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Morro Bay whale tour company shifts to kayaks as SLO Co. turns away tourists due to COVID-19

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Posted at 8:09 AM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 11:15:54-04

A Morro Bay tour boat company is one of many tourism-oriented businesses forced to pivot after San Luis Obispo County leaders warned tourists to stay away amid the pandemic.

The sounds of waves lapping the shore and seals barking in the distance fill the air on Morro Bay's Embarcadero.

Typically this time of year, the excited chatter of customers lined up to watch whales from the Sub Sea Tour boat can also be heard.

But due to the coronavirus, Sub Sea Tours owner Kevin Winfield has been forced to navigate a different revenue stream.

Once the moneymaker of his business, the tour boat, named The Freedom, is now tied up and Winfield's income relies solely on kayak rentals.

"Now, that little part of the business is the only thing I have left, so it's just me and the kayaks," Winfield said.

Kayak rentals start at $15 for singles and $25 for doubles. Compare that to the tour boat, which starts at $35 per passenger.

"The thing is, I've been seeing the whales every day from my house, I live in North Morro Bay," Winfield said. "To be sitting there at the dinner table and go 'oh there's another one jumping...' I'm looking forward to getting back to normal."

As revenues dried up, Winfield said he was forced to lay off all his employees.

It's a far cry from business last year, which boomed as whale populations increased about 3 percent year over year.

Winfield is looking forward to re-opening one day and said he's prepared to make some changes to his tour boat to keep customers safe.

"It's certified for 45 so let's say we take 15 (people), keep the cabin closed," Winfield said. "The bathrooms are inside so if you go in there, have the crew wipe it down. Keep a couple 5-gallon buckets of bleach and wipe down the rails, wipe everything down and keep everyone apart."

Many other shops on the Embarcadero are closed, including the Garden Gallery, whose owner said he can't go much longer without income.