Who’s Got Your Back?

Why dockmates never fail to amaze

December 2015 Feature Austa Cook

I’m not going to lie. I wanted to crack all sorts of insurance slogan jokes at the beginning of this one:

“Like a good neighbor, dockmates are there!”

“Are you in good slips?”

“We make our dockmates’ problems our problems.”

The possibilities are shamelessly open! Wow, State Farm, Allstate, and Amica, are you houseboaters, too?

For your sakes, I’ll reign it in there. Seriously, dockmates are a special kind of folk who tend to band together for laughs, helping each other out of sticky situations and throwing the weekly pot luck. What exactly makes them such open, willing neighbors?

For Bettye McCool Johnson, the kind things her dockmates do are “too many to list!”  Aside from timely dock assistance, sharing homegrown tomatoes and homemade apple crepes for breakfast are at the top of her list!

At Wisdom Dock on Dale Hollow Lake, Ky., Myra Kelley Cheak says her boat families do everything from share meals to turning off the water for them when they forget. They also band together for a neighborhood watch and help the Cheaks bring their houseboat back to their slip.

“The best,” Myra says, “is when my neighbors turn on my air conditioning in the summer when we’re coming so my boat is cool when I get ‘home.’”  

Susan Bracher chimes in with the good deeds neighbors like Steve Duncan do at Conley Bottom, on Lake Cumberland, Ky. Steve checked on their houseboat for them and found out their fridge had gone out and the houseboat smelled like, and I quote, “dead bodies.”

But did he fear their moral compass extended to killing people and beat a quick retreat? No! Susan says, “By the time we arrived, he had CLEANED out the entire fridge. Who does that? We love you, Steve, Shawn Duncan and Michelle!”

Ron and Bev Farris of Green River Marina in Kentucky were also blessed by the generosity of their neighbors, Henry and Joan, who knew Ron was looking to buy a fishing boat. They invited Ron and Bev over for dinner and Henry took Ron aside, saying, “Boy, I’ve got the deal of the century for you.” He showed him a bass boat and simply said, “Here’s your boat.”

Ron, overwhelmed, could only croak, “You’re kidding me!”

So Ron and Bev named their gift Freebee and Ron has had some of the best fishing outings out of his bass boat.


“It’s awesome. We’re just a good, tight-knit family down at our marina,” says Ron. “They kind of adopted me, they’re like my mom and dad, and I try to take care of them.”

Henry and Joan, who Ron thinks have been into houseboating since the wooden boat days, never fail to teach them a lot about houseboats as well.

“Boy, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever learn,” Henry regularly quips.

“I hope someday I’ll be able to pass that down to somebody else,” Ron says with absolute sincerity.

Sheila Hicks at Wolf River Resort and Marina adds her sentiments concerning the dockmates on Dale Hollow Lake, Ky., who really pulled through for their family when the Hicks’ son Jeremy was diagnosed and passed away from cancer.

Sheila’s father, Bruce Carrender, owned Lakeview Yachts and Wolf River Resort and Marina at the time, so the Hicks were serious regulars. They connected with everyone at the marina as they went houseboating, zipping about in their Sea Ray runabout, and—most of all—fishing.

Jeremy, a self-taught fisherman, loved nothing more than to visit his grandpa and fish at the docks as much as possible. Easily recognized by the dock community, he really was family to the houseboaters and mainlanders there.

“Jeremy was like a fixture there,” Sheila says. “That’s how everyone knew him so well. They all loved him and he loved them.”

As Jeremy battled cancer, the boaters really went out of their way to reach out to the Hicks with love and support.

“I really didn’t know that everyone—and I mean everyone—knew him like they did,” Sheila reflects.

And Jeremy was able to visit his friends and get as much of his passion in as he could at Dale Hollow.

“Fishing and boating were his favorite things in life. He actually turned down his Make-A-Wish wish because he said all he wanted to do was fish at the WRR.”

It goes without words how deeply the community’s care was appreciated by the Hicks. Sheila explains, “Jeremy was our only child and our world did revolve around him. He was our child and our best friend. He was the best kid ever. We were so lucky to have been his parents.”

After Jeremy passed away, Bruce built a chapel in the 13-year-old’s memory right on Dale Hollow to give everyone a place to worship while at the lake. The houseboaters and mainlanders even held a special dedication ceremony.

“They all stepped up and helped my father as he dealt with Jeremy’s illness and also after Jeremy died. They were all great to us, too!” Sheila says, and she could really say so much more about how well this group treated her family.

“You really don’t see this kindness shown in the media today,” Sheila declares. “I think Jeremy’s story is a good story for how the lake community is really like a family.”

So do dockmates have your back? Yes, in every way they do. Through emotional support, charitable service, and extra-mile tokens of friendship, each houseboating community can and does do its part to give houseboaters a genuine home away from home. In a very real way, this kind of community is the best kind of insurance you could have down at the docks.

I know I said I wouldn’t, but just one more: “If your dockmates could talk to you, what would they say?”

Everything from, “I patched up that leak job,” to “Come over for elevensies!” to “PS, your fly’s undone,” I daresay—and really, Lincoln National, who could you trust more?

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