Tomales Bay Resort downsizes kayaking

01/01/2020

Hoping to boost business at his Tomales Bay Resort, owner Jeff Harriman has ended Blue Waters Kayaking's lease at its launch of 20 years, leaving the company without a shoreside rental location as of December.

Blue Waters owners John and Pamalah Granatir said they did not see eye to eye with Mr. Harriman, who desired a joint venture with the lessor of his beach area. “I couldn’t see a basis for a partnership, given that we had such different values and such different objectives,” Mr. Granatir said. “It’s hard enough to partner with somebody when you’re both on the same page, but if you really diverge from the beginning, it’s not going to work.”

Mr. Harriman has since embarked on a joint venture with Tomales Bay Expeditions, a start-up run by former Blue Waters employees Cooper Jolley and Brett Miller. The pair will have a smaller presence on the beach, where Blue Waters had served about 5,000 customers a year for the past four years.

“At this stage, less volume of rentals is a better fit for the resort,” Mr. Harriman told the Light in an email.

The new operation is fully movable in case of an event on the beach, such as a wedding. Hotel guests receive a discount, and Mr. Harriman receives a percentage of each launch fee. 

Tomales Bay Expeditions is limiting itself to 40 boats; right now there are less than half that number, mostly secondhand purchases. Eventually Mr. Jolley and Mr. Miller hope to have enough kayaks to accommodate medium-sized groups. “The whole idea is to integrate it as much as we can with the resort,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Jolley added, “We wanted to take our experience growing up on the bay, in a fun and responsible manner, and share it with other people.”

Mr. Harriman said he wants hotel guests to be able to lounge on the beach and rent the kayaks themselves. He plans to market the hotel, kayak rentals and restaurant together in order to attract more large groups. Fog’s Kitchen recently closed in the restaurant space, and Mr. Harriman said he is looking for a restaurateur with catering skills for retreats, conferences and weddings. 

After receiving three months’ notice in August, the Granatirs had to change their game plan. They acquired Point Reyes Outdoors from Laurie Manarik, another former employee who started the business about 15 years ago. While her main focus was kayaking, she also offered naturalist-guided hikes, mountain bike rentals and team building exercises, on both land and water. The two companies complement each other, Mr. Granatir said: Blue Waters excels at training and recruiting tour guides, while Point Reyes Outdoors markets well to school groups and nonprofits that come on weekdays.

“That’s exactly what we need to stimulate to grow, especially without the [shoreside] rental business,” Mr. Granatir said. 

Blue Waters will also benefit from Ms. Manarik’s storefront in downtown Point Reyes Station, as its only other space is for storage. The company closed its beachfront in Marshall in 2016 due to permitting issues, and now it offers takeaway or drop-off rentals only. 

About 60 percent of Blue Waters’ business comes from guided tours, which launch from the Miller Park boat ramp north of Marshall. But traffic and parking get jammed beyond capacity for popular bioluminescence night tours, so the company has reached out to Tomales High School about leasing space in its parking lot for customers to shuttle to the bay.