Wefings Marine, Franklin County’s oldest boat dealership, dating back 115 years, has been sold to a consortium of South Florida investors in their first venture into the Panhandle.
Nautical Ventures, based in Fort Lauderdale with dealership locations also in Palm Beach, Sarasota, Stuart, and Tampa acquired the Eastpoint location as of the first of the year. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
“We are genuinely excited to join the Nautical Ventures team and become a part of their family,” said Marc Grove, owner of Wefings Marine for the past 25 years. “My employees and I recognize all the advantages that come along with the acquisition, and we are looking forward to being rebranded under the Nautical Ventures moniker.”
Grove said he had been in talks with Nautical Ventures CEO Roger Moore over the past 18 months, and was pleased that Nautical Ventures was willing to retain all 16 employees, as well as offer health insurance, a retirement plan and other expanded benefits.
“We’ve had plans to expand into Florida’s Panhandle since before the pandemic. Now that the marketplace has reached some normalization, the timing for this move is perfect,” said Moore. “Marc and his team have done an outstanding job growing their dealership over the years. But now, with an infusion of our DNA into their location, we can grow their business exponentially benefitting both their marine community and their employees alike.”
Grove was named sales manager of what will soon be rebranded as Nautical Ventures Panhandle.
In acquiring Wefings, Nautical Ventures takes over at the helm of what was started in 1909 by Elgin Wefing as a ship’s chandlery, serving the commercial fishing community. His son George, with wife Phyliss, would later assume ownership of the business, at Water Street and Avenue F, and in the 1970s it became one of the first businesses in the state to be incorporated.
In 1999, real estate agents Shaun Donahoe and Ruth Schoelles handled a sale of the property to Apalachicola’s John Bone, and Grove assumed half-ownership of the business.
Grove said that original 1909 location was heated by kerosene and lacked a bathroom, and from the ceiling hung a medley of what were old-fashioned ship supplies that needed the memory and expertise of longtime employees to identify.
The chandlery sold stainless nails, and copper bronze paint and rolled copper sheeting that would hold up well when used to patch boat bottoms.
“We’d see something hanging from the ceiling and then we’d get one of the old timers to identify it.” said Grove. “Louis Van Vleet was the guy who kept the place in business. He was the best guy in the store, he knew where everything was.”
But, as Apalachicola’s economy changed along with the transition to the 21st century, it became clear that pleasure craft would soon outpace shrimp boats.
“I saw the commercial industry fading, due to things like imported shrimp, and (lessening) of the demand for those commercial boats,” Grove said.
So Grove brought in about a half-dozen boats to display in front of the store, as well as Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki boat motors that were eclipsing the traditional Johnson and Evinrude engines that Wefing offered in the 1930s and 1940s, but which are now a thing of the past.
“I thought ‘there’s no way to get a boat or a motor,’” said Grove. “I didn’t see the commercial side going away as quickly as it did. We were there to fill that void with recreational boats.”
In 2003, Grove relocated Wefing’s to Eastpoint, and the former Apalachicola location would become a liquor store.
At the 131 U.S. 98 site, Grove focused on sales and service, particularly on less well-known but no less quality boat brands. Wefings became known for Carolina Skiff, Sea Pro and Twin Vee catamarans among its many offerings.
The company served the boating industry with a philosophy of selling curated, unusual, and seaworthy craft. Some of the products Wefings has offered have included pilot house and trailerable trawlers, Down East-style boats, Panga and catamarans.
“When you’re small, you can’t get a major boat line,” he said. “This is a very small market, you have to have something nobody else has. We went through a lot of different boat brands, and helped a lot of companies build their business.
“We brought in boats from the Pacific Northwest that nobody represented,” Grove said.
Nautical Ventures as well has its roots in selling uncommon boats, bringing in brands from Europe, such as Axopar from Finland, as well as other products such as as water toys and tenders for yachts
Grove said he is looking forward to the weeks ahead, when new manager Elliott Buss comes on board.
“It will be an interesting transition that we’re going to work though and I’m going to help,” he said. “We want to show them that there’s life beyond South Florida.”