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Years ago now, I landed a “real” job chasing police cruisers and ambulances around on the overnight shift for a newspaper north of Boston, and so I had a modest, though steady, flow of cash coming my way. I’d recently moved from Newport, Rhode Island, where owning a boat seemed, well, complicated. And expensive. There were waiting lists for moorings, fees for this, yard billsfor that. And you had to pay for launch service just to get from here to there. It was no wonder, I thought, that people considered sailing to be a sport for only the well-heeled.
But then we found a one-bedroom cottage (OK, shack) in a small seaside community where a fellow could just go out and buy a mooring, a few feet of chain, and a float and, for the sum of $1 a year, own (or, more properly put, rent) a little part of the Atlantic in which he could park any boat he wanted. Want Advertiser in hand, I explained to my soon-to-be-wife how we almost couldn’t afford not to own a boat. Why, we’d spend more on gas in a summer driving to the lake where my family kept its dreadful little Tech dinghy, The Lollypop, than we would on a yacht of our own.
She bought it. And $1,200 later, we were the proud owners of a 24-foot Pennant sloop. We worked on the boat ourselves, sailed it all summer, and then, when a fall storm came dead at us, hauled it using a wooden cradle a lobsterman friend had spotted washed up on a beach near the harbor. For our $1 mooring fee, we were able to drag a pram up and down a ramp, and we had the use of a water spigot nearby. Other than that, when it came to services, we were pretty much on our own, and that suited us just fine.
Now I could go on and tell you about how much we learned from owning Leda, the many fine sails we had on her over the next four seasons, how we nearly lost the mast while partying with a boatload of friends after our honeymoon, and how we sat becalmed until late one evening and drifted back to the mooring just a few short hours before my wife went into labor with our first daughter.
But I won’t, because this isn’t that sort of sailing story. Rather, it’s a tale about how things change and how often those changes bring an ill wind to sailors. Within a couple of seasons, our town fathers, feeling a budget pinch, decided that we boaters were getting too good a ride, and so they raised our mooring fee from $1 a year to $2 a foot-not a lot, but the services, or lack thereof, remained the same. Next came higher storage fees for boats left on the town wharf over the winter, and then insurance requirements. Once again, things were getting complicated. And expensive.
I mention all this because up and down our waterways, fees are charged, taxes are raised, and restrictions are enacted that make it more and more expensive and difficult to own and enjoy a boat. In Florida, liveaboards are outlaws; in Rhode Island, holding-tank inspection fees are extorted; in California, good luck finding a place where you can work on a boat yourself.
The trouble is, we’re the minority. And because we enjoy charting our own courses, we often have a hard time joining together to make sure that we get our point across. Which is why it’s noteworthy that the Environmental Protection Agency recently decided to spend more time studying the potential damage that the addition of 5 percent more ethanol to our fuel would wreak on our gasoline engines. Various players in the marine industry worked hard to make this delay happen, and in unison, they succeeded. Perhaps now we should band together and go after those mooring fees.