Marina and Ports Manager Richard Tanner remembers when he first pulled into port aboard a Naval ship in Key West.
He hopped aboard a bus in 1966 during some R&R leave to the mainland, and as it chugged across the tiny bridges over blue crystal water, a seed was planted.
“Marathon didn’t even have a signal light at the time,” Tanner remembered.
As he assisted with Skype interviews alongside City Manager Roger Hernstadt for prospects to fill his shoes, Tanner said he and his wife, Arla, were truly able to live out a life long dream in Marathon.
Next week, Tanner will conclude his nearly nine-year tenure and took a moment to reflect with The Weekly Newspapers about the changes of which he’s been an integral part in Boot Key Harbor.
Following his first retirement from a corporate sales and marketing post in 1952, Tanner sailed his 40.5-foot Hunter around the Caribbean and Bahamas before docking at Banana Bay Resort. Harry DeLaschmutt, then the Ports Manager for the freshly incorporated City of Marathon, sought Tanner for the position of dock master at marina.
But after a couple rounds of interviews and a glimpse at the job description, Tanner said he prepared a gentle letter declining the city’s offer.
“I took it to City Hall, and as soon as he caught wind of it, he came in and tore up the letter right there in front of me!” Tanner laughed.
Battered boats still littered the mangroves on the north side of Boot Key Harbor after Hurricane Georges five years earlier when Tanner assumed the post in 2003. He recalled boats anchored haphazardly across the harbor and a daily haranguing from liveaboards and boaters who’d previously gone relatively unregulated.
Marina technician Sean Cannon, Tanner said, has been his right hand man since the beginning of the marina’s evolution from a derelict flop house to a global destination for the boating community. He was one of five employees who’ve been on staff since the city inherited the facilities. Tanner recalled hauling out tons of garbage from the interior and grounds.
“We’ve been here for the good, the bad and the ugly, and it started ugly,” Cannon said. “It was a scary place 15 years ago.
Cannon pointed to the staff’s success of removing 60 derelict boats from the harbor in the first year.
The staff has hosted municipalities from across the state that toured the harbor and sought to learn the management model in Marathon.
“He was a good mentor to all of us here, and really helped set the standard,” Cannon continued.
Administrative assistant Jenny Meany, who joined staff shortly after Tanner, said a photo collection of her boss documents him doing everything from driving a forklift to pulling on fins to help with mooring ball repair.
“He’s always been a member of the team,” Meany said. “The floating dinghy docks, the new bathrooms…he’s done so many things to make this marina a better place.”
Tanner said his vision for the facility was to continue the fresh look and appeal at the adjacent Marathon Community Park. The marina currently operates as an enterprise fund, meaning it must be a self-sustaining entity not subsidized by any taxpayer dollars. The utilities, maintenance and upkeep, employee salaries, benefits and amenities must be supported by the income from the facility and grant monies.
“This is not an easy business to break even,” he admitted. “It costs a lot to maintain these facilities.”
For his successor, Tanner said he hopes the next Ports Manager helps continue the work to take the facility to the next level.
“All the decisions made around here were always based on staff input,” he said. “We all put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but I was just the choreographer. These guys were the ones who did the dance daily.”
Hernstadt said after completing interviews with five candidates for the position, he anticipates making a decision by the end of next week.