Friday, June 10, 2005

Managing the marina -- Suisun's harbormaster takes care of tennants, berths and bouys

From the Fairfield Daily Republic June 10, 2005

Gus Barkas, marina supervisor, looks out over the Suisun waterfront from the harbormaster building. (Photo by Gary Goldsmith)

By Ian Thompson
Staff Writer

SUISUN CITY - Being the town's harbormaster is a natural for Gus Barkas.
"I am Greek," Barkas said with a smile. "The water is in my blood."

It also helps when an older Greek-American couple from Southern California with the last name of Maharis enter Barkas' office to ask about the cost of boat slips.

Barkas slipped into Greek to ask about their family and what part of Greece they are from, getting the answer in what he said later was a little rustier Greek than his. He also urged that they try the two Greek restaurants nearby.

A little earlier he walked the docks, part of his day's routine, pausing every once and a while to check to see if something needed replacing.

Marina tenants drop by the office, more for conversation with Barkas than for business, they said.

Barkas deals with all sorts of folks - from people cleaning their fish in the marina bathrooms to phone calls from people like the person who has doggedly called Barkas every day for the past 10 days asking for long-departed former city manager Steve Baker.

Still, it's the people - and the proximity to water - that make the job a good fit for Barkas.

"If you don't like people, you should not be a harbormaster," Barkas said.
As if to illustrate the point, the mailman comes through the office door, dropping off a couple of letters, lightheartedly thanking Gus for a nice day.

"I ordered it just for you," Barkas said with a laugh.

The core of the marina's tenants includes long-timers who Barkas describes as "a pretty good group and most of them are real nice people."

As tenants walk by the office, Barkas mixes small talk with business, one conversation starting with slough fishing and ending on the comparative merits of Greek and Italian cooking.

Barkas has been Suisun City's harbormaster for eight years, his office overlooking the downtown docks that line the city's Suisun Slough waterfront.

If you stick to formalities, the city manager actually is the harbormaster and Barkas is the marina supervisor, but it's Barkas to whom the local boaters turn for their needs at the marina.

Before coming to Suisun City, Barkas, who was born in Greece, was in the family recreation business at Lake Berryessa.

Barkas misses the boats he owned or worked on earlier in life, but says he gets to see boats every day here.

Most of his job is supervising maintenance of the docks, both at the marina and down the slough at the public boat launch, which he checks on twice a day.

His daily routine also involves making minor repairs where needed, dispensing gas and ensuring berth rentals are paid. He also does all purchasing for the marina.

"It is basically to make sure everything is safe and clean," Barkas said.

His world view is summed up in the small button perched on one windowsill that states "I Love Suisun."

"Suisun City is a nice, small town. It is like we have our own little peninsula here," Barkas said.

With his office located in Old Town, a part of the job is also public relations, pointing out the attractions of the area and talking up upcoming events.

Barkas is usually the first person visitors meet when their boats make their way up the slough from Suisun Bay to the waterfront.

At present, the 160-berth marina is 96 percent full, an occupancy figure Barkas would like to see rise to 98 percent this summer.

The marina has paid its way, according to Suisun City's 2004 budget, bringing in $302,600 in revenues while costing $252,110 to run.

"My weekends are busy," Barkas said. "Most of my days are spent walking the docks because I don't like spending too much time in the office."

He also works with both the Suisun City Police Department and the Solano County Sheriff's Department on anything going on in the slough.

"If any of the (marina) tenants needs assistance in the slough, I jump into the harbor patrol boat to help, and if I can't help, I call the sheriff," Barkas said.
At least once a week during the summer, he boards the small harbormaster's boat and travels down the slough as far as Hunter's Cut to check on the navigation buoys.

"They need to be looked after and repaired sometimes because jet skiers hit them, fishermen tie up to them," Barkas said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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