FULTON – In 1985, Ginger and Gerald Conner pulled up anchor in Florence, Ala., and sailed the “big circle” through many U.S. and Canadian waters. There were several stops along the way, including a four-year stint in Florida while their son attended college.
In 1990, the Conners decided to complete the remaining miles of their trip back to Florence. But they never made it. Almost to Florence, the couple stopped at Midway Marina in Fulton to meet their daughter for her birthday. For the Conners it was love at first sight.
Ginger Conner said that they didn’t know the marina, located northwest of Fulton along the John E. Rankin Highway, was for sale when they decided to have their boat worked on while there. The marina owner’s son told Gerald that his father would sell the marina. Conner said it didn’t her and her husband long to decide to buy the marina.
The marina, built in 1985, was owned by James Chatham. Most of the land around the marina was pasture land, Conner said, but it held a strong attraction for the Conners.
“We had been to hundreds of marinas during our travels,” Conner said. “But when we saw this one we just had a feeling. We just fell in love with the place.”
The Conners have lived at the marina since they bought it. They lived on a boat while they renovated the existing office to provide them a one-bedroom apartment above the marina’s store/office. The home’s living room looks out over the marina allowing the owners a view of not only their pride and joy but the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway that shimmers in the afternoon light. “It looks like diamonds on the water,” Conner said. “We have spectacular sunsets here.”
The “big adventure”
The Conners’ odyssey, or “big adventure” as Conner would say, began in 1985 after they sold their business. The couple, who had been boating since the late 1960s, said they had always wanted to travel the “big circle.” The “big circle” is a trip that boaters take up the rivers and waterways into Canada and along the Atlantic Seaboard then back home.
Traveling in a 51-foot blue water cruiser christened “Georgia Girl,” the Conners left Florence and headed up the Tennessee River, then the Mississippi River to the Illinois River. From there they traveled along the East Coast of Lake Michigan venturing into Canadian waters by traveling through the North Channel to the Georgian Bay. “This was the first time in our trip we were out of the sight of land,” she said.
As the couple started the second half of their trip, they made their way to New York via the Hudson River. The trip was delayed by Hurricane Gloria, which forced them back up the river. This was one of many adventures they encountered during their one-year travel. They said they also narrowly missed running into a submarine, which they would not have seen had it not been for the radar equipment on the boat.
After making their way down the Atlantic Coast they settled in the Florida Keys for several months, then moved to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where they stayed for four years. That was when they decided to complete their trip.
Docking in Fulton
After buying the Fulton marina, they began to add their own touches, including their home. They added a gravel roadway and did some landscaping. They also added 22 boat slips bringing the total number of slips to 98, most of which are filled. Also at the marina is a repair shed, a marine shop and a restaurant. The marine supply shop, located at the entrance of the marina, and restaurant are operated by other people.
Each slip has electricity, water and cable. Some of the boat owners leave their boats at the marina and visit occasionally. But some owners live on their boats, like Darlene Goodman and her husband, Larry.
The South Haven, Mich., couple were on their way to Demopolis, Ala., when they stopped at Midway. That was in November. “We absolutely love it here,” Darlene Goodman said. “Ginger and Gerald are wonderful people. We feel so at home here. It is like our own community.”
According to Conner, some boats stay for short periods of time and others stay for several weeks before moving on. The busiest times for the marina are around May and October. Surprisingly, she said, the summer is not their busiest time.
Conner said the travel bug has not hit them since they bought the marina and they are there to stay. “The only way we would leave is if we take a trip, but that would only be temporary.”