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I feel like I am on my vacation, even when I’m working

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: LOCAL Life asked Leslie Whitener to share her thoughts on what it means to be local. Whitener is the new harbormaster at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin. LOCAL Life welcomes letters to the editor and comments to our website. Write to [email protected].

By Leslie Whitener + Photo by Rob Tipton

Leslie Whitener is the new harbormaster at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, replacing Nancy Cappelmann who recently retired. Prior to her promotion, she served in many capacities at the Harbour, including assistant harbormaster for nearly 30 years.

As a native South Carolinian growing up in Newberry, I developed an early love for boats, fishing and being out on the water. I’m truly blessed to have carved out a career where I’m paid for being around it every day.

A friend of mine encouraged me to come to Hilton Head Island after I graduated from Newberry College in 1983. Following an initial job with a catering company, I was hired as a dock hand at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin. I did a little bit of everything — from pumping fuel to docking boats to emptying trash. I started out at the bottom and 37 years later, I’ve now worked my way to the top as harbormaster!

I’m so fortunate to have worked closely with my best friend, Nancy Cappelmann. We were a great tag team together, and I wish her nothing but the best in her retirement. Now I’m the harbormaster and creating a new team, with seasoned veterans and some newbies, too. I’m so appreciative that The Sea Pines Resort has given me this opportunity to pursue each and every day.

I love everything about this Island; in fact, I still feel like I’m on vacation even when I’m at work. We have the coolest little marina on the East Coast, and our customer service is tops.

The staff and I couldn’t be busier, as the marina has been packed since May. We’re almost sold out through March 2021, where normally we’d be at 70 percent. But sales have gone through the roof since the pandemic started as people quickly figured there isn’t any better way to social distance than being out on the water. We’ve seen our regular customers, for sure, but a lot of new people as well. Fuel sales and occupancy rates have never been like they are now.

Looking ahead, we all can’t wait for the 2021 RBC Heritage golf tournament in mid-April and hope spectators will be allowed to return. As the only marina that is adjacent to a course hosting a PGA Tour event, it is always just a fun, crazy week here. This place just rocks, as it’s the ultimate opportunity for people to entertain and network.

I’m often asked about some of the most memorable things I’ve seen during my long tenure here. While there are so many positive moments, it’s hard for any of us to forget Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. The Island hadn’t experienced a direct hit since the late 1800s, but Matthew ripped us apart. Hard to believe we didn’t have any boat damage, but 60 percent of our docks were destroyed. We were able to pull together and rebuild, however — a true community effort.

We’re so fortunate to work and live here, and we absolutely love catching up with our regulars — hearing their latest adventures and finding out who has a new boat, a new child, a new dog, and even a new husband or wife! Whether we’ve known them for decades or they’re brand new, we are happy to welcome everyone here, show them our true Southern hospitality, our unparalleled customer service, and the sheer beauty of the area. Once you’re here, you’ll definitely fall in love with the area.

And just how lucky is that little girl who grew up around boats and is now harbormaster? Well, stop by and see me sometime: The views from my office are absolutely the best on Hilton Head Island! LL