From Jamaica’s Treasure Beach to Cape Cod (and back); “Jelly” Hill’s pragmatic vision

Apr 24, 2024 | Fish Tales

Anthony Hill , “Jelly,” splits his time between Jamaica and the Cape.

By Seth Rolbein

Everyone in Jamaica has a nickname, a familiar name. For Anthony Hill it’s “Jelly,” and has been ever since he was little.

The name carried to Cape Cod, where he met his wife Sarah Robin 20 years ago and the two carved a life first working in Provincetown then owning and running the Flying Fish Restaurant in Wellfleet, busting ass season by season, investing in community and property, living what some might call the American Dream, understanding that the dream is not simple, easy, or clichéd.

“All de while,” as they say in Jamaica, Jelly kept Jamaican roots and aspirations.

Anthony comes from generations of fishermen. More than 60 years ago, July, 1963, coming off an oil tanker, his grandfather became captain of a fishing boat named “Snowboy.” The boat vanished, 40 onboard, “never a body or person found,” says Hill.

For years people wondered if Cubans had seized the crew (given where they were fishing and the politics of the moment), but everyone came to accept that the boat went down. To this day a plaque near the mouth of Black River along Jamaica’s south coast, not far from Jelly’s hometown Treasure Beach, commemorates the loss, while the family kept fishing.

Jelly’s boat “Ocean Rebel” had an earlier incarnation. She was 40 feet, open, no wheelhouse, two outboard motors, not even a bilge pump. Yet Jelly’s father would make two-day runs to the Cayman Islands where he had family and connections to sell lobster.

“He had a compass and ship-to-shore radio, that was it,” remembers Jelly, who went with his father in 1997 and ’98. “As the radio got louder you knew you were getting closer to shore.”

Anthony bought the boat from his father in 1999, but didn’t fish because the money wasn’t good, plus in 2000 he got a work visa and came to Provincetown. The boat spent a lot of time upside down on the beach as Jelly made a life with two homes, Treasure Beach and the Outer Cape where he married Sarah in 2007, opening a pizza shop in Orleans for awhile, cooking many hours through the seasons at their restaurant in Wellfleet.

But the boat remained on the family’s mind.

“My dad said, ‘Look, let’s remodel, try to turn it into a real fishing boat,’” Jelly remembers. Inshore fishing was crashing, high fuel prices plus overfishing had forced small-boat fishermen toward charters and tourist trips. Jelly’s idea was to make the boat maybe five feet bigger but plans escalated; they cut off the back and sides, split the bottom from about 10 feet below the bow to the stern to create spread. The frame became 60 feet long, the girth went from 10 to 18 feet.

They found a bulldozer to lift the frame onto big logs so they could work the bottom, 25 layers of fiberglass over plywood “tables” 18-by-6 feet to piece together the new hull. They pulled a diesel engine out of a dump truck and converted for marine, rigged a cooling system that pumped sea water through six layers of pipe, a Rube Goldberg radiator.

“We were building something with no real boat plans,” Hill remembers, “just going for it.”

Another example of building up a bow

It took years, but “Ocean Rebel” launched in 2016 with kinks yet to work out and another year to get necessary permits from the Jamaican Coast Guard. By 2017 the boat was working “fih real,” 30-35 crew, hauling five 17-foot skiffs to support pairs of divers using air compressors (though free diving as well), each pair spearfishing 800 pounds on a good day.

“It was lucrative and clean,” says Anthony, who was hiring captain and crew, not running the big boat himself. “There was no debris, no bycatch, take what you want and that’s all.”

When COVID struck, crews no longer were allowed to jam onto boats; Hill beached “Ocean Rebel,” riding out the pandemic ashore. Eight months ago he started again with focus shifting to trap fishing, 100 or more traps piled high per trip, frames made from “rodwood,” a vine that grows fast like bamboo, harvested in the high wet hills.

Traps are set as much as 80 feet deep, some far off the Jamaican coast toward Venezuela, in strings of five the way our fishermen set lobster gear — though finfish are the target. Rotten salted mackerel is bait, though lobster heads will work too, anything stinky.

When the boat docks after as many as 18 days at sea, hopefully with 10,000 pounds or more of snapper, grouper, barracuda, yellowtail – a vat onboard holds tons of crushed ice, crucial to maintain quality — the market and distribution works in ways that actually look better than here.

“We sell every single pound right on the dock,” says Hill, demand outpacing supply from Black River’s eight or so boats all roughly the same size as “Ocean Rebel” (or bigger). The price is about $650 per pound (Jamaican currency) for whole fish, meaning more than $4 US dollars.

Buyers with pickup trucks carrying insulated vats on flatbeds pay for about 500 pounds at a time, then move into the hills driving back roads, servicing homes and small restaurants. Sometimes you can hear a man calling “Fish! Fish!” to draw people out of their yards like an old-fashioned ice cream vendor. A seller might unload 200 pounds a day, charging customers up to $1200 a pound (around $8 US).

“It’s not easy,” says Jelly, “but they make a good living.”

“Go For It” with a “Healthy Body.” Good advice from Black River’s fleet

That is fishing’s mantra, spoken in every language — work hard and hope for decent money. For Jelly, it’s the combination of here and there that makes it work, Cape Cod tourist summers coupled with deep family fishing history at Treasure Beach and Black River. The demands of each aspect of life are different, but hard work, steadiness, patience, and what Jamaicans call “straight dealings” are common denominators.

And so it run.


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