At first the Southport marina seemed like a great place. We just completed a major passage and we were tired, dirty and hungry. The facilities there were very nice. The docks were new, there is free wifi, cheap ice and it is walking distance to downtown. Everything was great until we filled up with water.
Like many boats from the 70’s, our boat doesn’t have gauges to show the level of fuel or the water in the tanks. I can usually tell when the water tanks are full by listening to the rising pitch of the water as I fill it up. This time I slightly over filled the water tanks, which is not usually a problem. The extra water spills into the bilge (the lowest point in the bottom of our boat) and an automatic pump sends it over the side. This time when the bilge pump came on it also pumped out a few table spoons of diesel fuel that spilled into the bilge days earlier when I bled the engine and changed the fuel filter. There was a patch of water with a sheen behind the boat that looked much worse than it really was. After I filled up the water tanks I asked the guy at the cash register, I will call him Jerk #1, if we could buy some diesel fuel. He was not friendly and very short with me. He came out to turn on the pump and saw the sheen behind the boat for the first time, at the same time I did. I explained that it may have come from our bilge after filling the water tanks, but it couldn’t be more than a few ounces because the float switch on the bilge would have cycled on days earlier if I had spilled a great deal of diesel. I apologized and shut off the bilge pump thinking that would be the end of it.
I completed filling the fuel tanks (without spilling a drop) and when I gave him back the nozzle he said, “this is really bad, I have to have someone come down here to take a look at this.” I immediately think of the fine for dumping oil which can be thousands of dollars. I grabbed the 409 from the galley and gave a few sprays behind the boat. It is incredible how quickly the spray disperses the oil. It’s not very environmentally friendly, but I only gave about 10 sprays. Instantly the area of sheen is almost gone. I see Jerk #1 run down the dock shouting, “stop spraying that you are going to get a fine”, as though I was destroying evidence in a murder case.
At this point two other Marina employees have taken a work boat out and circled around behind our sailboat. After their investigation they report back to Jerk #1 that “everything is fine, it’s not that bad.”
I was very confused and a little scared by the serious and accusatory tone that Jerk #1 had taken with me from the beginning. He seemed out to get me. I don’t know if he is unhappy with his lot in life, if he has a deal going with the local Environmental police, or if he was honestly confused by the nature of what happened. Working at a fuel dock, he should have a better understanding about how small a spill occurred based on the small area of water affected. In any case, I was ready to leave as soon as possible. After hearing the report from the other two workers, Jerk #1 let me pay for the diesel fuel I had just taken on board. I started the engine and began untying the dock lines.
Enter Jerk #2. He is older, not wearing the Marina uniform, doesn’t identify himself as working for the marina or having any authority whatsoever. “You can’t leave yet captain, stay right there.”
Now I really feel like there is a conspiracy taking place. Two marina workers and Jerk #1 already cleared me to leave. I respond to his command by asking, “why?”
“Don’t go anywhere, just wait there.”
It’s never good when someone answers a question about a command with the original command. It reminded me of an episode of cops when a civilian tells the suspect to wait right there when they call the police.
I politely told him, “I already paid, so I am going to leave now”
He said, “If you leave we are going to give your information to the Coast Guard and they will track you down.”
I said okay, pushed the boat off the dock and never looked back. Well, that’s not entirely true. I looked back many times to see if the Coast Guard was coming - they never did. A powerboat from the Marina followed us for a mile, but turned back.
Southport Marina gets two huge thumbs down from Sabbatical. By virtue of running a marina and a gas station located over the water their environmental record is already a bit suspect. We all try our best to not put chemicals into the water or the ground, but it is going to happen from time to time when you run a gas station. I have never heard of a gas station or a marina calling the police when someone spills a few tablespoons. I can’t help but feel like they had another motivation for attempting to get us in trouble that wasn’t rooted in a desire to protect the environment.