My History and Why – Richard Londeree
This story begins many years ago when I was just another wild and crazy 10-year-old, living near a gorgeous white sand beach, near a small town named Titusville.
It seemed like just another town, like many other I had lived in. My father was a Captain in the Air Force, stationed at a nearby new base called Cape Canaveral, home of our nations fledgling space program, incredible sand beaches, swimming, fishing, and diving. We lived in base housing near Patrick Air Station which just happened to be right on the beach, just across the Highway, US A1A.
Well, this made for interesting adventures for a 10-year-old kid, just a “rock’s throw” from the beach. I remember seeing our nation’s efforts in space exploration unfold before my eyes, standing on “my” beach, named “Satellite Beach”.
I witnessed many a launch at the space port, as my dad would know when the launches were to take place. The family would go to Cape Canaveral and be able to drive right up to the canal separating us from the launch pad. We would fish all night waiting for the launch, catching all sorts of fish, and then be treated to the largest fireworks show in the world, the launching of a Titan rocket, one of the world’s largest missiles. Some of them would blow up on the launch pad, some exploding a few hundred feet in the air, and some blown up by launch control on purpose when the missile went haywire and headed for town. It was truly amazing fishing! We also were able to see the first launch of a chimp named Enos into space and eventually, the first 10 astronauts hurled into space and return.
One I remember well was when Col. John Glen was the first American to orbit the earth and return. They brought him back to Patrick Air Station with President Kennedy. There was a small parade on base, near the hanger where they kept the then still secret U2. My mom had made a sign that said, “WELCOME TO EARTH COL. GLEN!” Well my family and I were kind of embarrassed when mom took the sign with us, as it was before anyone had signs at events like that, but she was soon surrounded by photographers, news reels, and reporters, so she handed me the sign and the next day there was our picture in the newspaper with Col. Glen and JFK.
My love of the beach and saltwater was born out of this and other events which kept us out in the salt spray with the smells of the beach, the clear blue water, the turtles nesting in the evening, and our weekend bonfires and cookouts (of course with fishing always going on). It was one afternoon when we were digging a pit for a bonfire when we started to unearth something strange and unusual. I was digging away in the sand when I hit something old, hard, and long. My two brothers, mom and dad, and some friends that were with us were all soon around the pit, digging away. We began to dig up what appeared to be a very large ship’s mast, that of a Spanish Galleon. Little did we know that in 1715 there were several Spanish Galleons traveling from Havana Cuba to Spain that were blown off course by a hurricane and sunk within yards of our feet!
As time would have it our next-door neighbor on base was named Major Dan Thompson. Dan and a group of his buddies did research in Spain and were looking for this fleet of sunken treasure galleons. They dove the reefs between Sebastian Inlet and Cape Canaveral searching and searching for the treasure of the lost fleet almost every weekend. They had no success and were out of money and ambition. But one afternoon Dan had found an inshore reef just off “my” beach and persuaded the dive team to have another go at it. They dove the area, finding nothing until Jim turned over a piece of rock, intending to use it as a seat which had already been examined by other divers. There was pay dirt, the glimmer of GOLD. Encrusted in the rock were many coins, and other treasures. Their years of work turned into the proverbial gold mine as they formed “The Real Eight Corp” and ended up finding millions in treasure and many more of the lost Spanish fleet. I remember playing in his garage, sitting on cannons, stacking silver plates, and tossing coins around, like a kid in a toy box.
Events like this and being stationed around the world visiting and diving many different oceans and seas had a lasting life-long imprint on me; the ocean was in my blood. My grandfather was a fisherman, my father a fisherman, and they taught me to be a fisherman. My first real reef experience was in 1971.
I got to fly “space available” on a military aircraft to Hawaii. We stayed right on Waikiki beach, and I was in paradise. The reef was about 100 yards offshore and I can tell you about collecting coral heads by grabbing and hanging on in about 10 feet of water until the next wave broke, tearing me and the coral off the bottom and tumbling towards shore. Upon reaching the beach, I made a nice pile of coral, but noticed many incredibly colored fish coming out of the corals. I quickly returned them to the water, and the next swim out to the reef, I looked at this new world that I had overlooked before. The life was amazing! I thought to myself, this is what I wanted to do, as I was 18 and just heading to college.
I became a certified diver in 1972 diving the coast of California and enrolled as an oceanography major at a school in northern California. Finding out that physics and I did not mix, I ended up electronics major. The last year at school found me traveling to Florida with a friend to visit my brother in Orlando to find a summer job at the newly opened Disney World.
Well, I never made it back to California; I landed a job as a traveling photographer. The company I worked for made a serious mistake one week by assigning me to a shoot in Key West, Florida. Upon arriving at this small island, I found a hotel room and stood there looking out the window. On one side was the Atlantic Ocean, and as I turned around, the Gulf of Mexico was only yards away. That was it, the fish bit me. I retired that day, informing my boss of my immediate resignation, and the fact that they would not see me again; please send my last check, care of “Paradise”. There is one big problem with paradise though: you still must make a living. I had a house payment in Tampa and the payment on my van kept on coming. I met a couple of fellows at the boat ramp one day, and soon, with some good instruction, was living the dream, collecting tropical fish in paradise.
But now it is time to begin this story again at the foot of the infamous Skyway Bridge, connecting St. Petersburg and Bradenton Florida. I was there collecting one day back in the early 1980’s, as this was a spot that was loaded with hermit crabs and Caulerpa. As I was pulling the Caulerpa off the rocks, a rock came up with the plant. I stashed it in my collection bag and proceeded on collecting critters. Next stop would be the wholesaler I sold to back then, Manila Aquatics. Unloading the crabs and plants, Jerry, the owner noticed the rock and said, “hey that is neat, get me some more.”
Well this was before reef tanks, mini reef tanks, or anybody keeping live corals in their tanks. So, the next day I loaded my TR7 convertible full of the first “Live Rock” harvested on the west coast of Florida. Having to come up with a price for the rock, I came up with $5, $7, and $9 per rock, depending on the size. I sold rock this way for about 6 months, then the “Mini Reef” technology from Germany hit the market and soon live rock sales took off! Now there was a way to keep this rock alive with these new systems, and with every tank imported into the states, a need for live rock. Pretty soon I was bringing in 25 five gallon buckets a day of rock to Jerry. Things had changed pricewise also as I was charging $25 per bucket, instead of by the piece.
I continued collecting for Jerry for about a year until I developed markets outside of our area, where we could get a better price for the live rock. Things changed again pricewise, and we began charging by the pound, being 50 cents back then.
Soon there was another diver, Graham Carlton, on the scene and he began collecting and selling to the same wholesaler, which in turn evolved into new markets. I met my business partner, Mark Caldwell about this time and we began diving and collecting together and soon we had a boat that allowed us to expand our collection area and venture out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Read on about to learn about the formation of Tampa Bay Saltwater.