With the blare of a horn, the 14 sailboats jockeying for position on Filucy Bay were off, sailing for the glory of being crowned this year’s winner of the Longbranch Marina regatta.
At the docks, cheers and catcalls could be heard from the handful of spectators enjoying the 76-degree weather on the southern tip of the Key Peninsula.
This is the 12th consecutive year the marina has hosted a regatta at the start of boating season on the Puget Sound. This year’s celebration was just a bit more special.
The Longbranch Improvement Club also dedicated the new bridge to the marina in honor of a former club president. A plaque for the Geoffrey L. Baillie Memorial Wharf was unveiled after breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and fresh strawberries.
“This is bittersweet for me,” Terry Lee, executive director of PenMet Parks, said. “Geoffrey was my go-to guy when it came to issues on the Key Peninsula.
“He had that pit bull tenacity. He wouldn’t let me off the hook,” Lee, who was a Pierce County council member at the time, added to laughter.
The old wooden bridge, owned by Pierce County but maintained by the club, was condemned in 2010 for structural issues with the posts and pilings supporting it. The repair or replacement of the bridge was mostly left to the club because of its private club designation.
Without access to the docks, continued operation of the marina was in jeopardy. Boat owners had to make separate arrangements with neighboring property owners to allow them to launch dinghies from their banks.
“But Geoff got it done. We didn’t miss out,” Kurt Anderson, former club vice president, said. “The magnitude of what he did was amazing.”
The emotional testimonials for Geoffrey Baillie touched most of the more than 200 people sitting on plastic chairs and standing on the docks by the club house. Baillie was remembered by a handful of former club associates as an understated and selfless man.
“He did it because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Lisa Bryan, a friend, said. “What this memorial compels us to do is talk to each other, telling stories, laughing, making friends and eating breakfast.”
“He did not conduct his business to get recognition,” Lynn Larson, Baillie’s widow, said. “He wanted to leave the world a better place than the one he got.”
Larson said the memorial “would have pleased him. It would have given him a degree of professional satisfaction.”
“We owe Geoff a great debt of gratitude,” Anderson said. “A great big thank you.”
Many in the club and the community of Longbranch are grateful for Baillie’s tenacious work in rebuilding the new marina bridge. But he was also a good friend.
“This is really hard for me,” said Lynn Carr, the dock master, on the verge of tears. “He was my mentor and a friend.”
Carr recounted a story of how Baillie asked him to help guide two ecologists from Oregon around Filucy Bay in a small boat he had at the marina. So he went looking for the boat and found it covered an inch-thick in “pigeon poop”.
“Geoff was a great engineer, but maintenance? Nah. Not so much,” Carr said, bringing a bit of levity to the event.
And so life goes on in this slice of maritime bliss. Between the traditional boating season kickoff breakfast and regatta, there were more than a dozen visiting boats tied up.
“I am just thrilled with the weather,” said Sharon Riggs, of Tacoma, as she walked her Havanese Bailey on the dock. “We’re just hanging out. We like it here.”
Riggs and her boyfriend Neil Randale cruised to Longbranch in a 38-foot cabin cruiser.
“There is nothing like waking up in the morning to that,” said Jeff Hart pointing to Mt. Rainier looming over Eagle Island, enjoying a cup of coffee on his 28-foot Ciera cruiser.
“This is our Winnebago on the water,” his wife Robin chimed in. “During the summer, we try to get here every weekend. There are not a bunch of snobby people here.”
“Oh heck yeah. We love it,” Jeff added.