At stake in this year’s 58th annual Buccaneer Cup Sailfish Tournament, held January 20-23, 2021, in Palm Beach, Florida, was not just the cash-prize purse of over $250,000, but also the prestigious Buccaneer Cup trophies for the top boats and the bragging rights associated with winning one of the sport’s oldest and most enduring billfish tournaments. In addition, tournament proceeds benefit conservation efforts through The Billfish Foundation and the Recreational Fishing Alliance, helping to ensure healthy stocks of gamefish for future generations to experience.
The Buccaneer Cup has a format of fishing two out of three possible days, and with a cold front pushing through just before the start of this year’s event, everyone was hopeful for steady fishing. The event kicked off with an outdoor captain’s meeting at the Viking Yacht Service Center in Riviera Beach, physically distanced and emceed by Capt. Robert “Fly” Navarro. Courtney Bowden, now in her eighth year as director of the Buccaneer Cup, was complimented for running one of the best-organized billfish tournaments this year, especially given the curveballs of planning in-person events with their associated guidelines and safety measures in place.
This year’s tournament attracted a fleet of 38 boats. Although slow conditions put a damper on Day Two, a few teams did find the fish. Bowden says, “This year, each day was a wild card, and we never knew who would pull into the lead. Would it be a ‘live-bait day’ or a ‘dead-bait day’ is always the question in this tournament, which makes it all the more exciting since the teams have the option of doing either one.” The tournament’s point structure awards 200 points for sailfish on live bait and 300 points for sails on dead bait.
On Day One, the 80-foot Viking Catch 23 marched its way up the leaderboard, releasing five sailfish on live bait to take the early lead with 1,000 points. Catch 23 is owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and captained by Stetson Turney. In second after the first day was Pipe Dreamer with three sails, followed by Team HMY with two.
Day Two saw a slowdown in the fishing action, but it’s the ability to be consistent even in a slow bite that is often the difference between finishing well and falling completely off the leaderboard. De-Bait-Able and Sandman both had two sails each that would prove to be vitally important as the tournament progressed.
Day Three turned out to be one of the dead-bait days, as the team on Lo Que Sea released three sails to earn 900 points and a fourth-place finish as the tournament’s top dead-bait team. Jordan and company added a few additional sails to their scorecard to earn their first major tournament victory in the Buccaneer Cup at 1,400 points. De-Bait-Able placed second with 1,200 points and six sailfish releases, while Sandman, Sandra MacMillan’s 60-foot Spencer, earned third with 1,000 points and five sails. Sandman’s Alex Castellanos was the top angler for the tournament with three, and a total of 62 sailfish were released in the three-day event.
“We had a phenomenal group of competitors and teams this year,” Bowden said during the award ceremony at the Sailfish Club of Florida. “History was made, and it’s not every day you get to award trophies to Michael Jordan’s team—it was an exciting experience.”
With its rich history and legacy of conservation support, it’s no wonder the Buccaneer Cup remains a favorite of anglers, not just in South Florida, but across the United States and beyond.