Meet Captain James Bradford
by Anne Ekstrom
Editors Note: SSSF Captains are a fascinating group. Coming from wildly different backgrounds, all with great experiences and stories to share. This month we feature James Bradford, one of our founding members.
Everyone knows James Bradford. He’s the guy with the Texas drawl who charms all the ladies and dances so well. He’s also a great captain and sailor.
James’ sailing career started out modestly enough when he bought a 22-foot sailboat back in the early 1970’s. The salesman asked him whether he knew anything about sailing and he told him, “No.” But he pointed up the street and said, “As soon as I buy the boat, I’m going to go up there and buy me a book.” So he sailed a little, read a little, and then sailed some more.
He also ran into an 85-year old urologist who was committed to racing every Sunday, rain or shine, cold or stormy and he took James on as crew if he would commit to that kind of brutal schedule. He learned a lot from him as well, eventually graduating to a 28-ft boat and joining the yacht club in Ft. Worth.
James was born and raised in Dallas. When he was eighteen, he joined the Coast Guard and cruised around the Great Lakes on an ice breaker. Two years later, he got a medical discharge because of a hearing loss caused by the pile drivers.
A natural born salesman, James says he’s sold everything from vacuum cleaners to used cars, lawn sprinkling systems and Great Books of the Western World. His best stories come from his brief stint selling Pennyrich bras with his ex-wife through a pyramid scheme not unlike Tupperware’s. Pennyrich trains its sales people to fit the “hard-to-fit” woman, but I’ll leave it to James to fill in those details. His most unusual sales party seems to have taken place at a strip club where, he clams, the ladies took turns stripping out front and then getting fitted back stage.
The 2-way radio business was where he made his money, however, and James eventually bought a piece of his own company. At the age of 45, he sold his business interests and took off for two or three months of skiing in Colorado. It was at this point that he took a long hard look at his life and decided he had four expensive habits: skiing, sailing, diving, and… well, working. Skiing and working were the first to go as he sailed out of Galveston and headed for Key West. From there, he sailed to Ft. Lauderdale, New York City, New England and then back to Key West for the winter where he had fun living on his boat and driving a conch train in his spare time.
From Key West, he moved on to Miami where he drove a dive boat over to the Bahamas and back. It was a 65-foot sailboat that held six crew and thirty passengers. James said the passengers weren’t necessarily interested in diving or even being on the water, for that matter, and he never knew what to expect until after they’d left the shore. Sometimes it was a gambling boat (these passengers would whip out cards, dice and roulette wheels), a nudist boat (also dubbed the love boat) or a glutton boat. The gluttons never stopped eating.
James felt like he’d been on a three or four year vacation. He knew he was too young to retire, so he made the decision to become a freelance captain. In other words, he chose to manage, repair and maintain boats for other people. He was also available to captain a boat and take the owners to different places like Key West, Nassau or the Dry Tortugas. He currently manages three boats, although the year of Hurricane Wilma he had four– all of which were safe and sound throughout the storm.
James has lived on his own boat, a 35-foot Pearson named “The Viking Princess,” for 22 years. He is also one of the original founders of Single Sailors of South Florida. In the late 1980’s, Nancy Wolcott ran an ad in the paper to see whether there was any interest in the area for such a club. James, along with 21 other people, answered the ad. He had already been involved with four other single sailing clubs in Texas. They met at a barbecue joint, plunked down $20 each to provide seed money, and the club was born. He recalls that in those days, they were able to get a dozen boats to go out for a day sail or even to Bimini for a 4-day weekend.
What does the future hold? Although he sometimes thinks about sailing along the coast of Central America, James loves what he does and would find it hard just to walk away from his current situation.
Afterword: The above article was originally published in The Mainsheet in 2007. Not much has to be updated from the original, but of course James has been living on his boat for over 30 years at this point, not 22. He has continued to be involved in boat management and is now responsible for a 70 foot Hatteras motoryacht. He was planning to take it to Cuba with his clients the end of March, but he still thinks that sailing the coast of Central America would be fun.