Photos by Craig W. Dale
Mountains to the Sea
Ten Years After 9/11, The BTB Mako Rodeo Keeps Alive The Memory Of One Victim.
There are a lot of adjectives people commonly use to describe those who pass away before their time. Fearless is not one of them. It’s just not something that people, especially men, will call another man if it isn’t unequivocally true. Think about it. How many times in your own life have you done something that would be recalled as undeniably fearless? Once? Twice? Never?
But ask just about any one of Brett Bailey’s numerous friends or family members to describe him and they fumble over examples of his fearlessness trying to find the one that encapsulates who he was. There are that many. Which one best describes Brett, who died ten years ago while working in the World Trade Center on September 11? Was it the time he swam out past the breakers off Point Pleasant, New Jersey, on the roughest day of the year, when no one else could paddle past the beach break? Or the time he hopped a chain-link fence to make friends with a vicious-looking Doberman pinscher (and succeeded)? Or was it when he upped the ante on the cool kids jumping off the bridge on New Jersey’s Chadwick Beach Island by leaping to the water below from his friend John Boyle’s jeep as it careened across the wooden planks?
His father Kevin Bailey thinks he knows. It was on a Vermont ski trip some 20 years ago on the last run of the day. Father and son were hoping for an easy run down the mountain after a long day of skiing, but when they got off an unfamiliar lift, they found themselves deep in black-diamond country with nowhere to go but down. Brett, a natural athlete, zipped down the icy slopes with no problem, thinking his father was right behind him. Except he was not. Kevin, a relatively inexperienced skier, had panicked at the sight of the precipice and taken off his skis, and was contemplating inching his way down the suicide-steep run in his boots. It was a disaster waiting to happen. At the bottom of the hill, Brett realized his father was in trouble somewhere up at the top of a cold, snowy mountain with darkness creeping in. He hiked all the way back up that trail, got his dad, and guided him back down to safety. That’s who Brett Bailey was.
It’s hard to hear that story and not think that up there on the 84th floor of the South Tower amidst one of the worst nightmares imaginable, that the fearlessness that defined Brett, coupled with his steadfast resolve to help the people around him, must have given succor to his companions until the very end. And in that, there is an aching comfort.
But this is not a eulogy. Eulogies signify endings. This story is about something more.
Soon after Brett died, a core group of friends and family began planning a way to keep his memory alive. He had been an avid fisherman in his youth on the Jersey Shore, and his favorite quarry—fittingly—was the mako shark. Brett’s longtime friend Art DellaSalla came up with the idea that a shark-fishing tournament would be an appropriate way to bring together the people Brett loved so much, to take part in an activity of which he was so fond. Oh, and there would also be a party. Brett was, by all accounts, a legendarily good time to party with. And so that was how in June 2002 the BTB Mako Rodeo, based out of Hoffman’s Marina in Brielle, New Jersey, came to be. The proceeds and donations from the tourney would be funneled through the Brett T. Bailey Foundation and into the hands of needy families of New Jersey’s National Guardsmen who have sacrificed so much to combat the forces that toppled the towers.
At first it was nothing fancy. Just a gathering of people, still bereaved, some perhaps still not quite believing he was gone—Brett was supposed to be married that June, not memorialized. They fished, sure. About 40 boats showed up, but really the tournament turned into one big party, as cathartic as any Irish wake, at a nearby bar.
The tournament has evolved over the years. A silent auction was added to raise more money. There are shirts and hats and visors and bumper stickers for sale now. Participation has grown steadily to more than 50 boats, and the Calcuttas and prize money have as well. The young men who populated that first tourney have grown too. They’ve gotten married and had kids. Lots of kids. With more on the way. It felt to me like every woman at the 2011 reception was not only pregnant but chasing around a four-year-old while daddy bounced the two-year-old in his arms. And that once-raucous party after the fishing is done? Understandably it’s turned more family friendly too, with a children’s face painter on the docks and a bouncy castle set up in the parking lot to keep the tots entertained while the men are out to sea.
I accompanied DellaSalla out on his 44-foot Henriques convertible Andiamo at this year’s tournament. The captain took out a trusted—if motley—crew. Brett’s younger brother Yuriah was onboard. A vice president at a prestigious Wall Street firm, he’s all hard angles and quick-witted comebacks. Then there was Brett’s massive and supremely tanned brother-in-law Jon Ortlieb, a former college football player who was up from Florida. Two mates, Joe Kraft and Mike Mahieu, were there. Joe has a perpetual gleam in his eye like he’s about to tell you the best joke you’ve ever heard. Meanwhile Mike comes off like your standard Jersey Shore fisherman with tattoos and fishing slang, until he plops down next to you and starts rattling off the things he’s read lately. Last there’s Yuriah’s father-in-law Richard Mercurio. A bit older than the rest, he mostly looks on quietly, but he’s quick with a smile and handy with a rod. Despite the superficial disparities, the crew worked easily and capably together, cracking wise and gassing beers, talking about the things men talk about when they’re miles away from women and land. The action was good too. Plenty of sharks were biting, particularly after the scallop boats came by and churned up the ocean floor. But there was no winning mako pulled aboard Andiamo this year. That honor went to a boat that has won this tourney before. But it didn’t seem to matter to DellaSalla (too much) back at the docks that night, where, surrounded by Brett’s family and friends, he doled out awards and made a speech on his departed friend’s behalf and in turn was feted by Brett’s mother Judy, for all the work he has done to preserve her son’s memory. Everyone should have a friend like Art DellaSalla.
When the speeches ended the deejay cued the music back up as little girls and their mothers filled up the dance floor. Others milled around, talking and sipping cold beer, not quite ready to leave—after all, it’s not often you get this many good friends and family in one place at the same time. And from the speakers, Ben E. King’s paradoxically desperate but reassuring baritone permeated the warm night air:
“If the sky that we look upon/should tumble and fall/and the mountains should crumble to the sea/I won’t cry, I won’t cry/No I won’t shed a tear/just as long as you stand, stand by me.”
As the last streaks of golden, late-spring light faded to soft purple on the horizon, one thing was clear: Brett is gone, but ten years later somehow he’s managed to get everyone safely back down the mountain.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.