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Normally the deck hands of the Sea Star charter fishing boat are hard at work off the kelp beds of coastal North County, helping their passengers get hooked up on yellowfin, sea bass, bonito, and barracuda.

But Capt. Joe Cacciola and his crew serve another role — the memorial scattering of ashes at sea. When called upon, the scales from caught fish and the ship’s salty smell disappear and the Oceanside Harbor-based crew clean up nicely, slacks and dress shirts, as they help families that have lost a loved one.

“I’m more than just a captain piloting a boat to scatter cremains,” said Capt. Joe. “We provide families the opportunity to release their loved one’s to the sea in a dignified and memorable fashion.”

Capt. Joe first did a service at sea for his grandmother over 30 years ago, then the ashes of his father. And it hasn’t stopped since. The crew does around 100 services a year.

“I help families to understand the human connection to the sea, a source of food, water, and oxygen,” said Capt. Joe. “It’s a naturally peaceful place. Just like in life, storms come and go, but the ocean always goes back to its natural state — eternally peaceful.”

Usually anchoring his boat about one to three miles due west of the Oceanside Pier, Capt. Joe will point out to guests; the shore, the landmarks, the mountain tops, and that 3.2 million people live over there in San Diego County. “And here we are out at sea, it’s just us. It’s peaceful and calm,” said Capt. Joe.

Capt. Joe, a retried Marine, also offers extra support to families of military members. He explains and coordinates the government’s benefits entitled to deceased veterans — a flag ceremony, honor guard; and sometimes a gun salute.

From a business standpoint, Capt. Joe believes his scattering the ashes at sea services cost about 75 percent less than a traditional cemetery burial.

He also notes that although most of his memorial guests are small groups, with his large, 60-foot boat, he can handle up to 45 guests. Plus the bigger boat ensures a calmer two hours on the ocean, than often used smaller boats.

More and more people are coming around to the idea of cremation and scattering ashes at sea. Some organized religions have changed their view on cremation over the years, recognizing that the human body is just clothing for the soul.

Finally Capt. Joe reminds his families, “You don’t have to go to a specific place to remember your loved one. Go to any seashore in the world and you are instantly reconnected.”

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