Florida Anchoring Survey Explores Restrictions

Having cruised Florida waters off and on for almost 30 years I have seen many anchoring restrictions come and go. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is once again on a crusade to come up with some sort of new restrictions, due to the prodding of influential people behind the scenes.  

Sadly, these laws are being pushed by a few well-connected land and business owners who want to chase away anchored boaters, whether legitimate or not. Virtually every problem cited in the survey is adequately covered by existing laws and regulations already on the books. There is very little, if any, documented evidence of widespread problems of the sort listed in the survey. Where is the evidence that anchored boats are causing signficant damage to waterfront property or docks? Where is the evidence that boaters are routinely blocking access to marinas and other waterfront facilities? Where is the evidence that if these things occur law enforcement does not have the tools to deal with them? The answer is there is none, other than hearsay testimony from anonymous sources.

And, all of these isolated issues are covered by existing laws. It is not a lack of laws that is the problem, but lack of commonsense enforcement when needed.

Take the anti-anchoring survey!

The proposed regulations have all sorts of problems with them. Here’s one. The 150-foot setback rule presumes that your entire swinging circle lies 150 feet away from docks or marine infrastructure. That means you could be anchored almost 300 feet from shore to windward of you and still be in violation of the law, because if the wind switched to come from the other direction your stern could swing within 150 feet of shore, no matter how unlikely that wind shift is. But, what if I then dropped a second anchor to avoid swinging anywhere near shore? I bet it would hold up in a maritime court, but try explaining that to a local police patrol boat. And, how would they determine this measurement of your swinging circle? Another option in the above scenario would simply be to pull in a few feet of scope making me 152 feet from the object. That would technically be not a violation. The 150-foot rule sounds good to landlubbers, but in practice it would be a nightmare. 

Florida Anchoring Wars Resume

Once again there is a big push in Florida to restrict the anchoring rights of boaters. The latest trial balloon contains the ominous suggestion to outlaw anchoring within 300 feet of waterfront property, which would essentially prevent anchoring along much of the Intracoastal Waterway. You can read more about that crazy idea here and here.

The excuse that this is only to prevent derelict vessels from clogging the waterways is being floated as usual, and as usual it is just a smokescreen. The real reasons these silly laws keep coming back to haunt us are many, but they mostly begin with a few influential and wealthy property owners and business owners complaining. The average Florida citizen doesn't live on the water and believes it is for the public to share, as is written into the Florida Constitution.

Unfortunately, there are some who believe they should be able to control the public water within their view, even though they don't own it. There are also some communities that thought forcing boaters to pay for moorings would be a money maker, though most have been sadly mistaken. The mooring business is not lucrative, particularly when it is run by a municipal government with high overheads in staffing, benefits, and bureaucracy. It is a little known fact that the Marathon mooring field is only kept going by infusions of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funding from other sources. And, that is one of the largest, best run, and most popular fields in Florida. The city has tried to force more boaters onto moorings by charging just as much to dinghy ashore as to rent a mooring. I wonder how many people, like myself, who prefer to anchor now simply go elsewhere?

Other communities are finding that running a mooring field isn't the easy cash cow they envisioned. A boat broke loose from a mooring in St. Augustine recently, and it appears it was due to a failure of some mooring component. This type of problem will grow as mooring gear ages and more boats stress the gear during bad weather.

To compound this problem of failing moorings, cities in Florida require boat owners to sign documents that absolve the city of all liability. You might want to ask your insurance company what they think of you signing such an agreement, while at the same time putting your boat on a mooring you can't inspect. You will have no way of knowing what shape it is in, unlike your own anchor gear that gets inspected every time you haul anchor.

Anchoring has been and always will be an essential part of boating, and for many of us it is a skill and pleasure that makes boating special. Frankly, one of the main things I like to do on a boat is go some place and anchor. What's next? Are they going to outlaw sailing?

See All is Lost

Finally I had a chance to see All is Lost, and I highly recommend it to any sailor. Usually sailing scenes in movies are brief interludes between other action, and often the scene is so faked it is a jarring reminder the filmmakers know nothing about sailing.

This film is different. Yes, there are many technical mistakes and unrealistic moments, but this is one of the few films I have seen that captures the feeling and mood of being offshore while dealing with difficult situations. I applaud Hollywood for taking a chance on making a film that stars one actor, and has very little dialog, no sex, and not a single gun fight!

The premise of the movie and the opening scene is one of the best parts. Spoiler alert--if you haven't seen the movie, stop reading! It all begins with Redford waking up in the V-berth after the boat has come to a grinding halt. Water sluices over the cabin soul as he rushes on deck to see the corner of a floating container piercing the side of the hull. Eventually, in a clever bit of seamanship, Redford ties a small parachute sea anchor to the container, which then pulls the container away from his boat. He starts sailing away, but then thinks better of it, tacks, and sails right back onto the container so he can retrieve his sea anchor.

That scene had me hooked right there--somebody obviously knew something about offshore sailing! A miracle. OK, there were things to quibble about. Most of us wouldn't be sleeping in the V-berth offshore, I would have been out of the hatch like a shot compared to Redford, and I think my first instinct would have been to sheet in the sails hard to heel the boat away from the container and maybe sail her off and then be on the starboard tack to keep the hole above water. Minor stuff, but still I bet every sailor that sees the movie will have their own thoughts throughout about what would have been the best thing to do.

In fact, that's one of the best parts of the movie. It really gets you thinking about how to prepare for, and then overcome the types of emergencies Redford encounters. He and the movie do a good job on some things and a bad job depicting some others. Fixing the hole in the hull with West System epoxy and fiberglass = good. Trying to wash out electronics with freshwater and then dry them = good. Struggling forward in the middle of a blow to rig a storm jib and falling overboard = bad. Getting rolled over and over in what looks like a summer thundersquall = bad. The various nonsense that leads up to the boat sinking, which apparently has little to do with the damage from the container = bad.

But, again the movie makers manage to capture interesting little vignettes of what it is like offshore that make this more than an action flick. A sudden rain squall has Redford climbing out on deck in order to rinse some of the salt off his skin. The sequence of dragging the liferaft on deck, salvaging what he can from the sinking sailboat, then casting himself adrift as his boat dives under the surface is all very well done. The passing of brilliantly lit ships in the night so close they look enormous was just as I remember it. The difficulty of being seen by a huge ship, even as they pass so close is accurate. The feeling of peering and straining to see a vague shape on the horizon is brilliant. Also, once in the raft, the various techniques used and equipment he does and doesn't have is all quite realistic.

The ending is harder for me. Frankly, it is unclear exactly what is happening. Is he saved at the last moment in a miraculous way that is too Hollywood to believe, or are we seeing the last flickerings of his thoughts as he drowns? I'm curious as to how the script describes the scene and if Redford has weighed in on what is happening. Can't wait to find out.