SHASTA LAKE, Calif. — It was sundown and Dale Rose, his gun in his holster, was cruising along at 35 m.p.h. on Shasta Lake behind the wheel of the 19-foot Marlin jet boat, its nose rearing high out of the water.
"We're like cops on a beat, patrolling a lake with more water than San Francisco Bay, a lake with 370 miles of shoreline," shouted Rose, a tall, husky, 43-year-old ninth-grade math teacher, over the roar of the motor and the constant pounding of the boat against wind-whipped white caps.
This is Rose's 10th summer as a deputy with the Shasta County Sheriff's Boating Safety Unit on Northern California's Shasta Lake. During the rest of the year, he teaches at Nova School in Redding. Previously, he spent 10 years as a Navy pilot flying P-3 Orions on anti-submarine warfare patrols with two tours in Vietnam.
Seven Patrol Boats
Seventeen deputies operate seven patrol boats on Shasta Lake around the clock, from May through September, working boat accidents, drownings, assisting boaters in trouble, arresting drunk drivers on the lake, investigating burglaries and homicides, and checking for boat regulation violations such as a lack of life jackets or fire extinguishers.
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service has seven boats--its largest fleet of boats in America--serving island and shoreline campgrounds, providing fire and resource protection.
On busy weekends and holidays, as many as 3,500 fishing, pleasure and ski boats are on the lake, as well as more than 900 houseboats.
"We're the Coast Guard of Shasta Lake as well as county law enforcement officers," said Lt. Ron Richardson, 38, in charge of the Boating Safety Unit. Richardson started as a summer deputy in 1973 and has been a regular deputy stationed on the lake year-round since 1978.
Three regular deputies head up the lake patrol, search and rescue and dive posse at Shasta Lake: Richardson, David Dean, 28, and Pat Sandbloom, 31. The 14 other deputies are seasonal, eight working April through September, and Rose and five others from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
This summer there have been three drownings in the lake, two from boats, one a man who leaped to his death from the towering Interstate 5 bridge. Deputies recovered two of the bodies. The leaper's body has yet to be found.
Deputies came to the aid of 30 injured boaters, including a 27-year-old woman who slammed into a houseboat while hanging from a parachute being towed by a boat. Half a dozen water skiers were cut up by propellers when they ran into tow boats. Others were injured when boats collided or when they were involved in a variety of other accidents.
Deputies towed broken-down boats into the lake's 14 marinas. They rescued boaters who ran aground in remote areas without roads along the shoreline, on islands or on obstacles such as treetops and old bridges usually under water but breaking the surface because of low water in the lake this year.
Three schoolteachers turned seasonal deputies have been working the night shift all summer patrolling Shasta Lake in the 19-foot jet boats. They are Frank DeWald, 43, who has spent 13 summers on the lake as a deputy and who teaches, counsels and is football coach at Nova School, Ken Edwards, 47, an elementary school teacher at North Cow Creek School, and Dale Rose.
'It Can Get Hairy'
"Some of the fellas would rather not be on the lake at night. It can get hairy. We memorize the lake and cruise with caution after dark, especially with the water down so low and things like trees, bridge tops and newly formed islands sticking out of the lake," DeWald said.
It was a glorious clear, bright, moonlit night on the lake, dominated by 14,162-foot Mt. Shasta. The Interstate 5 bridge, surrounding mountains and setting sun were reflected in DeWald's dark glasses at sunset as the patrol boat passed several houseboats and water skiers.
Tony O'Dell, 21, working as a deputy the last two summers, returning from patrolling the McCloud River arm of the lake, pulled his jet boat alongside and announced: "I just got word. I have been accepted as a cadet at the CHP Academy." He said he was sure his work as a summer deputy on the lake helped a great deal.
Charley Caldwell, 51, and Jim Higgens, 50, two retired Forest Service rangers, are deputies on the lake. Tim Kralick, 46, who recently retired after 20 years as a Washington police motorcycle officer on presidential and visiting dignitary escorts, is a summer deputy. The summer deputies are paid $10 an hour.
Haven for Wildlife
Jerry Rather, 39, ranger with the Forest Service since 1965, heads up the Forest Service fleet on Shasta Lake. The Forest Service maintains campgrounds on three islands--Ski, Slaughter House and Rend--as well as campgrounds along the shoreline.
Rather pointed out one of the 13 bald eagle nests along the shore from his patrol boat and noted a number of ospreys flying over the lake. Shasta Lake is a prime feature of the Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area.
The largest boat in the Forest Service fleet is a converted 50-foot landing craft that hauls supplies to campsites and garbage away from them. The boat is used to ferry fire trucks and firefighters across the lake when blazes break out in inaccessible areas.
"Somehow we get involved in just about everything and anything that can happen while out here patrolling Shasta Lake," said DeWald after the end of a busy eight-hour stint on the water.