NORTH KINGSTOWN â€“ Rick Belavanceâ€™s love of the Bay, its bounty â€“ and the great sea beyond â€“ began when he was 10.
â€śI started out goofing around in Greenwich Bay,â€ť recalls Bellavance, who grew up in Warwick and lives in the North End of North Kingstown. â€śI walked down from Cowesett and dug shellfish in the area of Chepiwanoxet.â€ť He also ventured out onto the water, piloting his own small craft.
â€śI had a little skiff my dad gave me.â€ť
His father, Dick Belavance, is a former URI professor of oceanography and life sciences who shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with his son. He still does.
These days the younger Belavance is a captain twice over: heâ€™s been a firefighter for the City of Warwick for 23 years and is now a captain at Station 8 on Post Road; on weekends and days off, heâ€™s the captain of the Priority Too, a charter boat out of Point Judith on which his dad serves as mate.
As if these responsibilities werenâ€™t enough, Rick is also president of the RI Party and Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council, a group focused on assuring the future well being of the commercial fishing industry. He sits on numerous regional and federal advisory boards as well.
Rick says he was introduced to the charter boat business through a fireman friend and, from 1990-95 was Charlie Donnellyâ€™s mate on the Snappa. In 1995, he launched his own operation which averages 80 trips a year at the rate of $750 for six people. Most of his charters are for deep-sea fishing off Coxeâ€™s Ledge although, as a licensed instructor, he also runs some scuba diving trips.
He alternates wearing his two captainâ€™s hats, scheduling charter trips around fire station duty and also swapping shifts with men for whom he works winters skiing and hunting seasons.
Rick says he takes charters out on his 36-foot boat three to four times a week during a season that runs from May 1 to December 1. â€śIf Iâ€™m on vacation, I go out every day.â€ť The bigger party parts, he notes, go out year round.
The RI Party Boat and Charter Association, founded in 1962, today has the largest membership in its history with 68 active members although, Rick explains, fewer are full-time captains. â€śItâ€™s hard to make a livingâ€ť battling such issues as high fuel bills and restrictive fishing regulations.
â€śIf theyâ€™re not retired, they have other jobs; itâ€™s almost necessary. I would like to bring back incentives for young guys.â€ť
However, he says, â€śMy clientele right now is better than ever. I have electricians, plumbers, teachers, firefighters, cops, executives and entire familiesâ€ť who go on charters for the thrill of waging mighty battles to catch striped bass or giant tuna â€“ the latter being the only fish theyâ€™re allowed to sell.
Rick has a lot of repeat business including patrons from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and as far away as Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, the Midwest and Australia. Many of them initially found his service simply by Googling â€śRhode Island.â€ť
â€śThey come back year after year,â€ť he says.
Rick believes â€śthe industry is reviving,â€ť adding that itâ€™s likely the Department of Environmental Management will upgrade the waterfront infrastructure by rebuilding the piers at Galillee which will be a boon to people who make their living on the water.
Meanwhile, Rick touts the Party and Charter Boat Association, noting that â€śinnovate captains have looked elsewhere [besides fishing trips] to keep running. Thereâ€™s more variety.â€ť
Among features being offered are sunset- and bird-watching cruises, Tall Ships cruises and whale watching excursions.
As president, he functions as a liaison with such entities as DEM, officials of the Town of Narragansett, and the Tourism Council and hopes to expand the associationâ€™s relationship with the Chamber of Commerce.
â€śA whole group of people want what Rhode Island has to offer,â€ť he says.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com.