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Sea Life Dana Point Charter Business Spans 40 Years SHERRI CRUZ Sunday, December 26, 2010 Hansen, scenes

from charters: he’s played key role in Dana Point Harbor As a kid, Donald Hansen used to earn 10 cents a trip using his little red wagon to haul catches back to the cars of fisherman at San Clemente pier. As a grownup, Hansen has parlayed his love of fishing into a lifelong business, Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Dana Point Harbor. For 40 years, Dana Wharf has chartered boats for fishing trips and whale watching. The company also books boats for cocktail cruises and company meetings. One of its newest lines of business is cremation scatterings at sea. Dana Wharf owns five boats. The Dana Pride, a 95-foot boat, is its most popular. Others include the Ocean Adventures catamaran and Sum Fun, which it’s had for decades. “If you keep them maintained, they last forever,” Hansen said. These days, Hansen, 76, leaves management to his kids, general manager Donna Kalez and Michael Hansen, Dana Wharf’s president.

His other son, Dave Hansen, doesn’t work for the company but is in the industry—he’s a yacht captain. The elder Hansen spends his days working with fishing industry trade groups and advising on sustainable fishing policy for the federal government. Hansen stepped away from operating the family business about 15 years ago. “I’m a consultant,” he said. “I’m still here everyday.” Hansen, a native of Iowa, moved to San Clemente as a kid and has lived there ever since. He started in the boat charter business in the 1960s. With a $70,000 loan, he bought San Clemente Sportfishing Inc. Back then, fishing boats moored off San Clemente pier. Nowadays, sportfishing boats are bigger. Hansen moved to Dana Point Harbor in 1971, the same year the harbor opened. Dana Wharf has a long-term lease with the county, which owns the 2,400-boat harbor. Privately held Dana Wharf doesn’t disclose yearly sales. The Business Journal estimates revenue at less than $5 million a year. As fishing has declined, Dana Wharf has expanded with other

kinds of boat charters. Hansen credits daughter Kalez for boosting that end of the business: “She’s taken the Dana Pride as a fishing boat and made it into cocktail cruises, dinner cruises and whale watching trips.” Kalez has worked at the family business since she was a kid. She started out cleaning fishing rods. Dana Wharf sells boat trips through local hotels and resorts, meeting planners and online discounter Groupon Inc. of Chicago. Whale watching is year round. The six-month winter gray whale migration has become a big part of Dana Wharf’s business. The day after Thanksgiving is the kickoff to Dana Wharf’s gray whale watching season. A two-hour trip is about $30. Others spotted in Dana Point include blue whales, killer whales, minkes and humpbacks. Dana Wharf guarantees passengers will see whales or dolphins. If they don’t, they get a “whale check,” like a rain check. Dana Point is one of the best places for watching sea life, according to marine life artist Robert Wyland, founder of Wyland Worldwide LLC in Aliso Viejo. “It’s amazing that people go all the way to San Diego to

SeaWorld when they have SeaWorld times a thousand right in their back yard,” he said. Low Pay, Good Perks Dana Wharf has 40 employees in all, most of whom are crew members. “All of our captains have been trained on our boats as deckhands,” Kalez said. “We don’t pay a lot, but the perks are good.” Many of its workers have been there 20 years or more. There are challenges unique to the business, such as the cost of fishing licenses. Dana Wharf is one of the top sellers of fishing licenses, which are required by the state. It gets a small handling fee. The cost of licensing a family of four is about $65. Kalez advocates a $5, one-day tourist license. “I write letters every year to the governor,” she said. Dana Wharf also is dependent on fish and the weather. “Whenever the fish bite, it’s peak season,” Hansen said. There are variables that keep the fish from biting, such as too

many predator sea lions or cold water. This past year, the water has been about 10 degrees colder than usual, Kalez said. Rough seas can halt business altogether. Worse than Mother Nature, the recession has been hard on business. “It’s been the roughest in all the years I’ve been doing this,” Hansen said. Harbor Dana Wharf is closely tied to Dana Point Harbor, which is the process of an expansion that calls for new retail buildings. It’s already got a new dock and restrooms. Marina businesses hope the upgrades will draw more tourists. Where Newport Harbor is home to showy, jumbo yachts, Dana Point Harbor is quaint with smaller boats. It’s home to the Ocean Institute, a marine science educational nonprofit. “Dana Point is nautical,” artist Wyland said. “It’s all about boats and maritime.” Many of the harbor’s traditions were started by Hansen,

including the annual Boat Parade of Lights and the Festival of Whales. Hansen started the holiday boat parade 36 years ago with just Dana Wharf’s decorated boats. Now many boats join in the parade, which runs on two weekends in December. The Festival of Whales, which started in 1972, celebrates the gray whale migration and includes a series of events that the city and others put on. Hansen started annual Santa boat rides 25 years ago with the El Camino Real Juniors Women’s Club. “I like kids,” Hansen said. “I like to give back.”

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