Boat moor­ings all tied up

A black mar­ket for slips in Cal­i­for­nia means that boaters on of­fi­cial lists can wait decades while sales go on all around them.

Los Angeles Times - - California - By Ash­ley Pow­ers

Since pen­cil­ing his name onto a wait­ing list for a New­port Har­bor moor­ing in 1966, Louis Parker has wit­nessed eight pres­i­dents, four popes, two Iraq wars and the re­turn of Hal­ley’s comet.

“I knew if I held out long enough there would be one com­ing — some­one would die or there would be a plane crash,” said Parker, 84, who has no­ti­fied the Orange County Har­bor Pa­trol each time his ad­dress changed — from El Toro to River­side to Palm Desert and back to River­side.

Decades later, with his 18foot ski boat sold and the beach cot­tage where he stowed it a mere me­mory, Parker is still wait­ing.

“What’s five more years?” he said, when he’s al­ready slogged through 40.

Be­cause there are too few slots for the ves­sels cram­ming Cal­i­for­nia’s coast­line, a black mar­ket in moor­ings and dock space on pub­lic wa­ter­ways has stranded boaters up and down the coast on wait­ing lists thou­sands of sailors long.

The prob­lem of buy­ing ac­cess to slips in pub­lic mari­nas is so wide­spread that state boat­ing of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing a re­port for leg­is­la­tors on how mari­nas in Cal­i­for­nia han­dle the per­mit trans­fers.

Blame the ex­is­tence of the boot­leg mar­ket on peo­ple and ves­sels flood­ing the state dur­ing a time when Cal­i­for­nia has vir­tu­ally halted ma­rina con­struc­tion, and when har­bor ren­o­va­tions, in­clud­ing in Long Beach and Ma­rina del Rey, have re­sulted in fewer but larger slips.

“It’s a sup­ply-and-de­mand is­sue that cre­ates tremen­dous eco­nomic pres­sure to get around the wait­ing list,” said Mon­terey’s har­bor mas­ter Steve Scheiblauer. “When ev­ery berth is viewed as a po­ten­tial


[ sav­ings ac­count, the berth is never go­ing to trans­fer to the list.”

This month, the Orange County Grand Jury lam­basted New­port Har­bor’s sys­tem for the way it man­ages its 1,235 moor­ings.

Bro­kers have fos­tered sales in which boats and moor­ing per­mits are bought in tan­dem, al­low­ing buy­ers to side­step lengthy wait­ing lists and sell­ers to jack up prices for de­crepit craft.

“Those who are hon­est and pa­tient are get­ting jilted,” said Orange County Su­per­vi­sor John Moor­lach, whose dis­trict in­cludes New­port Har­bor.

The Santa Bar­bara County Grand Jury in 2001 dinged lo­cal har­bor au­thor­i­ties for es­sen­tially cre­at­ing “a private club on some of its most valu­able prop­erty” by al­low­ing a “demon­stra­bly un­fair” ar­range­ment sim­i­lar to that in New­port Har­bor.

The ma­rina is now phas­ing out its wait­ing list and switch­ing to a lot­tery sys­tem to dole out slip per­mits.

Even in Long Beach, Avalon, Sacra­mento and other mari­nas where boaters are typ­i­cally barred from trans­fer­ring their berths, the wait can span years or decades, ac­cord­ing to a draft of the state-com­mis­sioned re­port.

In Dana Point Har­bor’s East Basin, for ex­am­ple, boaters de­sir­ing the big­gest slips must pay the equiv­a­lent of a month’s rent — about $1,200 — and settle in for an es­ti­mated 14-year wait.

In the last three years, with the num­ber of slip ap­pli­cants in­creas­ing 50% to 1,200, more own­ers have tried to cash in by keep­ing their name on boat pa­pers, but es­sen­tially sell­ing the dock space to an­other boater, said Doug Whit­lock, gen­eral man­ager of Dana Point Ma­rina Co.

Like sub­leas­ing an apart­ment with­out telling the land- lord, the deals — sealed with hand­shakes and rarely re­flected in doc­u­ments — are tough for har­bor of­fi­cials to suss out.

“There’s so much pent-up de- mand . . . that boats are chang­ing hands and no one’s telling us,” said Mark San­doval, who man­ages Long Beach’s three mari­nas and more than 3,000 slips.

With boaters scram­bling for space, moor­ings — buoys to which boaters tie their ves­sels — have shed a rep­u­ta­tion as “sec­ond class cit­i­zens,” Orange County’s Grand Jury wrote. “The pres­tige of lo­cat­ing a boat on a moor­ing has in­creased along with its per­ceived value.”

In New­port Har­bor, a boater can’t sell only a moor­ing — that’s il­le­gal. But a boat and a moor­ing per­mit trans­fer can be cou­pled in a sin­gle sale for a far heftier profit than if the boat alone were sold. Hence, a re­cent on­line ad for a three-decade-old sail­boat read:

“Thirty foot sloop rigged, keel stepped sail­boat with 35 foot New­port Har­bor moor­ing for $22,400. Boat sold sep­a­rately for $14,900. Moor­ing will not be sold sep­a­rately.”

Such ro­bust price tags, some boaters com­plain, mean that only folks with deep pock­ets or a fam­ily moor­ing — passed down like an heir­loom — can have a spot on the bay.

“The av­er­age guy? For­get it,” said re­tired en­gi­neer Joe Ce­fali, 73, who has been an­tic­i­pat­ing an off­shore moor­ing in New­port Har­bor since May 23, 1969.

Soon af­ter that, Ce­fali, who lives in New­port Beach, joined the Bal­boa Yacht Club and now shells out sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars a month for a mem­ber­ship and 30-foot moor­ing — a far larger bill than for a har­bor buoy.

“In the time I’ve been sit­ting on this list, I’ve had three wives,” Ce­fali grum­bled.

New­port Beach, which man­ages most of the har­bor while the Sher­iff’s De­part­ment pa­trols it, has formed a com­mit­tee to look into its moor­ing poli­cies. The group is con­sid­er­ing whether the har­bor should tax moor­ing trans­fers and, to shut down the per­mit-trad­ing in­dus­try, for­bid bro­kers from bar­gain­ing for more than two trans­fers a year, ac­cord­ing to mem­ber Ge­orge Hylkema.

The group, how­ever, is not rec­om­mend­ing that the city ban per­mit trans­fers be­cause “there would be a storm of protest” from boaters who paid a pre­mium and ex­pect to re­coup it, said Hylkema, 71, who sits on the New­port Moor­ing Assn. board.

A re­tired boat-builder, Hylkema ac­quired a moor­ing and boat about two decades ago, promptly rid him­self of the ves­sel and re­placed it with his 36-foot wooden boat, Sead­ragon. “I didn’t want the orig­i­nal boat, I wanted the moor­ing,” he said.

Mean­while, wait-listed boaters lan­guished on blue note cards stored in three green shoe­box-sized con­tain­ers at the Har­bor Pa­trol of­fice. Ben Sch­mid joined the list on


[ June 27, 1966. He craved a shore moor­ing for his sail­boat, which at 8 feet was too tiny to even name. Sch­mid, 84, of Bal­boa Is­land, has for years had to drag the boat on a dolly and heave it over a sea­wall to reach the wa­ter.

“I prob­a­bly have an­other five years be­fore I for­get how to sail,” Sch­mid said.

Louis Parker’s re­quest for a shore moor­ing on Bal­boa Is­land has proven more com­plex. In 1975, he was of­fered moor­ing W-53, which was “too far, no good, kind of ugly and too hard to get to.”

He fig­ured an­other slot would open up. In 2005, he called the Har­bor Pa­trol and, his note card said, was “ad­vised that he is No. 1 on list.” He won’t delete his name be­cause he could be- queath the moor­ing to his son — and “I’m a bull­dog who’s will­ing to hang on by his teeth.”

Mean­while, the lists have swelled to thou­sands of boaters, in­clud­ing a hand­ful who op­ti­misti­cally signed up this year.

Re­becca Guess, 47, en­rolled for an off­shore moor­ing in Jan­uary, shortly af­ter she and her hus­band took sail­ing classes. Even though a boat pur­chase was years away, friends had prod­ded the Irvine cou­ple to start look­ing for a berth.

Guess was asked at the Har­bor Pa­trol of­fice whether she had a boat, and “I said no, but that if she called me, I’d go buy one.” She rea­soned that she has time. “I was told it could be as long as three or four years.”


Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

HOLD­ING OUT: Louis Parker, 84, of River­side, shown with a nau­ti­cal paint­ing at his home, ap­plied for a place to dock his boat in 1966 and, though he long ago sold the boat, is still wait­ing. “I’m a bull­dog who’s will­ing to hang on by his teeth,” he said.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

PA­TIENT: Bal­boa Is­land res­i­dent Ben Sch­mid, 84, has waited for a bay moor­ing for his lit­tle sail­boat since 1966. He’s re­signed to stor­ing the 8-foot Sabot in the al­ley next to his garage. “I prob­a­bly have an­other five years be­fore I for­get how to...

Don Kelsen Los An­ge­les Times

CROWDED: A look at Lido Is­land and New­port Bay in 2002 shows moor­ings filled with boats. Boat­ing of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing a re­port for leg­is­la­tors on how mari­nas han­dle moor­ing trans­fers.

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