When Joe DiBella was 8 years old, he spent his summers prying shark teeth from the deck of the Cricket II, a charter fishing boat that would later be the inspiration for the movie "Jaws."
DiBella, whose wife, Lorraine, is from Hudson, now is working to restore the storied boat, but he's changing its mission. Instead of charging hundreds of dollars to take people fishing, he wants to take wounded veterans to fish the coastal waters of North Carolina for free.
The Cricket II Restoration and Preservation Project, a nonprofit group DiBella started, plans to begin the trips Aug. 1 for 90 days straight, taking 300 to 400 wounded veterans on 180 trips.
DiBella has been working with veterans’ groups to raise money and spread the word about the project, though $11,000 is still needed.
“A simple $25 or $50 donation can go a long way,” he said.
According to DiBella and his nonprofit's literature, the Cricket II's history includes the record for the largest fish ever caught on a rod and reel -- a 3,427-pound great white shark, which helped serve as inspiration for author Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” and the film that followed. The boat’s captain, Frank Mundus, was a celebrity in his own right, and his similarities with Quint, the character who captains the boat in the movie, would suggest he inspired the movie as well.
DiBella’s relationship with the boat began on those hot summer days in Long Island, where his father was a builder and would hire Mundus during the winter months, becoming friends.
In 1946, Mundus had the boat custom-built for $2,500 in Burgess, Va., by 80-year-old Tiffany Cockrell. The boat was built with extra support, using 2-inch planking milled from North Carolina longleaf pines instead of the normal ¾-inch planks, and the hull was made to imitate the belly of a whale, giving the vessel astounding stability. DiBella said he has been in the boat in 20-foot seas and it didn’t move. “I can keep a cup of coffee on the console and it will not spill,” he said.
Mundus captained the boat until he retired in 1988, selling it to some used car salesmen who were “beating it up” when DiBella in 1990 went looking for a boat of his own. Mundus called him and told him to go get the boat and “bring it down where it belongs.”
The boat was in bad shape, DiBella said, and he put $60,000 into it to get it back to working order, chartering the boat off the North Carolina coast from 1995 to 2005, when he took it back to New York for the 30th anniversary of the "Jaws" film.
DiBella returned the boat to Mundus after deciding to return to North Carolina to be closer to his wife and family. Mundus again sold the boat, and it again slipped into disrepair. The owners eventually called DiBella, who bought it back and started the restoration process again, but this time with a greater goal.
“This is a very much more rewarding experience,” said DiBella, a U.S. Navy veteran.
He plans to dedicate the boat at 10 a.m. July 19 at Bock Marine in Beaufort at 10 a.m. This time around, he expects he’ll captain the boat for the rest of his career.
"As long as I can climb up and down that mast, I’ll be all right,” he said.
To donate to the Cricket II Restoration and Preservation Project, visit www.cricket2project.com or call Joe DiBella at 252-725-4277.