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Behind Bayside Marketplace's Hard Rock Café, the Biscayne Lady enjoys a midafternoon hosing under the hot Miami sun. As cold water trickles down her sleek frame, we board the vessel to meet the ship's captain and Biscayne Bay legend, James Cho.
Since joining the Biscayne Lady team, Cho has skippered countless wedding receptions, business meetings, and celebrity birthdays. And March 24 through 26, the captain and his six-member crew will roll out the red carpet for three electro yacht parties set to take place during Ultra Music Festival. For Cho, however, it's just another day at the metaphorical office.
"It's just another event," he says. "When I was younger, I went to two Ultra fests. But even then I really didn't know anybody. It was just a party. I went to hang out."
270 Biscayne Blvd.
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At 36 years old, Cho doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a sea captain. He's clean-shaven, incredibly soft-spoken, and doesn't wear a yellow rain jacket like the Gorton's Fisherman. But despite his outward appearance and affable demeanor, Cho is the real deal.
"I've only been seasick once," he says. "I was 12."
Nine years after the fishing trip that left Cho feeling a little queasy, the ex-Navy man found himself working on a barge as a marine contractor. And just six years ago, Cho became a yacht captain.
"It's less back-breaking [than working on a barge]," he says. "And there's air-conditioning in here, man."
Air-conditioning that, for three days in March, will cool 300 beat freaks aboard the Biscayne Lady as they trip out with some of their favorite electro, house, and techno DJs. Cho, on the other hand, will helm the 111-foot floating dance club, keeping the Lady on course.
"I leave the [wheelhouse] doors open," he says, "so I can hear what's going on outside — the music, people talking. You'd be surprised how much you find out." Like any good skipper, Cho knows everything that happens aboard his ship. However, his heroic efforts to save troubled wildlife are what set him apart from his maritime brethren.
At last year's WMC yacht party, Cho temporarily handed the Lady over to his co-captain while he went off to conduct a routine inspection of the ship's stern. "I noticed a small parakeet on the railing," he recalls, "that looked injured." As Cho inched closer for a better look, the startled bird instinctively flew off the rail, managing to flap its wings no more than 12 times before crashing into Biscayne Bay.
"Oh, no!" we imagine someone shouted. "That poor bird just plunged into the water!"
Hoping to rescue the wounded parakeet, Cho quickly radioed the co-captain: "Throw the boat in reverse!" The sudden jerk of the ship caught several folks off-guard and interrupted the rhythm of their dancing. However, partiers blamed the hiccup on the DJ, suggesting he might have dropped the beat prematurely. As the ship reversed, Captain Cho, leaning over the aft railing and elbow-deep in saltwater, cupped his hands, gently scooped his avian friend out of the bay, and carried it to the safety of a small cardboard box.
Beat freaks rejoiced, chanting, "Pa-ra-keet! Pa-ra-keet!" Cho was hoisted onto the shoulders of two men, paraded around the top deck of the Biscayne Lady, and ceremoniously declared Best Captain Ever.