You could say boater Yonnie Patronis knows a good catch.
A Florida native, Yonnie serves up some of the freshest seafood in the Gulf at his Panama City Beach restaurant, Captain Anderson’s Restaurant and Waterfront Market. But it was his love for boating that helped him reel in his wife, Lea, an avid angler, nearly 35 years ago back in high school. Ever since, things have gone swimmingly for this charmed pair, who can be found catching lobster and grouper whenever they can steal a moment.
Today the sweethearts and their three daughters, Maria, Anna and Alexa, make the restaurant a family affair. Lea delights the front of the house as hostess; former bartender Maria now attends Physicians Assistant school in Savannah, Georgia; Anna ping-pongs between serving and hosting; and Alexa is a cashier. While family dog, Kyleigh, doesn’t earn her keep in the restaurant, she is the number-one fan of the family’s other passion: boating on their 240 Dauntless. “Kyleigh is always first onboard and will not allow us to leave without her,” Yonnie says. “She is our sea dog.” His daughters, all in their late teens and early twenties, are equally enthusiastic.
When teenagers themselves, Yonnie and Lea were avid scuba divers who grew up on the water in Panama City. Yonnie was no stranger to Boston Whaler even then, using a 13-foot Whaler as his primary mode of transportation. “That boat was bulletproof and taught me to love the water,” he says. “As teens, we would ski all day long behind my parents’ home, and we are still doing that today with my kids behind our home.”
Once Yonnie and Lea got married, they upgraded from Yonnie’s high school ride and opted for a bow rider when the kids were young. As the girls got older, though, the family yearned for a center-console fishing boat. There was really only one brand for them. “Without hesitation, I knew I wanted a Whaler,” Yonnie shares. “I wanted peace of mind that my family would be in the safest boat on the water.” Thankfully, he knew just the folks to make it happen: his restaurant’s next-door neighbors at Treasure Island Marina, MarineMax Panama City Beach.
Yonnie’s been a loyal customer of MarineMax for 15 years, and the 240 Dauntless he purchased there has only reinforced the dealership’s standing in his esteem. “Their service and support has been hands down the best I have experienced. They have developed a relationship with me and my family that will keep us there for years to come,” he says.
The Dauntless is a perfect fit for the grown-up family’s various boating needs. On Sundays, the restaurant is closed, which means the whole crew is off, and everyone can enjoy the Dauntless to the fullest in the Florida sunshine. Lea typically grabs the fishing poles and Anna gets her skis. Maria loves to soak up the sun, and Alexa plays with Kyleigh while the whole crew island hops. Yonnie is just as keen on the Dauntless as the ladies in his life. “It is so versatile and does so many things well, from fishing to skiing to diving to floundering to just cruising and watching the sunset,” he says. “It is an awesome platform.”
Lea and the girls all wanted to put a name on the boat, but Yonnie maintains it’s too beautiful the way it is. So far, he is winning, but one thing’s for sure: The Whaler is a crowd-pleaser. On their old boat, the family averaged about 30 hours a year. With their new Dauntless, this adventurous bunch is on track to reach 200 on-water hours this year, and loving every minute of it.
The Patronises have quite a boating playground in Panama City as well. The largest city between Pensacola and Tallahassee, Panama City boasts sugar-white sand and nearly 320 days of sunshine a year. While the family’s partial to local hangout Shell Island, an undeveloped barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, visiting boaters should check out St. Andrews State Park, a 1,200-acre natural reserve with fishing jetties, campgrounds and tons of marine life. A typical Sunday finds the family packing up a cooler of drinks and sandwiches after church to get out on the water. “We’ll grab a couple of rods, bait and go offshore fishing,” Yonnie says. “Anna will often ski on her way back to the house at the end of the day.”
Of course, no trip to Panama City would be complete without a visit to the Patronises’ own dining room at Captain Anderson’s. Decorated with nautical curiosities, the restaurant features an oft-changing chalkboard menu of daily fresh seafood specialties. Whether amberjack, flounder or pompano strikes your fancy, Captain Anderson’s has you covered. The restaurant is a haven for diners to enjoy the stunning harbor views.
“We have more than 725 seats and serve more than 2,000 people on a summer evening,” Yonnie says. “It’s where we meet many of our friends to talk about our next boating plans.”
The Patronises aren’t tethered to the restaurant, though; they take their love of seafood on the water with them. “Every year, we like to travel to Port St. Joe to go scalloping,” Yonnie says. “It is a blast, and Lea and the kids love it. It’s usually our boating highlight of the summer.” No doubt the trip will be made even more special this year as they cruise over in their new Dauntless. The Patronises also help to preserve Panama City’s precious ecology through the restaurant by working with local seafood purveyors who preserve the natural oyster beds of Apalachicola Bay and build artificial reefs, so generations to come can enjoy waterside life as they have.
While the reliability of their Whaler is dear to them, the Patronises feel the boating culture they’ve inherited with the 240 Dauntless is even more precious. “Local boaters and boating families just seem to be great people who are very positive and fun,” Yonnie says. “The boat has been a great foundation to build a positive atmosphere around the children and family. All through life, the local waters and boating have been a magnet to keep our family active and together.”
With regards to his recommendations for prospective Whaler customers, Yonnie wants folks to know how discerning he was in the decision to buy a Boston Whaler. For him it all comes down to one thing: “Safety. Safety. Safety. I want only the best for my wife and kids. Whalers are of supreme quality. It gives me great confidence that this boat will serve me for years to come.”
Family comes first for this crew, and even though Yonnie and Lea have spent much of their lives in Panama City now, after all these years they still feel they’re in on something special. “The waters and beach here are among the nicest in the country. Panama City is one of our best-kept secrets,” Yonnie smiles. “Life is awesome here.”