OUR WATERWAYS Ground-Bound Boats in Florida Bays Require Government Priority By Harmon Heed In the late afternoon of December 18, three more anchored boats blew aground in quiet Sarasota Bay. At the time, the Mote Marine Aquarium, near New Pass, registered winds of 25 knots. On the Beaufort scale, that’s a moderate breeze. One boat, a Pearson 25, was pushed up on the rocks in the nape of the bay by the city’s “Walk of Art,” just across Bay Front Drive from Sarasota’s posh, high-rise, condo row. The boat had no engine, no rudder, its furled jib was torn and tattered, and wouldn’t last long in 25-knot winds. It was properly registered until 10/2010. Another boat was blown onto a shoal farther south by Selby Gardens, Sarasota’s beautiful botanical conservatory. The boat had no main, its furled jib decayed beyond use. From the look of its fouled prop and exhaust outlet, the internal engine had not been run in years. Its registration expired last October. The third boat, which looks like a Cal 20, was run up on an old oyster bed near the Hudson Bayou outlet, infamous for its high arsenic content. That boat had no sails, not even a mast, no rudder and no engine. This writer didn’t want to walk out that far, through the soft, contaminated, alluvial muck, to see if the orange permit sticker on the boat was
This Pearson 25 has been on the rocks for weeks at Sarasota’s Bay Front Blvd. Photo by Harmon Heed.
current. In a matter of a few days the tides and winds stuck the boat’s keel in the bay bottom, and the decrepit hull stood upright, out of the water, mounted like a piece of sculpture up on the “Walk of Art.” It’s almost like a middle finger of defiance from the bay’s boat owners to the art lovers, horticulturists, wealthy condo dwellers, high tax paying tourists, snowbirds and citizens of the city. Why are boats like these allowed to anchor in public water in a way that they can blow aground in moderate breezes? The city of Sarasota, in its herky-jerky fashion, has been working on that question for over 25 years, at least since a mooring field was first proposed in 1985. The city has passed many laws, which, if enforced, would probably have ended the problem long ago (Sarasota City Code 10-50). Those laws give the police the authority to tag, tow and destroy derelict boats and/or boats that are a danger to the public. The laws also give the boat owners time and recourse to show that their boats are not derelict or dangerous or to move and repair their boats if they are. There are also Florida laws that allow state law enforcement officers, such as Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wardens, to tag boats as derelict and/or dangerous (Florida Statute Chapter 327). Funds for the removal of such boats are available to the city from the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND), a combine of the four counties of Charlotte, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota, which has an annual tax-derived budget of $2-million. The city of Sarasota receives a grant of approximately $42,500 a year from the WCIND to remove and destroy derelict boats. Tax-paid funds are also available to counties from the Florida Boat Improvement Program (FBIP). According to the Sarasota police, it costs about $1,000 to tag, tow and destroy a boat under 30 feet without an inboard engine. Simple math shows Sarasota should be able to, at no cost to the city, rid its scenic bay of 40 derelict boats a year, or 40 percent of the boats anchored in the bay, if they are derelict. Why isn’t it being done? For many reasons. First, the city’s priority on policing the bay is very low. There are 175 sworn police officers in the city, but only one officer exclusively assigned to the marine section. When officer Ken Goebel is on leave or in training, his duties are assumed, See OUR WATERWAYS continued on page 34