Bulkheads, docks, and boats
When I’m not in Galilee working at the Block Island Ferry docks, I’m usually in Newport Harbor messing around in my sailboat; I’ve been doing this drill for 20 years. About 18 years ago I met a dock master in the harbor by the name of Mark Holden. Mark came of age in Portsmouth and Newport as a sailor and musician; when we met all those years ago we became fast friends in regards to things musical, and nautical. Holden is a guy who, like myself, has been messing around and working next to bulkheads, docks and boats for most of his life. Subsequently, we always have interesting things to talk about; me from the ferry, and he from the marina. We work in environments where there are lots of things going on every day. Weather, boats, and people pass by both of our places of work and as a result, we always have something to talk about when we connect up in town. There is always something amusing to discuss.
Mark Holden was a guy who was drawing boats as a kid, and loved hearing halyards snapping on the flag pole at this parents’ home. Holden’s dad was a drummer who did gigs around town, as did his son. Mark recently told me of going to see his dad doing gigs at Ballard’s back in the day, and he spoke of his days working at Captain Nick’s with his band when he was a saloon player. A simple discussion regarding music with this guy can branch out into many avenues for some interesting conversation.
Moreover, Holden and I are also guys who love to observe the human condition, and because we both share history of Block Island, Point Judith, Bristol, and Newport, there is never a shortage of topics to discuss. For
example, the recent problems hovering over Old Harbor on Block Island were chewed up a little in his office recently; however, that topic shifted to more positive things like the great weather we’ve been having this summer and that businesses are doing well. We’re both optimistic guys by nature, and we both also possess a realistic and manageable amount of cynicism. In other words, we are both objective guys with a wry sense of humor.
I first met Mark when he was the dock master at the old Treadway in Newport Harbor while wintering my boat there. After 13 years of working at that job, Holden shifted gears and worked as a building contractor. However, after several years of using that skill set, Mark has again found himself back working around bulkheads, docks, and boats. This is where Holden belongs; it’s where he is supposed to be conducting his life. His current dock
master’s office is at Bowen’s Wharf, which is about 150 meters northwest of his old office. Mark and I feel that we are both right where we belong working around bulkheads, docks and boats. Interestingly, on my days off
from working at the Block Island Ferry docks, I will often go visit Mark in his new office where the Jamestown-Newport ferry’s dock office stood before the Pell Bridge was built way back in 1969. (We find it hilarious that I leave a ferry dock, to go hang with Mark where a ferry dock once ran cars, freight, and people to Jamestown.)
These days Mark manages the Bowen’s Wharf Marina, which is owned by Bart Dunbar, who is an avid sailor and businessman.
According to Mark he has approximately 800 linear feet of rental docking space, where the marina can accommodate boats anywhere from a 22-foot center-console runabout, up to a 120-foot yacht. Additionally, the marina
offers a free dinghy dock for transient sailors visiting Newport - a great perk for sailors. Moreover, the marina accommodates boats that do harbor tours. There is a parasail business there also. Subsequently, these nautical businesses employ captains, engineers, dock workers and ticket sales staff. There is a tremendous amount of commerce on and around this thriving little marina in the heart of Newport Harbor; Holden’s office is a great intersecting point for people wanting information from a local Aquidneck Island guy. And, Mark Holden has the perfect personality for this position while also possessing much local historic, mercantile and nautical knowledge.
When Holden was a young guy he would sail a Rhodes 19 sailboat with a friend. They’d be out sailing in 25 knots of wind and flying under the Pell Bridge. “I’d jump in the bay and let the boat pull me while I was looking up at the bridge. I just thought that was terrific,” says Holden, “We’d go out sailing when everybody was coming in and we’d do some crazy stuff.” Mark is a guy who simply loves anything to do with boats and the ocean. He currently lives aboard a Marine Trader 50 - his second one of this design - with his girlfriend Ellen. It’s a perfect liveaboard boat for a couple.
In his younger years Holden lived aboard a 1939 Alden sloop called Luau, which was built in City Island, New York. When we sit in his office we’ll often discuss the varieties of boats that pass by the marina while entering or leaving the harbor. We did this drill for close to 13 years.
“The fast ferry Islander has been having a good gang when they head out to Block Island this summer,” says Holden. Mark knew me in the days before there was a fast ferry sailing out of Newport, and I was bicycling around town trying to sell tickets for the M/V Nelseco for the ferry company, which ran out of Fort Adams from the Alofsin Pier. In those days we would discuss how there was a possible market to link Block Island and Newport with a
faster boat ride. Now there is such a boat ride from Perotti Park next to the harbor master’s office that is a few hundred yards from Mark’s office at Bowen’s Wharf.
Mark and I have had lots of laughs over the years of our friendship. There is a steady simplicity of how we look at life from our respective jobs working around boats. Finally, we’ve always been just a couple of guys nodding at the comings and goings in the harbors, and making observations while being around bulkheads, docks and boats, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.