Harbormaster: 'The position loves me, and I love it'

Inaugural Harbormaster Appreciation Day is Oct. 8
By Susan Mustapich | Oct 08, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Camden Harbormaster Steve Pixley, left, chats with Bill Aboud of Cushing, after scooping Aboud's FDNY cap out of the harbor.

CAMDEN — On a relatively quiet day, Camden Harbormaster Steve Pixley was building a rugged ladder on the town landing to replace ladders former Harbormaster Jim French made more than two decades ago.

Pixley had cut pieces of pressure-treated lumber that fit together in an easy puzzle. Around noon Monday, Oct. 7, he was screwing the pieces in place while chatting with passersby attracted by the activity on a windy, but otherwise uneventful, day. He said he copied the ladders used in the harbor this summer by Prock Marine, because they work. The ladders Pixley made are used primarily by Camden Harbor staff to access a work float up against the town pier.

Just as he screwed two small boards under the last rung on the ladder, a man came over asking for help. His hat had blown into the water, and he thought it was close enough to be scooped up.

Pixley saw the slowly sinking cap, and asked what team it was. He climbed down the very ladder he was about to replace, onto the small float. He grabbed an oar, and reached out as far as he could, just enough to lift the hat out of the water.

Bill Aboud of Cushing was smiling as he waited for Pixley, still on the ladder and ringing out the soaking hat. As it turned out, it wasn't a baseball cap, but an NYFD hat, in honor of the firefighters who rushed to the rescue Sept. 11, 2001.

As harbormaster, Pixley's job ranges from the occasional rescue of boaters in trouble and corralling boats not properly secured in weather most people hide from -- to saving a man's cap.

He's there when the floats are put in at the start of the season, and when they are hauled out again at the end. He manages databases, assignments to moorings, floats, the dinghy dock and waiting lists. At the height of summer, he oversees bookings on floats and moorings for visitors in one of the busiest places in town. The harbor's moorings, floats and commercial dockage for day sailers and windjammers brought in just under $250,000 in 2018.

During big spring and fall storms, Pixley's on the public landing, watching wind and tide, dealing with any flooding that occurs. In winter, he plans and budgets for the next year, and works at the Snow Bowl. Year-round, he's part of a group of mariners who make their living from Camden Harbor, and are always willing to lend a hand.

Pixley has a big smile, and smiles often. He's there during the busiest days of the year: July 4 fireworks on the harbor: Lyman Morse's Camden Classics Cup, and Camden's Windjammer Weekend. He hosts an annual Harbor Master's Dance on the public landing, featuring Cuban music for the windjammer and day sailer crews, community members and visitors who like to party.

Pixley has been Camden's harbormaster since spring 2001. He arrived in the town right after college in 1992. His first job was as a deck hand on the Grace Bailey, then mate, and then captain for nine years.

In 2001, he was building a house in Camden, and told Grace Bailey's owners he needed to finish it and would not be sailing that spring.

One evening, he had to borrow tools that former Harbormaster Jim French was willing to lend. Pixley was chatting with French's wife, who brought him down to the basement to look for the tools. She told him that French had put in his two-weeks' notice, and was going to build houses full-time. As Pixley left with the tools, she said she would tell her husband he was interested in the position. He doesn't remember telling her that, but it was getting late and he nodded to her as he left.

Two hours later, he was working on his house under lights with his cousin, and French came over. He told Pixley about the harbormaster position and said he would be right for it. Pixley was planning to return to sailing after he finished his house, but put his hat in the ring. Six others were also vying for the position, and he got it.

"Eighteen years later, here I am," Pixley said Oct. 7. "And the position loves me and I love it. I know it so well, I know all the players, the highway guys, the Snow Bowl, and I really feel like an integral part of the town."

US Harbors announced the creation of the first national Harbormaster Appreciation Day, to be celebrated annually Oct. 8. The organization encourages communities to come together to recognize and celebrate their local harbormasters. US Harbors is a free resource used by 4 million boaters in the U.S. for weather, tides, and local information on more than 1,300 harbors, according to its website, usharbors.com.

Camden Harbormaster Steve Pixley builds a sturdy ladder on a quiet October afternoon at Camden Harbor. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 09, 2019 16:40

Sounds like a good choice for Camden. Good luck in the future!



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