March 14, 2014 10:27:06 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
There is one thing T. Caldwell has never understood about the Columbus Marina since he became its manager: The fact that more transient boaters know about it than Columbus residents.
"One of the things about the marina that I cannot get a handle on is the fact that the average person in Columbus doesn't know it exists," Caldwell said.
This is despite its growing reputation. ActiveCaptain, an interactive cruising notebook, recently informed Caldwell that Columbus' marina had the highest rating of any inland marina in the country. The marina, open since 2000, is one of only six certified marinas by ActiveCaptain.
Caldwell, who spoke to the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday, likens an inland marina to a service station on the water.
"Boats go to the coast, go back north, they stop and spend the night, go home to eat, take home fuel, sometimes do service and repairs and they move on," Caldwell said.
The privately-owned, independent marina has about 350-400 visits a year by transit boats, many of which stop there while going around The Great Loop, Caldwell said. The Great Loop is the term associated with the counterclockwise circumnavigation of Eastern North America by water. The Tombigbee River, Illinois River, Mississippi River and Black Warrior River are all part of this loop.
The marina's two busiest months are May and October, Caldwell said. October is typically when "loopers" swing through Columbus on the way down to Mobile, Ala. For people who want to visit the Friendly City, he has a seven-passenger courtesy van boaters can use. During peak times, he'll occasionally use his company truck.
"When we get busy, we try to get as many people as we can," he said.
The marina offers many features to local water lovers, including boat storage and repair, but there is also storage space there for campers, motor homes and boats on trailers. It has several wet slips that can hold boats up to 70 feet and the facility accommodates boats on a regular basis of 200 feet, Caldwell said. Regular and diesel gasoline is available. It only costs $10 per day to store a boat in a wet slip.
Storage demand used to be high, so 10 wet slips were added in 2009. Since then, however, activity has "tapered off," Caldwell said.
"One of the things we could use is word of mouth," he said. "We want more people using their boats."
Still, activity is already starting to pick up as spring edges closer. He and his three full-time staff are gearing up for peak months and looking for seasonal employees.
"We've gone from zero to wide open the last few days as far as business," he said. "People are wanting to dewinterize and everybody's getting the itch. That one 75 degree day does wonders for everybody."
One thing that hurt revenue was the closure of Woody's on the Water. Now, Caldwell said the marina will experiment with a tiki bar. Staff will hold an open taste testing in the next few weeks, he said.
The marina also works with the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau to lure fishing tournaments. It has hosted several, but some of the high-profile tournaments require large up-front fees. It scored a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League tournament in 2012 for free on the condition that it provide use of the fuel dock. He said he hopes to see that tournament come back to Columbus as soon as next year.
"When we do something good, it gets out there immediately. If we do something bad, it's even quicker," he said. "Our reputation has gone straight up in the last few years."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.