DUNEDIN — A new water taxi and boat rental service will soon be plying the waters of St. Joseph Sound.
The general public will now be able to join Beso Del Sol Resort guests in renting kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, hopping ferry rides to and from Caladesi Island and Clearwater Beach, taking eco-dolphin and marine life tours, and going on shelling excursions.
City officials — who hope to launch their own water taxi service under Dunedin's proposed $1.8 million downtown waterfront improvement plan — say they'll be closely monitoring Beso Del Sol's operation to gauge the potential for their own.
"We think it's a great thing," said Dunedin economic development director Bob Ironsmith. "We're going to watch and see how it goes and how ridership is. We certainly think we can add to it."
Since 2008, said Beso Del Sol general manager David Dawson, the resort at 1420 Bayshore Blvd. has offered 40 boat slips that allow general public patrons to dock at their Marker 8 Tiki Bar.
He said the resort began offering ferry and boat rental services exclusively to the resort guests a couple of weeks ago. The company can immediately expand those services to include the general public under a conditional use permit that now deems Beso Del Sol a "tourist facility."
The new service is perfect for water lovers who don't own a boat or folks who are hesitant to spend big bucks testing out a new hobby, said Capt. Calvin Horn, who will direct Beso Del Sol's new Blue Crush Water Sports and Adventures operation.
"For a few bucks, they can go out, get some exercise and sunshine, and enjoy the beautiful bay we have here," Horn said.
Prices start at $30 for a two-hour boat rental. The water taxi is $15 per person round trip. The shelling and dolphin tours start at $35 per person.
The conditional use permit, approved this week by Dunedin's board of adjustment and appeal, comes with some restrictions aimed at addressing nearby homeowners' concerns about increased noise and excess water traffic. For instance, Beso Del Sol can operate:
• No more than 20 watercraft, and only one — the water taxi — can be motorized. The taxi is a 90-horsepower pontoon boat.
• Only between 10 a.m. and sunset
• No on-site fuel storage
Beso Del Sol's ferry seats six passengers and one captain. The resort currently has about a dozen kayaks available for rent. Dawson said canoes and paddle boards should be available by the spring.
They said they'd eventually like to acquire a second taxi to expand travel destinations. They also asked the adjustment board for extended hours of operation for the fishing kayaks and paddle boats.
Board chairman Randy Griffin initially supported the request. But members ultimately voted 5-0 to adopt board member Deborah Bushnell's motion, which included the current restrictions.
"This is something new we're doing in a largely residential area," Bushnell said. "It just makes sense to start out with a modest operation, see how that goes and if you guys are wildly successful the board could consider" Beso Del Sol's request for expanded services.
The operation is separate from the ferry service that shuttles passengers between Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island state parks.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.