To give an average Bob the Boater an idea of what life is like as a dockhand, Kevin's letting me don khaki shorts and the official "Marina Staff" T-shirt, and join his team for the weekend. Everyone else wearing this uniform is half my age, and frankly, I was afraid they were going to treat me like a Wal-Mart greeter and post me where I could do the least damage. Turns out they're happy to let me pitch in with all the marina jobs. I didn't, however, expect the chance to go on a rescue.
"There he is," says Kevin, pointing to a 23-foot cuddy cabin. "Nowhere near the marina like he said he was ... but he is close to the rocks."
We arrive just in time to lash the imperiled boat to our little wooden-decked rescue tug. Once the cuddy is out of danger, the owner sheepishly admits that he ran out of gas. There's an awkward moment when Kevin must be asking himself why the guy didn't use an anchor to stop his drift, but the only sound above our purring outboard is the boat's Canadian flag flapping in the breeze. Then a big smile breaks across Kevin's sun-ruddied face. He ends the silence with a hardy: "Well, welcome to Roche Harbor anyway. We're glad you're here!"
We mother the unlucky Canuck directly to the fuel dock where Kevin's wife, Colleen, greets him with her own dazzling smile.
"It was thoughtful of you to come in empty," she says. "Fill her up, I presume?"
I hop off and help Sissy, the Carlson's 23-year-old daughter (yes, it's a bit of a family affair at Roche), tie up the boat. During the winter, Sissy teaches kindergarten, a job, she says, that requires the same amount of patience and care as dealing with some of the boaters who visit the marina. Colleen drags over one of the long gas lines and hands across the nozzle.
"Always let them pump their own," she tells me. "Just keep an eye on them."
Another first-season boater here once managed to fill the bilge of his squeaky new sailboat with diesel. "He's happily pumping away and suddenly we see fuel start pouring out of his hull," says Colleen. While the boater played Little Dutch Boy and stuck his thumb in the bilge pump through-hull, Kevin jumped aboard his own boat, reached for his wine rack, opened a bottle in record time, whittled the cork down and plugged the flow. "Somehow," laughs Colleen, "Kevin had the presence of mind to pick the worst bottle of wine."
At one time or another, boaters at Roche have also tried to pump gasoline into diesel tanks, diesel into water tanks, and everything into their rod holders. Forewarned, I keep a close watch on all the customers. And there are a lot of them. Roche will pump fuel into 150 boats today — they've been lined up since before 8 a.m. — with the three gas-dock staffers buzzing around like the crew of an aircraft carrier.