When Captain Sebastian Font came to Pass-a-Grille in 1990, he fell in love with the quaint little town and knew it would someday become his home. This New York native followed his mother and sister to the Sunshine State and soon became an active member of the local business community. He started the Island Ferry with two boats and the idea of transporting commuters back and forth between Pass-a- Grille and downtown St. Petersburg but soon realized that people were more interested in recreational excursions focusing on sunsets, snorkeling and wildlife. He also learned that this put him in a unique position to make an invaluable contribution to his community.
Sebastian admits that boating has always been in his blood.
“I’ve been going out on the water since I was five,” he says. “I did a lot of recreational boating in New York and when I began spending a lot of time in Florida in the 90s.” He finally obtained his captain’s license in 2013 when he started the Island Ferry. As the business grew, Sebastian began looking for ways to give back to the community. “People come here for the beaches, wildlife and clean waters,” he says. “I wanted to be a good community neighbor, and the water is a part of the community.” So he began scooping up plastic bottles and other debris he found floating in the bay, offering aid to stranded boaters, and res- cuing pelicans tangled in fishing line. According to Sebastian, “It’s part of being neighborly.”
One day, Sebastian was towing a disabled boat that belonged to the Sea Turtle Trackers, a local group that monitors and protects sea turtle nests. “When I found out what they do, I felt compelled to help,” he says. So the Island Ferry began ferrying the Turtle Trackers back and forth to Shell Key. “Captain Dan (Dan Rothenberger) is an early riser, so he volunteered to take them out at sunrise,” Sebastian explains. “I bring them back.” He admits that he gets a lot of satisfaction knowing he’s helping the turtle hatchlings. “These little turtles are at the bot- tom of the food chain. They’re so vulnerable. Their chances of making it into the water are one in a thousand. So for me, it’s a labor of love.”
Sebastian also uses his boat to haul trash off Shell Key during their beach clean-ups. “People love to come and see our beaches, so why not do something to help?” he asks. Sebastian’s volunteer efforts have expanded to include helping marine biologists from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Florida Fish and Wildlife. When a large marine animal is in distress, biologists need to photo- graph it to determine the need to intervene, so Sebastian takes them out to where the animal is located. He also helps St. Pete Beach Fire and Rescue and has personally aided kayakers and paddleboarders caught in rip currents.
For Sebastian, this what being a good neigh- bor is all about. “We’re out there on the water all day long, so I guess we’ve become a bit of a neighborhood resource,” he says. “It’s our contribution to the community. And it’s a feel-good endeavor.”
For more information about the Island Ferry, visit their website at www.islandferry.biz.