BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Ryck Lydecker

The Megayachts Are Coming

Observers say that the West Coast, long avoided by the big boats, is seeing an influx of megayacht activity and preparing the infrastructure development that helps boaters large and small.

Photo of megayachts at Paradise Village MarinaPhoto: Paradise Village Marina

The West Coast's challenge to attracting megayacht traffic has always been that it is not the Caribbean. Long distances between destinations mean more fuel, time, and wear on the vessels, and the weather can be a challenge as it ranges from tropical to frigid. Additionally, there have been few facilities to support megayachts and little incentive to build them, since many in the U.S. believed the "left coast" was just not the kind of place megayachts liked to go.

"Twenty percent of the owners of these yachts have property along the West Coast but their boats aren't here," says Kate Pearson, president of the San Diego Superyacht Association (SDSA) and dockmaster at the Shelter Island Marina in San Diego. "But that's changing as the value of what comes with these boats is recognized."

According to the U.S. Superyacht Association, there are 4,400 megayachts (vessels over 80 feet long) worldwide, and 21 percent of them were built in the U.S. The 2012 Global Impact Study by The Superyacht Group estimates these big boats are a $56-billion-dollar industry worldwide because with megayachts comes boating infrastructure. Like most boats, they need dockage, fuel, repair services, provisioning opportunities, and experienced crew. The build-out translates to more than just enormous Travelifts. The benefits megayachts leave in their wake can help cruisers on much smaller boats and include enhanced waterfront facilities with restaurants, hotels, and attractions, accessible fuel docks, and experienced local personnel whether you need an electrician, machinist, or a captain to move your boat for the season.

Recently, the presence of the big boats is being felt more on the West Coast. "We estimate that 100-120 large yachts transit through the San Diego area annually and eighty percent of them are foreign flagged so that is new money in the economy," says Pearson. A 165-foot megyacht, for example, will have an approximate annual budget of $4.75 million and that money is spent wherever the boat goes.

Another plus of increased megayacht traffic is the movement toward simplified and centralized international check-in/out procedures. Mexico's paperwork challenges has been streamlined with easier port-clearance procedures for all boaters. Canada is working toward the same goal. "We're looking to provide boaters with the same experience regardless of where they go in British Columbia," says Donny Mekilok, one of the founders of Yacht BC, a group of Canadian marine industry professionals who have been working to standardize Canadian customs rules.

Recently, a big draw to the West has been the America's Cup in 2013. Much of San Francisco's waterfront is getting a facelift in preparation for the event and it's exactly the kind of activity that will draw a megayacht crowd. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the harbor is busy creating berths for 40 megayachts and the support network that comes with them.

Green Winners

Photo: Onne Van Der Wal

Boaters are getting more environmentally savvy every day, it seems, and the winners of the West Marine "Green Product of the Year" award are further proof that manufacturers recognize a growing "green streak" in their customers. Two innovative manufacturers shared the $10,000 prize for the first copper-free, water-based antifouling bottom paint on the market and a fuel valve that prevents outboard engine flooding that can occur when using portable tanks that conform to new EPA regulations.

On January 1, 2011, air-quality regulations required portable-tank manufacturers to meet a "zero emissions" policy, meaning fuel systems — tank, hose, primer bulb, engine connections — had to be pressurized, much as modern automotive fuel systems. But a pressurized system, as opposed to the old "open system" that let gasoline vapor vent into surrounding air, could also force unneeded fuel into the engine, which could lead to engine flooding and wasted fuel. To solve the problem, Attwood Corporation designed a valve that goes in the hose, between tank and primer bulb, to prevent fuel from flowing unless there's demand from the engine. The Attwood Fuel Demand Valve is available individually, to splice into an existing hose, or as part of a complete EPA-compliant assembly. It fits any brand of tank manufactured to conform to the regulation and can be installed in the top of a below-deck tank.

Winning innovation below the waterline took the form of CFA Eco, billed as the first copper-free antifouling paint to combine two organic biocides with water-based solvents. Instead of copper to kill marine growth, CFA Eco uses pharmaceutical-grade Econea to control hard growth like barnacles, and Zinc Omadine to retard slime build-up. The result is an ablative antifouling paint, meaning that as the boat is used, fresh biocide is released. In addition, innovative resin technology replaces commonly used chemical solvents in CFA Eco, giving the paint extremely low VOC — volatile organic compound — content coupled with water cleanup and convenience.

West Marine, the nation's largest boating supplies retailer, announced the winning products in February at the Miami International Boat Show. The panel of nine judges included BoatUS President Margaret Podlich.

Everyone Loves A Lobster Dinner, Even Lobsters!

In the lobster's southern habitats, like Long Island Sound, the delicacy is in such short supply that lobstermen have been forced to abandon their trade. Scientists have been pointing the finger at warming water temperatures, and supporting that claim, the crustaceans are thriving in the colder waters farther north, so much so that there may be too many, for the lobstermen and for the lobsters. Lobsters were so prevalent in Maine last year, some boats stopped going out because prices dropped so low. On the other hand, fish known to prey on lobster — cod, mainly — are in short supply in those waters. That led University of Maine scientists to see if any other predators might be munching on the state's best-known delicacy. There were, just not what they expected. With cameras underwater and using tethered 1- to 2-year-old lobster as bait, they found that crabs were the culprits during the day. But at night, big lobsters scarfed down the little lobsters every time. In one case, a larger lobster was chased off by an even bigger one — and then dined on the youngster. While lobster cannibalism has been documented in tanks and traps, this was the first proof that wild lobsters eat their own.

Safe Harbor, At Last

Boaters in the small Michigan town of Grand Marais had reason to rejoice in December as a harbor breakwater, decades in the making, was finally completed. Designated a "Harbor of Refuge" by the federal government, Grand Marais has served mariners as shelter from the wind and waves of Lake Superior since the late 1800s. In 1943, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped maintaining the protective breakwall and Grand Marais residents had petitioned for funds to fix it ever since. The unprotected harbor, about 40 miles from the spot where Lake Superior swallowed the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, filled with sand.

Photo of the Grand Marais breakwall is finally completedThe Grand Marais breakwater is finally completed. (Photo: Edward and Karla Bowen)

In the end, about $5 million came from the state, with Grand Marais' Burt Township kicking in around $200,000. But $40,000 came from winning a Reader's Digest "We Hear You America" contest for small towns in 2010.ÊThe Corps of Engineers made up the rest of the $7 million needed. Burt Township supervisor Jack Hubbard probably put it best for all residents when he said, "It has been a long hard battle to save this harbor. The community has tried for five decades and I have over six years of my life in this project. You can not imagine what it is like to stand on the shore and look at the structure."

Big Ships Getting Nose Jobs

The world's largest containership owner, Danish-flagged Maersk Line, is starting to replace bulbous bows on its ships with a new hull design to cut fuel costs. Adopted for merchant ships some 30 years ago to reduce power requirements, the bulbous bow is found on many classes of vessel today, even on recreational powerboats as small as 47 feet.

Robots Row The Pacific

Robots have made it to Australia, by sea. Looking like solar-powered surfboards, the four Wave Gliders that set out from San Francisco in November 2011 also get power from wave action. After a record-breaking 9,000-mile ocean odyssey to Hawaii, the group split up. Two of the autonomous robots headed to Australia, and two made the longer trip to Japan.

Photo of a autonomous amphibianPhoto: Liquid Robotics

The first autonomous amphibian to make its destination, called Papa Mau after the Micronesian navigator, arrived in Sydney last December. Benjamin (for Benjamin Franklin) arrived in Australia on Valentine's Day, while Piccard Maru and Fontaine Maru (named for oceanographer Jacques Piccard and early oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, respectively) at last report are still voyaging to Japan.

But this is no pleasure cruise. The Wave Gliders earn their keep by transmitting wind and water data to scientists. About 150 Wave Gliders, first made in 2009, are in use for a variety of purposes, from oil and gas exploration to science and oceanography. Equipped with a number of sensors, they can cruise where scientists can't. One Wave Glider transmitted weather data from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and another follows great white sharks for a scientist in California.

Mystic Seaport's Lucky Ship

After a five-year, $8 million restoration, Mystic Seaport's "crown jewel," the Charles W. Morgan, will be relaunched on July 21, the 172nd anniversary of her original launch. The restoration has not only given the ship a new lease on life, but will also let her put to sea again for the first time in almost a century. Early in 2014, she will embark on a ceremonial voyage to historic ports on the Eastern Seaboard. Connecticut state legislators have designated the 2013-14 academic year to be the "Year of the Charles W. Morgan" so a whole new generation will have the chance to learn about history from her.

By all rights, the Charles W. Morgan shouldn't even be here. America's only remaining wooden whaling ship was not built to last forever. She was built to efficiently harvest whale oil from the world's oceans, a chancy occupation that routinely took the lives of both ships and men. And the Morgan has had more than her share of close calls. Built in 1841 at the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the height of the whaling era, she made 37 voyages over 80 years. Her logbooks blandly report many hair-raising adventures, but none as dangerous as when she battled for her life in a cyclone near Fiji in 1850.

Photo of the Charles W. MorganThe Charles W. Morgan made 37 voyages over 80 years. (Photo: Mystic Seaport)

By 1921, steam-powered factory ships were replacing the last of the sailing whale ships, and she was mothballed. While she was lying abandoned in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, the steamer Sankaty caught fire and came down on her. The Morgan was saved by the heroic Fairhaven Fire Department only to face the threat of being broken up not too long after. Colonel Edward H.R. Green, grandson of the ship's second owner, rescued her, and created Whaling Enshrined, Inc., to refurbish and preserve her. She was exhibited at Green's South Dartmouth estate until 1941 when the funding to maintain her ran out. Once again under threat of being broken up, she found a new home at the very last minute and ended up on the waterfront at Mystic Seaport, a living maritime museum with the resources and skills to keep her afloat.

Even lucky ships cannot escape the ravages of time. She underwent several major restorations between 1953 and 1974, and was rebuilt from the waterline up between 1981 and 1984. By 2008 most of the hull below the waterline needed to be replaced.

The Morgan was moved to the Museum's Henry DuPont Preservation Shipyard, and the Mystic shipwrights set to work renewing the vessel's structure below the waterline, most of which hadn't been worked on or even seen since she was built over 170 years ago. The Charles W. Morgan has had at least as many lives as a cat. And that has given more than 20 million people the opportunity to walk the decks of a whale ship and experience history firsthand. For more, information go to,

Coast Pilot Gets Update

The venerable U.S. Coast Pilot got a digital update last year. NOAA's detailed bulletins for navigators, which trace their origins to written accounts of ancient mariners traveling to distant ports, made their first appearance as the United States Coast Pilot in 1888. Until September 2012, boaters had to get updates to the nine-volume annual books via the Coast Guard's Local Notice to Mariners. Now new information will be rolled into the existing books on a weekly basis, available for free download from NOAA's website and as bound copies through print-on-demand sellers. NOAA will still print the bound, annual volumes, but it touts the new digital versions as more timely and efficient, and as substantial improvements for navigational safety.

New Habitat For Lakes' Largest Fish

Did you know the Great Lakes are home to a giant species of fish that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs? Lake sturgeon can live up to 100 years and grow to over eight feet long, but these freshwater giants haven't proven immune to the effects of human activity in more recent times. Habitat degradation and over-harvesting in the late 19th century and much of the 20th century led to lake sturgeon being listed as a threatened species in 1976.

Photo of fishermen and big sturgeon they caughtThese fishermen's smiles are almost as big as the sturgeon they caught. (Photo: Michigan Sea Gran)

But partner agencies from around the Great Lakes region, including Michigan Sea Grant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are hoping to change that. They teamed up over the summer of 2012 to restore about an acre of habitat in Michigan's St. Clair River by constructing rocky reefs to enhance fish reproduction and rebuild native fish populations. A total of nine reefs, each approximately 120 feet long, 40 feet wide and about 2 feet high, were made of loosely piled limestone and fieldstone rocks.

Surprisingly, even before construction was complete, researchers observed sturgeon swimming around the reefs, and found eggs in the structure. Jennifer Read, project lead from Michigan Sea Grant, says, "We were very excited to see sturgeon using the reefs even while they were under construction, which is good evidence that the reefs will contribute to enhanced populations over time." Several additional species, including others that are endangered or threatened, may also eventually benefit from the project. "We're also looking forward to verification that other native species use the site — lake whitefish, northern madtom, and possibly walleye — to confirm that these reefs will benefit multiple species in the St. Clair River," said Read.

Screening Suncreens

There are a lot of sunscreens out there, and many claim protection they don't really provide. Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health organization, has put together a free iPhone app that rates the best and worst sunscreen choices, compares the effectiveness, and lists ingredients in 1,800 sun protection products. Search EWG Sunscreen Buyer in your App store.  

— Published: April/May 2013

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