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Longevity is trademark for West Palm Beach dockmaster

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Nothing lasts for long, but John Smundin’s dedication to his marinas does.

“I’ve only worked at two places,” Smundin said from the docks of Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach. “I was wondering if that almost sounds negative these days?”

But yacht crew can see that his longevity is an asset born from fidelity and a love for his work. He’s been in the industry since 1979 and since then has worked only at Pier 66 in Ft. Lauderdale and at Palm Harbor Marina where he is dockmaster.

He and his wife left New Jersey to make a change and moved to Florida in 1979.

“We moved on a whim, we had no plans at all and only some friends here. We just wanted to move from Jersey,” he said.

Maria, his wife, had been to Florida before, but it was Smundin’s first trip. His friend, docked at Pier 66, connected Smundin with office staff, Patience Cohn (who is currently special projects manager at Marine Industry Association of South Florida). Cohn was dating Smundin’s friend and told him they were looking for a dock attendant.

“He’s an anomaly for his longetivity,” said Cohn of Smundin’s history, “He has earned his place.”

Smundin reminisced for a moment about how things were different when he first started.

“I’ll tell you why, it was the atmosphere. It was more like a yacht club, not a marina. It was owned by Phillips 66 and the same boats came each winter, it was a premier facility.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was prestigious. There was so much going on, there were movies being made and celebrities everywhere.”

In 1986 he went to work for Palm Harbor Marina and has been there ever since. Back then, he said, the marina had four wooden docks with 160 slips for smaller boats and the marina was half the size it is now.

Palm Harbor Marina is still under the same ownership is has been for the last 40 years. It is located south of the Flagler Memorial Bridge on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway and was orginally known as the Old City Dock. 

Smundin said the marina is two and a half miles from the Port of Palm Beach and south of the Lake Worth Inlet with one bridge and no fixed bridges. The depth in the marina is 11 feet at mean low tide. Last December. the marina was closed to undergo total rehabilitation. The renovations were unveiled during a grand opening ceremony before the Palm Beach Boat Show in March.

The marina still occupies the same coastal area but has expanded out to near the ICW and slip sizes for yachts have increased from 40-160 feet to 60-235 feet. That brings an average yacht size from 47 feet to 90 feet. Smundin said they have improved the uplands and added what they call a yacht club; a multi-purpose room, fitness room and media room.

“We don’t call it a crew club because the owners can use it also,” Smundin said.

Plans include an epicurian market to replace the previous ship’s store. 

“It was like a 7-11 on the water, but that’s gone.”

The second phase will include a hotel, a resort-type property, restaurants and a pool. Palm Harbor has a 200-foot dock at the fueling area and 500 feet on another dock for side-to docking. The marina is within walking distance of the heart of downtown West Palm Beach and to a variety of restaurants, shops and cultural activities.

“Most importantly we have worked closely with Department of Environmental Protection and we are dredging the low spot north of the bridge,” Smundin said. “That would give yachts 10 feet of depth from the inlet to us. That was always a concern with the captains; they used to have to time their trip in or out.”

He said the marina is working closely with Florida Inland Navigation District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to foster mutually beneficial relationships for all involved.

“It’s been since 1979 trying to get this done,” Smundin said of the dedication of Palm Harbor Marina to get everything done. And that’s how long Smundin has been dedicated, too.

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About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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