New cruise boat plies Hernando Beach Channel

Published June 4 2018
Updated June 7 2018

HERNANDO BEACH — Rosa Rossi says she and her husband, Randall Rossi, have owned more boats than she’s owned pairs of shoes. And the couple is sharing their most recent boat purchase with others.

The Rossis launched Island Rose, a 45-foot commercial passenger vessel, carrying their first paying guests on a 2-1/2-hour Gulfside cruise out of Hernando Beach Marina in March. The voyage was five years in the making.

The couple grew up on the Weeki Wachee River and owned a raft of boats through the years until they readied for a slower style of semi-retirement. Pondering a business, their daughter, Marina Rose, then 5, suggested: "Let’s take people out on a boat and show them a good time."

The result is what the family calls the "Marina Rose Experience," a cruise with up to 18 guests through the clear waters of the Hernando Beach channel. The 4-mile stretch of water skirts spoil islands.

"Ospreys are always sitting on a marker or two, pelicans are just hanging out, dolphins jumping or just swimming most of the time," Randall Rossi, 59, said recently. And below the water, "our channel on a nice day is an aquarium," he added.

Excursions include meals catered by a local restaurant, The Cove, plus beverages and snacks. Options include an indoor, climate-controlled cruise ship environ or open windows and an open-air back deck. Reservations are required.

Regarding the passengers, Randall Rossi said, "They mainly just want to eat and hang out."

"And they leave hugging each other like good friends," said Rosa Rossi, 55.

Sunset dinner cruises run Wednesday through Sunday. Champagne brunch cruises are Saturday and Sunday. Luncheon cruises are Wednesday through Friday, $45 to $60 per person. Monday and Tuesday are reserved for private groups and special event cruises.

Hernando Beach sailor Chuck Riedel captains the vessel. He has been licensed as a captain for 15 years and previously ran a charter boat on Lake Michigan out of Chicago. The retiree, 73, more recently captained river boats at nearby Weeki Wachee State Park.

With the Island Rose licensed for a crew of three, Randall Rossi works as first mate and is training to become a captain. Rosa Rossi is serving mate, primarily ensuring passenger comfort and pleasure.

Rosa Rossi searched a year for just the right vessel, and found the Florida-built mock riverboat made in 2000 on Lake Dora. It once cruised Alaskan waters and was floating unused and un-maintained for several years

"When it arrived here, it was so really, really ugly that people at the next marina ridiculed us," Randall Rossi said.

More than a dozen friends helped with the renovation, installing new flooring, carpeting, white interior paneling with nautical trim and a 16-speaker stereo system. They remodeled the bathroom, built a bar and added a hot- and cold-food serving station.

"It has drawn attention to bring people down here," said Hernando Beach Marina staffer Christine Melfi. The boat’s passengers have given local businesses a boost, she said.

Most passengers so far are clubs and retiree groups, business owners staging events for their employees and individuals celebrating special occasions.

"This is a great thing to do if you don’t have a boat, (or for) other folks who don’t have what it takes to maintain a boat," Randall Rossi said. "Even if folks rent a boat, they don’t know where to go around the shoals and rocks."

As daughter Marina Rose, now 10, envisioned, the Rossis are providing a good-time, worry-free water experience close to home.

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