Jeff Eckles and his life partner Feydra Potter.
Jeff Eckles Living Large on Land and Sea
A thoughtful Jeff Eckles pondered, then answered the typical 2020-21 COVID-survival-how’s-business question about his Morro Bay House of Jerky. “It’s been good at the Jerky shop because tourism has been strong. Increased traffic on the Harbor Walk brought new business our way on the north end of the Embarcadero.”
Eckles is also a licensed ship captain who was used to regular sea duty on and out of Morro Bay Harbor. He added, “Bay cruises for the Papagallo and Chablis have been spotty, but for me as a captain, the vessel delivery business has been active. People financially impacted during COVID are selling and others with the resources are buying.”
Captain Eckles has enjoyed his 2020 sailing junkets along the Pacific Coastline from Morro Bay to San Diego or north to San Francisco. He’s living the good life where he’s at peace — out at sea.
“Deliveries are fun,” he said. “I get paid for what I love to do. The last one I did was deliver a boat to San Francisco Harbor that was bought in Ventura. The owner was not confident yet on the high seas so asked me along. Going under the Golden Gate Bridge never gets old. I remember as a child sitting in the car and driving over the bridge and wanting to be out on the water.” Nostalgic, yes, but deliveries are still work. “There is always risk. Often the vessel has been sitting in a marina for maybe years. It has been known to happen to break down in route.” It’s all worth it, he concluded, “Being out at sea with the whales, dolphins and stars at night, it’s what I love.
Well, not totally what he loves as of 2020. “This year I looked inward and strengthened my spirituality. I also realized I became personally ready to have a partner in life. A prayer was answered and we’re in love.” Eckles announced he and Feydra Potter found each other and are a couple. “I believe all my past relationships have led me to her. I give thanks each day I wake up. Life is good.”
Eckles’ life journey started by the sea and will always remain close to sea. While attending Cal State Long Beach, he discovered his wanderlust. “I had to work my way through school and knew I wanted to travel. There was never the money to do so. At graduation I thought of buying a Volkswagen and traveling around the USA but had no money. One day I was sitting on the beach after surfing and kept watching these ships go by. This was my aha moment. I told myself, ‘I love the sea. I want to travel. Hey, if I work on a ship I will make money and travel.’ I joined the Merchant Marines and spent two years on a 300-foot sailing research vessel.”
He took a break from life at sea to help folks as a financial adviser based in Morro Bay and then became the executive director for the SLO Builders Exchange. “That was a steep learning curve in planning and building from the contractor’s perspective. It was on-the-job training – like getting an AA in Urban Planning.”
His next career move was owner/operator of his small business, Morro Bay House of Jerky, now located at 1130 Embarcadero. “Nearer the water again, I missed not being on the water.”
Len Gentieu, owner of the Papagallo encouraged him to get his captain’s license. “I had been piloting with him so he knew I was capable of handling the Papagallo and I already had the sea-time needed from my Merchant Marine days so I studied and passed the test on the first try. I now have my 100-ton masters license and have captained for both the Papagallo and the Chablis. I also do some care-taking for boat owners who are tied up in Morro Bay Harbor.” Typically he watches them while owners are out of the area, pilots for them while they are sailing, and recommends contract maintenance as needed.
Eckles continues to be an active community volunteer. “I’m on two nonprofit boards. I’ll start my presidency of the board for the Housing Trust Fund this month (March 2021). Board members are like the trustees of a bank lending funds, but specifically for affordable housing. This mission is so important.”
He is also vice-chair of the board for the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Governmental Advisory Committee. He found his experience at the Builder’s Exchange invaluable when agendas include future planning issues for his city.
He enjoys working with friends on the Morro Bay Chamber Board. “I am so impressed with what the Chamber has done in the past few years. It is great working with a dynamic, collaborative board. We have excellent leadership with Erica (Crawford) and things are moving forward with a strong partnership with city staff and elected officials. I feel the times might be tough right now, but are definitely looking positive for our small businesses.”
Eckles knows life is good for him right now. “I feel more happy, content, even blessed now in 2021. In March 2020 I didn’t know if the shop would stay open or if I would have an income working on the water. But as sayings go, ‘Everyone is a good sailor when seas are calm, but it will test our mettle when the sea gets stormy.’”
What’s gotten him through? He gives credit to his small but close support group of Len Gentieu and winemaker, Ron Denner. “We get together weekly and support each other. I believe my current good fortune and positive trust about life right now is due to the friends that help when we need the help.”
And that includes his family. His twin children, Sophia, who shares duties and does a great job working with him at the Jerky shop, and his son Aiden. Both are almost 18.
“I’ve learned a lot during COVID and much of it is humility. I used to chase happiness and maybe in the wrong places, but now I rely on my faith and friends.” And his love for a lady named Feydra Potter.