PANAMA CITY— The sun was sinking toward the western horizon as we left St. Andrews Marina for a quick two-hour tour of the bay.
The last chill before Easter was in the air. A cool day with cloudless blue skies turned colder as a breeze kicked up, rippling the previously glassy surface of the water. But the breeze, like the sun, was at our backs for now.
We took a leisurely turn past the coastal structures downtown, following the Intracoastal Waterway and passing one landmark after the next. Few other boats were on the water; it seemed like we had the bay to ourselves for a while.
Bunker’s Cove slipped by to port and Smack Bayou approached to starboard. At the wheel on the upper deck, the mate pointed out where birds were wading along shallows at the bayou.
“The first rule of boating?” he said. “Never take the boat where birds are walking.”
There was general agreement that this was good advice.
We continued along the channel, finally turning back near Parker, where smoke and steam rose from the stacks at Rock-Tenn. Dolphins swept by the port side, leaping and splashing. Gulls chased us at a distance.
The chill increased as we headed into the wind, and many of the guests retreated from the upper deck, seeking warmth (and refreshments) in the main cabin. As the sun finally sank and the boat began her slow turn back into the marina, we took to the bow for photos and laughs.
One of our number perched on the prow like a living figurehead. She threw her arms to the sky, a la Kate Winslett in “Titanic.”
The tour of St. Andrew Bay last week was aboard the “Miss Triss,” a 60-foot motor yacht run by Emerald Coast Yacht Charters and owned by Capt. Burton E. Beitz.
“What I’m hoping to do is sunset cruises, dolphin watching, just (taking) people who want to see some of the sights around the city,” Beitz said as he led a tour of the boat. “I’ve always wanted to do charters, and I think we have something unique here. I don’t know of anyone else offering anything quite like this.”
Charter boating is big business in Bay County, where marinas are lined with signs advertising trips for tours, dolphin encounters and fishing, as well as private parties, but few of them on the order of “Miss Triss.” (For a directory of area charters, see the “Outdoors” page at PanamaCity.com.)
“Miss Triss” is a 75-ton yacht with four staterooms (each with restrooms), a full galley and all the amenities. Her spacious upper and main decks provide ample seating for small groups, and the swim platform sports a hot/cold shower. She has a range of about 1,500 nautical miles on a full tank and a cruising speed of 9 knots.
Rates are $700 for sunset and dolphin watching; $800 for Shell Island half-day outings; and $1,400 for Shell Island full-day outings (prices include complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres for up to six guests). For overnight and long-distance cruises, or for larger groups, call 625-1488 for pricing.
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Beitz was an Air Force pilot before a career as an airline pilot that included stints with Trans World, Saudi Arabian, and Southwest. He purchased the “Miss Triss” in 2000 and received his 100-ton master license from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2012. He’s also a notary public, and can perform weddings.
“I’ve been interested in boating almost that same length of time,” he said, referring to his 30 years of piloting jets. “A lot of the previous job — dealing with weather, passengers, things like that — I think will apply here. I’m hoping some of that will carry over.”
‘Floridian Star’ serves larger groups
PANAMA CITY BEACH — For those looking to cruise with larger groups, the 84-foot “Floridian Star” might be more suitable, as the vessel docked at Bay Point Marina can accommodate up to 135 passengers. Packages start at $3,750, including a uniformed crew, doormen, event coordinator, vendors and catering, bar, sound system, banquet furnishings, dishware and utensils, and much more.
The “Floridian Star” is advertised as a luxury location for weddings, receptions, birthdays, corporate meetings and social events, including bachelor/bachelorette parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, and more. The lower salon is designed to seat up to 66 guests in a formal setting, or the upper lounge can accommodate up to 50, the bow area up to 30, and the stern deck up to 50.
Amenities aboard “Floridian Star” include a full galley, buffet service, restrooms, a central sound and paging system, bar facilities, large screen TVs, Wi-Fi and other business needs. Crew includes two captains and one first mate. Each captain is USCG certified as “100 ton masters.” Decades of experience include off-shore crew ships and fishing charter boats. The captains are locals with extensive knowledge of local waterways.
For more details, call 588-0906 or visit CustomYachtCharters.com.
- See video of the ‘Miss Triss’ sunset cruise
- Browse listings of area fishing and boating charters on our “Outdoors” page
EMERALD COAST YACHT CHARTERS
- What: Custom, luxury charters for small groups aboard the 60-foot “Miss Triss”
- Where: St. Andrews Marina, 3151 W. 10th St., Slip 96, Panama City
- Contact: 625-1488 or EmeraldCoastYachtCharters.com
CUSTOM YACHT CHARTERS
- What: Private luxury charters for large groups aboard the 84-foot “Floridian Star”
- Where: Bay Point Marina, 3824 Hatteras Lane, Panama City Beach
- Contact: 588-0906 or CustomYachtCharters.com