A marina mindset
Say the words “boat docks” and you'll likely envision a fleet of vessels in a cove with amenities of a fuel pump, small supply store, ramp and not much else. Not so at Clearwater Beach Marina, where a considerable array of functional and fun things to do awaits tourists and locals alike.
I recently drove across the Memorial Causeway Bridge from the mainland to Pier 60 and followed the roundabout to this busy boardwalk with 207 boat slips for vessels up to 125 feet in length. My first stop: the cozy Marina Restaurant, where owner Patti Wolkowsky maintains a diner atmosphere that's much the same as when it opened in 1954.
“Everything is homemade — we buy meats directly from a butcher and make our own soups and salads,” said Wolkowsky, who has owned and operated the diner for 18 years. “We have a loyal following of locals and a steady stream of out-of-towners.”
My lunch selection of the shrimp basket with coleslaw and potato salad verified the absence of any preservatives and the same with wife Kelly's kielbasa and eggs. There's an old Hamilton Beach milkshake blender on the counter, and the seven booths and 12 counter stools give the place that throwback to the '50s appeal.
People moseying along the dock will encounter many water-related businesses, such as sailing and fishing charters, dolphin sightseeing tours, kayak and personal watercraft rentals, parasail trips, two dinner cruises, souped-up speedboats and themed excursions such as a pirate ship with the crew dressed as buccaneers.
“The Thriller is the faster speedboat on the beach,” said an enthusiastic ticket seller behind the counter. “It runs into the Gulf to Sand Key and back around to Caladesi Island — it's quite the adrenaline rush.”
Even though it's a Monday, lines 15 people deep form at several of the ticket windows with hordes of eager family members awaiting a memorable outing.
With no drawbridge separating the Gulf and Clearwater Beach Marina, it's an easy in and out for boaters in need of fuel, sewage pump-out, a shower, free Wi-Fi and cable TV. A small bait-and-tackle shop also offers beer on tap at an adjoining bar counter festooned with initialed dollar bills. Other amenities include a barbershop, laundry and ice cream shop, plus a walk across the street lands you amid all the goings-on at Pier 60.
We watched charter skipper Capt. Steve Hunsucker skillfully fillet a large king mackerel on the cleaning table at the dock in front of his boat Wizard.
“This is our busiest time of year, with lots of families going out for a half or full day of fishing,” he said. He can take a party of six at a time or split the charters so even one person can hop aboard and play spirited gamesters like kingfish and grouper.
This is truly a mega marina in a class of its own. Make a day of it at the Clearwater Beach Marina, 25 Causeway Blvd. For more information, call (727) 462-6954 or visit myclearwatermarina.com.
The Clearwater Beach Marina is in a class by itself when it comes to attractions and fun things to do.