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Schmidt is captain onboard and on the field

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Ben Schmidt is two types of captain. He earns his living as yacht captain of M/Y Running on the Waves, a 118-foot Gulf Craft. But he fuels his passions as captain of the Fort Lauderdale Australian Football Club.

The sport is popular in the yachting industry and several of Schmidt’s crew of M/Y Running on the Waves have joined the recreational club. Chef Henry Gordon and Eng. Rob Watson play for the team and Schmidt’s fiancee, Chief Stew/Cook Sara Wild, is an enthusiastic fan.

“It’s great for training and everyone is friendly,” Wild said as she watched a recent practice game from the sidelines with Stew Stephanie Reed of M/Y Top Dog.

“It can be a hard adjustment to travel halfway across the world, and it’s comforting to find a native sport to join in on with a good group of friends,” Wild said. “This is an excellent platform for networking in yachting. It provides connections for everything from those looking for work to what product would work best on teak.”

Schmidt said the game was created for cricket players to stay in shape during off season. Equipment is sparse: a ball that is thinner than a rugby ball and goal posts. The size of the field isn’t regulated at the recreational level, and neither is the number of players.

Although the game is not easy to describe, several Squids gave it a shot after Friday night training in March at the Central Broward Cricket Stadium in Lauderhill.

“I call it a combination of rugby, NFL [the U.S.’s National Football League], Gaelic football and soccer, with no padding,” Schmidt said. “It’s entirely unique, so fast and physical.”

“It’s different from anything I’ve ever played,” said Watson, who is from New Zealand and had not played the game before this season.

“A lot of it goes against everything we ever learned in rugby,” he said. “It’s not just big guys getting the ball. It’s more about quick reactions and reading the field. Quite a lot of it is your mind.”

“The biggest asset is endurance,” said Thomas Hecker, a player and an engineer on an LNG ship. “Everyone doesn’t care how good you are as long as you keep the ball.”

Head coach Manny Pegler called it organized mayhem.

“It’s a combination of the best of all sports,” said player Matthew Riley.

The recreational sport, known as “footy”, has a lot in common with life on megayachts, Schmidt said. Both have an international appeal and create strong personal bonds.

“We take all nationalities,” Schmidt said. “We have Kiwis, French, New Zealanders, about eight or nine nations on the team.”

He said the club includes about 30 yacht crew and the roster has previously included members from South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, Canada, Ireland and United Kingdom.

“The biggest part is the team camaraderie; we are really a social club,” Schmidt said. “And like yachting, it’s an instant family.”

Memberships are available and there are several benefits for crew to join the Squids.

“It’s a way for crew to get away so they don’t have to devote their whole lives to yachting,” Schmidt said. “Your captain been bothering you all month? It’s a great way to release some frustration, get your anger out.”

And because yacht crew travel, they can sometimes practice with a local club. When his boat is in New England, Schmidt practices with a team there. There are about 40 clubs in the United States, according to United States Australian Football League’s Web site.

Not being familiar with the sport can be intimidating, but the club has a development coach that helps first-timers. Club CEO Cameron Pinnock said it’s really more about meeting people and networking anyway.

At least, that’s how it started 12 years ago when Pinnock put up a sign in a Ft. Lauderdale bar looking for like-minded guys to play. As word-of-mouth spread, there was a need to organize a team for those who really wanted to play versus those who just wanted to play socially.

And that’s how the Fighting Squids were born. The guy keeping the list together couldn’t spell squad and instead wrote squid, a bit of fortuitousness that worked out.

“We decided to keep it, and it was voted ‘best name’ at Nationals,” Pinnock said.

Weekly practices can be grueling, but rewarding, Schmidt said.

“I can be at work onboard with five people, five crew, the accountant and the owner all needing my attention,” he said. “This club helps me keep it together. It keeps me calm. It is a critical release for me.”

For information on the club visit The Fighting Squids.

Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at dorie@the-triton.com.

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Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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