Listen to Robin Leraas talk about the challenges of dredging, the vagaries of boat drafts or the benefits of a boat haul-out facility, and you might not guess she didn’t grow up on the ocean.
The White Center native spent most of her career working in banks or as an office assistant before starting at the Westport Marina in 2000. She officially took on her current position as marina manager in 2007.
“I’ve come a long ways from where I started,” she said with a laugh.
Now the background music of her day is the soft barking of sea lions in the distance and her customers are members of the fishing community. And she loves it.
“Westport is fun,” Leraas said. “Westport is a diverse economic hub. You’ve got your commercial fleet, you’ve got your charter fleet, you’ve got your boaters who are coming in that are transiting back and forth. Maybe they’re just on a tour or a cruise down the coast.”
“We had one couple who retired early and bought a sailing boat who had planned to live aboard it and travel the world. They came into Grays Harbor and ended up on the sunken jetty, the boats hull had broken, they thought they might have to go back to work to fix the boat,” she recalled. “Life on the water can be a dream for people, but the people who work on the water know the dangers it can bring.”
Leraas’ life on the water began when she met her future husband, Bill Leraas, at the window of the bank where she worked. He worked his way through law school skippering charter boats, and grew up around the ships in Westport during summers.
“I always thought we would retire in Westport, I never thought we would be living in Westport,” she said.
But once Bill got a job with the City of Aberdeen and later, the Grays Harbor County Prosecutor’s Office, it was time to move the family in 1990.
“It was a huge shock, to live in Westport, a small community. We knew two people, didn’t really know anybody. But once the kids started school I got involved in PTA,” she said.
Leraas spent her first year on the Harbor staying home with their two children, volunteering with the Parent Teacher Association and Little League.
“Which was unheard of for me because I had been working since I was about 10 years old,” she said.
As the kids got older, she worked a variety of full- and part-time jobs, from local banks to the Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce. In 2000, she started with the Port of Grays Harbor at the marina as an office assistant.
A few years later, the outgoing manager recommended Leraas to replace her. She spent several years as interim manager and officially won the job in 2007.
“The nice thing about working here is as my kids grew up I knew a lot of the fishermen, because the kids went to the same school. So when I came to work here, I already had a working relationship through Little League and PTA with the other parents and the fishermen,” Leraas said.
Her former boss at the chamber is now her assistant at the marina.
“I love it,” Darlene Camp said. “I try to do what I can to help her. She does a great job and she really has the respect of the commercial fishermen, which is important.”
As manager, she’s responsible for just about everything that goes on at the marina, from finding places for crab and tuna boats during the busy seasons to writing grants.
She won a grant from the state Department of Ecology which covers 90 percent of the expense of disposing of derelict vessels, sometimes a process costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since 2006, the Port has received $116,520 to remove the potentially dangerous abandoned boats.
“We’ve gotten rid of 12 derelict vessels that could have potentially been harmful to the environment, to people’s health. If there was someone nearby and the boat sank, they could fall and get hurt. And they’re aesthetically not very pleasing either,” Leraas said.
One in particular, a 158-foot ship called Sitken Island, became her own personal white whale when buyer after buyer fell through.
“It took me quite a few years to sell the boat, re-seize the boat, and sell the boat and re-seize it. And finally the opportunity presented itself that we could sell the boat for a dollar,” she said.
The buyer still needed vetting to ensure he could actually remove the ship, but the low sale price saved what might have been $500,000 to $900,000 in disposal costs.
And for the first time in 40 years, the Port is planning to dredge the marina. Initial studies show the marina has lost as much as seven feet in depth in some places, and about 250,000 cubic yards of sediment is expected to be removed, costing about $2.5 million.
The shallow depth can make it hard for commercial vessels to work in the marina. The Port is targeting 2015-2016 and is still working on finding funding for the project.
“Where’s that money going to come from? Maybe from the state, maybe from the federal government, we’re not sure. But it’s something that needs to be addressed to accommodate our existing customers and potential new customers,” Leraas said.
And there have already been many new customers in the past year. Marina revenue is on the rise, Leraas said, and the weekend of the Tuna Classic last August, 430 berths of 550 were occupied. More than 24,000 transient boats have stopped at the marina in the past year.
On the horizon, the next big project could be a vessel haul-out and boat repair yard where tenants could make out-of-water repairs. The Port is looking at a $6.75-million project near Westport Shipyard.
Tuna boats in particular may benefit, because their delicate sensors for searching for fish can be easily damaged.
Right now the ships would have to go to Port Angeles, Ilawco or Astoria to fix a problem. A local facility would add value to the marina and might offer work for local craftsmen to work on the repairs.
When she’s not at the marina, Leraas and her husband are season-ticket holders for University of Washington football, and expert tailgaters.
It’s slowed down some in the last few years, but the day typically started by feeding a friend’s fraternity.
“We’d feed the band afterwards. We’d get there at 7:30 in the morning and leave about 8:30, 9 (at night), whenever the game was over. It was a long day,” she said with a laugh.
Brionna Friedrich: 360-537-3933 or firstname.lastname@example.org and @DW_Brionna on Twitter.