For most boaters the main purpose for heading to the marina is to escape work stress, everyday worries and anything else that may bog us down during a typical work week. If you’re not able to relax and unwind when you head to your boat, then you’re probably not doing it right. But what if the marina was your work and instead of a typical 40-hour week behind a desk, it was more of a full-time, seven-day week responsibility?
That’s the life current Eagle Pointe Harbor Marina Manager Paul Watt Jr. signed up for over 30 years ago when he partnered with his father Paul, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. The long hours he and his family put in help ensure those who frequent the St. Joseph, Mich., marina have an enjoyable time.
“We’re here because of a lot of other people’s hard work and it all started with my dad’s dream and he pursued that dream for years,” says Paul. “He called one day and asked my thoughts on starting a marina. At the time I was selling real estate up in Alaska as well as renting heavy equipment and I ended up moving back in 1988.”
The first step was to find business partners and in order to do that the father and son duo needed to put together some type of presentation so they could share their vision with others.
“In August 1987 I took a boat ride with my father with one of those big VCR type cameras on my shoulder while he was driving the boat and we put a little video together,” recalls Paul. “I then hit the streets and turned over every stone I could. In just 30 days one lead had led to another and we ended up meeting Marc Howard and Eric Foster who became our business partners.”
Howard and Foster were already deep into a remodeling project with Belle Maer Harbor in Township, Mich., but were impressed by the enthusiasm and could see the Watts’ idea had true potential.
“It didn’t take long for us to realize they were good, hard-working people,” recalls Foster. “They had the same philosophy as we had; they wanted to create a family-type marina and we were onboard.”
However, for Paul’s mother Mari, it took a little longer to see the vision.
“It looked like a mud hole to me and I didn’t think we’d ever get through it,” explains Mari as she attempts to describe the property when they first began. “But it was always one of Paul’s dreams living here and when he got involved in the marine division with the Sheriff’s Department this became a deeper dream for him. This is what he really wanted to do and we were all onboard.”
His Father’s Son
Sadly the father and son marina partnership ended sooner than expected when Paul Sr. passed away in 2014, but his dream continues to live on through his son who credits his father for his work ethic and determination.
“Working with my dad he was my best friend and I was his partner and to be able to spend more than 25 years working closely day in and day out I learned so much,” says Paul. “I ended up with a life coach. He was always encouraging me and allowed me to take lead roles in various things. He always gave me the best position to learn so that I could carry the load some day.”
Mari recalls her husband’s influence with their children over the years, but it was how the former high school football coach led by example that she remembers most.
“You’re not done until you’re done; keep going until the job is finished,” says Mari. “That’s one of the things he taught all of the kids and I see that a lot with Paul.”
A Great Atmosphere
Paul’s reputation as a hard worker is appreciated most by those who interact with him the most, the slip owners at Eagle Pointe Harbor.
“There are some people who you meet for the first time and instantly get a good vibe from and feel like you’ve known your whole life. That describes Paul perfectly and the way he interacts with those of us at the marina further exemplifies his high character,” says Barry Slott, who has been at the marina with his wife Kathy for over 15 years.
Adds Donna Reese, another slip owner, “The marina is quiet and we love that downtown St. Joseph is just around the corner. Plus the marina owners are great and they’ve created a great atmosphere to make memories.”
That atmosphere includes family-friendly amenities such as a pool, bounce house, playground, etc., plus access to a nearly 30-mile stretch of the St. Joseph River with a quick 20-minute boat ride to Lake Michigan.
There are currently more than 400 total slips with 141 currently shut down for development, and Paul, along with his mother Mari and his sister Shawn Unruh, all work together with a full crew for marina owner Robert Wise to maintain it. Being able to work so closely with other members of his family has been a great blessing in Paul’s life.
“Working with family has been priceless and the most rewarding experience you could ever have happen,” says Paul. “Spending time with family has been great, especially when I look back on those times with my dad. I’m sure there were a couple of days where he probably wanted to take me out on the lake and make me swim back – probably more times than I know – but we really did have a great time working together.”
Paul also credits his wife Kelli for her support. She doesn’t have an official role at the marina, but the marina manager acknowledges that she’s made all of the sacrifices along the way too. While Paul hardly seems to slow down as he moves from one project to another, he’s quick to recognize the important position his mother plays is running the office.
“As our frontline person, she has been the champion,” states Paul. “Customers get comfortable with her immediately because she’s so warm and welcoming. She sometimes gets a little guff as a frontline person, yet keeps the process moving forward to resolve issues. A lot of kids who have grown up here still call her Grandma. She’s very positive and it’s hard for her to find an unkind word.”
With the season starting to ramp up again as hibernating boats find their way back into the water, Paul is anxiously awaiting yet another great year at the marina. Heading into Eagle Pointe’s 30th anniversary milestone, the family will continue to run things like they’ve always done and that’s putting others’ needs ahead of their own.
“We love what we do and we love keeping our customers the focus of our attention,” concludes Paul. “We couldn’t ask for a better life.”
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Eagle Pointe Harbor