By Ann Powers
For the TODAY
According to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness, “You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine.”
For commercial Dungeness crabber Kelly Laviolette, those answers lie in seafood rather than citrus.
“It’s crab therapy,” said the veteran seaman. “That’s what it is for me. It’s always been crab therapy. I’m always looking for the answers to life.”
Who knew crustaceans could be so spiritual? Not me… until recently. Kelly took me on my first crabbing trip not too long ago off the majestic shores of Nehalem Bay. Since then, I’ve come to understand how one could easily swap out a Zenergy Chime for a crab ring.
While in the boat with the seasoned crabber, I learned he and his wife have been helping people create happy memories for the past nine years via their business, Kelly’s Brighton Marina, located on Highway 101 just north of Rockaway Beach. Before that, they did the same working at Jetty Fishery Marina & RV Park just down the road.
Kelly grew up at Jetty Fishery after his parents bought the place and moved the family there from Utah in 1979. His dad died a couple of years ago and his mom, Shirley, recently sold the Jetty Fishery to Kelly’s little brother, Damien. It’s about as family-owned-and-operated and mom-and-pop as it gets.
“I’ve got 40 years of crab stories,” Kelly said. “I love it when people are bonding and forming relationships. That’s what crabbing, and life, is all about. It makes me feel like I got this never-ending infinite type of life source.”
On any given day, you’ll find Kelly and his crew delighting in showing folks how to catch the critters, cook them, eat them, enjoy a cold one by the marina’s firepit overlooking the bay, make new friends, enjoy Mother Nature — basically have a really good time.
Kelly’s Brighton Marina offers boat rentals and all the gear and bait you’ll need for your angling adventure. If you’re not a boat person, you can reel ‘em in from the dock. Got your own boat? That’s cool too. Kelly will let you moor it at his dock during your visit.
There’s also camping with waterfront RV sites, tent camping, showers, access to running water restrooms, free internet, electricity and water hookups. And there’s a convenience store onsite stocked with bait, tackle, snacks, beer and other beverages, ice, marine-grade gas and more. Vacationers can’t seem to get enough of the laid-back, Jimmy Buffet-esque set up.
“You get to sit on these amazing chairs, next to a bonfire, eat crab and drink beer,” said Charlene Gilliam, who traveled from Arkansas with her husband, David, to spend some time at Kelly’s. “Does it get better than that?”
No, according to Kelly’s mom Shirley. Now retired, the matriarch of the Laviolette crew seems have been the impetus behind the everything-fun vibe emanating from both the Brighton and Jetty maritime operations.
For example, Shirley launched the marinas’ initial Derby Days events about 15 years ago with a bang by getting a local doctor to donate a vasectomy as one of the crabbing contest prizes.
“I just said (to the doctor), Hmmmm… how about a vasectomy instead of a gall bladder operation?” she recalled. “Derby Days got to be really, really big. I kid you not. We didn’t have enough parking space or volunteers. It really put Nehalem on the map.”
So much so, the David Letterman and Howard Stern shows called to interview the Laviolettes about the somewhat unusual, if not unique, award for catching a crab.
“I guess they just thought it was one of the weirdest things,” Shirley said. “The third year the doctor (donated) a mammogram, so he was covering all the bases.”
While neither procedure is offered as a prize these days, Derby Days is still going at both marinas every summer as a benefit for the Rockaway Beach Lions Club and the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.
Kelly’s wife, Janice, married into the family business 31 years ago. While she says she has never been a boat person, and hints that working for your in-laws can pose certain challenges, she readily admits she wouldn’t trade the happy chaos for anything.
“Between the family dynamic, our customers and the nature of the business, it was a reality show before reality shows were in existence,” she said. “We get to see people at their happiest, when they’re on vacation, and we get to be part of a family’s memories. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but we’re very lucky to be doing what we’re doing.”
A big part of the Laviolette family is the staff. Kelly and Janice gush about past and present crews that are as close to them as kin. And they treat them like one of their own, before sending them out into the word.
“They’re part of what makes this whole thing magical,” Kelly said. “My wife and I are part of this great work experience for young people as a building block and they get to go on and participate in the life game.”
Yep. I got all of this from a boat ride, a delicious crab lunch on the dock and a seat at the firepit. Kelly’s Brighton Marina is way more than just a little crab place. It’s a place where life happens, and if you pay attention, many of life’s answers can be found.
Before I departed, Kelly left me with a few more pearls…
“I use my boats more than people use their cars and I try not to take that for granted,” he said. “They’re all just going to work to get that money thing. So many people are missing out on the little answers to life. Just live life every day. Boy, before you know it — shoulda, coulda woulda.”