PERCY PRIEST LAKE, Tenn., June 3, 2014 -- Capt. Kirk Fonte, who has been working for TowBoatUS Percy Priest Lake since the company began assisting Tennessee boaters three years ago, has bought the business from the previous owner, Shane O’Neal.
“Working with Shane was great,” Fonte said. “He ran the business very well, and I learned everything I need to know from him.” When O’Neal, who owns eight other TowBoatUS businesses in Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, decided to lighten his portfolio, Fonte was his logical successor.
Much like an auto club for boaters, TowBoatUS offers on water towing plans for freshwater boaters and anglers for just $67 a year that includes BoatUS or BoatUS Angler membership. Without a towing plan, boaters face costs that average $600 per incident nationally.
Percy Priest Lake, a large, manmade reservoir in north central Tennessee, has become a popular water playground for Nashville area boaters and anglers, with a dozen boat-launching ramps and several marinas and boat clubs. “We get all kinds of boats here, from personal watercraft to 60-foot yachts and scores of houseboats,” Fonte said. “They keep us busy.”
The company assisted more than 250 boaters last year. “We’re here 24/7 to help boaters if they are soft aground, need fuel, have a breakdown, need a battery jump or any other assistance,” Fonte said.
His boat, a bright red 20-foot Grady-White with a 150 Yamaha outboard and the words “TowBoatUS” on the hull, is powerful enough to tow any boat on the lake and is fully equipped for towing and salvage, with powerful pumps, battery jump packs, dive gear and extra fuel. It is docked at Four Corners Marina in Antioch, Tennessee. “We are centrally located, and we can get anywhere on the lake within an hour,” he said.
Fonte, who is an avid hunter and fisherman, lives on a houseboat at the same marina. He is proud that two of his prize catches, a six-foot, two-inch tarpon and a seven-foot-two-inch Spanish sailfish, hang on the wall of the Waterfront Grill, a popular new restaurant at Four Corners Marina – right next to a plaque with his name and information about his TowBoatUS business.
The water has been Fonte's life since he grew up around the shrimpers and crabbers in Louisiana. He later spent seven years in the US Navy where, as a Boatswain’s Mate Second Class and Master Helmsman, he drove aircraft carriers all over the world. “I even did a rescue from one of the carriers,” he said. When he left the Navy, he earned a US Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and worked in the commercial salvage industry doing oil-spill cleanups and vessel recovery. “My first oil spill was the Exxon Valdez.”
As for running a TowBoatUS location, “It’s not really work. I enjoy it,” Fonte said. “Driving a boat is second nature to me. When people are in need of routine assistance I can go out there and make sure they get home safely. It’s very satisfying.” On most calls his first mate, a 92-pound German shepherd named Brody, goes along to keep him company.
Boaters can contact TowBoatUS Percy Priest Lake by hailing on VHF channel 16, calling the company directly at 615-663-3599 or calling the BoatUS toll-free 24/7 Dispatch Service at 800-391-4869. Assistance can also be summoned via smartphone with the free BoatUS Towing App, and BoatUS is also the only towing service that offers satellite messaging services with the SPOT and inReach satellite communications services. To see the company’s location on a map, go to BoatUS.com/percypriestlake.
Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters providing over half a million members with a wide array of consumer services, including on water towing assistance provided by TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist. Combined, these two towing fleets offer boaters, anglers and sailors the world’s largest network of towing ports with over 300 locations and over 600 towing assistance vessels –three times larger than the closest competitor. For more information go to BoatUS.com/towing or call 800-888-4869.