The Captain's Call: Pandemic Sends Record Numbers to the Sea - 30A

The Captain’s Call: Pandemic Sends Record Numbers to the Sea

By: Martin Liptrot | Posted Feb 27, 2022

For Pete Boland, messing about in boats is just something he does.

“Perhaps being from a seafaring nation – Great Britain – it is something in my blood, but I have always been around boats and the sea,” said Boland. “I love the battle against the elements and the thrill of competition.”

Boats have played a big part in the life of this 57-year-old corporate executive. Being on the water not only helps him unwind and relax from the pressures of work, but it was also through his love of sailing that he met his wife, Jacqui.

“I lived on a beautiful sailboat in San Francisco back in the ‘90s,” said Boland. “It was a bit unusual, as everyone else was buying condos and downtown lofts, but I think being known as ‘that Brit who lives on a boat’ definitely helped me stand out from other single guys. And of course, there was always plenty of willing crew for weekend sails across San Francisco Bay.”

Now a resident of Seaside, Florida, Boland has recently taken his passion for boating to the next level by buying a 35-foot J/105 class racing sailboat, which he has appropriately christened London Calling.

“I always wanted to sail in offshore races, but that requires a serious boat and an experienced crew,” he said. “I found the right boat in New England and hooked up with a great sailing team here in Fort Walton and Destin.”

So far, he’s taken London Calling to the Charleston Race Week and numerous local regattas, and he is now preparing for some serious offshore races around Southern Florida and the Bahamas.

“Honestly, it’s both an investment of time and effort,” admitted Boland. “Believe me, I’m very thankful for having a wonderfully understanding wife.”

Pete Boland out on ocean on boat

Boland certainly isn’t alone in his nautical pursuits. With the COVID pandemic having changed how we live, work, and spend our leisure time, boat ownership has suddenly skyrocketed.

“Typically, I have around 80 to 85 vessels of all shapes and sizes in our inventory at any given time,” said Caleb Peavler, general manager of MarineMax in Panama City Beach, Florida. “Today, demand is so hot, we have less than half a dozen.” 

With the COVID-19 virus restricting travel, making flights and accommodations more difficult to book, families are looking for other ways to safely spend time together. The pandemic also inspired people to reevaluate what’s most important in their lives. With so much social media and so many digital devices in our lives, family time is increasingly at a premium. For many, boating became a perfect platform for bridging the social-distancing gap. 

“We’re seeing people who have never boated before or haven’t been on the water in a very long time,” said Peavler. “We get parents and grandparents who come to us to buy a boat, and one of the big motivations is wanting to spend time with the kids, uninterrupted by the outside world.”

With more and more people reprioritizing their work-life balance, the nation’s boat builders are working to meet growing demand, but they’re struggling to keep up. 

“People are moving to the beach in great numbers, and as people make their dream move from the city or the suburbs, they want homes near the water,” said Northwest Florida real estate broker Gordon Tarver. “They may not have thought about boat ownership before, but when we pick them up in a sleek motorboat, cruise across the bay, and pull up at a private dock to show them a property, they not only want to buy the house, but now they also want the boat to go along with it.”

As for Pete Boland and his London Calling, boating has once again become an integral part of his daily life.

“When I get up in the morning, I still check the news headlines, the sports scores, and the stock prices,” said Boland. “But now I also look for long-range weather and boating forecasts so I can plan ahead for the next time I can get out on the water. Owning a boat has changed the way we live, and I couldn’t be happier.”

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Martin Liptrot is British but has lived along 30A since 2004. After a global career in advertising he has now made NorthWest Florida his home and runs local PR and Marketing Agency Martin’s passions include Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Formula One and Horse Racing. He is a fan of craft beers and fine wines and enjoys good company and long lazy lunches in any of the spectacular restaurants on 30A.