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CORONAVIRUS: Marina, boat rental owners making tough decisions during coronavirus

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

With the number of coronavirus cases inching up day-by-day has come a wave of uncertainty for many businesses along the waterfront in Destin.

“The most unnerving thing ... is the not knowing,” said Chris White of Destin Marina, located just north of the Destin bridge off Calhoun Avenue.

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“Things are starting to trickle down,” White said Wednesday morning as he was doing a little cleaning around the marina.

Two weekends ago, the marina was pretty busy, and even so last weekend. But on Sunday, he said things started to slow down. Monday and Tuesday were pretty quiet.

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Although it’s slow now, White said the marina doesn’t really do a big “spring break” business as far as launches go. During the spring break time they mostly rent a few jet skis and maybe launch a boat or two from families that brought their boats with them.

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However, this time of year they do sell bait to the fishermen. But even that is starting to slow down with the fishing boats getting cancellations left and right, he said.

For now, White is keeping the marina open with the possibility of maybe modifying their hours if things don’t pick up.

“As long as this clears out by Memorial Day ... we should be good,” White said.

As for the city of Destin’s boat ramp at Joe’s Bayou Boat Launch, it’s “business as usual,” according to Catherine Card, public information manager for the city of Destin.

The boat launch located off Beach Drive offers five boat launch ramps, with a parking area for boat trailers and bathrooms.

The launch fee is $20 daily, however, folks that live within the city limits can get a free permit to launch.

If you don’t have a boat but are still looking to get out on the water, a few places are still open with pontoons to rent.

One of those being S.E.A. Chase Watersports on the Destin harbor.

On Tuesday, S.E.A. Chase Watersports owner Sheri Andrews was contemplating shutting down the business due to the coronavirus.

However, she put out a Facebook post Tuesday asking for feedback on whether to stay open or not. The response was an overwhelming “stay open.”

Andrews said they will limit the boats to 10 or less passengers and clean the boats down before and after trips.

“We bleach and sanitize” every boat, she said in her Facebook post.

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, they had already sent out two pontoons with 10 or less passengers. With every boat rental, folks get a choice of a few kayak or paddleboard to take along as well.

Although they are staying open for now, others that make their living on the water have closed until further notice.

Olin Marler’s Dolphin Cruises and fishing charters closed earlier this week and plan to make a decision over the weekend on whether to extend the closure or not, after business “dropped off drastically,” a spokesperson in the booking booth said.

Boogies Watersports made the tough decision last weekend to close up.

According to their Facebook page they will be closed until further notice.

“Spring breakers we love you, but we have to do what we believe is best for our community. We can’t wait to fly with you all on the other side of this thing,” the Facebook post said.

On Monday, the Southern Star and the Buccaneer pirate ship cruises were both temporarily suspended with the promise of resuming when they feel it is safe to do so.

Luther’s Pontoon, Waverunners and Kayak Rentals posted on their Facebook page Sunday that with the “uncertainty among us” they decided to temporarily close due to the rise of the COVID-19. The closure began Monday until further notice.