BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Perseverance has paid off for Will Cole.
The 31-year-old Gloucester native founded Mahi Mahi Cruises and Events in 2006 soon after graduating from college. He launched his business in Salem Willows Park, where it has survived several storms that badly damaged the Willows pier and interrupted business.
But the popular Cole stuck with it and now has the biggest boat operation in Salem Harbor, now doing business from Pickering Wharf.
In addition to the 47-passenger Finback, the boat he started with, Cole last year acquired the 150-passenger Hannah Glover, which has allowed him to expand considerably.
“We’ve had a lot of growth the last couple of years,” said Whitney Buckley, who manages Mahi Mahi Harbor Cruises and Events. “We’ve gone from a business that can hold 47 passengers to one that now can hold 197.”
The Hannah Glover, which has been on the waterfront for years, has presented both opportunities and challenges. Cole said they virtually gutted the boat in the off-season and continue to make upgrades.
The Hannah Glover has a full-time “job” on weekdays transporting campers to the YMCA camp on Children’s Island, carrying on a tradition that began years ago.
“So many people come out on the boat and tell us a story about remembering as a kid going on the Hannah Glover,” Buckley said.
Mahi Mahi Cruises offers music cruises aboard the Hannah Glover on Thursday nights through the summer, featuring a different band every week. Since Mahi Mahi has a full liquor license, these are over-21 cruises.
The large boat also holds private events. The Salem Children’s Charity, for example, is hosting a fund-raising cruise aboard the boat on Saturday night.
This year, Cole moved his boat business to Pickering Wharf, where Mahi Mahi has a ticket office and a business office nearby. Both boats leave from a dock near Finz restaurant.
Cole said he moved to Pickering Wharf because of the uncertain status of the Willows pier, which was undergoing repairs, but plans to return next season. Actually, he plans to use both the Willows and Pickering Wharf.
“I have a very soft spot for the Willows and that pier,” he said. “It’s been very good to me.”
From its current base on Pickering Wharf, the Mahi Mahi runs daily sightseeing cruises around Salem Harbor, some heading north along Beverly’s “Gold Coast” all the way to Manchester-by-the-Sea, and others swooping down into Marblehead Harbor.
Every evening it offers a sunset cruise.
“Everybody loves the Marblehead sunset,” said Buckley.
Mahi Mahi also runs a Sunday jazz brunch and weekend narrated cruises relating the history of the harbor and area.
Mahi Mahi’s boats are scheduled to operate through Halloween.
The summer got off to a slow start on the waterfront due to all the rain, but business has picked up in the recent heat wave.
“People are itching to get back on the water, so we’re pretty busy,” Buckley said.
Next year, Cole said, he may try to expand, but for now he’s keeping those plans a secret.
“We want to continually grow the business,” he said. “We have some ideas that would be perfect for the Willows.”
Cole said he is a lucky guy who arrived in Salem at the right time. He came here as the downtown was being revitalized and as activity was growing on the waterfront.
“There is nowhere I’d rather be,” he said. “And for someone who just stumbled into Salem and didn’t know much about, it, I couldn’t be happier. I think Salem’s certainly on the up and up in general, and definitely on the waterfront.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.