Dan Rudacille has a great corner office.
The weathered planks and thick sturdy columns of his workspace are decorated with photos of friends, kids, couples and the occasional celebrity. His desk is a glass display case with several jars of formaldehyde containing the likes of a Bonnethead shark, an eel, a lobster and an octopus. A large wooden shutter opens his window to the world on the close-knit, welcoming community in which he works.
“It’s an easy job,” he said. “I sit here in the morning and watch herons fly by, watch the tarpon roll.”
Rudacille is the Dock Master at 7 Mile Marina. He also responds to the title “Safety Director.”
He keeps an eye on the 11 charter boats that operate their businesses based in the marina.
“These captains are five feet apart from each other and they still manage to get along pretty well,” he laughed. “I have to contend with their egos and basically just keep everything clean.”
His shoulder length hair is covered with a ball cap, and his deep dark tan might fool you into believing he’s been in the Keys all his life, but it was some 12 years ago that his wife Katie called the Virginia native from Marathon and said she’d found a house she wanted to buy.
“She called me on a Friday and said she wanted me down here on Monday,” he chuckled.
By trade, Rudacille was a stonemason who owned his own business in his home state for 25 years. He sold his business, and on his accountant’s advice, decided to buy a boat.
“I bought the Best Bet before we even moved here,” he explained.
He ran the boat for several years before recruiting another well-respected fishermen to take over the vessel. Though he has since sold that business as well, the Best Bet is among the fleet of boats over which Rudacille casually keeps an eye each day.
“It’s a pleasure to watch all these captains come in each day with their happy customers and their catch of fish,” he said. “The young ones have really progressed over the years.”
He’s no stranger to the Marina or the Keys. Rudacille remembers driving through Marathon in a pickup with a sliding camper that fit into the bed of the truck with Katie back in the 70s.
“We had to pull in the side mirrors to be able to drive across the Old 7 Mile Bridge,” he remembered.
He met the young woman who would eventually convince him to relocate to the Keys at a mutual friend’s party in 1972.
“I got out of the car and this dog came up and bit me in the butt,” he laughed. That dog’s owner eventually became Rudacille’s wife.
Though they’d been leasing a duplex in Marathon for regularly annual vacations, Rudacille admits he never intended to move down for good.
“Katie just got a wild hair and decided to buy this house on a whim,” he laughed.
So, the couple packed up their kids and headed south. By way of his daughter, now a sophomore at Nova Southeastern, Rudacille met fellow transplant Paul Bielek.
Five years ago, Bielek bought 7 Mile Marina and invested quite a bit of money to make major improvements to the property.
“He told me, ‘I don’t want to work anymore. I’ll buy the marina and you just run it,” Rudacille explained.
One recent evening, as the sun set over the Bay and the captains enjoyed a beer on the docks, the pair came up with the idea for unique twist on the local fishing tournament circuit.
“Of all the tournaments we could host, we decided to put on a shark tournament,” he said. “Fishermen never target them but always catch ‘em.”
With just a couple of months of planning under their belts and the event set to take place next weekend, he admits they had no idea how what intensive planning when in to putting on an event of this capacity.
“It’s all been just non-stop,” he said.
The 7 Mile Marina Sharkathon is a one-day release tournament slated for April 25. The community is invited down next weekend to enjoy live music, casting contests, crab races, a live scoreboard to keep track of the anglers and a big pig roast.
As he gazes out the peaceful waterfront view and nods hello to passerby, Rudacille admitted, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”