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Massena man to begin river wedding charters

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MASSENA - Donald Lucas is attempting to coin the phrase for his new business venture: “water weddings” and “outdoor unions” have both come to mind.

Mr. Lucas operates Muskie Magic Charters Inc. on the St. Lawrence River, and has been looking to supplement his fishing tours. He is about to take the plunge into river marriages: the Massena Town Council issued him a license to perform weddings on Wednesday.

Lovebirds flock to Las Vegas to be wed in a chapel by a man resembling Elvis Presley, Mr. Lucas said. Likewise, the allure of marriage on the St. Lawrence might attract couples to Massena as well.

The sounds of loons overhead, a warm summer breeze and rippling waves could create a wedding experience like no other, he said.

“I want people to say, there’s no place else in the world where I can experience a feeling like that,” he said. “We want people to take it back to their families and friends and say this was the best experience.”

Mr. Lucas, 58, never pictured himself as a marriage officer. It’s fishing that’s in his blood; he had enjoyed afternoons on the river since he was a child, and began charters 24 years ago.

“My greatest thrill is to take someone out and have someone experience what I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of,” Mr. Lucas said. “When you do a charter, you try to be an entertainer. You try to make sure the jokes are flowing and people are laughing and having a good time.”

Fishing charters haven’t reeled in as much business in recent years; the downturn in the economy has steered some away from such an experience. He had received calls over the years to perform weddings, from individuals who had seen marriages at sea in the movies and on television.

But real life is different than Hollywood, Mr. Lucas said. A ship captain is not automatically a marriage officer; he needs a license.

Still, branching out from fishing excursions intrigued him. Mr. Lucas has performed three “burials at sea,” emptying the ashes of a deceased individual who loved the St. Lawrence into the river.

He first approached the town council for a marriage officer license last month. Since then, officials have ensured a wedding at sea was still one in Massena. They have since identified the town borders in the St. Lawrence for Mr. Lucas to follow.

“Have at it, Don,” Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said after the council approved the license Wednesday. “Marry everybody.”

River wedding ceremonies could be a tourist draw, Mr. Lucas said. He has discussed marketing with Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce Director Michael Gleason, and partnering with area businesses to create “wedding packages.”

“The possibilities ... would be everything from going camping to a large reception at the Quality Inn,” he said. “Whatever would make their day.”

Muskie Magic currently has two vessels, the larger of which seats 10. But Mr. Lucas said he would consider purchasing a larger boat, and hiring additional staff, if the wedding business takes off.

Mr. Lucas is picturing several different setups for a river wedding. The bride could be waiting in the cabin down below, then process up onto the deck to meet the groom at the beginning of the ceremony. The wedding could be in the middle of the river, or by the boat launches near the Massena Intake. That way, loved ones could still witness the wedding on the shore, or on nearby boats, since his vessel couldn’t fit everyone.

Dress attire for a ceremony could range from tuxedos to Bermuda shorts and bikinis: whatever floats the couple’s boat, Mr. Lucas said.

He was also open to performing same-sex marriages, now that the state has legalized them.

“If people want to enter a union, then I want to make it the most enjoyable experience, regardless of their orientation,” he said.

Mr. Lucas’ business could tie in to a greater effort to capitalize on Massena’s natural resources, he said. He may perform his first river wedding before the end of the 2012 boating season.

“This was an industrial town,” he said. “I feel we need to reinvent Massena. We need to capitalize on what we have. The St. Lawrence River is an untapped resource. The possibilities for turning this into a tourist destination, I believe, are endless.”

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