Kevin Carlton rushes past me and heads off down the dock. He's still carrying his clipboard and brace of incessantly squawking walkie-talkies, but he's switched from motorboat maitre d' into Coast Guard captain. I catch up just as he cranks the outboard on a small bargelike utility boat. "Got a call from a boater who says his motor quit, and he's drifting toward rocks." I jump on board along with one of my fellow "dock boys," and we cast off.
It's 10 a.m. Saturday morning on one of the busiest, boatiest summer weekends in Puget Sound, and as we round the end of the pier, we're suddenly part of a chaotic boat parade. I count 18 vessels zigzagging through the crowded anchorage, with more pouring through the three channels that sluice into the northwest corner of San Juan Island. All the boats are headed our way — Roche Harbor Marina — and everyone wants to talk to Kevin, the harbormaster and commander, the man charged with making sense of this whirlpool of white hulls. Over this single weekend, the marina will dock 500 boats, pump 15,000 gallons of fuel, pump out 150 heads, haul several tons of garbage and keep everything safe, secure and fun for several thousand boating vacationers. Helping Kevin do all of this is a staff of young, energetic, good-looking go-getters. And me.