Captain Nic Stephens
The year is 2004 and 22-year-old Nic Stephens makes his way aboard the Sea Spirit for his first day as its third mate. At the time there are five other head boats operating the waters in Ponce Inlet; a number that would continue to dwindle as time goes by. His morning is spent cutting bait and readying the vessel while assisting then Captains Leebo Lingo, Bryan Pinkley & Mark Leppla in any way he can, all while carefully taking note of every step of their morning rituals. The F.V. he has landed this entry-level position on is a special one; it serves as one of the original pillars of Ponce Inlet's fishing charter community. At this moment he doesn't know it, but he has firmly placed his foot on the ladder he will spend the next two decades climbing, and his choice of vessels is perfectly on point for the future. Spending his first couple of years mastering deck work before learning the ins & outs of the wheelhouse, he obtained his captain's license in 2010 and took over the helm after Captain Lingo's retirement in 2017. Maintaining the devotion to both the vessel and its place in its community, Captain Nic Stephens and his wife Haley are thrilled to announce that they've officially purchased the Sea Spirit, intending to continue this historically family-based local tradition into the next generation.
In 1948, Valda & B.G. Timmons opened Timmons Fish Camp in Ponce Park, continuing Valda's family boating business. At the same time, legendary boat builder Bob Sherbert was returning from serving in World War II, settling back into his work at Daytona Marina & Boat Works. [Originally building submarine chasers, Mr. Sherbert is renowned for his custom-built wood yachts. The Timmons' son, Frank Timmons would purchase the Marianne in the 1960s, pioneering the charter boat industry we see now in Ponce Inlet.] As demand for both F.V.s and fishing trips continued to increase, both Frank Timmons and Bob Sherbert were quickly expanding their businesses to keep up. Bob Sherbert would launch his own boat-building business, Open Seas Marine at Sea Love Marina in the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, his long time friend Captain Frank Timmons purchased two of his builds, the Marianne II and the Sea Love. The Sea Love would later be renamed the Sea Spirit, and she would continue to remain a staple in the party boat industry here for the next 50 years.
The Sea Spirit, a 65' cold molded double planked mahogany hull, offers its community & their visitors a modern-day hands-on adventure that celebrates our rich fishing culture. For years Captain Nic has held his predecessors with the utmost regard, and being able to keep this working piece of Florida's fishing history right here where it truly belongs is more than just a dream come true. It seems fitting that the last remaining head boat in Ponce Inlet would end up being one of its first, a legacy that continues to weather the storms in search of clear skies. The tides of the fishing industry have drastically changed over the course of Captain Nic's twenty-year career; as overregulation, outdated models and ideals, and improperly placed oversight both dampen and quell the vast majority of US fisheries. Landmark and current Supreme Court cases, such as Loper Bright Enterprises Inc. v. Raimondo & Relentless Inc. v. Department of Commerce, aim to dismantle the no longer useful 'Chevron Deference' which has allowed federal agencies to write regulations without judicial process or involvement since 1984. The vast majority of the regulations that currently inhibit and wreak havoc on our fishery were enacted after the implementation of this very precedent, by officials who were simply hired rather than being dutifully elected.
Captain Nic reflects back to 2004, to a conversation with Captain Chris Gercken (FV Grouper Therapy), in which the fellow surfers discussed the best career options for a devoted surfer. Crediting Captain Chris with making the lightbulb go off in his head, Captain Nic quotes him as if he was told the secret yesterday; "Whenever the waves are big, I have the day off!". Captain Nic is not just an accomplished fisherman; he's also a barrel-riding, bluegrass-playing, true friend, father, and husband. He has built his outstanding reputation over the past two decades based on honesty, integrity, and dedication. After fully committing to the career and taking over the helm in 2017, the natural progression of owning the vessel was all that was left to accomplish. He has been patient in his approach to ownership, his faith never wavering that the opportunity would come when the time was right. Now that the time is right, his next focus is improving the already successful business with exciting and innovative ideas that will continue to involve the local community and all of its visitors.
Call it fate, Captain Nic and Haley first met aboard the Sea Spirit back in June of 2011. Invited by then 2nd mate and friend Bradley, Haley hopped on for a full day of fishing that she'll surely never forget. While Haley's 20 lb gag grouper (pictured below) may have been the jackpot winner that day, she insists she caught something far more important and that catch was certainly 'love at first bite'. Already having his 100-ton license at the time it would only be one year before Captain Nic ran his very first solo trip, the first of countless trips that Haley would personally be at the dock to see off. When they met Haley was already an accomplished professional surfer, holding many titles, and continues to surf every chance she gets. She is also a philanthropist and President of the Mayday Memorial Surf Classic, which she founded in the wake of her mother's untimely death due to heart disease. Her devotion to the community is visible in all that she does, and she is looking forward to incorporating these ideals going forward.
Having both been raised on the water, Captain Nic and Haley harbor a deep respect for Mother Nature and all that she commands, and they are excited for the opportunity to be able to teach their sons (Mason 5, Miles 1) all of the lessons they have learned over the years. They invite you to join them this year to celebrate the next chapter of local fishing history, right at the very dock it all began at so long ago.
Trips aboard the Sea Spirit include: 5 HR Half Day Offshore Trips, 9 HR Full Day Offshore Trips, and the rare but highly sought after 12 HR Offshore Trip they offer exclusively to avid followers following their FB page.