It came to pass that the 9th year of coming to Ole’s for the Cromartis and Joneses was a good year, a good year by any measure.  That year a radio call came the Hakai Ranger, (as the Man with the Hat was known in those days.  He had been dubbed that by a gregarious Texan who thought he looked like a Texas ranger with that Hat).  “You had better get over to the Racetrack, bring your camera” was all it said.  A light fog had descended on the Pass but within minutes the Man with the Hat was alongside Ken and Phil’s boat.  The mooching rod maxed out, Phil grinning from ear to ear. The fight had been classic, the big strong fish diving, down and away and down, down.  Patient retrieve, again and again.  And again.  The team in the boat was the dream team, they were partners in business and partners in fishing.  Watching them move about the boat and each other with ease and purpose, you could tell they had done this before.  Finally, the fish shows them it’s side, silver shining even in the dull light, exhausted it slips easily into the net.  A 50 lb. Chinook!  This would be the first of two taken in as many days at The Racetrack by Phil that year.

By now, the Cromartis and Joneses had become fixtures of the place in many ways; good-will ambassadors, tutors and boosters, and lovely people.  They had always come for a double trip so they got to interact and meet with many people over the years and good friendships ensued and endured. The Man with the Hat had been considering how to honor the two couples for some time and had dispensed with any ideas that involved the traditional branded giftware, etched glassware or embroidered team jackets, as all fell short of the honor.  So how to recognize the love?  There was only one way that became clear.  He would give them their Trip, complements, free, gratis, no strings attached, as thank you, to the people who had contributed so much to the history, the stories, the evolution of their annual home away from home as they called it.  They were comfortable there, away from the world of worries and work.  Long days of easy trolling along “The Racetrack”, their favorite.  So, this was a once in a lifetime event, 10 years. When the Trip was presented to the Cromartis and Joneses there were tears.   A closeness had developed that went beyond friendship, closer to family.

Soon word got out amongst the guests at what had been celebrated, word of mouth from trip to trip must have been, because these were days long before cell phones, text or Wi-Fi, these were letter writing days, film and long-distance calls.  Before long, another guest came forward, said he felt he was due his free trip; despite having missed the previous year to attend to a family crisis, he was at his 9th year.  So, it was, the years did not have to be consecutive.  It opened it up to more.  The following year there were a father and son, a father and daughter.

The once in a lifetime event, as it turned out, seemed to be happening to many different lifetimes! This was unexpected; the decade club was a victim of its own success. How many more people would there be? It needed recognition.  A plaque was made up honoring all those guests who had stayed true through the good years and the in-between years for a Decade.  It had enough space for a dozen guests’ names; it seemed adequate at the time.  It would need to be enlarged four more times in the coming years, eventually a second plaque would join it in accommodating the over a hundred plus names, each representing a decade of trips.  The Man in the Hat presents each honoree with a hand-shaken martini in making a toast to the many seasons, highs and lows, the great times with and without fish.  To friendship, shared bonds of times on the water, weather and lack of it, sunsets, the good tired feeling, to 5 a.m. and doing it all again. The Decade Club now defines Ole’s as we are made up of and by the guests who have adopted us as their second home, a place of escape, a place of reunion and rejuvenation.  To the Decade Club, a tip of the Hat from the Man with the Hat, and especially to Ken and Ann, Phil and Viv who started it all.