by Deane Hislop
The day brothers Will and Ben Kiedaisch assumed ownership of Genoa Bay Marina, they inherited outstanding bills, the bank was about to foreclose on the property, and the electricity was in danger of being turned off.
The marina offers 1,200’ of guest moorage and it can fill up during boating season.
'We didn’t know port from starboard when we took over,' says Will, laughing. 'We had to learn how to run a marina from the ground up.'
'We didn’t even own a boat and the first tool we had to buy was a bolt cutter because the marina was locked and abandoned,' recalls Ben.
When their first visitor asked how much they charged, the brothers asked him what he paid where he stayed the previous night.
From those humble beginnings, the Kiedaisch brothers have turned Genoa Bay Marina into the kind of place you don’t want to leave after just a couple of days. The service is second to none, and everyone involved in running the marina love what they do. My wife Arlene experienced the Genoa Bay hospitality on a recent cruise through the southern Gulf Islands.
Genoa Bay is a quaint little settlement with a marina nestled in a quiet and picturesque bay on Canada's southeast Vancouver Island, at the south end of Sansum Narrows. It was named by pioneer settler Giovanni Baptiste Ordano in 1858 because it reminded him of his home in Italy.
The Kiedaisch boys are California transplants. In 1971, when they were children, their family relocated from California to Nanaimo, British Columbia, which led to the family owing the marina for more than 20 years; their father and a friend owned it jointly. After the passing of their father the brothers had a couple of options: let the property foreclose or operate the weathered marina. Will (aka 'Mr. Hooper') is the elder of the two, with an education in sales and marketing; Ben, (alias 'Muffin Man') is trained in the culinary arts. Working in their respective fields at the time, they opted for career and lifestyle changes to take over the marina.
Will, with wife Karen and their two children, returned to Vancouver Island. Ben and his spouse Kirsten lived on a float home at the marina until the birth of their first child.
'We have Canadian wives, landed immigrant status, and we know all the rules for hockey, so we’re hoping that means we can stay,' Will said. 'This was the last place we imagined being.'
Now, they can’t imagine being anywhere else.
'During the first summer, our Uncle Jim was the wharfinger,' Ben said. 'Because he is an ex-Navy man, we had great faith in his nautical knowledge, but it was shaken when a visitor asked him where they could find the wharfinger and he responded, ‘Don’t have that boat here.’'
They have come a long way since then. Their progress is the result of hard work and a pinch of luck, seasoned with huge doses of humour. The brothers?with the help of their crew, Frauke McCashin and Geoff 'Mr. Fix-it' Hill?have earned a reputation for making visiting boaters feel at home. Their good nature is reflected in the character of the marina itself. It’s a feel-good place, the kind of place that gives you a sense of pride and a feeling ownership. And boaters have responded: Genoa Bay is a favourite stop for more than 3,000 visiting boats each year.
Ask Ben what the marina’s stylish logo represents, and he responds characteristically: 'What do you want it to be? If you’re a sailor, it’s a sail. If you’re a powerboater, it’s a crescent moon. We aim to please.'
The approach to Genoa Bay is scenic, offering a panorama view of Saltspring and Vancouver islands, punctuated in all directions by channels, passages, inlets and narrows. Approaching from the southeast, skippers need to beware of rocks and shoals near the eastern shore after they pass Separation Point. A mid-channel course is advisable.
Genoa Bay’s entrance is wide, open and has a clearly marked straight-in approach. Once beyond the red and green channel markers at the entrance, arriving vessels will find the marina to port. The guest moorage floats are located in the centre of the marina, oriented north and south, and approached from the north.
Berth assignments are available by hailing the marina on the VHF. The marina monitors VHF Ch 66A from April through October. Sometimes, because of the rugged local topography, they can’t get calls until boats are close by.
Genoa Bay Marina is charming, funky and postcard-picturesque. It occupies the site of a former sawmill, said to have been one of British Columbia’s largest at the turn of the century. A colourful and eclectic mix of vessels, boathouses and float homes fills the western portion of the marina. Flowers abound in dockside containers, while the emerald green bay is surrounded by steep forested hillsides.
The marina has 85 permanent moorage slips and 1,200 linear feet of transient floats that are wide and stable, and supplied with water and 30 or 50-amp power. The water comes from a local community well and is filtered and monitored; the supply is somewhat limited. Boats to 80’ can be accommodated on the guest moorage docks. Larger vessels will find plenty of anchorage in the bay over a sticky mud bottom.
The marina facilities are adorned with attractive local art; a fiberglass orca leaps from an intersection of two floats while an airborne salmon and a great blue heron constructed of wire adorn a boulder on the east side of the main pier. Every boathouse on F dock bears a construction by Tom Faue, an area pioneer in 'found art.'
There’s plenty to enjoy here once you’re settled. Watch eagles soar overhead. Listen to the breeze stir in the treetops while otters, seals and cormorants provide endless entertainment. For a minimal fee you can access email via the dock’s wi-fi network. Take a taxi for a round of golf or a shopping excursion to nearby Cowichan Bay or Duncan, drop by the tasting rooms of the area’s many vineyards or just put your feet up and do nothing at all.
The marina store at the head of the guest docks carries an eclectic mix of local products, snacks, grocery items, nautical books, magazines, marine supplies, souvenirs, coffee, ice, and a full line of Genoa Bay shirts, jackets and hats. On July 1, 2011 the brothers opened a breakfast cabana adjacent to the party dock and it quickly became a gathering place for the morning crowd. Visiting boaters with two consecutive nights of moorage receive free breakfast on the dock.
The covered party dock accommodates visiting yacht club rendezvous potlucks or impromptu dock parties. Upland facilities include an excellent restaurant, clean and spacious showers and restrooms, coin-operated laundry, and a small but inviting picnic area.
For us, a visit to Genoa Bay would not be complete without a meal, or two, at the Genoa Bay Café, open seven days a week from June through September. Perched on the water’s edge overlooking the marina, the café offers five-star quality cuisine in a casual atmosphere. It has 40 indoor seats and another 30 on the seaside deck. The combination of the view, smell and taste provide diners with sensory overload.
The café is operated by Stacey Johnson, Dan Caird and Gord Rumley. Johnson told us that Chef Dustin Cooknell’s menus provide a variety of choice and showcase the foods of Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest.
'We are proud to feature local seafood, such as our Saltspring Island mussels and seasonal specials such as fresh halibut and spot prawns,' Stacey said.
We enjoyed a wonderful leisurely dinner the first night of our visit, starting with the spinach salad. Arlene selected Herb Crusted Spring Halibut for an entrée, and I chose Ribeye Steak with Roasted Garlic Mash Potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The meals were so delicious we returned the next afternoon to sample the lunch menu, and Cooknell’s signature calamari did not disappoint.
If you feel the need to work off some of those calories or just want to stretch your sea legs, the moderately easy hike up the trail from the marina to Skinner Bluff on Mount Tzuohalem offers great views of Cowichan Bay…and a good, light workout.
Back at the marina, a short walk down the dock from the store brings visitors to Genoa Bay Gallery. This is the workplace and home for owner Colleen Irwin. She and two friends opened the floating gallery, which features pieces by local artists, in 1999. Not surprisingly, much of the art on display favours nautical and wildlife themes.
On the last morning of our visit I walked the docks, the aroma of fresh coffee and breakfast filled the air, and the sound of whistling tea pots added to the tranquil morning, all making for a memorable Genoa Bay experience. Genoa Bay Marina is open year-round and worth a visit for a day, or a week.
Details and coordinates
Charts: 3441, 3442, 3478 and Gulf Islands Atlas 3313
Location: 48° 45.5? N, 123 ° 36’ W
Marina Info: www.genoabaymarina.com
Hazards: Navigational aids mark rocks and safe channel at bay entrance
Attractions: The tranquility of picturesque Genoa Bay, funky and colourful marina setting, excellent restaurant
Nearest Fuel and Provisions: Cowichan Bay
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