By Gaige Davila
A stranded shrimp boat off Boca Chica Beach was the last physical reminder of a gulf-side U.S. Coast Guard rescue that saved four people’s lives last month. The shrimp boat, the Capt. Jerry was recovered by Curtis Kenon, the heir to a legacy made by his father, Billy Kenon.
Curtis Kenon successfully recovered the Capt. Jerry after several failed attempts, pulling the moored shrimp boat through the foggy Brazos Santiago Pass and into the Port Isabel Channel around 4 p.m. on Feb. 9. It was the first recovery Curtis had done since his father passed.
The elder Kenon was the owner and operator of Marine Salvage & Services, along South Shore Drive in Port Isabel, where he and his crew recovered sunken or moored boats, dredged channels, cleaned oil spills, and built docks and marinas, including Southpoint Marina. Billy took the helm from his father at 18-years-old, amassing a fleet of shrimp boats and recovery vessels as the years passed.
Curtis Kenon began working for his father at a young age.
“I started working for him whenever I was 13 or 14-years-old on the docks, doing whatever I had to do, working an hourly wage, cleaning engines, rebuilding docks and pulling engines out of boats, unloading shrimp boats, driving the cranes, diving and doing everything that he was doing,” Kenon told the PRESS.
Kenon worked with his father up until 2000, when he joined the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. After his father died last year, Kenon retired from the Border Patrol and returned to the Rio Grande Valley, taking over Marine Salvage & Services. Before leaving to the Border Patrol, Kenon previously recovered boats on his father’s original vessel the Little Lady, usually guided by Billy’s advice.
“Since his passing in September, this was the first job I’ve done by myself with this boat,” Kenon said. “And without his teachings. Whenever I’d go on the beach by myself with (the Little Lady), he’d be talking to me, ‘okay, make sure you do this, make sure you do that.’ So, this time I had no supervision.” The boat that recovered the Capt. Jerry, the Rio Bravo, was the last boat Billy Kenon purchased, outfitting the Navy-made vessel to be lived on as a treasure-hunting ship. In the summers, Kenon would pilot around the Florida coast taking part or leading treasure dives, including two excavations off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, recovering several artifacts. Kenon died after falling from a ladder on the Rio Bravo.
From 1965 to 1969, Kenon was part of the search and recovery of Espíritu Santo from the 1554 Spanish fleet, found off the coast of South Padre Island, where over 500 items were recovered. It is, to date, the oldest shipwreck found in the Western Hemisphere.
A family friend and Curtis’ son, Cody, brought the Rio Bravo back to Port Isabel in a ten-day trip from Lake Okeechobee in Florida. While the boat was making its way to the Laguna Madre, Curtis and his crew removed leaking fuel from the Capt. Jerry and patching holes in the ship’s fuel tank.
The Capt. Jerry will eventually be repaired and leave Kenon’s dock, but Kenon and his son will remain, keeping a decades long tradition of maritime life going, a change of pace he’s welcoming.
“After a while you get burned out on one job, and I was ready for a change. I don’t know, would I have retired if he didn’t pass away? It’s hard to say. But I think I was ready,” Kenon said. “It means a lot to me to keep up the family tradition, and I know he’d be proud.”
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