Sunday, July 7, 2019

Day 6 - What Makes a Good Dock Hand?

I awake early from my unbelievably good sleep and jump on the paddle board to see if Captain Tony has the coffee on yet. It is a lovely, gorgeous morning and many boats are already streaming out onto the lake, getting an early start for US Independence Day. There is a slight current in the river, and the water is chocolate milky with all sorts of organic floaties passing me by - grass, logs, leaves and sticks, picked up by the high water levels.

Tony and I enjoy a coffee on Cabin Fever. I don’t drink much for caffeinated drinks anymore, but on a morning like this, it is the right thing to do, and will surely keep me buzzing all day long. We discuss the events of the past few days and I’m very happy we seem to be back on track, but truthfully, nothing every really goes to plan when boating, so I’d say the trip has been a roaring success so far. During our trip to Lake Ontario with Tony and Angela last year, Cabin Fever had some engine issues so got sidelined for a few days while we carried on, but all the engine issues have been resolved and are now running smoothly.

For the next few hours we poke around town - Tony, Magnus and I walk up to the Harbor Marine boat store to pick up some supplies while the girls browse through the shops downtown. Harbor Marine is an amazing marine store and I actually find everything I was looking for - new US and Canadian flags, lifejacket whistles, VHR radio connections, and sealant. Tony stops in at the hardware store next door to pick up a hole saw blade he needs for a slight boat modification which will enable him to mount a big shade umbrella for the back of Cabin Fever - rather necessary on these scorching hot days.

By noon, Bella Blue is off, headed for the town of Huron, only eight miles away. Again, the wind is right in our face so we motor the full way and arrive after about 90 minutes and get two slips at the municipal Boat Basin, which is a nifty round marina, bordered by a big amphitheatre used for concerts. The two dock lads who help us get tied up are fast, courteous, polite, competent, knowledgable, and completely unlike anything we’re used to at our marina. Don’t get me wrong, the kids that work at our marina are nice, but it just doesn’t seem like they have had any training and certainly possess no great customer service skills, which is a shame because if they worked like the kids in the US do, they would probably make a bit of money in tips and certainly have a happier population of local boaters. Just in case any dock kids come across this posting, here are the skills that are very important to boaters, and will earn you tips:

  1. Know how to catch a boat
    • Tie down the stern line first, which will slow the boat and bring it closer to the dock - if you tie down the bow line first it will cause the bow to ram into the dock and the stern will kick out.
    • Always wrap a line around a cleat or post instead of pulling on it directly - this gives you much more leverage.
    • Have a boat hook ready because many boaters don’t know how to properly toss a line and you will sometimes need to fish a a spaghetti mess of line out of the water.
    • Be sure the gas dock or pump out station has proper post guards or fenders in case the boater doesn’t have fenders out - the last thing you want to do is damage a boat
    • Have lines ready to toss to an incoming boat in case they forgot to attach lines (and know how to properly toss a line)
  1. Know how to launch a boat
    • Ask the boater how they would prefer to be launched; some have a very specific way of getting off a dock
    • If it’s a sailboat, don’t push on the damn lifelines! Instead, either push on the boat hull or the thick wire sidestays
    • Make sure the line you toss ends up on the boat and not dragging in the water
    • Look for any lines hanging off the boat and remind the customer to pull them in
  1. Say hello and ask how the customer is doing
    • This may seem obvious, but it’s simply good manners.
    • Introduce yourself if you don’t already know the customer and ask if they are locals or visitors.
  1. Offer other services
    • “Do you need a pump out today?”
    • “Are there any supplies you are short on?”
    • “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
  1. Make the payment process fast and easy
    • Have a colleague take care of the payment while you are finishing up fueling or pumping out
    • Have change available
    • Make sure you know the prices for everything and know how to work the credit/debit machine
    • Know the exchange rate in case the customer wants to pay in a different currency
  1. Assume nothing
    • Visiting boaters may be coming to your marina for the first time and don’t know anything about the layout, so telling them to go to Dock 3 won’t help much, especially if your docks aren’t clearly marked, which is usually the case. Give specific instructions.
    • Have an easily identifiable colleague (“girl in the red shirt and long hair”) stand at the end of the dock where you want the boater to go, and then guide them to the slip
  1. Be knowledgable about the marina and its surroundings
    • Know where all of the local marine stores and hardware stores are
    • Have a listing of all local marine mechanics and boat repair shops
    • Have a listing of all local restaurants, bars, shops and other places of interests
    • Know some basic facts about your town - population, main industry, famous sons or daughters, history
  1. Help boaters dock their boats
    • On windy days, people can really use the help docking and sometimes there’s not any other boaters around to assist
  1. Know how to use a pump out station
    • Have a cap removing tool on your person at all times
    • Ask the customer to pump some water through their toilet to fully clear the line
    • Give the tank a rinse once it’s empty and empty it one final time
    • If you spill anything on the boat, rinse it off
    • Wear disposable plastic gloves (for your own protection)
  1. Know how to fuel a boat
    • Know the rules (does everybody stay on the boat or get off)?
    • Remind the customer to run their engine blower to get rid of fumes
    • Ask the customer how many gallons the tank will take so you can better judge when it’s getting full
    • Do your best to not spill any fuel in the water; top it off very slowly or ask the customer how to tell when the tank is approaching full
  1. Know how to handle emergency procedures
    • What do you do if somebody falls off their boat while docking?
    • What if there’s a major fuel spill from a boat?
    • What if a boat catches fire?
  1. Monitor the VHF radio
    • When a boater is trying to hail a marina on channel 16, it’s intensely frustrating when nobody answers
    • Every dock worker should be carrying a small handheld
  1. Say “Hello” to your customers and be friendly
    • You are the customer service representative of your business - act like it

It is blazing hot outside so after Ana takes a paddle board ride, we go up to the marina office to enjoy the high powered AC and there we find a wide screen television dialled into ESPN, showing what seemed to be a professional level hot dog eating contest. Yes, they will put pretty much anything on tv. But I will admit, I am utterly transfixed and can not draw myself away from the spectacle. The reigning world champ, Joey Chestnut, demolishes the competition by eating 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes. You read that right, and that includes the buns. Competitive hot dog eating is easy, you grab two wieners, eat them rapidly, take a bun, dip it in a glass of water, shove that into your mouth, then grab another wiener or two and use the meat to force down the soggy bun, then stick another bun there and repeat until for ten minutes. Joey Chestnut did well, but did not beat the record of 74 hot dogs he set last year, so he was a little disappointed, but he did gain 24 pounds of body weight in the process. I think my personal best is four hot dogs in one sitting, but I must admit I’ve never really tried that hard.

Cabin Fever arrives a few hours later and we put together a magnificent dockside patio for welcome drinks, then we all walk down to the beach for a swim to cool off. The lake temperature is now up to 29 degrees C, which is an incredible change from just two weeks ago when it was still 18 degrees - see what a bit of proper summer heat can do? The swim is magnificent, but we don’t linger too long as we can see a ridge of thunderclouds coming our way from the lake.

Luckily, the storms miss us and we settle back into our dockside patio for a dinner of bbq sirloin steaks, fresh corn and salads. We originally thought that Huron was putting on their big fireworks display tonight, but it turns out that they do theirs on July 5th since Cedar Point - a large amusement park 10 miles away - does their big show on the 4th. So after an Holrique family meeting (Olson + Henrique….get it?), we decide to take Cabin Fever up to Cedar Point and anchor out for the fireworks show. It’s an easy ride there and there are plenty of boats doing the same thing. We toss out a stern anchor which cuts down on the rocking motion caused by the slight chop on the water and enjoy the show, which lasts for 20 minutes or so.

We cruise back, arrive around midnight, have a happily uneventful docking, and then collapse into bed.

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