I first noticed Lt. Mark Long, Orange County's harbormaster, while attending a Harbor Commission meeting at the end of 2009. He had just arrived in town and his photo had been in the press.
Long was in his street clothes.
"This guy gets it," was the first thing that came to mind. He was reaching out to the community and dressing like his customers. I hadn't realized it before, but it is a lot easier for me to approach and talk to a person dressed like myself than walk up to someone wearing a uniform, gun, radio and bulletproof vest.
I later saw Long at another harbor meeting and at different yacht club functions around town. By mid-summer he was sailing in the beer can races.
It also appeared that the county's Marine Operations had stepped it up by a notch or a few. Sheriff's deputies seemed to be doing more training exercises, such as boat crash simulations with the local lifeguards and fire departments, jumping out of helicopters with dive gear on and participating more with border protection and anti-terrorist agencies.
Lt. Long, who has been with the Sheriff's Department for 25 years, is quickly becoming one of our best harbormasters. We are all very lucky to have him.
Here's my interview with him:
Q: How do you feel about only receiving No. 94 in The Daily Pilot's 103 list? If it was up to me I would have a least put you in the top five.
A: I'm just honored to make the list.
Q: I noticed a new sea wall has been put in along with some new slips at the Harbor Department. How will these slips be used? Will there also be a new pump out station?
A: The slips will continue to be used as before: as rentals for visiting boaters. The pump-out station will be restored in its original location
Q: At first glance, in this new year of 2011, what appears to be your biggest task?
A: Continue to improve relationships and increase services with reduced budgets.
Q: With all the budget cuts you are facing, is there one item you feel a harbor user will miss the most?
A: We will continue to provide the highest possible service regardless with existing staffing levels.
Q: Can you think of one thing that a harbor user can do to make your job easier?
A: Yes. Be mindful of other users in the harbor. Not everybody is a professional boater. The harbor is shared by sailors, powerboaters, commercial operators, recreational boaters, renters, stand-up paddlers, kayakers, swimmers and others vying for limited space. Some are expert seamen; others are first-time boaters. Heightened awareness and courtesy to others will ensure a safe and enjoyable harbor for all users. Secondly, particularly if you plan on leaving the relatively safe confines of the harbor, prepare for some of the perils that occur in the open ocean. Make sure you have life preservers, food, extra water, an operable VHF radio and a cell phone. Buy commercial assistance insurance and a GPS locator.
Q: Is there a service the Harbor Department provides that the average boater should use more?
A: Boating safety classes are held periodically at the Harbor Patrol office. Novice boaters should take advantage of this and other educational opportunities throughout the harbor.
Q: The harbor is being used by more groups each day. Is there a meeting where the yacht clubs, NAC, schools' rowing and sailing teams, charter boat owners, electric boat rental companies all come together and discuss their concerns?
A: The Harbor Patrol facility has an excellent meeting room that can easily accommodate groups of up to 56 to 60 persons. Harbor stakeholders are welcome to use our facility for any harbor related meetings.
Q: You have gotten a lot done in a very short period of time. Any particular item you are most proud of?
A: There are a couple of things that come to mind. First, we have been awarded more than $1 million in grant funding by the Department of Homeland Security. With this money we have established a Maritime Unified Command that brings together federal and local law enforcement agencies to combat terrorist threats on our coastline. The success of our MUC has been recognized nationwide as a model of cooperation, communication and inter-operability between federal and local law enforcement agencies, and a standard for future operational agreements.
Secondly, I'm very pleased that the county and the city [of Newport Beach] were able to agree to a five-year renewal of the mooring contract. The contract allows for a continuation of the Sheriff's Department to manage the transient moorings. I believe our 24-hour service, proximity to the harbor entrance and law enforcement presence on the water is the best combination of valued services for visiting boaters, boat owners, live-aboards and residents. The selection process, along with the associated community meetings, had the added benefit of strengthening our relationship with the city and opening lines of communication with Harbor Resources and many of the yacht clubs and boating groups in the harbor.
Q. We heard there has been a rash of recent burglaries on boats in Newport Harbor. It reads as if boat owners are leaving access to their boats in obvious locations. Can you comment on what the thieves have been targeting and pass along any advice?
A: Boats should be treated no different than houses or cars. Lock them when you leave and don't leave valuables easily accessible to others. If you have something very valuable on your boat that is easily removable, take it with you and secure it elsewhere. The goal is to provide less of an enticement to criminals. Most importantly, keep an eye out for suspicious activity. Citizens are our best sources of information. If you see something that doesn't look right, either call us, if it is on the water, or the city of Newport Beach Police Department.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.