It was June 15, 1994 when the first dolphin cruise set sail in Destin, as the Southern Star took to the pristine waters of the Emerald Coast’s beaches. Prior to that, she was a mere dream in the hearts of me, a 20-year captain of seagoing tugs, and my wife, Wendy, a substitute teacher and mother of three. Words could not describe the feelings of my family when I had to leave my loved ones behind to fly off to work for months at a time, and we prayed that God would guide them toward a better way. Having spent time in third world countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, it became clear to me that the United States is indeed a land of opportunity where our wildest dreams can come true if we are willing to put forth the effort. One day, while home from sea, Wendy and I began to brainstorm, “If we could do anything, what would it be? What is our dream?”
Two years passed before we took the leap to follow our dreams. In 1993, I was employed by a high tech company specializing in officer placement. I was one of sixteen men, Master of the crew of the 200-foot “Louisiana Responder,” a vessel which specialized in oil spill recovery for clean-up operations such as the DeepWater Horizon tragedy of 2010. Wendy and I had decided that we would start a dolphin cruise business so that the family would no longer have to endure the heartache of my long absences. But where would we get a boat? Where would we start this business?
At long last, the two of us located a boat in the Northeast that we found suitable for our business venture. I gave notice and we embarked on a new adventure. When a surveyor was hired to examine the vessel, she failed inspection. Wendy asked if I had prayed over the vessel prior to inspection, and I began to explain that I had been a captain for years. Before I could finish my sentence, she interrupted, “Did you pray?” She asked three times before I answered with, “No.” So we prayed. Afterward, an indescribable sense of peace covered us. With a wife, children, mortgage, no job and no starter boat, it made no sense that I would be at ease.
About a week later, the phone rang and on the other line was a man that we had never met. He simply stated, “I have your boat in New York.”
We were surprised to say the least. Who was this man? How had he gotten our number? The answer, however, was no surprise: God. I promptly requested a survey, and when it was faxed, we could not believe our eyes. The vessel exceeded all expectations. Is that not just like our God? The only problem was that the cost was twice as much as the previous boat. We declared, “God, if this is your choice you will provide.” He did.
With an idea and a plan, Wendy and I walked into a bank in Destin. The lender recommended that I take a trip to New York to personally inspect this boat if I really wanted to take on the project. Wendy asked, “When does the loan committee…” and the banker cut her off, “I am the loan committee.” To this date, Duane Clark is still our go-to-guy in business.
With longtime friend Captain Clay Duhon, I went to look at the 65-foot, wooden boat. I called Wendy, “She is just what we need, but she needs a lot of work to convert her from a fishing boat to a cruising boat.” Wendy told me, “Just go sit and pray on her. Do what ever it is that you Captains do and call me tomorrow.” We decided to go for it, and the two of us captains set out on the journey back to Destin, Florida, which took 14 days. Along the way, we were docked one night and the dolphins awoke us to greet us as if to confirm that our decision was of God. Three weeks later, the Southern Star arrived in Destin to begin the first dolphin cruise that the town had ever seen. Still family owned and operated, our dolphin cruise aboard Southern Star remains an affordable form of fun for locals and vacationing families alike. We operate by the slogan “Expect a Miracle” and strive to ensure that every guest aboard our vessel is treated to the highest standard of service possible. We strive to create a fun and memorable experience and encourage our passengers to always “Expect a Miracle” just as we did 18 years ago.