As Hurricane Michael intensified, boat owners and Destin Fishing Rodeo officials were battening down the hatches.
The Fishing Rodeo closed down for Tuesday and Wednesday as a safety measure in preparation for Wednesday’s storm.
“It’s for the safety of everybody,” said Helen Donaldson, executive director for the Rodeo. “We don’t want them out there fishing in bad weather just to compete for a T-shirt.”
Donaldson said the boats in the Destin harbor will probably have to be moved, as well as the barge rodeo officials use to weigh the fish. Last year, when the Rodeo was shut down for a couple of days by Hurricane Nate, the barge pulled away from the pilings and tethered off.
Mary Anne Windes, a managing partner of the Destin Fishing Fleet Marina behind Brotula's Seafood House and Steamer, said they started evacuating boats Monday morning.
“We’re asking all of the boats to get to safe harbor and clear their stuff off the docks,” Windes said.
Windes said some of the boats were expected to move as far as Freeport, but most usually go to Joe’s Bayou or Indian Bayou.
In a Facebook post, City Councilman Parker Destin said the normal $20 boat launch fee at Joe’s Bayou would be suspended for Monday and Tuesday.
But some boat captains aren’t taking any chances. Jim Green, captain of the American Spirit, loaded up his boat and headed west to Orange Beach first thing Tuesday morning.
“Everyone gets complacent because we haven’t had a storm in a long time,” Green said. “But the threat is real and doesn’t need to be taken lightly.”
Even though the American Spirit is the largest boat in the Destin fleet at 100 feet, Green said they were tossed around with 4-5 foot waves and the occasional 6-7 footer during a fishing trip Monday morning.
“It was fairly nautical,” the captain said with a laugh. “A couple of captains had to call it quits early because passengers were getting seasick.”
Green, who is also on the board of directors for the Fishing Rodeo, said making sure people are securing their property and making sure their families are safe should be top priority.
“There’s no reason we should put our volunteers or anglers in a position where they feel like they should or have to be out there,” he said.
Rodeo officials hope they can resume activities on Thursday, but will keep a close eye on the storm. They will be posting updates on their Facebook page if anything changes.