Profile Written By: Carol M. Bareuther, RD
Fuel is the lifeblood of offshore sport fishermen and recreational boaters. At St. Thomas' 135-slip American Yacht Harbor Marina, the friendly face that's always there, either on the fuel dock or ready with in-slip fueling is Gary Hodge. Hodge is a 20 plus-year AYH employee that many captains and crews have come to rely on for everything from fuel to answers to questions about St. Thomas and the Red Hook community. Hodge is always ready with a quick smile and a helpful response.
Born in St. Thomas, Hodge moved with his family to Anguilla when he was just a toddler. There, he enjoyed fishing with his uncle and cousins off the docks and watching the local boat races for which Anguilla is famous. He moved back to St. Thomas at age 14, attended junior high school and got a part time job at the Frigate East restaurant as a dishwasher. He graduated from Eudora Kea High School, in Red Hook, a year early by doubling up on his classes. After a short vacation to St. Maarten, he was back and ready to job hunt.
"I got the job offer from Capt. Red Bailey to mate for him on the Abigail III," Hodge explains. "In fact, he asked me two or three times, but I didn't have my sea legs yet and wasn't comfortable with the idea. I really respect Capt. Red and we've been good friends ever since."
Hodge's closest friend in high school tipped him off to a job pumping gas at the AYH-owned then ESSO station, which was located south of where Tap and Still sits today. The year was 1987. Hodge applied and got the job. Three years later, after the birth of his first son, Jamoi, Hodge headed up to Atlanta, Georgia, to see what job opportunities where available. A year later, two fateful events occurred. First, the prospects didn't pan out for Hodge in Atlanta and he was headed back to St. Thomas. Second, long-time friend Esso station manager Earl Hart, had retired but had been asked to come back to work because a replacement couldn't be found. Hart who was eager to retire, saw the makings if a fine manager in Hodge, and the employment for Hodge was sealed in 1991.
"I've worked in a managerial position with the fuel systems at AYH ever since," says Hodge.
In this position, Hodge has met a lot of fishermen and has been an integral part of the sport fishing community.
"I met Capt. Billy Borer in 1989. He was running the El Zorro at the time," recalls Hodge. "The El Zorro was docked at AHY right after the Hurricane Hugo and it supplied fuel for our generator in the aftermath of the storm. I remember working two months straight after the storm."
Another fishermen that Hodge met, and is still good friends with today, is Stewart Loveland, who owns Red Hook's tackle shop, Neptune Fishing Supplies. Around the same time, he also met fisherman and friend Harry Clinton, long time member of the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club.
"I remember Stewart bringing over bags of ice for me and my family after Hugo," he says. "Harry was working with the Red Cross after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 and he worked out of an office here at AYH. One day he brought me a bale of blankets and a case of lamps. I took what I needed for my family and shared the rest with others who were in need. Everyone looks out for one another here, it's a tight knit community."
The fuel dock on the end of A-dock can handle boats up to 125 feet with a debth of up to 10 feet. Fuel products, including 93 Octane Premium gas and ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel, are available. In 2000, AYH added in-slip fueling.
"The boats have gotten bigger over the years and so has the need for fuel," Hodge explains. "Now they can stay put and get their fuel conveniently. We offer in-slip fueling for our customer's convenience, whether it's 2 gallons for a sailboat or 2000 gallons for a large sport fisherman."
Hodge says he pumps for the most fuel over the summer full moons when the fishing fleet is out in force marlin hunting.
"Between the moons the captains mainly come to me for oil. We offer them a service for waste oil disposal," he says.
Fuel hours run the same as the standard business day, but Hodge is happy to cater to customers after-hours.
"If someone calls me before 5 pm and tells me they'll be in around 6 or 6:30 pm and need fuel, I'll wait for them," he says. "Conversely, if I get a call in advance that someone needs fuel at 6 a.m. before heading out, I'll come in early. I've been here fueling as late as 1-1:30 am during the ABMT's "Boy Scout" Tournament."
What Hodge really enjoys is a connection to his customers.
"I know fishermen who haven't been here for five years that come back and are happy to see someone they know," he says.
"How's the family?" is a question that is always appreciated by Hodge. He and wife, Althea, are parents of two boys Jamoi and Jahban, and girls Janaya and Janeed.
What does Hodge like best about his job?
"Making people happy", he says. "A lot of guys pass through this marina. My co-workers and I like to make sure they are as comfortable as possible and enjoy themselves. If someone asks
a question that I don't know, I'll make it a point to find out and let them know."