Former yacht engineer Alexander Michael Hickey, who had recently seen his dream to captain a yacht come true, died Nov. 26 after being found unresponsive by his mother in her Fort Lauderdale home. The cause of death is unknown, pending autopsy results. He was 30.
Capt. Hickey joined yachting after following his sister, Adriana Sandy, to Fort Lauderdale from his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, about nine years ago. She worked as a deck stew, most recently with her husband Capt. Gareth Sandy, until they started a family.
According to his CV, Capt. Hickey’s objective was: “To continue developing my skills as a mate/engineer to become captain.” Family, friends and colleagues said he was advancing quickly in his career and had recently passed his MEOL (marine engineering operator license) at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale.
Although Capt. Hickey was an inexperienced mate and engineer at the time, Capt. Tim Maggee hired him to work on the 98-foot Burger M/Y Lady Pat.
“Alex was green, but he was outgoing, friendly and wanted to learn,” Capt. Maggee said. “He worked out really well with me over five years. He listened really well and did everything; I let him make calls, hire people, follow up, he kept the alarms quiet.”
The captain mentored his novice as the two worked on yacht projects and spent a lot of time at sea.
“We would pick things apart, piece by piece,” Capt. Maggee said. “He wasn’t afraid to tackle anything.”
Capt. Maggee recalled when Capt. Hickey first learned to dive, and said that from the day he tried it, he did all of the underwater work on the yacht. The first time he was in the water was in New York after he accidentally dropped a deck plate and used the yacht’s hookah with 100-foot hose to dive and search for it, Capt. Maggee said.
“It was dirty, black, filthy water, and he looked for an hour,” Capt. Maggee said. “I couldn’t believe it. He would do anything you told him.”
One of Hickey’s early jobs was on the Fort Lauderdale Jungle Queen riverboat in late 2010. After that, he did daywork on M/Y Godspeed, a 130-foot Westport, and M/Y Cakewalk, a 281-foot Derecktor.
Deckhand Liz Fischer said she and Capt. Hickey became close this year when he joined the 124-foot Delta M/Y Beija-flor as an engineer.
“It was pretty much me, him and the captain for five months,” Fischer said. “He was more like a brother. We were a team – 124 feet was a lot for the two of us. I was lucky to have him.”
She described Capt. Hickey as good at his job, and both humorous and serious.
“He was sarcastic and very funny,” she said. But his “straight to the point” talk caused some people to take offense until they got to know him.
“He was never afraid to say anything. If he had an opinion, he would tell you,” Fischer said. “He was like a grumpy old man. But for world topics, he didn’t say a negative thing.”
C.J. Merolle, an ocean rescue paramedic, said his good friend had a natural ability.
“He could take apart cars, motorcycles, anything, and put it back together,” Merolle said. “He had a love for life in general, a dedication to yachting, and had achieved his goal of becoming a captain. He had a big-time sense of humor, good with banter, and was quick-witted.”
Capt. Hickey loved to travel, an interest that may have begun with family cruises out of Florida each year and trips with his ice hockey team, said his mother, Shari Hickey, RN special adviser with Vikand Solutions.
“I think he would want to be remembered as a pirate and a yachtie,” she said. “It’s a family, and he felt loved by that family.”
Capt. Hickey most recently outfitted a new yacht, the 66-foot Azimut M/Y Deep Bleu, for an owner who planned to keep Capt. Hickey on board when he bought a larger yacht, said Rick Buell, superintendent at Fraser.
“It was his debut captain’s job, and the owner was excited about having Alex to maintain and run it,” Buell said. “I got to know him for business and as a friend. We had good things planned for him – the owner was going to buy an 80-foot in the next month.
“He was pretty much one-stop. He was organized, methodical, someone you would want to maintain your boat,” Buell said. “I saw him as motivated, excited and happy to have the job. He was outgoing and had a bright future.”
His mentor, Capt. Maggee, said Capt. Hickey had done an impressive job on preparing Deep Bleu for trips to the Bahamas.
“Realistically, he could have been captain of 100-foot yacht in a couple of years, he was on a fast track,” Capt. Maggee said. “He was always looking to advance. From Tucson to a captain, that’s pretty good. Alex was a real success story.”
Besides his mother and sister, Capt. Hickey is survived by his brother, Elliott Hickey, and sister-in-law, Kathleen Rhodes; his brother-in-law, Capt. Gareth Sandy; a niece, Stella Rhodes, and a nephew, Benjamin Sandy. He is predeceased by his father, Timothy Hickey.
The family plans to spread his ashes at sea. A fundraiser for his family will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at the Village Well Pub, 1023 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale (33316). For details or to donate for the silent auction, call +1 954-524-2531. Friends have also set up a donation site at www.gofundme.com/the-family-of-alex-hickey.
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments welcome below.