BIZ FEATURE: MARATHON MERMAID CHARTERS TURNED A DREAM INTO CUSTOM-BUILT REALITY

Marathon Mermaid offers reef snorkel, sandbar and sunset charters aboard a brand-new catamaran custom built from the ground up. CONTRIBUTED.

For most, the phrase “do it yourself” might refer to painting a room, doing some light landscaping, or maybe even some minor auto repairs and maintenance.

For Angela Tizzano and John Strama, owners of Marathon Mermaid Charters, DIY means building five 50-foot catamarans from the ground up.

The couple met in 2015, when Tizzano worked for Captain Hook’s while Strama operated his rental boat business, Quality Boat Rentals. Tizzano had dreamed of owning a charter vessel of her own for years, but when the couple explored the possibility of purchasing a Corinthian catamaran – used by similar dive and snorkel operations throughout the Keys – they were dismayed to find themselves at the bottom of a three-year wait list.

That’s when the “wheels started turning” in Strama’s head, and in June 2018, the idea for the original Marathon Mermaid – a name taken from Angela’s Instagram handle – was born.

“He’s practically been working on boats since he was in the womb,” said Angela. “He was like, ‘I could build one of these boats.’ We didn’t really understand at the moment in time when he had that epiphany all the work that included.”

With a list of pros and cons from Angela’s experiences on boats in Roatan and the Keys, the couple met with a naval architect to draft plans. Strama eventually convinced Alachua-based A&M Manufacturing to extend a previously-designed 28-foot fiberglass pontoon to a wider, taller 50-foot model, and work began in earnest. 

Angela Tizzano’s Marathon Mermaid dream is now a reality thanks to the boat-building expertise of John Strama. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly.

On top of nearly a year of drafting, submitting and modifying plans for Coast Guard approval, standards for the new boat design required almost weekly inspections throughout the build. Required modifications even found Strama and his crew crawling inside the preconstructed hulls to add structural support.

After 18 months of work, the original Marathon Mermaid passed stability tests and earned its Certificate of Inspection, and Angela’s dream business opened on Jan. 1, 2020 – just three months before COVID closures killed the momentum of a successful launch.

With no other choice, the couple sold their brand new creation to the Spottswood family in Key West.

“We have four daughters. We still had to put food on the table, and we put all of our eggs in this basket,” said Angela.

The pair’s hard work was not wasted, however, as the Spottswoods loved Strama’s design and soon requested to purchase a second identical vessel. Seeing an opportunity, Angela and John struck a deal with the family: if the Spottswoods would pay the material costs for two boats to be built, Strama would forgo labor charges for the project. The family agreed, and Marathon Mermaid was back in business.

With approved plans now on file with the Coast Guard, subsequent Mermaid builds are now limited only by the availability of materials and the hours to complete each vessel, and could theoretically be completed in six months or less. Determined never to crawl inside a small pontoon for fiberglass work again, Strama relayed the Coast Guard’s required improvements to A&M, and hulls are now delivered fully fortified and ready for building. In fact, a visit to Driftwood Marina will find three of the catamarans lined up side by side in various stages of completion.

With the second Mermaid already in the water and operational and the Spottswoods’ boat nearly finished, the other two vessels will go to an eventual second Mermaid operation in Islamorada and a new project in Marathon to be announced soon.

That’s a lot of boat building for a man who says he doesn’t want to build boats. Strama’s design could continue to serve charters and other services throughout the Keys. But even with five nearly-complete builds under his belt, he said he’ll be happy when the most recent projects are finished.

“I’m doing these three, and then (Angela)’s getting one more smaller one, and then I’m done,” he said with a laugh.

Marathon Mermaid now offers reef snorkel, sandbar and sunset cruises for up to 42 passengers comfortably aboard Strama’s creation.

“It’s beautiful,” said Angela. “We didn’t cut any corners, it’s all cushioned, and we really stay on top of the crew to make sure they keep it clean.”

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.