BELFAST — A number of existing charter vessels and some new ones, as well as American Cruse Lines, have returned to Belfast and other parts of the Midcoast after not operating last year or only operating at partial capacity.
Belfast Harbormaster Katherine Given said seven charter services, including American, are returning to Belfast this year. The various services offer different activities for visitors and locals.
There is a schooner that takes people for daysails, a lobster boat that does custom tours, a fishing charter, and more, she said. The services fill an important niche in the city, allowing residents and visitors to access the water without having to own a boat.
None of the regular charter vessels operated last year, Given said. Even though restrictions were eased halfway through last year’s season, the cost of getting a charter boat ready, like maintenance and insurance, was not worth it for operators.
“Even despite the fact that later on in the season they were allowed to (operate), it was very difficult for them to determine how to set up the boat and do it safely, and by the CDC restrictions, and also they’re just trying to take reservations,” she said.
“It was difficult because a lot of people didn’t know what was going on, so they were not making reservations, and the whole tourist industry was kind of up in the air last year.”
Sam Cassida of Waterdog Charters in Belfast offered only a few trips last summer because of coronavirus restrictions and the resulting decreased in local tourism. He said most of the season was a wash, adding that his business suffered a big financial loss last year.
He primarily offers fishing charters with opportunities for sightseeing and fishes a few lobster traps as a demonstration for passengers, he said. Fortunately, chartering is not his sole source of income; he is a taxidermist as well.
Cassida never lost faith that he would be able to continue charters after the pandemic slowed, he said. He was disappointed that he could not operate last year, but said he understood that there was more going on than his own personal financial loss.
Bucksport Harbormaster Mike Ormsby said the town’s marina has only one charter vessel that did not operate last year. That charter service is offering tours this year, and American Cruse Lines will be making 10 stops in the harbor in 2021.
The marina’s revenues dropped significantly last year without visitors from American Cruse Lines and transient boaters to rent slips to, he said. A number of seasonal slip renters came back last year, providing important revenue to keep it financially independent of the town.
Ormsby is hopeful that this season will be better. There has already been a lot of interest in slip rentals from large transient boats that want to dock in the harbor for a week. “I just hope for things to settle out and go back to normal someday,” he said.
Thomas Curtis said he was in Costa Rica, where he winters, when the coronavirus struck. He decided the tropics were not a bad place to spend the pandemic and stayed there for most of the year last year.
He runs Verona Island Charter Service out of Bucksport and has been offering charters for about 20 years. It was not worthwhile to take the chance during the pandemic to offer charters. He had experienced a similar decrease in business in the early 2010s, when there were not many stripers found in the Penobscot River.
The virus put a twist on how he offers his services this year, requiring him to check on the latest Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention measures to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Curtis has retirement savings and is not financially dependent on his charter business, so last year’s slump did not impact his personal finances, he said. He hopes to make up some of those lost revenues this year, but said, “Only time will tell.”
He thinks people are looking to do different things this year, other than just going to big beaches, and want to get away from other people. This year will be a test to see if his loyal customers return.
“The Bucksport area, the river and bay is a beautiful watershed, and the wildlife and marine life that you see is incredible for people who want to take the time to make a memory,” he said.

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