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Daughter of legendary Montauk fisherman maintains a life on the water

Patricia Mundus, 56, a retired career merchant ship

Patricia Mundus, 56, a retired career merchant ship officer, continues her family's tradition on the water through her own charter company in Greenport, East End Charters. Her father, Frank Mundus, was a legendary shark fisherman in Montauk and said to be the inspiration behind the Captain Quint character in "Jaws." (June 18, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

Sailing alongside Shelter Island, native East End sailor Patricia Mundus and her crew let the wind fill their sails, taking them farther west across the Peconic bays.

While steering the 57-foot ketch, Mundus offered her guests a selection of local wine she personally selected from North Fork vineyards, fresh oysters from Greenport and clams dug from Southold Bay, something she’s often requested to do for customers on board.

It’s a slower pace than life on land, which she prefers.

“Out on the water, the pace is just about right at 8 miles per hour,” said Mundus, 56, of Greenport. “When I get on shore there’s just too much stimulation.”

Long ago, Mundus turned her love of the water into a lifelong career that’s taken her all over the world.

She grew up in Montauk, but after graduating high school in three years in 1974 she shipped off to the Caribbean for a few years to crew sailboats and yachts. In 1981, she was one of 11 women to graduate from the New York Maritime Academy at Fort Schuyler.

After graduating, Mundus spent 17 years as an Exxon oil-tanker captain, supervising crews of 25 men at a time, carrying cargo to Egypt, Yemen and the Persian Gulf. As navigating officer, Mundus was in charge of voyage planning and fueling the 987-foot oil tanker carrying 210,000 tons of crude oil.

In the 1980s, Mundus said it was still new to have women on oil tankers and she was often the only woman on board during a two- to four-month voyage. At the time, sexual harassment laws were few and far between and most instances went unreported.

“If a woman said they never had a problem they would be lying, but you pretty much solved it one-on-one,” Mundus said. “I would say, I’ve had to use my fists a couple of times. In a way, it was quite empowering. I learned how to take care of business.”

While on voyages, Mundus would be away from home for months at a time. She got homesick, but she said the time at sea also solidified what she loved about it.

“I loved being at sea, out in the open,” Mundus said. “I feel so at home on the water.”

John Timmel, 57, of Tampa, Fla., graduated from the maritime academy with Mundus and they both sailed on oil tankers for Exxon subsidiary SeaRiver Maritime until Timmel left in 1988. He fondly recalls Mundus’ infectious laugh and smile and the respect she earned working in a man’s world sailing oil-tankers.

“She’s always been a strong woman and well-respected,” he said of Mundus, with whom he still keeps in touch. “Some girls did get harassed at the academy, but Pat didn’t. She knew her stuff, something the men held to high regard. She was a wonderful sailor and they knew it.”

After retiring from the industry in 1997, Mundus and her now husband, Earl Vorheef, moved to East Hampton together and started a chartering company sailing out of Three Mile Harbor, eventually moving themselves and the business, East End Charter, to Greenport.

Now, Mundus and Vorheef, 78, charter 14 privately owned yachts, including their own, the 57-foot ketch “Surprise” to take groups small and large for day trips. Though the demands of the job are different than those of her former career, Mundus said the feelings brought on from being on the water are the same.

“When you’re on a sailboat, even just for a few hours, it’s a small taste of that feeling, the natural quiet place and rhythm of things and absence of modern bumps in life,” she said. “It’s really a beautiful thing being on a boat.”

Mundus’ father, Frank Mundus, was a legendary Montauk shark fisherman and one of her main inspirations to pursue a life on the water.

Frank Mundus died five years ago at the age of 83 but his reputation for catching large  sharks lives on. He is believed by many to be the inspiration for the character Captain Quint in the movie and book “Jaws,” and Mundus specifically recalls her father catching a 3,700-pound shark with only a 50-pound tackle.

“My father once told me sailing was for seafaring tourists,” she said. “I was hoping to someday change his mind, but no one never changed my father’s mind. But I later found out that he told other people he was proud of me.”

Sue Smith, who lives with her husband in Greenport nine months out of the year, but in Catalina Island, Calif. the rest of the year, said she trusts Mundus with her life. Smith and her husband met Mundus years ago on a sailing trip to Nantucket and have taken many trips together since.

“I’d go anywhere in the world with Pat because of her background,” said Smith, 70, while out on “Surprise” with Mundus on June 20. “I trust Pat’s local knowledge and experience traveling all over the world.”

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