'Get'er in and get it done': Destin's charter fleet goes dry in Freeport for maintenance

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Nobody likes to do maintenance, but it’s a must for the 80-plus boats that make up the Destin charter boat fleet.

“Pride in the boat makes it a necessity,” said Capt. Jim Green as he prepared to put primer on the charter boat Lady Em. Green, who is captain of the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, is helping fellow captain, Travis Ream, who has been out with surgery.

And maintenance and sprucing up the boats were at the top of the to-do list Wednesday afternoon at the Fisherman’s Boatyard in Freeport as about 18 boats from the Destin fleet were on blocks and undergoing some of the basics.

The Fisherman's Boatyard in Freeport was busy this week with many of the Destin fishing fleet there for maintenance.

After an early morning shower, the sun came out and the temperatures were in the 70s by lunch. Deckhands and captains were covered in dust as they sanded, painted and buffed.

Steve Hotvet, a deckhand on the Lucky Lina, was busy sanding down the hull Wednesday afternoon.

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“We’ve been here about a week. We’re doing the typical get'er-in-and-get-it-done,” Hotvet said. 

Capt. Judah Barbee of the Stelluna has been at the boatyard since Jan. 2 and hoped to be finished in a couple of weeks and back in the slip at HarborWalk.

“We’re cleaning up the bottom … sanding and painting, and wishing the weather would cooperate,” Barbee said, noting every time he gets ready to fiberglass, it starts raining. 

Capt. Jim Green, left, and deckhand Jeremy Grice prepare the Lady Em to be primed Wednesday afternoon.

But on Wednesday, Barbee had an open window, and he and deckhand Scott Funderburg started the preparation to fiberglass.

Although he’s not fond of maintenance work, Barbee said, “It’s nice to have our own boatyard. None of them are fun to be at, but I can’t complain. Nobody bugs us up here.”

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The Fisherman’s Boatyard is off the beaten path and is located on Hales Lane in Freeport on Four Mile Creek. It’s nestled off the road, and boats can make their way there via Choctawhatchee Bay to LaGrange Bayou to Four Mile Creek. 

The boatyard, which is part of the Destin’s Fisherman's Coop, opened in 2007 with Mike Snell as manager.

"The boatyard has been here 15 years … at this point I’m a little organized,” Snell chuckled.

Deckhand Scott Funderburg of the charter boat Stelluna wipes down the bottom of the boat before doing fiberglass work on the boat Wednesday afternoon.

Snell started pulling boats out in November after the Destin Fishing Rodeo, but really started to get busy in December.

“In December, we got a good crowd, but my January calendar is full,” he said.

The Lady Em was one of the boats that pulled out in December.

Green said they lost a few days in December because of the cold weather. 

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“You want it to be above 65 degrees … to be like it's in your house,” he said for painting.  

The boatyard wasn’t exempt from the freeze that swept across the Panhandle in December. 

“But we didn’t break any lines and we drained all our water. We did just fine,” he said. 

Deckhand Jeremy Grice of the Lady Em prepares the boat before putting on primer Wednesday at the Fisherman's Boatyard in Freeport.

“And luckily all the boats did fine as well, because they’re not safe when they are out of the water,” Snell said.

He explained that the saltwater keeps the boats insulated when they are sitting at the docks.

“Saltwater won't freeze, so if you’ve got a boat sitting in it, you’re in somewhat of a bath as opposed to 30 degrees. It’s a good insulator,” Snell said.

Most of the boats at the yard are just doing “regular maintenance this year, not too many engine shafts, rudders or even paint jobs."

“The fleet is in pretty healthy shape, as it gets better every year,” Snell said. 

Snell took a look around the boatyard and said, “you think you’re looking at yachts, and you’re looking at charter boats. They all look good,” he said. 

The boats always look bigger out of the water. The Phoenix, a 55-footer, looks even bigger.

“And a lot of them are doing Coast Guard inspection,” Snell said. 

The dive boat Sea Cobra was one of those boats doing Coast Guard inspection.  

Capt. Nancy Birchett and crew were busy painting the hull of the boat on Wednesday. 

Fisherman's Boatyard Manager Mike Snell moves the Relentless in Wednesday afternoon.

“A lot of them do it the same time of the year, so I know when they are coming,” Snell said.

Nevertheless, Snell said they will stay full at the yard until late February or early March when spring break starts.

At that point, “All these guys will be sitting at the docks ready to go make money,” he said.