Business

Mystic Sea sails out of Coupeville

Mystic Sea owner Monte Hughes sits with Mary Alice Sterling during a Port of Coupeville Commissioner meeting Wednesday morning. He moved his whale watching tours from the Coupeville Wharf to La Conner.   - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Mystic Sea owner Monte Hughes sits with Mary Alice Sterling during a Port of Coupeville Commissioner meeting Wednesday morning. He moved his whale watching tours from the Coupeville Wharf to La Conner.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

While the Penn Cove MusselFest kicked off the first major festival of the year in Coupeville, it provided a finale for a popular whale-watching attraction.

The Mystic Sea, the charter vessel that offered gray whale watching tours from the Coupeville Wharf each spring, decided not to offer the service this year from the Central Whidbey town. The Mystic Sea offered tours throughout the festival last weekend and donated its profits, about $1,000, to the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club.

Mystic Sea owner Monte Hughes said he will now be offering tours from La Conner during the spring.

“We would have preferred to stay in Coupeville but it boils down to dollars and cents,” Hughes said Wednesday after he spoke during the Port of Coupeville commissioner’ meeting. When he moored at the Coupeville Wharf, he paid $17.50 per day plus $1 per head. La Conner offered him a better deal.

He was frustrated because the Seattle-based Victoria Clipper will be visiting Coupeville six times in the coming weeks, but the Clipper won’t be charged moorage fees.

Port Executive Director Jim Patton said the Clipper will only be staying for 90 minutes, long enough for passengers to visit the shops on Front Street, before departure. The boat won’t be mooring overnight.

Port Commissioner Marshall Bronson suggested contacting neighboring ports to see how they handle such short-term visits.

The Mystic Sea used to dock at the Coupeville Wharf because it provides quick access to the gray whales that migrate to Saratoga Passage each spring. For the rest of the year, the Mystic Sea was based out of Anacortes.

“I think what we did was a real boost to the community,” Hughes said, adding the passengers paying for the tours supported Coupeville businesses. “The people we brought here had dinner and stayed the night.”

After the meeting Hughes said that, given the tough economy, he isn’t willing to consider any kind of price increase to offset the moorage costs. He said the distance from La Conner to the gray whales is about the same as sailing out of Coupeville.

The Mystic Sea offered tours from the Coupeville Wharf during the MusselFest. However, he was hit by a huge moorage bill because of the 500 people who paid for the tour. He attended the Wednesday morning Port of Coupeville meeting, to see if they would waive the per-head fee, especially since he wants to donate the profits of the day to the Boys and Girls Club. Ultimately the commissioners unanimously agreed to waive the per-head fee.

Hughes said he is willing to participate in the 2011 Musselfest, so Coupeville may not have seen the last of the Mystic Sea.

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