Our star new columnist ruminates.

Fred "Spike" Manley decided to stretch his legs a little bit as the sun went down. He climbed off his boat in the Marina to take a walk along the dock.

By Bruce Bellingham 
Published: September, 2000

Fred "Spike" Manley decided to stretch his legs a little bit as the sun went down. He climbed off his boat in the Marina to take a walk along the dock.

"It was real windy and I noticed a small sailboat that was clearly in trouble," says Spike. "Then I saw a little head bobbing in the water. I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’"

Spike called to neighbor who rushed to keep the boat from being dashed on the rocks. Meanwhile Spike climbed out to the rocks and managed to grab hold of the stricken man. "His hands were so cold, he couldn’t grab a hold of me," Spike recalls. "I saw he was elderly and knew he didn’t have much time — the water was so cold."

Spike and his neighbor managed to save the fellow, who is 83-years old, and his boat. The man — a retired official of the Harbor Tenants Association.

The rescue comes at a time where the new Harbormaster, Ed Ross, is calling for more people to be able to live aboard their boats on the San Francisco waterfront. He says it would only help safety and security. Spike’s bravery seems to support Ross’ argument.

"I’ve never seen human ashes poured into the ocean before," remarked Tim Delaney, a bar owner in the Marina District. "As the ashes sink below the surface, they begin to dissipate. The light hits them in such a supernatural way. This, I was thinking, is a man’s life."

Tim stood on the deck of the "Alpha," which belonged to his friend, Neal Heis. Neal died in June after a long bout with cancer.

Tim delivered a few remarks — surrounded by a flotilla of four other boats. They circled within a cove just off the Marin Headlands as trumpeter Mack Horton, from the Walt Tolleson Orchestra, played "San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)" just beyond the Golden Gate.

Bill Kelly, who worked for the Matson Cruise Lines for many years recalls the time he stood on the deck of the S.S. Mariposa as the ashes of the brilliant and curmudgeonly Charles McCabe were scattered over his beloved Pacific.

"As the sun came up, we toasted Charlie, glasses filled with Irish whisky," Bill recalls.

Today, Bill is a great champion of expanding the ferry systems on the Bay. "When we get a big quake here," he says," it’ll be the only way to go — it might also get people out of their cars."

Al Hart, who recently retired as morning anchor at KCBS Radio, says the architects of the ferry systems have so far failed to provide enough parking at the various terminals.

"The same problem exists at the BART stations, " Al adds.

Aside from the advantages of staying off the freeway, it’s endlessly fascinating to hear the conversations on the ferry commute.

On Anna Kourakova’s ability as a tennis player: "Who cares? Did you see her on the cover of G.Q.?"

"Saw ‘Titanic — The Musical’ at the Orpheum. Say, how many life preservers does this boat carry, anyway?"

The murder of a guest who appeared on the "Jerry Springer Show" was discussed at the bar on the Larkspur ferry.

"Did you ever notice how those big security guards on Jerry Springer always let the guests land a few blows before they step in?"

Ya know, if I bought a warehouse in SOMA back in the 80s, I wouldn’t be on this ferry going to the damn office today. I’m going to the bar..."

Plans for developing Pier 45 as an "Interactive San Francisco Museum" is a hot topic. Joked one commuter, "It’s a lot safer than visiting the real Haight-Ashbury."

Tourists say the darndest things.

The legendary Powell-Hyde Street cable car — launched a very long time ago — turns around amid the less-than-picturesque public housing projects near Fisherman’s Wharf.

"Imagine!" a woman scornfully observed. "Why would they put those pretty trolleys near those ugly buildings?"

"This Flood Building," inquired a fellow in baseball hat and searsucker shorts, freezing in the summer wind. "When did San Francisco have a flood??"

It’s true San Francisco has witnessed many disasters. But a flood is not among them.

"There have been all kinds of catastrophes here but the residents haven’t been underwater — not yet, anyway," stated Sue Nammi, with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The only big wave we’ve seen is the kind the fans make at Candlestick Park."

Quakes, fires, typhoons, typhoid, water spouts, downturns, updrafts, overdraughts, shipwrecks, sweat shops, assassinations, bad-acid rain, balcony collapses, nor’westers, squalls, squalor, errant schools of squid, pyramid schemes, colic, cholera, panic attacks, STD’s, riptides, rip offs, Ripple, rotgut, rents-run-riot, AIDS, ague, catarrh mudslides, dueling publishers, hail, gas leaks, rats, sunspots, sinkholes, ozone depletion, road rage, cell-phone frenzy, margin calls, meteorites, tons of dead anchovies, intermittent drivel and fetid fog.

All kinds of disasters — but nary a flood.

Well, maybe just the flood of tourists.

Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. He may be reached

at bellsf@sirius.com