Castoff was still a hour away for Cape Ann Whale Watch's 8:35 a.m. trip on Tuesday and the boarding line stretched back to the ticket office. The temperature, already near 80 degrees, qualified as hot and was on its way to scorcher.
In the parking lot, owner Jim Douglass greeted the vehicles as they came off Main Street. If those inside were bound for the Hurricane II, Douglass quickly listed the safety protocols — masks on throughout the boarding process, as well as during movement about the deck and in the large common spaces of the cabin. Social distancing, marked off with tape on the deck and rail, was in force throughout the vessel.
"Everything considered, it's going pretty good," Douglass said. "We're just trying to be doubly cautious. We'd rather err on the side of caution and keep everybody happy and safe."
And so the roll-with-it summer rolls on, as businesses and individuals shape-shift to meet the demands and dangers of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
What is true on land is true on the water, as the city's whale watch and big-boat charter fishing operators continue to adapt to the safety requirements required to reopen their businesses.
The boats are limited to running at no more than 50% capacity — though some are running significantly lower by choice despite obvious pent-up demand for whale watching and charter and open-boat fishing.
"We're allowed to run at 50% percent, but we're holding at 30%, which is about 100 passengers," Douglass said. "We're comfortable with that. We don't want to push it."
Yankee Fleet on Parker Street, according to owner Tom Orrell, is running its fishing trips at 50% capacity on its half-day, full-day and its 12-hour marathon sessions. That means the 75-foot Yankee Clipper, which usually accommodates 110 passengers, now is limited to taking 55 anglers.
The Gloucester Fleet, which operates its 72-foot Lady Sea, out of Cape Ann's Marina Resort on Essex Avenue, has reduced its open-boat trip-capacity to 25 anglers from its previous average of about 40. And it may stay at a smaller capacity when the world no longer is ruled by COVID-19.
"We're exploring staying in that niche area of 25 people," Capt. Mike Mann said. "Most of our customers have told us they enjoy not having as many people on the boat and it gives us the chance to really interact with the people on board. I love the idea of staying smaller."
Mann said his family-owned Gloucester Fleet primarily runs open-boat trips Thursday through Sunday and schedules private charters throughout the week.
There are casualties beyond capacity. The overarching safety protocols convinced Orrell to cancel his popular overnight trips, possibly for the remainder of the season.
"I just don't feel comfortable taking 40 people out on an overnight right now," Orrell said.
Pricing was another issue.
Both Orrell and Mann said their prices have been a work in progress since reopening, as they've tried to develop ticket prices that balance profit — despite reduced capacities and rejiggered schedules — with affordability.
"Our all-day trip prices started at $110 and then went down to $95," Orrell said. "Now they're at $80 and we'd like to keep them there."
Mann said Gloucester Fleet, after much deliberation, settled at $100 for a full-day trip.
"It's been a huge struggle trying to find the price point that works," he said.
Beyond, the pandemic, the fishing operators say, this has been a glorious summer on the water. The weather has held for the most part. Fuel prices have been reasonable. Whales are everywhere and the fishing has been great.
"We'd really be crushing it now if this was a normal time," Douglass said.
But it's not. The pandemic has reached into every crevice of the economy and the most common byproduct remains uncertainty.
"At the end of this season, we're definitely going have to re-evaluate everything," Orrell said. "We might just have to come up with a whole new business plan."
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT