Four hours into the interview, we ordered another round, sitting on the dock at Rendezvous Bar & Grill. I think it was my third Guinness, maybe fourth. Capt. Jack Maguire was one Bud Light ahead of me. The sun had just started to sink in the turquoise sky, illuminating the clouds like they’d been colored in with a pink highlighter. Ensigns draped from the back of yachts swayed gently in the balmy winter breeze.
“Can you clean?” Jack asked.
“I did housekeeping for a while,” I replied with a shrug.
“You’ll do great,” he said in his raspy Philly cadence. We clinked pint glass to beer bottle.
For most of the afternoon, we talked about marine life and scuba diving. Jack had been a bottom cleaner in a previous life, years before he began captaining yachts. He told me about the time he saw a Bull Shark in one of the Las Olas canals minutes after he got out of the water. He let out a wry smile, followed by deep cackle that resembled a rough Santa Claus. It’s a sound I would hear often over the ensuing years.
What I’d give to hear it again now that he’s gone.
I really had no idea what I was getting into working on a yacht, but Capt. Jack had the utmost confidence that I would figure it out. I did, mostly — although, admittedly, I still suck at ironing anything other than napkins and pillowcases — kicking off a six-year career that allowed me to pay for college and eventually buy myself a house.
He encouraged me to learn to cook, work with the interior designers, tie knots, plot points on a nautical chart. Most captains could care less whether their stews can drive a tender: Capt. Jack made sure I knew how.
That was Jack. He often could see the potential in his crew before they could see it themselves. He saw the potential in me before I could see it myself.
I turned 22 years old while working on M/Y Simone with Capt. Jack, although I first met him at 18 while working at the Quarterdeck on Cordova Road in Fort Lauderdale. I’m in my thirties now. Jack’s belief in me and his never-wavering ability to always tell it like it is has stuck with me throughout my adult life.
I’m not the only one.
“Cappy was one of the most honest men I ever met,” says Capt. Martyn Walker. “He said it like it was and pandered to no one. He stood by me through good days and bad showing me never-ending loyalty. I considered him one of my closest friends.”
He stuck by his friends and never wanted to burden them with his own problems. Capt. Jack had been fighting health issues as a result of a stroke for the past eight years. You wouldn’t have known that unless you knew him well. A very proud man, he fought his way through hard times with jokes and sarcasm. It’s impossible to count the number of times he said, “If you’re gonna be dumb you better be tough.” Jack certainly was not dumb — he was full of keen insights and had been an aviation electrician on the USS Kitty Hawk during Vietnam — but he was still tougher than a steel hull.
When Capt. Jack suffered the stroke, it left him in a coma for 19 days. He was given only a 10 percent chance of survival with a 14 percent chance of getting back to normal if he did. When I asked Jack what happened, he said, “As soon as I came out the coma, I started giving the nurses hell.”
Capt. Jack wrestled his way back to health and remained in the marine industry, eventually settling at Crewfinders for five years, where he continued his tradition of giving crew, new and old, a chance to move up. His wife, Lois Whelan, said he “learned to walk again with his two beloved Bahamian Potcakes and went through a myriad of other critical health issues without complaint.”
As he began fading last week, Lois brought a priest in to administer Jack’s last rites. Never one to let a crack slip away, upon seeing the father Jack asked, “What, do I owe him money?”
He was less of a smartass with the officer who performed his Military Honors Service. Capt. Jack managed to put his hand over his heart for the National Anthem and salute before slipping into a final coma.
At 1:11 a.m. on Saturday, June 23, 2018, Capt. Jack’s body gave up, a fitting end to his lifelong refusal to start a voyage on a Friday in accordance with ancient maritime superstition.
I want to say something sappy, like, he sailed off into the sunset or use some other sentimental nautical metaphor, but he’d be rolling his eyes from the afterlife if I did.
Capt. Jack Maguire is survived by his awesome wife Lois, his family, dogs Jilly and Freunda, and all the crew, Quarterdeck servers, and dockside bartenders who were fortunate enough to hear his never faltering one-liners.
There will be a celebration of Capt. Jack’s life on October 20, 2018. Updates will be posted publicly on his Facebook page.