Buoying the Spirit of Destin

Buoying the Spirit of DestinRestored and Cherished, the Primrose is an Icon of the Emerald Coast’s Heritage

By Anita Doberman

The Primrose, one of the first seine fishing vessels ever built, sits outside the Destin History and Fishing Museum, a permanent exhibit as well as a permanent symbol of the Gulf Coast’s rich heritage. It stands as a tribute to the men who first built these boats and fished the area that would become “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

The Primrose was designed by Captain John W. Melvin and built in 1925 by renowned Destin figure John Maltezos. Maltezos, a Greek immigrant, owned businesses in the Milton area but eventually turned his eyes to the coast when he moved to Moreno Point – now Destin – in 1922 and began building ships. Soon after, he was approached by Melvin with a vision for the vessel that would become the Primrose. Maltezos knew how to build, and he was an expert draftsman, but Melvin knew fishing and understood exactly what capabilities he needed in a ship. Each lent his expertise to what would become a labor of love and precision.

Every detail of the 36-foot, juniper boat was worked out on paper before construction began. Melvin’s goal was a seine boat of exceptional seaworthiness that could be handled by a small crew. Seine fishing involves dropping a large, weighted net that hangs vertically in the water, with floats on top. Seine nets typically were handled by multiple boats powered by oarsmen – the Primrose used one crew of eight, aided by a then-impressive 30 horsepower engine. The boat was said to have taken in more mullet than any of Destin’s seine boats.

The Primrose worked the Gulf Coast from 1925 to 1968 – a full 46 years of service that took it from cutting edge to quaint but still capable survivor. The longevity of the boat is a testament to its design. The Primrose has been restored three times.

Captain Reddin “Salty” Brunson spearheaded the last restoration in 2004. Brunson, then 90 years old, had served on the Primrose as a crewmen and a captain. He came to Destin City Manager Greg Kisela with a plan: Brunson would provide the materials if Kisela could come up with the manpower.

Recognizing an opportunity to pay tribute to Destin’s past, Kisela provided the capable hands of the city’s Public Works and Recreation Department. Kisela said that the restoration of the Primrose was important to “honor the people of the Gulf Coast who made a living fishing in this area.” He described how Captain Salty, as he is often known, who is now 93 and living in Mississippi, was instrumental in the restoration, leading the team of volunteers and city employees.

“We followed his leadership and guidance,” Kisela said. “Captain Salty secured the material, as he knew the vessel, sources and contacts in the community who could help with the project.”

On July 29, 2004, the hard work and enthusiasm paid off. The Primrose was rededicated in a ceremony hosted by the Destin History and Fishing Museum, the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Destin and the Destin Community Center.

Without Captain Salty, the Primrose might have quietly faded away. Instead, it’s ours today, linking the past to the future. It proudly “sails” on as one of the primary attractions at the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

To see the Primrose for yourself, visit the museum at 108 Stahlman Avenue, adjacent to the Destin Community Center.