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  • Writer's pictureNelson Sigelman

Mooring Is No day at the Beach

Vineyard Haven Harbor on a calm August afternoon is a very busy place.

A boat owner on Martha’s Vineyard needs patience to find a mooring in one of the Island’s coveted harbor locations. It also helps to have actuarial luck — those ahead of you on the waitlist die before you do.

There are stories of parents adding the names of a newborn children to a town mooring list. And why not when the wait for a prime spot can encompass a time span from birth to college graduation — with a masters.

“The inner harbor list is about twenty five years long,” Charlie Blair, longtime Edgartown harbormaster, says.

A mooring is a convenience for small boat owners who wish to avoid one of the Island’s few public launch ramp where boaters of varying trailering skills launch boats — and on occasion, the vehicle and the boat together. Further up the boat food chain a mooring is a necessity for the owners of boats with utility-wire-snagging masts and T-tops.

Massachusetts law provides harbormasters with the authority to issue mooring permits. Their apportionment has landed some towns in legal hot water. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) described the issues in a report dated March 2011, “Assignment of Moorings to Private Businesses in Newbury, Massachusetts.”

The report states: “Boat moorings in public waters should be available to all of the public on a fair and equal basis. Vacancies in boat moorings under the control of private entities, even when covered by permits issued by local harbormasters, should not be left to the unfettered discretion of private businesses. This kind of power cannot be left in the hands of individuals who do not represent the interests of the public at large … The Legislature wisely recognized that municipal waters are to be held in trust for the benefit of all the people.”

Edgartown is the Island’s most popular boating destination and hosts the most boaters. Charlie Blair says Edgartown permits 1,000 moorings spread out across various town water bodies. Of those, the town owns 100 that visitors may rent on a daily basis.

As with real estate, location equals desirability. Unlike the inner harbor, Blair said there is no wait for a mooring in Sengekontacket Pond. “Eel Pond is about five to seven years, Katama is about seven to ten years,” he says.

Mr. Blair says wait times are all relative. “You don’t know what’s going to happen because if there’s a recession the first thing to go is the yachts.”

A $20 payment maintains a name on the waitlist. Mr. Blair says the town is not adding moorings. “Somebody’s got to give up to get,” he says.

He says the town sends out invoices every two years for the waitlist. “That takes care of the dead people.”

Asked about what he knows about people adding the names of children to the mooring wait list, Mr. Blair laughed and says, “I know that they pay me $20 every two years.”

Chilmark permits 200 moorings, most of which are located in Quitsa, says outgoing harbormaster Dennis Jason, who retired this spring. The wait is about “seven to ten years.”

With space at a premium it is not surprising that a mooring would be the subject of a custody battle in a divorce. “So we had to go to town counsel and we had to make a decision on that,” Jason says. “ … We try to keep everything — at least in my seventeen years — as straight and orderly as we can and every year there’s some kind of glitch that comes up that we have to go back to town counsel to remedy.”

John Crocker, Tisbury harbormaster, says he permits 775 moorings across the inner and outer harbor, Lagoon and Tashmoo. The town controls about 60, some of which the town leases out to transient boaters.

Crocker says there is a wait “for everything” but no constant. He highlighted the variable. “When you assign a mooring, you don’t really assign the person, you assign the boat. And the boat has to be appropriate for the swing room or the size of the tackle, or whatever the issues happen to be.”

Crocker estimates the waitlist for Tashmoo is about five years. He says it is the same everywhere along the coast. “There is way more demand than there is supply.”

Crocker says he fields constant requests from people who say they have just bought a boat and need a mooring. And then there is Ted Box.

Since 2011, Crocker and the Island watched as Box built the 70-foot wooden scow The Seeker in a vacant lot off Beach Road in Vineyard Haven owned by Ernie Boch. Up against a deadline, he moved the boatbuilding project to a lot down the road owned by Ralph Packer, owner of R.M. Packer Co, and a supporter of Mr. Box’s dream project. Finally, well behind schedule, after seven years and with much fanfare and some anxiety, last year on July 14 The Seeker slid into Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Crocker says, “So finally Ted launches the boat and he brings it over to Packer’s pier and it sits there for several days and I get a phone call from him. ‘I need a mooring.’”

“He built it for seven years. On Beach Road and never figured it was going to go somewhere. I told him I couldn’t help him. And he yelled at me! I’m supposed to do stuff like that,” Crocker says, still incredulous at the thought. “Can you imagine building a boat right there on the harbor and never thinking where it’s going to go?”

The Seeker was moved to a mooring Mr. Packer owns in Tashmoo.

An edited version of this story previously appeared in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine (March 2019, Pity the Yachtsman).

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