By Rebecca Jones, special to the News-Times
MOREHEAD CITY — “Jaws,” a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, tells the story of the great white shark that preys upon a small resort town which is based on several real-life incidents.
Benchley made numerous fishing trips on the Cricket II, a 42-foot handcrafted Chesapeake-style fishing vessel, and said these fishing trips off Long Island, N.Y. with original captain, Frank Mundus, inspired his novel “Jaws” and the blockbuster movie that followed.
The Cricket II was built in 1947 for Mundus who in 1978 Newsweek magazine was called “the most celebrated shark fisherman in the world.” Mundus fished out of Montauk, N.Y. for 50 years, specializing in the hunt for sharks, in particular great white sharks. It was no coincidence that the “Jaws” character, Capt. Quint, bore much resemblance to the real-life Capt. Mundus.
Capt. Joe DiBella of Morehead City has quite a history with the Cricket II. Joe says, “My history with the Cricket II began when I was 8 years old. I fished on the Cricket II out of Montauk, N.Y. with my father and first captain Frank Mundus.”
As a boy, Joseph DiBella went out fishing with Frank at every opportunity. Joe served in the Navy at Naval Air Station, Kingsville, Texas near the end of the Vietnam War. He returned home to New York, married and started a family, pursued several successful careers, built and rebuilt boats, fished every chance he got, but never forgot his dream girl, the Cricket II.
Being a disabled veteran and avid fisherman himself, Joe saw the need for a way to get veterans out on the water, especially disabled veterans who thought they’d never be able to get out on a boat and catch fish. Now the Cricket II “lives” on the Morehead City waterfront and has been fully restored and outfitted to provide free fishing trips for disabled veterans.
One of Capt. Joe’s most memorable trips was with a crew of disabled veterans challenged by PTSD. It would be his first experience dealing with PTSD. It was a cold but sunny mid-November day, and the trout were biting near Beaufort Inlet.
Joe says reflectively, “Before my eyes, I watched a quiet group of men, who had boarded the boat timid and cautious, transformed! We engaged the group in conversation, drew them out individually and showed each how to fish for speckled trout. After just a few hits, the men started joking that they were now expert fishermen. The more fish they caught, the livelier they became.
“When the day drew to a close and we headed in, I invited my ‘experts’ to come up top and drive the boat. When we arrived back at the dock, the smiles on these heroes’ faces were beyond explanation. It was as if they had a whole new outlook. One vet remarked he had no idea fishing was so much fun.
“These fishing trips aboard the Cricket have the potential to change people’s lives. I saw it that day.”
Modifications were originally made to assure a safe and comfortable adventure for these heroes, including accommodations for wheelchairs, handicap toilet, wheelchair lift and electric reels. However, new upgrades are needed as the deck must be replaced with a synthetic fiberglass material to support the weight of crew, passengers and especially the wheelchair lift and the veterans in wheelchairs. This new deck will last a lifetime and never need replacing.
The estimated cost of the replacement deck is roughly $10,000. Many have given generously, but they are still in need of $3,800.00. This is over and about their ordinary operating expenses of dockage, fuel, regular maintenance, bottom paint, filters, bait and rigging.
Cricket II Project is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 nonprofit and partners with Bock Marine in Beaufort to maintain the historic vessel.
Capt. Joe says the Cricket II Project has changed his life.
“It has given me a new purpose in my retirement. Giving back to those who gave so much of their lives is the least we can do for these heroes. They are too often neglected and forgotten.”