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Boating life on the Kanawha is a river of fun

By Sarah Francke

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Boat co-owners Mark Flannery and Philip Mullins figured out early on what summer in Charleston is all about.

And if you're lucky, you'll score an invitation or two on their boat or on another boat whose owner you know.

The Kanawha River runs through Kanawha County, passing right by downtown Charleston. During the summer months, the river is the city's main attraction.

Many people enjoy rides on speedboats, pontoons, fishing boats, Jet Skis and kayaks, keeping the river popular and populated. The community has rallied around the river by creating events such as the Moses Automotive Live on the Levee concert series and the weekly Magic Island movie night, both of which are most fun to watch from the deck of a boat.

"The point of owning a boat is to give people a place to congregate," Flannery said when asked if he tires of requests from friends to go boating.

Flannery and Mullins, both 25, prove how accessible boat ownership can be for young professionals. As longtime friends, Mullins said, "Mark and I always kind of joked about buying a boat or camper or some toy of that nature."

Charleston natives, Flannery and Mullins grew up in families that owned boats. Mullins recalls his family's boating adventures to be some of his earliest memories. Both men have spent summer after summer learning the ins and outs of the river and have grown to appreciate everything it provides for the community.

Their opportunity to become boat co-owners came in 2012 when Mullins, who works for Trojan Landing Marine Inc., spotted a steal of a deal on a 1986 Wellcraft 230. The boat was listed for $3,500, and the duo was able to work the purchase price down to $2,850. After taxes, the final cost rounded out to be roughly $3,100.

Flannery was able to finance the boat with an agreement between the two regarding sharing the financial responsibilities. For insurance, the co-owners found affordable rates through Geico. "All in all our purchase process was fairly easy," Mullins said.

After a six-hour online course, required to obtain a boating license, the new co-owners were ready get their purchase on the water -- almost.

"Like anything else from 1986, the boat needed a little updating," Mullins laughed.

The boat had some minor mechanical issues that Mullins was able to repair, and once the repairs were finished, the co-owners had to outfit it with new safety equipment to meet legal regulations. To put the finishing touches on the purchase, Flannery and Mullins spent about a week cleaning every nook and cranny, and eventually even painting the bottom of the boat with special protective paint.

They've also added their own touches to update the interior, including a new sound system. Flannery also pointed out a space above the boat's gauges that used to hold a spherical navigational compass that is now a LED cup holder.

Flannery and Mullins are in the midst of their second summer season with their boat, and both commented on the unforgettable experiences their boat co-ownership is creating for all of their friends. Both agreed they would do it again.

It's become a lifestyle for them and at every opportunity they're on the water. Their longtime friendship is also much to credit in this situation. Was it was ever frustrating to share such a popular source of entertainment with someone else? Flannery shook his head. "Phil's friends are my friends. It all works out."

Some of the most fun they have on the river is when they're part of a group of 12 to 15 boats anchored and tied together near the levee. It's a one-of-a-kind form of entertainment with people, good music, the river as a playground and a beautiful city surrounding.

Although the boating experience isn't available year-round, it is available for continuous day-to-night entertainment during the warmer months. Their boat also is equipped with a kitchenette, sleeping quarters and a bathroom, making it convenient to spend all day and all night cruising, swimming or dropping anchor.

Flannery and Mullins were frequent visitors at the Barge and Huck Finn's restaurants last year; however, this summer both restaurants have closed. On the bright side, new docks were built at the Haddad Riverfront Park levee, making it convenient to dock and venture to any of the downtown restaurants, then back to the boat for more fun.

Their boat is always a work in progress, as it needs regular cleaning, and even still yields room for minor cosmetic and functional updates, but both men find the work well worth it.

"Boating can be a hassle to some people, and it can get a little pricey at times. But Mark and myself and all our friends have enjoyed it so much that all of that other stuff just doesn't matter."

With all of the repairs, functional updates and cosmetic improvements, the two hope to make money off the boat when it comes time to sell it. Despite its being an older model, the boat is in good shape. With only two previous owners since 1986, it has continued to be up to date on servicing.

Flannery referred to the boat as a perfect "starter boat." Both said they're learning a lot about what they want in a boat and what is best for entertaining friends.

And they both agreed that when they sell this boat, it won't be long before they purchase another together.

Check out Sarah Francke's blog at sarahfranke.com.


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