Growing up in the tuna fleet there were always people to meet and places to see but there were a group of people that were above the rest, and one of those was Joe Madruga. He was a power in the tuna industry. Fortunately I got to know him very well when my cousin married one of his sons Matt. Mr. Madruga owned a total of 14 boats and as many as 6 at one time. The Madrugador, Conquest, Frontier, Montana to name a few. The Thing about Mr.Madruga was that he deserved respect but you were just at awe of him. I personally never called him by his first name, he was just Mr.Madruga to me. When he would walk in the door with his cigar and cowboy hat I just found myself like a kid in a candy store. If you got lucky and he was talking about fishing that was even better and I would always try and sit and listen to his stories. You see we only have our elders for a short time before there gone and we need to be a sponge and get everything we can learn from them. Life’s short and unfortunately Mr. Madruga has now moved on but he’s in a special place in heaven. I am very lucky to have known Mr. Madruga who was a legend in the tuna fleet and to be lucky to have listened to him tell his stories. The tuna fleet was stronger because of men like Mr. Madruga, God rest his soul.
The attached picture is just one of many boats owned by Mr. Madruga.
Sometimes you hear a story and your really not sure how much it will stick with you and then 30 years later you are still talking about it. On one trip my father came home on the Aquarius and said we could have arrived a day earlier but had slowed the boat down. I of course asked him why like any son would. He told me that there was a hurricane on his tail and he could have made it in front with no problem, in fact another boat filled up at the same time and continued on the same course and made it home safely. My father weighed all the options and said “what happens if something goes wrong with the boat we would be a sitting target for that storm”. So dad slowed down and took the long way home behind the storm and then on to San Diego. Yeah they may have arrived later but he then said a line to me that stuck forever. “I may have lost a day but I gained a lifetime”. I guess I kind of live that way myself. The fastest way isn’t always the safest or best way…
The attached picture is of the Aquarius making it into the San Diego bay that day.
All my life, the men in my family have spent their lives on the ocean, my father, uncles and later my cousins and, eventually even myself. The ocean has always been an integral part of our lives. My dad was a navigator for as long as I can remember and he always taught me to respect the ocean since I was a little boy. I’ve always had a passion for pictures of the tuna fleet because of all the memories of watching the men leave and then return after many months away. Many family members anxiously awaited the return of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, so their arrival was always treated like a holiday.
When I was young, there was nothing better than to skip school and go down to the boat when my dad was in town, whether it was working on the nets at the Embarcadero and filling the needles as they sewed the nets, or riding on the boat as we moved it from one dock to another while cruising the bay. I also enjoyed the trips to San Pedro with the other guys to unload the boat. It may have only been a six hour trip but when you’re a little boy in the middle of the ocean, your mind starts to wander you begin to understand how Dad might have felt being a fisherman, because it was at those moments that I felt like a fisherman too, and all of those stories my dad had shared with me began to make sense. I also remember the torpedo sandwiches we’d have for lunch or fishing off the side of the boat. But most of all, it was the memories of hanging out with my Dad because when the boats were away, they would be gone for weeks or months at a time.
On our way to San Pedro on the Proud Heritage..