Monday, November 23, 2009

Francesco "Capt. Paul" Brancaleone Remembered

The recent passing of Paul Brancaleone has saddened our fishing community, his family, and his many friends. Paul’s accomplishments and contributions to his adopted Gloucester deserve recognition beyond a condensed remembrance that a newspaper obituary provides.

I met Capt. Paul in the early ’70s, when as a marine insurance broker I insured his vessel, the inshore dragger Santa Lucia. Over the years, our routine business association developed into a closer relationship, one of admiration, respect, and friendship.

Paul came to this country as a young man in his early thirties. Like so many in the 1950s era, waves of immigrants arriving from economically depressed Terrasini, Sicily, all sought a better lifestyle. Historically this has been Gloucester’s story repeated for centuries. Fishing in the old country was Paul’s expertise. Like so many others before and since, he readily adjusted to his new surroundings and would immediately find acceptance and work on our thriving waterfront of that decade. Brancaleone would become a successful vessel owner/operator, businessman, employer, home owner, and a respected family breadwinner in his newly adopted country.

I often have asked myself: how would I fare, adjusting to a foreign country, reacting to a totally new lifestyle, while learning an unfamiliar language and providing for my family?

Gloucester’s new citizen was a personable, polite, gregarious individual, always a gentleman, and had no trouble fitting into the local waterfront scene. In his trade, he was a recognized expert fisherman, a reliable hard worker, and a contributor....Paul Brancaleone gave back to our local fishing industry from the day he arrived!

Gloucester’s fishing industry in the late 1950s and ‘60s was prosperous and promising to newcomer Paul. He immediately took his place alongside his contemporaries at Fisherman’s Wharf. Accepting Paul into their fraternity of highliners were Capt. "Gus" Sanfilippo of the F/V St. Rosalie; Capt. Emilio Spinola and his brothers, Mike and Tom; their uncle, Sam “Glo” Scola; and the family patriarch, Capt. Domenic Spinola of the F/V St. Mary, newly launched only a few years before. There was also Capt."Tom" Aiello of the F/V St. Providenza, Capt. “Joe” Giacalone and his partner Sebastian “Bikee” Scola in their
F/V St. Peter. Also, the Testaverde family in their F/V Linda B.; the nearby
F/V St. Peter III, captained by "Tom" Favazza; and Capt. Benny Chianciola in the F/V Serafina II. All were successful whiting and inshore groundfish producers of the day. These few vessels were charter members of the original Gloucester Whiting Association, organized at Fisherman’s Wharf in the early 1950s and managed by my friend Ray Kershaw. Its membership would exceed 50 inshore vessels in the
‘50s and ‘60s.

Within a few years of his arrival in Gloucester, Paul Brancaleone, the risk taker, would roll the dice and join this fleet with his own dayboat, F/V Santa Lucia. Fishing with his compardi vessel owners, Brancaleone and his Santa Lucia crew became a reliable producer of whiting and groundfish, landed daily at Fisherman’s Wharf in the decades of the '60s and‘70s even into the‘80s. Paul didn’t own the largest boat in the fleet nor did he receive headlines for his production. He merely went about his business everyday....a true highliner!

For decades, this dayboat fleet regularly provided volume quality fresh groundfish to the gourmet restaurant trade from Gloucester to New York and Philadelphia! Capt. Paul and his Santa Lucia were part of that production. This inshore fleet, frequently overshadowed, often going unrecognized for their achievements, were the prosperity builders of Gloucester in those years, advancing Gloucester’s reputation for providing the best fresh groundfish in the industry.

A few weeks ago, while in traffic passing St. Peter’s Club, I observed my friend Paul sitting on a bench socializing with his fellow retired compardis in the bright morning sun. I recognized his familiar beaming smile. I waved and he waved back. I thought then how wonderful it was that Capt. Paul lived to enjoy his hard earned retirement. I will miss seeing my friend, Paul, now gone from the longer with us.