Blue-and-whites on the big blue
Their aluminum boat has two 385 horsepower engines, night sight that can see a half-mile in the dark, radar and a global positioning system.
With that much power their boat hits speeds in excess of 50 mph and can get across the lake in 10 minutes. Not bad for a sheriff’s boat.
El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department has had its patrol boat, which is worth more than $100,000, about four years. Before they got this vessel, they used a less durable fiberglass powerboat.
But forget the machinery. What’s more impressive are the two men who have lasted a combined 19 years patrolling the waters of Lake Tahoe.
Deputies Don Stabenow, 63, and Elmer Cleveland, 63, love their office – beautiful Lake Tahoe – but still say it’s time to quit. Stabenow has spent 12 summers on boat patrol and plans to step down Aug. 12. Cleveland has spent seven and expects to retire Sept. 11.
Both have already retired from other careers in law enforcement. Cleveland worked 27 years at El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department earning the rank of sergeant. Stabenow spent 17 years as a California Highway Patrol officer and two years working at Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“People come half way around the world to see this place and here we are giving it up,” Stabenow said. “It’s beautiful. For 12 years this is where I spent my summers. I’ve enjoyed my 12 years. It’s much different than working the road. We know a lot of these people.”
Stabenow said their duties mostly involve enforcing boater safety laws and conducting search and rescue missions.
Both those jobs are difficult, especially on Lake Tahoe. It’s a large, cold, deep Alpine lake at a high altitude and it can take someone’s life in the blink of an eye.
“People need to be aware of Lake Tahoe,” Cleveland said. “It’s not a normal lake. It can go to hell in a handbasket in a hurry. I can’t believe how vicious the lake can get. It’s like an ocean out there.”
A week on the water can mean helping to coordinate a high-angle rope rescue from cliffs at D.L. Bliss State Park, towing the Tahoe Queen from a windy spot at Camp Richardson or being a water ambulance for someone shredded by a propeller.
If all is calm, it can turn into a public relations-type job. On such days, watchful eyes and waves of hello suffice as their patrol boat cruises the county shoreline from Tahoe Keys to Sugar Pine Point Park, about 17 miles.
Despite the beauty of the water they patrol, like the crystal clear pocket of water offshore at D.L. Bliss or the Bermuda-like waters back in the trees at Meeks Bay, Stabenow and Cleveland will now search for new pastures that are just as green.
“I’ll probably go to western Canada and Alaska and spend a couple of months in the winter in Hawaii,” Stabenow said. “Maybe do some photography.”
Cleveland plans to head in a similar direction in search of quality salmon.
“I’ll travel to some northern states,” Cleveland said, “I want to do it while my wife and I are still healthy.”
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