The Block Island Times

The Dock Master

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Mar 10, 2014
Photo by: J.V. Houlihan Jr.

“This is the motor vessel Muggs, and we’re approaching the marina presently,” says an assertive voice. “Yeah cap, you’ll be making your portside approach to Dock C, please have a bow, spring and stern line ready, and your bumpers rigged. We’ll be at the dock waiting for you,” says Mark Holden, the Dock Master at the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina, aka, The Newport, and by Newport locals, The Treadway.

This is how it’s been going for Mark over the last decade: winter, spring, summer and fall. Boats come to this busy marina in all weathers, and at all hours of the day and night. The place can get hectic. As well as the 60-foot Muggs, making her approach, a 38-foot Hinckley is following right behind her, while giving way to the Block Island fast ferry Islander, making her approach to her dock which is right next to the marina. In addition to this scenario, Capt. George Hill is leaving the marina dock with a group charter aboard his 12-meter Weatherly — hectic indeed, but just another day in the life of the Dock Master. This is Mark Holden’s domain, where prior planning prevents poor performance, and most importantly, boat captains need their acts wired very tightly during these sometimes tricky maneuvers.

I’ve wintered my sailboat here for the last 10 years, and have seen Mark become tasked with some interesting situations. One example in particular was hurricane Sandy. “Yeah, Sandy had us all on our toes, but now we know what our docks can take regarding those kinds of winds and tides,” he says. (Picture the water being close to Mark’s waist in the photo.) “Everyone here had their boats strapped well to the docks, and the whole works stayed together,” he pauses, “it was touch and go with the wind direction in that storm; thankfully it all worked in our favor.” Then of course, is your standard issue wintertime nor’easter, or, how about fifty to sixty knots of wind from the west, where speed, duration and fetch between Goat Island and the marina, gets everyone’s attention. This wind direction makes for white knuckles all along the Newport waterfront — all boats are rocking and rolling. An interesting thing to note about Mark Holden — who really has seen it all — is that he can just smile and roll along with whatever comes at him. “We just do what we can do, right,” he says smiling and rolling his eyes.

Being in Mark’s office at any given moment is like being in that television show, “Wings.” Rather than people flying in and out of the airport on Nantucket, you have sailors of all kinds coming and going in and out of the marina office. Some have longer stories than others, but they all have stories. Currently, there is a family of live-aboards at the marina, who have been sailing with their three small children for the past few years. They will winter over in Newport and then head for Iceland in the spring. Local surfer Billy “Redney” Bolander is always popping into the office. He runs a pump out boat in Newport harbor called, the Royal Flush. Block Islander Dave Spier has his boat at the marina this winter. (Dave and his family logged 40,000 miles sailing around the world, aboard their French designed catamaran, an Outremer 45, called Aldora.)  Dave has stories to tell, but keeps his own consul. (Dave’s dad, John, is currently sailing a brand new catamaran, Tranquility, from Cape Town to Tortola.)

Even though the docks are full in the wintertime, it’s the summertime which is the busy season at the marina. Mark and his staff offer hands-on service for all mariners. Let’s say you’re bringing your boat to the marina for a summer weekend. After being directed to a predetermined slip, there will be a dock person standing-by to catch your lines and help secure your boat, plug in your electric cable, coil your lines and grab you some ice if the need arises. When you’re leaving the marina after your stay, after you cast off, the dock staff will toss you your lines. Deal! Moreover, whatever you need to know about Newport, can be found out in Mark’s office — he is a local guy.

The logistics of organizing and running the marina at times, appears to be a daunting task. If serious weather is in the forecast, then some important decisions must be made in regard to securing the boats: extra fenders, doubling up lines, and adding chafing gear. Subsequently, as the Dock Master, Mark must constantly be apprised of serious weather updates, and prepare accordingly. During a winter storm, one could be looking out the window of a snug hotel room window; however, down on the docks it’s a whole other world. Furthermore, ice and snow can add whole another dimension to walking on a pitching dock in February when the wind is blowing fifty knots, which it will most definitely do — bet the farm on it.

Finally, Mark Holden has been out and about in such weather at 0400 (not smiling perhaps); making sure all is well with all of the boats and doing whatever it takes.

He is the Dock Master.

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