The Meca

The Meca has become part of Belize fly fishing lore.  Construction was completed by the  legendary Belize guide, Martin McCord, in 1999…..in his front yard.  It was desinged and built for one purpose – to be a Belize mothership for fly fishing clients.  The history of the boat and it’s construction are detailed below in the report on the first cruise by long time client of McCord’s, Ray Hallberg.  Hallberg’s report also does a creditable job of describing the mothership experience.

The Meca is 45 feet in length with a wide beam of 14’6″ for extra stability.  It tows one or two 23 foot shallow draft skiffs with 40hp motors for flats fishing.  It has two air conditioned cabins, each with two oversized single beds and a full bath (showers – not tubs).

Power comes from a 240hp diesel engine and round the clock electricity is supplied by a diesel operated generator.  There are 110v outlets and a large   freezer to supply sufficient ice.  TV monitor, DVD player, and CD player are available.

Additional Meca details are in Ray Hallberg’s report below.

(note:  Martin McCord passed away in 2006 due to a heritary heart condition.  The operation of the business is now in the hands of Dean Myers, who was Martin’s original first mate.)

BELIZEAN SHAKEDOWN CRUISE

by Ray Hallberg

My wife, Alice (at right with tarpon), and I had booked the May, 1999, shakedown cruise on the Meca, a new “mothership” sport-fishing boat operating out of Belize City. Captained by Martin McCord, it would be our mobile, live-aboard fishing lodge for eleven nights and ten days.  We would fish flats, channels, creeks and lagoons for bonefish, tarpon, snook, snapper and hopefully permit.

During our Continental flight to Belize, we reminisced about the twelve years of fishing Belizean waters that had brought us to this new experience.

Since 1990, we have been guided for about 100 total days by the shy and intelligent Martin McCord.  Our bookings at Belize River Lodge were always contingent on Martin being our guide. Fishing has ranged from poor to wonderful. From only a few bonefish to fly-caught tarpon of more than 120 pounds, Martin especially loves to have his clients fish for the “big boys.” During our many lunches in the cooling shade of mangroves, we gradually learned a lot about Martin and his improbable dream of building his own live-aboard boat.

When Martin was 17 years old, he got a job as an apprentice engineer on a Georgia Pacific cargo ship plying the waters between Brazil and the United States. He worked on the ship for four years, specializing in diesel engines.

There were unforeseen problems. Belize is a small country with an uncaring bureaucracy and no network of suppliers and subcontractors. One sheet of 3/4″ marine plywood, readily available in the US for about $50 retail, cost $130 US after 100% duty brokerage and shipping expense. Few of the essentials were available in Belize. Marine toilets, water heater, a diesel generator for AC and lighting and many other items all had to be imported with heavy duty taxes imposed. It was impossible to stay on a schedule or accurately estimate cost.

This year Martin was finally able to arrange financing at 16% interest to finish the boat. He resigned from Belize River Lodge and began working 16 hours a day or more on the complicated process of finishing the boat. To service the debt and pay basic family expenses, Martin had to get the boat in the water and finished this spring, get some bookings and start to bring in some money.  In March I got a call from Napa, California. The caller introduced himself as Don Muelrath, a fly fishing enthusiast, a mothership aficionado and a travel agent arranging bookings on Martin McCord’snew boat, which of course was nowhere near completion and not in the water. After several discussions with Mr. Muelrath and a call to Martin in Belize, I talked it over with Alice and we decided to book the shakedown cruise for ten days. People would think I was “nuts,” paying in advance for a trip on an unfinished boat in a third-world country through an agent I’d only met on the phone. But Alice and I felt that somehow we were a tiny part of the dream and we wanted to be there to see the dream come true.

Martin worked for the Belize River Lodge for 16 years and was a fishing guide for 14 of those years, serving as captain of the lodge’s motherships on many of their cruises and doing extensive maintenance on the boats. About nine years ago, Martin conceptually designed his boat. It would be 45 feet long with a 14-1/2′ beam. Motherships are almost always boats designed for some other purpose and then adapted to become live-aboard fishing lodges. Martin’s boat would be the only one in Belize designed and built from the keel up to be a live-aboard fishing boat. It would have two guest bedrooms, each with a full bath. He hired a professional ship wright to do the working drawings.

Every year we’d get a report on the boat’s progress. In 1993, he started actual construction in his yard at home. The ribs and hull were built upside-down to facilitate the fiberglassing process. Martin said, “Everyone thinks I’m nuts.” We offered encouragement, but in truth, Alice and I weren’t so sure either. To build and equip such a big boat in spare time on a modest salary seemed an impossible task. Years went by and the boat slowly progressed. Martin would spend half his tip money from guiding on marine hardware and equipment. In 1996, he bought a worn, 235-hp, diesel engine with a good drive shaft and propeller. He completely rebuilt the engine with new cylinder sleeves, pistons and bearings, accomplishing all this while working long hours full-time at Belize River Lodge. Without family or outside financial support, the boat had become a backbreaking, spirit-crushing effort. Still Martin persisted. Alone, facing ridicule and opposition, with no end in sight, he pursued the dream.

Martin met us at the Belize airport. On the way to the boat, he was distraught and apologetic explaining that he’d had a lot of problems with the subcontractor who was installing the generator and AC system, and that the boat was not finished. Yes, we’d go but we’d have to put up with a lot of unfinished work. Our first sight of the boat was a thrilling surprise! It seemed much bigger than we’d expected, especially the beam and superstructure. Our tour of the boat began with our bedroom (below): about 14′ wide with built-in beds and the room was wonderfully cool on this 90° day. There were 110-volt outlets for hair dryer, shaver and other small personal appliances. The bedroom had a passageway to the galley and eating area and another to the stern deck where two skiffs were tied. Hey, this was great! If there were a latch missing here or a clothes rod there, it was no problem to us.  I don’t recall the fuel and water capacities but there was plenty of everything, including unrestricted freshwater showers and pure bottled water for cooking and drinking.

Leaving the dock was exciting but uneventful. At about half throttle, the Meca did about ten knots per hour.  It was a two hour run to the Hicks/Long Key area , where we anchored in a quiet, sheltered,  leeward bay.                                                                                                                                                  

The cook prepared delicious meals with homemade bread, fresh salads and pies. Sometimes we had fresh snapper. There was fresh fruit at every meal. On the Meca or on the skiff, there was always cold Coca-Cola, Sprite, limeade, iced tea and Belikan beer.

From the Hicks/Long Key areas, we moved to a place called Sugar Bogue. Then we went to a small group of Keys south of Belize City, which have permit flats. Our last stop was near the Hen and Chicken Keys. The great variety of fishing waters seemed endless and fascinating.

As with most fishing trips, there were good days and poor days. There were windy days and a rainy day. The rain was so warm, I didn’t bother with a rain jacket. We caught bonefish, tarpon, snapper and a permit on the ugliest permit fly I’ve ever tied. We couldn’t seem to avoid catching barracuda, mostly small. On windy days, Martin always seemed able to find a leeward flat. Sunsets were the most gorgeous we’d ever seen. Most days we didn’t even see another fishing skiff.

Perhaps the most interesting day of fishing was at the small group of Keyssouth of Belize City. We started the day on a permit flat. Martin hadn’t been polling for more than ten minutes when he said, “Permit! 10 o’clock, 50 feet, try a backcast.” I made a backcast. “Cast again, 10 feet left, same distance.” I did. “On the money! Strip short, you got him!” I had him. Ten minutes later we took some quick pictures (at right, Ray with permit – above left, Ray with tarpon) and carefully released the 15 pound permit. I may not see so well, but I do what I’m told. With a permit caught so early, I wanted to try for a grand slam. The bonefish flats around this area were limited but we tried. The rest of the morning, I had two good shots at small schools of bones. I felt my casts were ok but the bones spooked. Oh well, forget the slam. We spent the afternoon looking for tarpon. There seem to be a lot of tarpon in the small group of Keys south of Belize City, but they’re not always in the same place and we had to hunt for them. We found them by blind casting. That afternoon, Alice jumped four tarpon on a #65 Mirrolure. She boated one of about 50 pounds. I jumped three on a cockroach pattern. I thought the last one was well-hooked, but it also threw the fly. I was relieved. It would have been a shame to miss a grand slam for lack of a bonefish. I boated a large tarpon the next day.

There were lots of options for the fishing. We could go out at daybreak and come in for a late breakfast, fish until lunchtime and a nap. Then fish until dark. To save fishing time, Martin usually moved at lunch time. I opted for a laid-back program of starting the fishing day after an early breakfast. I was told that in the right location at the right time, night fishing with surface poppers can be wonderful.

Alice and I are enthusiastic about the Meca mothership method of fishing. There is a special charm to being on the water with no other fisherman or boats in sight. Your “lodge” is always very close to the fishing you want. If it isn’t, you just move the “lodge.” It’s a relaxing way to experience a new adventure every day. Alice and I have fished for bonefish and/or tarpon in the Bahamas, Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica. We’ve taken 34 trips to 14 lodges in these countries. We’ve fished with 24 guides, some excellent and some just awful. We rate our experience on the Meca with Martin McCord as captain and guide at the absolute top of the list. I’ve called Don Muelrath and booked a twelve night, eleven day cruise for our next trip.

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