Humboldt Bay: Sailing On The Madaket

Posted on: July 18th, 2013 by Stas

Humboldt Bay: Sailing On The Madaket

By Benita Margaronis, Elsie Allen High School, Santa Rosa Ca


Humboldt Bay includes the city of Eureka in Northern California. It’s very historic and old and has lost many of its wood and fishing industry jobs that made it so prosperous many years ago.

The city got its name in 1850 when a man named Ryan rammed his ship into the mudflats there and exclaimed “Eureka,” Greek for “I found it.”

I went up to Eureka for two weeks to sail on the M/V Madaket. I want to go to the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California and I want some kind of sea time and boat time so sailing on the Madaket was it. I had a BLAST.

I met so many new people, including Selina who is the chauffeur for the stretch limo that drives guests from the Best Western (where we were staying) to dinner and events around Eureka. While we were there she had bikers riding with her from some Harley-biker get-together. I would ride around in the limo for hours at a time because she let me and because it was super stylish and fun. Selina wears a black tuxedo and blue shoes! But that is another story…

On the Madaket, I was a deck hand so my duties were to tie up the boat, clean the boat, and make sure people were happy with drinks and blankets. The Madaket sails from the foot of C Street in Eureka three time a day starting at 1.00 PM and Sunday though Tuesday twice a day. The Cocktail Cruise also known as the “Booze Cruise” goes from Wednesday though Saturday and is at 5:30. Many of the locals and tourists like it. The Madaket can take 41 passengers and 2 crew members, not including the captain.

I worked July 4th, where we ran a string of 20 minutes cruises that were fully booked with long lines of people waiting to catch a ride. It was a serious blast. I had to get up extra early and I didn’t get home till around 8 and then went out again to watch the fireworks launched off a construction barge in the Bay. My mom and I went to see the fireworks so that was very fun. The barge held 50 grand ($50,000) worth of fire works and shot them off over the Bay. Leroy and Dalene, the captain and his wife, the general manager, raise money for the event every year. People were packed down at the waterfront watching and it is one of the biggest events in Eureka.

Working on a boat you can never get too relaxed. Even if nothing bad ever has happened don’t jinx it. The last day some very young boy was running around on the boat and we told him to stop but he wouldn’t. When we were going in to dock we reversed and realized that he had somehow thrown one of the lines in the water and it got stuck in the propeller. Fortunately, the problem was quickly fixed by a diver, who was called in to untangle the mess. That was an exciting day.

Dalene and Captain Leroy Zerlang manage the Madaket operation and they are super fun! I love them both. Leroy is the captain although he has several people also skippering the boat, including his son Captain Cody and Captain Steve and a new guy who I like, Captain Mike.

I like it best when Leroy does the narration because he goes into detail about Humboldt Bay and for me he talks about many interesting things.

Leroy’s tour starts with telling us the history of Humboldt Bay including the early explorers, the wildlife, the Native-American history, the development of the oyster beds and their role in cleaning the Bay. For example, the seagulls you see in the Bay aren’t Seagulls because we’re not on the sea, we’re in the bay, so of course we call them Baygulls – get it? Guess what the brown spotted babies are called? Cinnamon Raisin  Baygulls! This part happens North of the bridge linking Eureka to Samoa across the Bay.

When Leroy turns the boat South of the bridge you see the wood mills and hear about how many mills have been shut down and jobs lost and then we see the fishing boats and we hear about how many fishing jobs have been lost. Many have been lost because of foreign competition. It is a sad story.

Leroy is also a tugboat captain, a boatyard owner and works as ship agent for my friend Bill Nickson at Transmarine Navigation. Leroy supervised tying up a log ship on my last day that was going to take logs from California to China.

Dalene manages the ticket office, supervises the staff and makes sure everything runs on time. They really work hard and they love what they do. Although Leroy has never and probably never will call me by my right name – he calls me Bonita rather than Benita, my real name. I am still impressed and I look up to him even though I’ll never let on.

Leroy let me steer the boat. He was always taunting me and scaring me, I guess he does it to all 17 year olds who steer the boat and don’t even have their driver’s license. He also made me narrate a little bit. That was extremely scary. The people clapped at the end so that made me happy.

I like Dalene, too. She is a horsewoman just like me. One day I helped her load her horse into their trailer to go to the vet to fix the horse up and then she and I had to get the horse back into the trailer to come back. That was very fun too.

The Madaket is the last survivor of seven ferries that transported mill workers and others around the Bay. Launched in 1910 she is 103 years old. When the Samoa Bridge was completed it put the ferry business out. The Madaket is still the oldest U.S. passenger vessel still in use and has the smallest licensed bar in the State of California on it. Which is totally awesome. The boat is a historic landmark. Working on the boat this year has been one of the best things I could have ever done. I know my pathways and where I want to go and I can achieve it.

The first day I met Holly who runs the ticket office with Dalene and two women deckhands: Tiffany and Janet. I thought they were super nice and cool. Tiffany and Janet helped teach me how to tie up the Madaket, how to cast off and helped me do the lifejacket demonstrations which we do before casting off. Safety is very important and we need to make sure everyone understands the procedures before we cast off. Janet and Tiffany are tough and rough kinds of girls but also GREAT teachers.

Another deckhand who also works with Leroy at the boatyard is Breckin. She inspired me because her whole life is boats and so she knows them from working on them and sailing them. Her boathouse looks small from the outside but is HUGE on the inside. She does good work with her hands. She’s even made things for the boat to make it look prettier.   Britni also works as a deckhand and she and I get along really well. She has also worked on tugboats. She has horses like me.

I would also like to thank the maids and staff at the Best Western on 5th Street who looked after us and especially Selina. Thanks also to the cooks and waitresses at Kristina’s Restaurant next door who fed us well—great French Toast, guys!

Overall the trip has been a life changing experience and I hope that others like me learn from these wonderful people, caring and always willing to lend a hand. I can’t wait to go back sailing on the Madaket next year. I feel like I can hold my own and I feel like I also kept peoples’ spirits up with my always upbeat personality.

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