April 13, 2010

A Sailor's Best Friend?


How long can you look at the jet skier in the photo without thinking evil thoughts?

If you’re a typical sailor, I’d guess about two seconds. Nothing seems to make a sailor’s blood boil quicker than an approaching jet ski.

Would you think I’m nuts for suggesting that sailors should try to befriend jet skiers and other power boaters? Or even that it’s crucial that we do so?

Tillerman recently posted on Flat Wakes and Blessed Quiet - the prospect of a future without jet skis and powerboats as fuel costs rise.

As much as that may seem like a godsend to most sailors, a future with no powerboats may not be the blissful paradise we imagine.

Sure, a world without powerboats seems like a great idea - no infernal noise, no smelly exhaust fumes, and for once you could keep on some boatspeed as you coax your way home in two knots of breeze. (Why do those idiots always seek us out, power by close, and then smile and wave at us as they knock the wind out of our sails?)

But what happens when they have to sell the Bayliner for lack of liquid assets to keep it in liquid assets?

What happens when there are no longer any lines at the launch ramp?

Will those dudes go out and buy Lasers? Or Lighnings? Or windsurf boards? Or Beneteaus and Catalinas?

Maybe a few will, but most won't, I think, left to their own devices. I think they'll be gone from the waterways, and along with them will go a major constituency with an interest in maintaining access to the water. The city councils and county boards of supervisors, and state legislatures will be quick to notice.

And so will the developers hungry to get their grubby hands on waterfront property - taxable waterfront property, in the eyes of local government.

State and local politicos are under more pressure today than ever before to cut costs and wring money out of their taxbase. State parks are already closing across the country for lack of funds. If a public launch ramp or marina that used to generate revenue no longer does, its days could well be numbered.

So, as sailors, don’t we have a vested interest in keeping those stinkpotters interested in boating? Maybe instead of wishing them ‘good riddance’, now is the time to be doing everything we can to show them the joys of sailing.

Many years ago, when environmentalists were just beginning their struggles to find political support for their causes, help came from a most unlikely group – hunters and fishermen – the dudes who were out to bag the animals ecologists were trying to protect.

But it turned out that most hunters and fishermen were more than willing to observe quotas that would preserve the critters they were after. And they also saw the necessity to protect the habitat that those animals called home. The environmentalists, in turn, needed the political clout that only numbers can muster to take on the timber companies, industrial polluters, and commercial interests with whom they had to do battle. So both animal hunters and animal protectors were able to cooperate to preserve something they both valued.

Frogma has just posted on a major open hearing in New York where the public was invited to present to city planners ideas for how waterway access could best be shared. What stands out in her summary is just how many groups and interests want in - swimmers, recreation groups, boaters of every description, commercial watermen, and all sorts of business people - even people who say, "No water access for anyone until you fix our potholes!"

I think it's a bit naive to think that if the powerboats go away, we sailors will be left to enjoy the water in peace. We'll need all the help we can get to hold onto the access we now have.

This may be the perfect day to ask a jet skier to go sailing.



  1. Great point. Of course there's also the counter-example where people who use boats with engines actually took away water access from sailors. It's a complicated issue, for sure.

  2. Wow. Good morning & thank you very much. I was actually disappointed that my friend Brian left before they called him to speak - he & Karen & my curmudgeonly friend Dennis G Moonstruck are really the ones who made me realize that us kayakers really have it quite good these days & that for non-rich folks with larger boats (motor and sail), access points are still few & far between. There were a couple of others who spoke to that issue but there isn't anywhere near the vocality from the larger boat set as you get with the human-powered boaters - and that's really too bad, for all the reasons you give.

    And I know at least one couple who sold their much-loved old ketch, because they lost their dock space at the same time as I lost my Manhattan kayak storage & left for Brooklyn. All the alternatives were either too expensive or too far away - so au revoir to the Laissez-Faire. :(

    Bigger recreational boats of the harbors, unite & be heard!

  3. Oops, rereading this, one might infer that I imply Tillerman is one of the naive ones. I meant only that one might come away from his post with naive inferences that he did not imply.

    Bonnie, I think one of the reasons there are more open slips in the Berkeley Marina now must be that slip rates have almost doubled in the five years we've been here.There's still the maddening assumption on the part of many civic planners that all boat owners must be rich (Berkeley is a municipal marina whose rates are set by the city council).

    The folks with really huge boats probably won't be affected too much. The truly wealthy seem always to be able to afford their toys. The only boat builders who are doing well today are the ones who make megayachts.

    It's the smaller boats that are getting squeezed out. And today, even a 30-footer is considered small in many circles.

  4. No offence taken. Actually I am quite naive on this issue of actual and potential loss of water access. In spite of being a former member of one sailing club who has since effectively lost its access (see link in my first comment), and having been the commodore of another sailing club who had to (successfully) argue against a municipal initiative which would have effectively cut off that club from access to its water, it's not something I usually worry much about.

    I guess that we Laser sailors always assume there will be somewhere local where we can find water access. As Bonnie said, the issue may be more acute for "non-rich folks with larger boats" who can't just push off from any old beach like we Laser sailors and kayakers.

  5. Tillerman, I'd love to hear about that successful resolution if you ever felt like writing about it!

  6. Thanks for the suggestion bonnie. I was thinking that story might make a good post. Commodore Tillerman Thwarts Evil Plan To Kill Sailing Club? Actually it was nothing like as heroic as that but it still might make a good tale one day.

  7. Bonnie - where are your favorite access point in brooklyn? I'm moving there soon and would love to know!

  8. O Docker - In my excitement about finding my own water access I forgot to say that I COMPLETELY agree with you.

    We need to make sure that there are low-cost and abundant sailing options for our *new* friends, who would otherwise turn to moisture-free leisure activities.

  9. We also need to educate other boaters on etiquette and safety issues; for example, why those darn sailboats are zigzagging around and why it might not be a good idea for kayakers to paddle directly in front of the start of a keelboat race (yes, it happened; the kayakers were novices who were friends of a couple of sailors in the regatta).

  10. If you all remember my Capt. Puffy Eats Crow, it was three power boaters who came to our rescue. True event, with only minimal embellishment. Even still, I relish the days when I don't have to contend with the wakes and inconsiderate behavior of some. I agree that our few numbers will be little heard if power boaters ever become extinct. Hope your job is a little less stressful these days as well.

  11. Oh my! No wonder the Cedar Point Yacht Club folks were so nice when I paddled up to their committee boat before a race & asked if I could take some pictures & where the best place for me to park to do that was!

    I have of course seen some kayak silliness (and jet ski, motorboat, sailboat, ferry & yup, even tug & barge unit silliness) in NY Harbor. But that's good.

    Jack - depends what sort of access you're after & what part of Brooklyn you're going to be in (it's a big borough!). Naturally I'd start with my club, Sebago Canoe Club - we're called "canoe club" but we have sea kayakers, racing kayakers, rowers & dinghy sailors too. Nice crew - I honestly always thought I'd make a hopeless club member but Sebago is a good place. Beyond that, check out the New York City Watertrail - one of the main reasons I say us kayakers have it good in New York City. There's a lot of traffic & the currents are strong & can be tricky for the uninitiated (like in some places in the area, high water & low water aren't slack, quite to the contrary, those coincide with the strongest currents) so it's a good idea to start out with one of the clubs - there's a fairly complete list over on my blog, last set in the blogroll section.

    If you're more interested in a larger boat, my friends Brian & Karen (linked in my first comment) might be able to steer you better!

  12. oooh...actually I can beat kayakers paddling out in front of the starting line of a keelboat race.

    I can't remember who was telling me about this but they had me absolutely howling with laughter telling me a story about a small group of kayakers who were puttering about on the Hudson one morning, not noticing that the annual NY Harbor Tugboat Race was about to start & they were on the course!!!!

    Of course it was only funny because everything came out OK - they had actually chosen a spot near the finish line to putter about, and the spectators were finally able to get their attention in enough time for them to move their teeny weeny butts to another part of the river.

  13. Public access. Paid for by the public. Need I say more?
    We don't need no stinking motors!

  14. Michael, I hope it didn't sound like I was making a case for powerboats.

    What I'm saying is that as powerboaters give up their boats, we should try to keep them interested in some kind of boating - sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, or rowing.

    For the most part, they are the 'public' who are paying for the public access we now enjoy. If they stop contributing their boat registration fees, use fees, and property taxes on slips, I worry that public access would eventually be turned into rows of waterfront condos.

    Here are some figures I've found for the numbers of registered boats, under 26 feet, in California for the year 2000 (couldn't quickly find anything more recent)

    Powerboats - 605,000
    Jetskis - 175,000
    Sailboats - 43,000
    Hand Pwrd - 15,000

    If powerboaters just go away, I think the rest of us will have a much harder time holding the attention of the politicos who control the public purse strings.

  15. As recreational users of public waterways, we are all, at least figuratively, in the same boat. We who sail and/or paddle have many of the same interests as fisherpersons, jet-skiers, water-skiers, drag boat racers, hunters, and other recreational boaters. We all want the water to be clean, we all want to be safe, and we all want to have fun.

    We have more in common than we have differences. We need to get together and pressure government officials to give us the things we all want.

  16. As resources (such as oil) deplete, lo que quiera que sea, será - what will be shall be. I won't miss the noise and wakes of "jet skis" but will miss having the availability of such to come to our rescue on lake Hinuma - as when we capsized last year and the yacht club owner came out on one and towed Bluesette back to the dock.

    I'm happy to deal with whatever the current conditions dictate. No matter what, I will alsways hate noise, stink, water pollution, etc. and at the same time appreciate help. No contradiction there.

    So? What was the question again?

    WV: gemart - where one goes to buy light bulbs, nuclear weapons, etc.

  17. One other fact I might add is that fishermen actually subsidize a lot of the facilities that we all use. Hunting and fishing equipment is subject to a tax that goes to subsidize boat ramps and other boating facilities on public waterways.

    If you go to the megamart, you can buy a tool box in the hardware section, or you can buy exactly the same box as a tackle box in the sporting goods section. The tackle box costs more because the federal tax is included in the price.

    (Verification word: hazzwi -- a dangerous video game console?)

  18. One of the little surprises we discovered when we first got our boat came from the county assessor's office. Besides having to pay property tax on the boat, we also get a separate bill for the property tax on our slip, even though we're just renting the slip from a public marina.

    I guess I should be thankful they don't tax us for parking in the marina parking lot.

  19. Parking space tax. Excellent suggestion! Thanks for the tip. We'll get right to work on it.

  20. I'm still stuck on the photo. Power boats may be wasteful...some of them are gratuitously so...but jet skis are asshole magnets, plain and simple. And the combination of jet skis and the people they attract is almost always offensive. Years ago Sports Illustrated wrote that it was a tossup as to which was considered less desirable by sportspeople: explosive diarrhea or jet skis. I preferred this (forgot where I first read it but have read it several times: 95% of jetskiers spoil it for the other 5%.

    I've encountered two responsible and courteous jetskiers on the water over the years, and about eighty of the other kind.

  21. Some minds you can never change. Some buttheads will always be so.

    But, I think that shouldn't keep us from trying.

    And any day we keep a jet skier off his mount is not counted against our time allotted here on earth.

  22. Peconic: Explosive Diarrhea ALWAYS
    feels good when it's over and done with. Jet skis ALWAYS suck. And, how tacky is it that they had to come up with PWC, like it's a PC way of saying jet ski.

  23. Swimming coney to brighton, one will always encounter jetskiers, and the swimmers will get mad and curse and wave them away, and they get closer to taunt.

    So, I said a friendly hello once, and the fellow kept trailing me, telling he liked my bikini, trying to strike up a conversation every breath on my every third stroke. So, uh, I can't say they're unfriendly anymore...

    But they do suck. And, when the sun is in their eyes, I know they do not see us.

  24. So maybe we sailors have been going about this all wrong.

    Maybe we should wear bikinis.

  25. There's nothing that makes you feel comfortable in the water like some doofus on a jetski. The sound, the smell, the prospect of being run over.

  26. Oh, good heavens, Bowsprite, that sounds like the same a-hole who once rode his jetski RIGHT THROUGH a tour I was leading, hitting on every single woman in the group.

    Singularly unnattractive fellow, too, but even if he'd been a dead ringer for Harrison Ford, the behavior would've rendered him repulsive.

  27. Epiphanous moment.

    There'll always be a Jersey
    and she surely will not trouble you
    unless you take the turnpike
    all the way to 18W

    Wow, I must get a life.

  28. O Docker -- I recall that each county tax assessor in Cali seems to have a slightly different policy on how to torment boat owners.

    Maybe yours is a jet skier.