Not in My Backyard
June 30, 2005
It always comes as a surprise to learn that we're not welcome. How could nice people like us be unwanted? We figure we make pretty good neighbours; we don't make a lot of noise late at night, we never litter, and we don't chase neighbourhood pets and small children around with a stick. David tends to tell excessively long stories to anyone within earshot, but, hey, nobody is perfect. So why do some people greet us as if we were just released on day parole after serving time for mass murder? The problem is we live on a boat. At least in the minds of some folks, the fact that we don't live in a house puts us in the same category as the guy who finds shelter in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. They don't want us moving into their neighbourhood, not even temporarily.
Now just in case you think we're a little paranoid -- perhaps suffering from some sort of persecution complex -- we've travelled from one side of the continent to the other over the past couple of weeks and discovered we're not welcome on either coast. Let's start with Florida, where we just hauled our boat. Apparently, Floridians like boats. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Florida far outstrips all other states in expenditures on new power boats, outboard motors, boat trailers, and accessories. Last year, Floridians spent $1.7 billion on these items, over 50% more than second place California. But just try finding a place to park your boat in Florida; the resounding response seems to be, "not in my backyard!"
Back in April, we received an urgent e-mail from Richard Blackford, vice president of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA). He told us that the mayor and city commissioners of Miami Beach had unanimously passed a bill prohibiting anchoring within their city limits for periods longer than 72 hours. This restriction would be hard felt by Bahamas-bound boaters since Miami Beach is one of the most popular staging points for crossing the Gulf Stream; during the winter, it's not unusual for cruisers to wait there for several days, sometimes weeks, for a weather window to cross over. Richard was appealing to everyone who had a stake in the issue to make their views known to the powers-to-be before the bill became law at a second public reading in May.
Apparently, local businesses that benefit from serving the cruising community had not been consulted about the pending ordinance. According to Richard, "The reason most often cited by the eight or so residents who spoke in favor of the restriction was the visual intrusion associated with vessels anchored near their expensive waterfront homes. Also cited were theft, trespass, and pollution. Dr. Morris Sunshine, Chairman of the Miami Beach Marine Authority, an advisory group on marine matters, testified before the Commissioners that the Commander of the Miami Beach Marine Patrol was questioned by the Authority and could not cite a single case of theft attributable to the cruising community."
We weren't surprised to learn that the good citizens of Miami Beach were planning to roll up the welcome mat for visiting boaters. Starting with Vero Beach in 1988, an increasing number of Florida municipalities have enacted complete or partial anchoring bans (see our June 13, 2002 entry "Paying to Park"). What set Miami Beach apart from the other jurisdictions is the fact the city had no plans to provide an alternative. Cities like Vero Beach and Stuart, while restricting anchoring, have established mooring fields and shoreside services for transient boaters (for a price, mind you).
The last minute pleas of SSCA members and members of BoatUS, as well as representations from major marine industry groups like NMMA and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, appear to have had an impact on the final decision of the Miami Beach legislators. The ordinance that was passed last month extends the anchoring limit to seven days and allows for a number of exceptions. Our friend Richard is not entirely pleased, however. In the latest SSCA bulletin, he stated, "The situation in Miami Beach is still not optimum. The City will grudgingly establish a mooring field, but the Commissioners and many residents think cruising sailors add little to their community."
They don't seem to be alone. Even in some of the Florida municipalities that allow unrestricted anchoring, cruisers face obstacles. In St. Augustine, Marathon, and Key West, you're allowed to anchor your boat, but you're charged a fee to land your dinghy. This makes absolutely no sense to us. The main reason we go ashore is to spend money -- in supermarkets, marine stores, restaurants, bars, Internet cafes, you name it. La Belle on the Okeechobee Waterway has figured this out. We spent a "free" night at its town dock a little while ago and promptly dropped a bundle in the local hardware store, supermarket, and Chinese restaurant. If only more Florida municipalities had this same sense of enlightened self-interest.
Now let's move to the west coast. After we left our boat on the hard in Florida, we flew to the Pacific northwest to attend David's nephew's wedding. In the week we were languishing on the continent's left side, we decided to check out the opportunities for long term liveaboard dockage. For years we've been mulling over the vague idea of moving the boat and ourselves to that part of the world, but beyond maintaining our name on the waiting list for a liveaboard slip at the Heather civic marina in Vancouver, we haven't taken any action (see our August 29, 2002 entry, "Going Home"). Eileen said, "If we're seriously entertaining the prospect of eventually moving out here, we should do more homework."
Searching online, checking the yellow pages, and perusing local boating guides yielded a list of about two dozen marinas in our target area. We started phoning to determine whether any liveaboard slips were available. After the first few calls, we discovered that admitting you're a liveaboard tended to elicit the same response as announcing you have an infectious fatal disease. After several terse negative replies, we had narrowed our list to a couple of marinas in the immediate Vancouver area and a small handful along the south-central portion of Vancouver Island. We hit the road in a rental car to check out the possibilities.
None of the marinas we visited had any liveaboard spaces immediately available; in fact, most had waiting lists of several years. We left our names at a few places, but had the distinct impression that the odds of landing a spot were the same as if we had signed up for the next manned moon shot. A couple of the marina operators were brutally honest. The owner at Cowichan Bay advised, "We have a few liveaboards now, but we don't plan to take any more in the future. They're just too much trouble. We have to worry about sewage disposal and if any of the residents have disputes with each other, I'm brought in to be the mediator. I don't intend to be the mayor of a floating city."
Sewage seems to be a big problem for west coast liveaboards. Unlike most of the rest of North America, holding tanks or MSDs are not yet a legal requirement for pleasure craft in British Columbia and pump-out stations are rare. Most municipalities understandably don't like the idea of a concentration of liveaboard boats pumping waste directly into their local harbour, even if those waters aren't all that pristine to begin with. Westbay Marine Village in Victoria is one of the few marinas that has gone to the expense of installing pipes on their docks to collect boat waste. Perhaps due to this investment in infrastructure, Westbay was the only marina we visited that had plans to expand the number of liveaboard slips it had available. It had a long waiting list. Ironically, Victoria is one of the only major cities in Canada, if not North America, that has no sewage treatment facilities; each day over 120 million litres of raw sewage are pumped into local waters. Presumably, the waste that Westbay so carefully collects from its docks, after a few detours, still ends up untreated in Victoria harbour.
We ended our marina tour back at Vancouver's Heather civic marina. It has a total of 27 liveaboard slips, 11 in our size category. We've been on their waiting list since 1996. Manager Brian Ferguson cheerfully told us, "Hey, don't give up, there are only a couple of names ahead of you on the list." He did admit, however, that the turnover rate is virtually zero and that he didn't know of anyone with plans to leave. When we asked him why there weren't more liveaboard spaces being developed at Heather or at other marinas in the area given the obvious demand, he said, "There's a big demand for dock space period. We've got waiting lists for all of our slips, not just the liveaboard ones."
As you would expect, the market realities of high demand and limited supply are reflected in the prices charged for liveaboard slips. At Heather marina, the monthly per foot rate for liveaboard spaces is higher than for non-liveaboard dockage, plus there's a flat $28.35 monthly liveaboard surcharge and an annual $1388 liveaboard license fee assessed by the city. Across the harbour from Heather, a new waterfront redevelopment project recently sold out all of its "dockominium" units for around $220,000 each (based on a 28 year lease). The salesman told Eileen, "We're planning a second phase and expect the slips to go for $250,000 to $260,000."
"We'll be in touch," Eileen lied.
And that's the real crunch facing boaters in BC, Florida, and elsewhere in North America: there just isn't enough space to accommodate all of the boats that are out there on the water. James Frye, executive director of the Association of Marine Industries, told an audience at the Newport boat show last fall that, "There's a crisis in many parts of the country where there are not enough marinas for the number of boats being bought. More facilities are leaving the market than are being replaced."
Anyone who has priced waterfront real estate lately appreciates why low intensity land uses like marinas and boatyards are endangered species. The Florida cruising and liveaboard community suffered a major blow last year when a popular marina in Titusville was slated for redevelopment as condominiums. Just last week an article in the local press reported on rumours that Marathon Marina and Boatyard, one of the largest marine complexes in the Florida Keys, had been sold. Given the fact that luxury residential developments in the area are selling out at prices exceeding $750 per square foot, the article didn't offer much hope that the property would remain as a working marina.
For liveaboard cruisers like ourselves, the combination of anchoring bans, disappearing dock facilities, and anti-liveaboard sentiments doesn't bode well. Does anyone out there have some spare water in their backyard?