Casino cruises, fishing charters canceled on heels of Irene

LITTLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) - Hurricane Irene is beginning to cause major headaches for some businesses dependent on calm waters in the North Strand.

Management with The Big M Casino made the executive decision Thursday to evacuate the large vessel from its dock in Little River to the Bucksport Marina. Officials made the call shortly after 11 a.m. following new information on the path and strength of Hurricane Irene.

Crews spent Thursday morning preparing the boat to face any high winds or rough waters Hurricane Irene may bring to the area. Portions of the company's ticketing building were also boarded up as an extra precaution.

Capt. Bill Jacobson says the uncertainty of the storm, coupled with forecasted 40-foot seas, has also forced The Big M to cancel all cruises through Saturday. It is unknown whether the vessel will be removed for the Bucksport Marine and set sail for customers on Sunday.

Jacobson says even if Hurricane Irene were to stay off the South Carolina Coast, venturing anywhere close to the storm would pose a safety threat for both its crew and customers.

"We have a hurricane plan that is in place," Jacobson explained. "We do that at the beginning of the year - review the plan, audit the plan [and] send it to the Coast Guard. It's just a matter of implementing that plan when the threat comes."

Officials say the company's current casino boat docked in Little River has weathered direct hits from five major hurricanes, but did not want to take chances with Hurricane Irene.

The threat of the looming storm also has local fishermen losing out on big bucks from canceled fishing charters through Saturday. Capt. Keith Logan says the cancellations started at the beginning of the week and have continued through Thursday.

"As the storm gets closer, the waves are going to get bigger," Logan said. "Once they exceed the height of a swell, that becomes dangerous to be out in."

Logan says local fishermen could lose out on anywhere from $1,800 to $5,000 of business from Hurricane Irene.

The majority of charter boats at Crickett Cove Marina in Little River stayed docked Thursday and are expected to remain tied up until Irene passes. Logan says when a tropical storm watch or warning is issued, many companies will no longer insure charter boats, forcing them to say in port.

Irene's hit to the wallet of several fishermen along the Grand Strand will begin on Friday, when Logan says many are expecting the seas to begin deteriorating. Forecasters say waves in excess of 40-feet are expected in the Gulf Stream, a popular place for Grand Strand charters to fish.

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