'Captain Rosie' was Clearwater's first female charter boat skipper

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CLEARWATER — Newly divorced in the 1970s, Rosalie Holland decided to change her life. The small blond shed her panty hose, walked away from her job as a secretary and signed on as a first mate on a charter fishing boat.

Her family and friends thought she was crazy. The mother of four had always worked behind a typewriter, and here she was cutting up bait and untangling fishing lines.

It was tough breaking into such a male-dominated business. She endured long days, small paychecks and plenty of jokes behind her back. But she persevered, becoming Clearwater's first female charter boat captain and plying local waters for decades.

"She wasn't doing it for women's lib. It's just what she wanted to do and there was no stopping her," said her oldest child, Penni Hees. "She was very assertive, absolutely fearless."

The woman they called "Captain Rosie" died Monday at the age of 84.

"It was time," said her son, David Mulder, himself a longtime charter boat captain. "She lived a long life and had a lot of fun."

During her years at the helm of a 42-foot Chris Craft called L'il Tiger, Ms. Holland also worked under the names Rosalie Stribling and Rosalie Mulder.

During the 1970s and '80s, she was known for outfishing the male skippers who docked at the Clearwater Beach Marina. She built up a roster of regular clients such as Hugh Culverhouse, then the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I always felt that I had to do better than the guys," she said in a 1991 interview with what was then the St. Petersburg Times.

Why go into fishing? "It's in my blood," she said. Her mother was the daughter of a fishing captain. Her father was born and raised in Dunedin.

Ms. Holland grew up fishing for snook and redfish in Tampa Bay. "I can remember when we'd head up to Oldsmar and eat oysters right off the bed," she told the Times.

Fishing was her hobby until she got divorced. At age 41, she had four children to raise.

One night, friends took her to the beach to watch the kingfish catches. She was fascinated with the charter boat crews. She heard that one captain, Ernie Barger, needed some help. So she left him a note that read, "I'm a helluva fisherman."

Soon, she was working as Barger's first mate on the L'il Tiger. After a few seasons, he encouraged her to get a captain's license of her own. She started getting up before dawn to study for the required tests.

She later recalled her first charter: When she introduced herself as the captain, her passengers picked up their bags and backed away from the boat. She had to talk them into staying.

Her workplace was miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, using Loran coordinates to find her favorite fishing holes. In her peak years, she made 300 trips annually and braved countless summer squalls. Once, her boat got struck by lightning.

At one point around 1990, tired of the grind, she hung up her captain's hat and started selling real estate. Within a year, though, she was back on the water, captaining a boat called Rose Bud from the Dunedin Marina.

"Her dying wish was to have her ashes taken and spread over the Clearwater reef," said her daughter Julie Algood.

Added her other daughter, Penni Hees: "Now she can catch all the fish."

Contact Mike Brassfield at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.

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