Friday, September 07, 2012

The Harbor Report: Harbor is like a fine wine

This last Labor Day weekend I climbed aboard my 1983 Schwinn “Traveler” bicycle and set out on a different type of harbor cruise. Words that came to mind on this hot summer day, as I pedaled from Huntington Beach to Newport, were working waterfront facilities, holistic, accessibility, inclusive and enjoyment.

I thought back to when I first came down to the harbor in 1975 to sail the Hobie 16 my father had just purchased from Fletcher Olson at Hobie Newport. We launched the boat off of 18th street and I immediately immersed myself into sailing and our harbor. In Cannery Village  there where sailmakers, dock builders, canvas makers, marine machines, electricians, yacht brokers, new boat sales, marine instrumentation dealers and a marine documentation service. Lido Village and down the mariners mile, from Newport Blvd to Dover, was all full of working marine related waterfront facilities. This blend of the marine industry was the authentic attribute of our harbor and made for a special place to be a part of.

As I rode my bike from the boardwalk down next to City Hall and into Cannery Village I ran into an old friend and stopped and talked about how times have changed and how they and Schock Boats were the only marine related business left in the village. I continued my cruise and went through Newport Shipyard, Lido Village and then down Mariners Mile. What was left of the marine industry was maybe a hand full of yacht brokers, five to six new boat dealers with little to no inventory, two marine insurance company’s, one sailing club and a gondola service. Because it was the last weekend of summer there were many rental companies renting paddle boards, kayaks and electric boats which is always good to see. The large charter boat fleet has never been so active, but the true essence of our harbor was missing.

Guest slips at Billys

What happened, were did everyone go? We all know that the demand for waterfront property has skyrocketed, city codes have changed, and property owner’s best use of their land has cycled towards residential condominiums. The marine industry had to pack up and move onto the mesa or into the riverbed. My principal concern is preserving public access to the waterfront for tourist, locals, pleasure boats and commercial users. If we lose access to our harbor now we might not get it back for a 100 years?

How can this happen you might ask? What happens if more condominiums are built around our harbor, if tidelands permits become so expensive that marina owners remove their slips and shipyards close down. How long will these new residents put up with the noise levels of large charter boats, restaurants, shipyards, commercial users and pleasure boaters?

City leaders should take a step back, harbor users should get involved. Waterfront planning should be long-range, with wide range thinking from our whole harbor.  Our harbor should not be just about economic development or how much eelgrass we have. It should be like making a fine wine, year after year, that blends these elements together, preservers our history, culture, use and capture the essence of the special place that it is.
Good wine comes from time and not being rushed or forced into a bottle. It should be shared, enjoyed by everyone and improve with age. So, lets open a bottle together and let it breath and talk more about the cheese?

sea ya

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.

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