QUEPOS — Harold Lovelady’s retirement plan isn’t turning out like he thought it would.
Lovelady, who retired after a career in telecommunications in the U.S. state of Texas, arrived in Quepos, on the central Pacific coast, 11 years ago with a boat and dreams of spending his post-career years fishing in what he considers to be “the best fishing location in the world.”
He soon realized the need for a marina in the small, sweltering port town; so he looked into building one.
And build one, he definitely has.
Lovelady’s original idea 11 years ago resulted in the creation of the Pez Vela Marina, a 40-acre, state-of-the-art marina that opened in June, just north of the old United Fruit Company pier in downtown Quepos. Heading south, after the coastal road crosses Quepos’ main street and veers west, the mammoth development appears to the right, bordered by thousands of short, stout concrete plugs that deflect the tide and allow the marina’s inner ring to remain untouched by the Pacific waves as they march towards shore.
“It started as a small project, but as more people expressed interest in a marina, we had to redesign the original plan to accommodate the potential demand,” Lovelady said. “It was evident we needed to make a larger, world-class marina. So that’s how it turned out.”
The Pez Vela Marina, which officially opened its 97 docking slips two months ago, is still in the first phase of development. In coming years, the marina will build a total of 303 slips, a boatyard for maintenance and repairs, a shopping center, condominiums and a hotel, all within the confines of the marina’s lot. In the marina’s first months, the slips are being rented or bought by visitors from around the world. Boaters from Russia, South Africa, Europe and the U.S. have floated into the Pez Vela, either to spend a few days in Costa Rica, or to fill-up their tanks before returning to sea.
“I never really knew how much fuel a boat needed until they started coming in and getting their tanks filled,” said Eduardo Morúa, an employee at the Marina. “The tanks hold thousands of gallons and cost thousands of dollars to fill. Some of the boats come to fill up before setting out to sail around the world. The amount of fuel they need is astonishing. You need a lot of fuel to make it around the world.”
Lovelady said that if a large yacht comes in to fill up, for example, somewhere between 10,000-50,000 gallons of diesel fuel is pumped into the boats. The marina also charges an environmental fee on top of the cost of fuel for a fund to clean up potential accidents or spills.
The Rumble of a Boom
The residents of Quepos, a port city originally built by the United Fruit Company to export bananas and administer surrounding plantations, do not yet seem to know what to make of the Pez Vela. While there has been continual monitoring of the construction of the marina by the townspeople, the expected financial and tourist boom, and attendant job opportunities, have yet to be seen. Currently, only about 20 people work at the quiet marina, and, given it’s fenced in nature on the edge of town, it has yet to cause much stir in the town whose narrow streets are lined with restaurants, pulperías and small merchandise stores.
But looking out into the vacant, crescent-shaped marina, growth seems inevitable. Only a handful of slips are currently rented or owned, but, according to Lovelady, inquiries about owning a slip or investing in the project are pouring in. Some people have purchased a slip in hopes of renting it out, while others will use the slip a few months of the year and rent it out when they’re away.
As more boats nestle into the marina, anticipation is beginning to stir in the Quepos and Manuel Antonio area. According to Lovelady, at the completion of phase three – the hotels, condos and shopping center – an estimated 3,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created by the marina.
Hotel owners in the tourist-dependent area on the road between Quepos and nearby ManuelAntonioNational Park, a few kilometers down the coast from Quepos, hope many of the marina’s visitors spill into the area’s estimated 2,000 available rooms.
“Initially there was a lot of resistance, but now it’s clear sailing,” said Harry Bodaan, owner of the Mansion Inn Hotel in Manuel Antonio and president of the Quepos and Aguirre Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody recognizes the fact that a marina the size of Pez Vela is going to bring an enormous amount of business to Quepos. A lot of investors have come to Manuel Antonio because of it … The development of Pez Vela will change the face of this part of the central Pacific.”
According to Lovelady, what could potentially boost boat arrivals, aside from the slips and the attraction to sport fishing, is the marina’s boatyard. When finished, the facility, which will service and repair boats of all types, will be the only existing one of its kind south of Mexico, and the only one on the Pacific coastline of Central and South America.
“The boatyard will have five-ton and 200-ton travel lifts. Between the two of them, it will allow us to pull a boat out of the water up to about the length of 135-feet.” Lovelady said. “We will be able to fix anything that’s broken on anybody’s boat that comes in.”
Lovelady said that the majority of boats coming into Pez Vela are expected to be tourist yachts and sport fishing boats. A recent study by the nonprofit Billfish Foundation found that in 2008, fishing tourism netted $599 million for the Costa Rican economy, which accounts for about 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The study also estimated that 63,000 people were directly or indirectly employed by the sport fishing industry in 2008.
In addition to jobs catering to sport fishing, the marina will provide work for government officials, as members of the Finance Ministry, Health Ministry, Public Works and Transport Ministry and immigration will all work out of an office near the boat entrance to Pez Vela. Government officials will check the boats and passengers as they come in, monitor for illegal merchandise, conduct safety inspections, and ensure that the vessels carry proper documentation. In a nod to the potential health and environmental hazards of the marina, slips at Pez Vela are equipped with a waste water pump that transports boat waste to a marina treatment plant, where wastes are broken down and the water reused.
So while Lovelady believes that his retirement plan has its bases covered, many of the residents of the sleepy town of Quepos hope that their ship is about to come in.
“All the development at Pez Vela is positive for this municipality,” said Oscar Monge, the mayor of Quepos. “Members of this town will be trained to work at the marina, which means there will be more education, more jobs and more investment. The people of this town will soon begin to see the benefits of having a world-class marina.”