A Bad Day In The Water

What does a bad day in the water look like? To some of us, it might be the day we break something on our boats, or the day we get hurt, or a rough patch of bad weather or a very close call with some unmovable object. For the owner of the boat in these photos, the bad day was loosing their precious boat.

I’ve witnessed a few sinkings over the last few years, and they all had something in common… they could have been prevented. The unlucky owner of the burned Duffy had a short that caused an electrical fire because his power inverter was not fuse protected. Another large boat pictured below that sank in Marina Pacifica, had a dead battery which meant no working bilge pump. It turns out someone kicked his shore power cable and the battery charger quit working.

For all these people, there was someone there to make their experience a little less frustrating and manageable. Ken Walker owns and operates the Towboat U.S. Long Beach/Huntington Beach assistance towing franchise, with 4 towboats berthed at the Alamitos Bay fuel dock. He also operates the Fuel Dock itself. I ran into Ken while his team was getting the burned Duffy from the bottom of it’s slip. It is a very interesting site to behold to see a shipwright at work. I was happy to learn more about this very important business owner for Alamitos Bay Marina.

His captains are hazwopper /first responder certified and have specialized explosion proof equipment at the fuel dock to properly remove liquid hazards, such as a fuel tank that has ruptured and leaked into the bilge, they also maintain the specialized equipment and EPA registration to safely and lawfully dispose of such hazardous waste.

“Our fuel dock serves as a storage facility for our assortment of lift bags and salvage equipment. This ultimately could be easier on the unfortunate boater who has a catastrophic boating event such as a submerged boat. The faster we can get on scene and float their vessel the less expensive  it would be for the boater, as well as mitigate any pollution” says Ken Walker, and reminds us that they have always given Boat U.S. discounts for fuel, and since the towing dept is 24/7, they can access fuel on an emergency basis for not only customers, but LB Lifeguards as well as Police Department boats. In addition,  having the towboats at the fuel dock assures they can “boom” off the dock quickly in case of a fuel or hazardous waste spill.

The Alamitos Fuel Dock is also home to the only on-water service department in the area. They offer oil changes, fuel polishing, and tank cleaning as well as other fluid changes. They are often called upon for assistance when boat owners have fuel in their bilges as their equipment is capable of handling those situations. They also offer waste oil disposal, propane tank refills, as well as the only source of CNG tank replacements in the area.

“As the current operator, I’ve proudly served the boating community of LB since 1981, I started working at the family gas dock when I was 12, and went from tending the gas dock to running the service department as a mechanic, changing oil on a regular basis for many of our longtime customers, and finally getting my captains license and getting involved with vessel assist/ Boat U.S. program.” – Ken Walker.

Since 2001, Ken has undertaken the expense of being branded a “Valvtect marine fuel provider”. The ABM Fuel Dock is one of the first Valvtect stations on the west coast. The Valvtect name is associated with quality marine grade gas and diesel. He pays for a gasoline additive used to offset the effects of ethanol. The additive also contains a fuel stabilizer. The diesel additive, which he also pays for, contains a marine biocide as well as a stabilizer and c-tame improver. Their product tanks are certified every year by Valvtect, assuring that the Fuel Dock’s customers are getting a quality marine-grade product.

I would consider the city owned fuel docks to be a  necessity of the Alamitos Marina that the boat owners are paying for in the form of rent. Their fuel dock should provide a reliable quality source of fuel for their boats as well as the convenience of a full service dept for oil changes and fuel pump-outs. By operating both the fuel dock and Boat US simultaneously, we work hand in hand with the Lifeguards by having a quick response to non-emergency boating situations to free them up to be available for emergencies that could come up” – Ken Walker.

The “UST” (underground storage tank system) which includes both product tanks as well as the piping / product lines, dispensers and leak detection systems, was replaced in 2015 at the city’s expense, and is maintained by the City’s Fleet Services Department, but the existing electrical and docks were not upgraded. As the current operator, Ken maintains the aging dock even though he is on a month to month lease extension from the City.

The Alamitos Bay fuel dock needs to be replaced as the 60 + year old concrete dock is at the end of its shelf life. The area around and under the fuel dock needs to be dredged since at low tide there is only 4-5′ of water in front of the dock, and the inboard dock float is completely out of the water, causing a hazard between the two separate concrete floats. This needs to be addressed if and when the dock is replaced.

At this time, the Marine Bureau does not have any funding for the rebuild of the fuel dock. Based on a change in legislation, the City can no longer issue an RFP for design-build-operate.  Therefore for the last 12 months, the Marine Bureau has been trying to see if they could get funding and complete the engineering plans and start the permitting process for a new fuel dock.

The city replaced the Shoreline dock and UST back in 2012after closing the original 1984 facility for about five years, during which time Shoreline Marina tenants were without a fuel dock while City funding and permits were  obtained. The possibility exists for the same thing happening to marina tenants and boat owners at Alamitos Bay.

Since the lease for the current dock has expired, the city is required to issue a new Request for Proposal for a new operator. According to Elvira Hallinan, Manager at the Marine Bureau, they are almost done with the RFP for the potential new operator.

“If someone other than the current operator is chosen, the current operator will remain in place until a couple months after the selection of the new operator takes place.  This will give both the current and potential new operator time to coordinate a transition plan that will occur behind the scenes and not interrupt service to our customers.” – Elvira Hallinan.

In the Shoreline Marina, Bellingham Construction designed and built the new concrete dock , with a modular office/restroom that can be easily replaced if needed int the future. The new Alamitos Bay fuel dock could be similar in nature, which could minimize the amount of time we would be without a fuel dock. For the mean time, we have to make due with the fuel dock we have until funds are allocated for the rebuild.

We hope Ken Walker continues to serve us with both Boat U.S., pumping our fuel and servicing our boats. If Ken were to decide not to bid for the new proposal, or if another operator were to be chosen, we hope that we continue to get the great service that Ken has been known for and has gotten us all used to, as well as the excellent quality of the fuel that he is providing.

Next time you are on the water, swing by the Alamitos Bay Fuel Dock and say hello to Ken. His staff will be happy to assist you with your engine oil change, marine fuel or just in case you end up having a very, very bad day on the water.

Eduardo A. Limon – Director of Public Relations, LBMBOA.

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