Interview: Jim Mullin On Sean Rowe’s Miami-Dade Canal Adventure
Sean Rowe was hired by Miami New Times in June 1990 by Jim Mullin. Rowe was the first person we know of who circumnavigated Miami’s canals. We asked Mullin, who is now the publisher and editor of Biscayne Times, what it was like to be his editor on this project over two decades ago.
Q: How did you first learn about Sean’s plan and what was your initial reaction?
Jim Mullin: I hired Sean Rowe as a staff writer at The Miami New Times. Within a few months he expressed interest in writing an adventure story.
(Editor’s note: Rowe had several other adventures after his canal expedition–like the time he accompanied “rednecks and Indians” who drove together in a limo to a hunting trip in the middle of the Everglades in 1998 or when he joined Seminole Indian Chief James Billie while Billie nose-dived toward an airport runway in Tallahassee from two miles above land.)
I don’t recall who came up with the idea of exploring Miami’s canal system, but I do remember that I immediately liked the idea of trying to circumnavigate Greater Miami and I approved it in early 1991. As with all stories by full-time writers at New Times, I was deeply involved in the planning and editing of the story.
Q: How did Rowe communicate with you? Were you ever concerned about his safety?
JM: In early 1991, cell phones were rare — we didn’t have them. I wasn’t particularly worried about Sean’s safety as he is very self-reliant. However, his wife was concerned. My recollection is that Sean was going to call her each evening.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned from Sean’s trip?
JM: I was unhappily surprised that Sean was foolish enough to leave all his gear unguarded, even temporarily. Some of that gear was mine. I had loaned it to him. The good news was that he wasn’t there at the time of the theft, so there were no potentially dangerous confrontations.
(Ed. Note: This incident happened on the third day of his trip: “I waved to a bum under a bridge who was busy scratching at a lottery ticket, then tied off the canoe a few hundred feet further on, just west of the Palmetto. I went across the street to a Texaco station to use the phone and the drinking fountain, and when I came back my knapsack was gone, along with my camera, two notebooks, maps, and a pair of tennis shoes. I recited a little Buddhist prayer and walked over to the Canal Bait Shop & Hector’s Cafe, where I knew from personal experience there would be several large vats filled with beer bottles and covered with ice.”)
Q: What was he like? How would you describe him to others?
JM: Sean was one of the very few “natural” writers I’ve met in more than 30 years as an editor-in-chief. By that, I mean telling stories was so much a part of Sean’s character that the writing part was almost effortless — or at least it seemed that way. Like many people of enormous talent, he could be temperamental, but he was always a Southern gentleman with a light Georgia drawl that could charm anyone.
Q: Do you have any advice for Terence?
Take lots of sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Oh, and never ever leave your gear unattended.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add or tell our listeners?
JM: Sean died in 2010 in North Carolina. I don’t know the details except that he was too young and had too much to look forward to in life. A tragic end.
You can read the full magazine piece here.