Two 100-foot long corridors of mud ran down the boat ramp at the City of Kenai’s docks. Before 8 a.m., two rows of launch ramps had been floating on the mud.
Terry Russ drove a front-end loader’s bucket down the right side of the pavement, scraping out a path and shoving the mud into the water.
It was the rainiest day the seven-man crew have ever had pulling up the launch ramp floats for winter, said Mark “Curly” Langfitt, the city’s streets department foreman.
It was nearly noon and the crew had already hauled up eight piles — telephone pole-sized rods that pin the floats in place — and most of the float sections into the parking lot for winter storage.
They do this every year.
If they didn’t, Langfitt said, the winter ice floats would snap the piles and splinter the floats.
When the ice melts in the spring, they reverse the process.
“It’s a never ending process,” Langfitt said. “It’s nice to see them out because it marks the end of the season.”
It is only one of the many steps that go into winterizing the docks, said Sean Wedemeyer, the city’s public works director and capital projects manager.
Langfitt and his crew also pull up the floats in front of the larger docks, pump antifreeze into the well, remove the water conditioner from the bathrooms, cut off the facility’s power, grate the parking lot, take down all the signs, and dredge the mud that mounds in thick fields along the shoreline.
Langfitt often works in the mud with Jim Lackey, Robert Link, Andy Bralley and Bill Sirois, but he was standing on the edge of the ramp watching and chatting.
“Every once and a while we’ll have a mud puppy,” he said.
A “mud puppy” is a slip and fall, often a wet worker.
One year a worker face-planted in the mud, he said, “and it wasn’t exactly a snow angle.”
At the top of the ramp, the bucket to Russ’s front-end loader appeared, filled with water. He tipped it forward, washing out the center of the ramp, and ran his bucket down to the water, crushing stones under his treads.
Curt Wagoner then rolled down in the excavator, parking it in the water.
“There’s a drop down,” Langfitt said, “probably just a six inch concrete piece, but it feels like forever.”
A cable was attached to the end of Wagoner’s bucket.
Wagoner lowered it to Sirois and Bralley waiting on the float, and Sirois hooked it to a sling wrapped around a pile.
Wagoner then pulled it out while Link held a line controlling the bottom of the pile. Wagoner slowly spun the pile around and dropped it in a forklift waiting behind him.
With the pile out, the men worked on removing the float. They attached webbing to the anchors at the corners of the dock, then fed that to the excavator.
Wagoner lifted it up, spun it around and placed in into the forklift, like they did with the pile.
Ten minutes later, they had the other pile and float up.
The last four were still floating in the water.
“What’s the plan now?” someone said from the ramp. “Just wait for the tide?”
Wagoner parked the excavator on the ramp and stepped down. He put on his rain coat.
Each year it is a game they play with the tide, Langfitt said, because the floats need to be out of the water to access them with the excavator.
As the tide washes out, he said it will spin the boats that are docked down the beach around, flashing their bows.
“When (the tide) starts coming in, you’re looking at the stern and you better hurry,” he said, walking up the ramp.
The rest of the crew gathered around the trucks and some went inside a small shack to wait for the tide.
At the top of the ramp Russ reclined in his front-end loader. He read a book while the rain hit his windshield.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.