BELFAST — Kathy Given has been the Belfast harbormaster for 27 years. During that time the harbor has undergone a wide variety of changes. Over the last 10 years boat traffic in Belfast has spiked dramatically. Long, busy days are the norm for Given and her summer crew. Despite the workload, hospitality remains top of mind, as evidenced by this story from sailor Andrew Bills of Troy, N.H.

Kathy Given (right) has been the Belfast Harbormaster for 27 years. Photo by Jim Leonard

Bills is an avid sailor. Bills has been sailing the coast of New England for nearly 50 years. His current vessel, Red, is a 23-foot sloop that Bills lives on for much of the summer. Earlier this summer, Bills drifted into Belfast Harbor for a day to connect with a former student. When he docked his boat, he connected but found so much more.

“I sail a small sailboat, not a yacht,” Bills said, “and it is difficult sometimes to get treated fairly.”

Bills’ interaction with Given changed the course of his voyage.

“I found Kathy to be very capable,” Bills said. “(Given) not only treated me fairly but was very professional. As a result of the hospitality, I called my wife in New Hampshire, and she drove up to meet me and spend a few days in Belfast.”

Professionalism and hospitality are just a few of the services provided by Given and crew.

“We run a marina facility,” Given said. “For a municipality to have that is pretty special because you can take care of the public better and also it’s a source of revenue.”

Given, Deputy Harbormaster Brian Freel and a crew of three to four manage the entire harbor from marina to mooring fields. They understand that in many cases, they represent the welcoming committee for Belfast.

Colter Thibedeau (left) helps Dick Benson of St. Johns NB clean his boat. Photo by Jim Leonard

“Most people have their entire expendable income tied up in their boat,” Given said. “The little bit that you can help them out means a lot to them. I try to teach the crew that. We want to make them feel welcome and to spend money up town. It’s a win-win.”

With her degree in forestry and wildlife management, one might wonder how Given found her way to the ocean.

“I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts,” Given said. “We used to come to South Harpswell in the summer and I’d make my way down to the marina. I just knew it’s where I wanted to be, beside the water.

After a five-year stint at Belfast Boat Yard, Given took the Belfast Harbormaster’s post in 1995. At that point Belfast Harbor was very different.

“The poultry farms closed, and the harbor was nasty,” Given said. “There have been so many changes since then.”

The harbormaster position requires a thorough knowledge of state and federal laws, local codes and maritime law. Add to this the management of an ever-growing fleet of pleasure and commercial vessels.

“It can be tough trying to keep everybody happy,” Given said. “A lot of towns go through a lot of harbormasters. I feel fortunate to get along with everybody, and the town gives me discretion.”

Andrew Bills and his wife are buying what Given and her crew are selling at Belfast Marina.

“We went to many restaurants and cafes,” Bills said. “(We) found great food and shopped for goods. We enjoyed the harbor front and I found important gear I needed for my sailboat at local stores. Kudos to your harbormaster. Belfast is my new destination.”

Talk about a win-win.