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Cheaper fees boost business

A temporary reduction in moorage fees turned out to be a whale of a good idea for the Port of Coupeville.

After offering half-priced moorage fees for the past several months, the Port saw sharp increases in the amount of fuel sold and amount made on moorage fees.

In the month of April, the port sold $5,492 in fuel and $1,131 in moorage fees.

Jim Patton, executive director for the Port of Coupeville, said during Wednesday’s Port commissioners meeting that the same month last year saw the port sell only $300 fuel and $150 a month in moorage fees.

The sharp increase stems primarly from the arrival of the Mystic Sea, an Anacortes-based charter boat business, which was enticed to Coupeville by the low fees. The 100-foot boat spent a couple of months docked in Coupeville because of the town’s proximity to gray whales that spend part of the spring in Saratoga Passage.

For the Mystic Sea to dock at the Coupeville Wharf, the port slashed its daily moorage fees in half in hopes of drumming up business during the slow off season. For the Mystic Sea, the moorage dropped from $35 to $17.50 per night. That provided an affordable rate that allowed the owner, Monte Hughes, to work out of Coupeville while keeping his permanent location in Anacortes.

In the two months that he worked out of Coupeville, Hughes’ boat served 842 people for whale-watching excursions, dinner cruises, and educational voyages.

Patton said the extra revenue paid for the Port’s insurance for the year, a dock hand’s salary for three months and pump operations. The added revenue also allows the Port to offer the best possible fuel price for boaters.

“It’s been very successful and we’ve had some wonderful comments,” Port Commissioner Benye Weber said.

The arrangement was good enough that Hughes wants to expand the number of visits he makes. He asked to come back in October and November to offer a historic waterfront cruise. He said he’s been working with museum officials and hopes the tour would highlight Coupeville, San de Fuca and the gun emplacements at Fort Casey.

“There’s so much rich history and old history. It’s phenomenal,” Hughes said after the meeting.

He said he would like to extend the time he offers his whale watching excursions from January until the end of May.

It’s up to the port commissioners whether to continue to offer discounted moorage fees. Patton said that he will likely propose a discount period from January to May for the commissioner’s approval sometime before fall.

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