he “can remember” before selling the vessel a few years back. He knew exactly what he was getting into.
Sort of. Or maybe. OK, not at all.
“I’m still sore as hell,” Applewhite said, then laughed.
Perhaps the $22,926 he and his son, along with team member Dustyn Holman and a “secret weapon” earned for finishing third with three white marlin in the catch-and-tag category of the tournament will help ease his pain. That kind of dough can buy a lot of Advil.
“I brought a secret weapon,” said Applewhite. “I brought my best captain from the Bertram, Mike ‘Soda’ Noling. He’s gets his nickname Soda because he’s originally from Minnesota. He’s a fishing machine. We chased around a blue marlin that was probably 800 pounds for four of five hours. She wouldn’t hit anything. On Sunday we had a winning dolphin that broke off near the boat. If we had landed every fish we were on, we would have cleaned house.”
Thanks to a tropical storm in the Gulf, the tournament start was postponed 24 hours. The predicted rough water thinned the competition, according to Applewhite. The annual five-day angling competition typically attracts more than 100 boats.
“I think we ended up with 38 boats,” said Applewhite. “Everybody got scared. We went to go fishing.”
The Liquid Apple team fished three days in seas that ranged from four to five feet with the odd six-footer on Saturday to 1 to 2 feet on Sunday and took them 100-plus miles offshore. They lost—and recovered—a spotlight from the boat on Friday and the T-top came a bit loose on Saturday, but those were relatively minor casualties for a 39-footer that didn’t have a whole lot of business being there.
“We had everything the big boats had—except the big boats,” said Applewhite, who laughed again. “We looked like a minnow out there.”
When they finished fishing on Sunday, they were 69 miles from port.
“The seas were one to two feet, almost slick calm,” said Applewhite. “I thought it would take us about an-hour-and-half to get back in. Blake had us sitting in the harbor in less than an hour. Soda, my best captain, told me that even with all the tournaments we had done on the Bertram he never had more fun than he did fishing on this boat.”
“The old Cigarette did good, man,” he added with another chuckle. “We were smoking. We survived—and we’re going to do another tournament soon.”
Of course, when this story goes live I will simply text the link to it to my smart-ass marine industry friend. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.