Charting An Unknown Course
With the Town of Fort Myers Beach exploring a potential Bayside Park redesign, including the possibility of a building to partially house mooring field amenities including restroom, shower and laundry facilities, many residents have expressed questions about the term “mooring field,” and are unsure of exactly what it is or how it operates. The Town’s 70-ball Mooring Field begins east of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, with a portion of the Federal Channel between San Carlos and Estero Islands running through its middle to create the East & West Fields. The Island Sand Paper recently spoke with two of the mooring field’s first users, who continue to use it today.
Dave Richardson: “Live Aboard”
“I first moved to Fort Myers Beach in 1990 but now live on the Mooring Field and have since its inception around 15 years ago, not only as my home but for my charter sailing boat. I was on the Town’s original Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC) as its initial Chairman, so my Mooring Field experience goes from its start through today, where I am one of the few people designated as a “live aboard.”
“A mooring ball is simply a permanent anchor that does not provide any other benefits, like utilities. They allow you to even ride out hurricanes without your boat incurring much damage; the Town’s Mooring Field is a wonderful ‘Hurricane Hole’ to shelter your boat, as I have been here for six hurricanes and major tropical storms without any issues. The Town began the Mooring Field because boaters who originally anchored out here were irresponsible with their vessels as well as their behavior, so it was like ‘The Wild Wild West’ and in need of regulation!
“The reason I continue living in the Mooring Field is it is the last freedom left! It has the same feeling you get from a small college town, where everyone looks out for everybody else. It is pretty common that when one person goes to the grocery store, they ask their neighboring boats if they need any supplies and you end up making a run for others. People here come from all walks of life, from twenty-somethings to former engineers to corporate dropouts, hipsters and retirees, so it is quite an eclectic group and an impromptu cocktail party can break out at any time! For me, the best part of being a Mooring Field resident is leaving, then coming back, as I charter my boat almost every day. With the COVID-19 crisis, my girlfriend Miranda and I took off for about a month and just sailed around the East Coast, as there was nothing else to do, while most others were trapped inside their houses; my friends said unprintable things to us, relating that our coronavirus experience was much better than theirs!”
Tax Dollars & Fiefdom
“The Town does a great job in managing the Mooring Field, including the pump-out boat, and Harbormaster Austin is terrific, so it is a very welcoming place. Most Mooring Field boaters are short-timers, though there are a few permanent residents and I am one of those. The current upland provider is Matanzas Inn at 414 Crescent Street that provides us with restrooms, showers and laundry facilities, and they do a great job as well, as their current services seem adequate. I know the Town is exploring a new Mooring Field building at Bayside Park to provide expanded amenities like these, but I personally do not see the need; why build a million-dollar building for 30 people?
“I understand the beach is changing, but many people like me already have showers on-board their boats and the Harbour House right across from Bayside Park made an offer to have restrooms, showers and laundry there, so that new building seems like it might be an awful waste of taxpayer dollars. I know there is talk about the Town expanding the Mooring Field, but today, in early June, as I look out from my boat, I can see roughly 36 of the Mooring Field balls and there are boats at just 17, and it looks like this in the offseason every year, so I don’t see the need to expand the Mooring Field or construct the building.
“What really bothers me about the plan the Town is considering is that it is already into its second Bayside Park design including the building, but they have yet to ask anyone from the general public for their opinions, so where is the democracy? This is typical of government historically throughout time: in the 1500s, you had a small castle that was good enough, but you built a larger one anyhow, not out of necessity but to increase the fiefdom! To quote Ernest Benn: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy!”
Katherine Light, AAC Chair:
“The Mooring Field is relatively inexpensive at just $18-a-day or $312-a-month, with a weekly rate as well, and you can make your reservations and payment through the upland provider, Matanzas Inn. In addition to the mooring ball and pump-out boat, you get services through Matanzas Inn that include restrooms, showers, laundry, trash and a bike rack, along with being able to take in jugs to fill with water. What Matanzas Inn did was dedicate two motel rooms for these services so there are sinks and changing areas there, with tables and chairs, and easy access to the dinghy dock under the bridge.
“We dedicate 10 mooring balls to boaters who want to live there for up to 6 months at a time, with a few people who live there year-round. The rest are for those folks who will stay for less than 6 months in any calendar year. One boat has been there since the Mooring Field began in December 2004, by coincidence right after Hurricane Charley, though they do not live there fulltime, and that is not uncommon; my husband Jay and I have our sailboat in the Mooring Field but our fulltime residence on the island. We do this because the back bay currents can be quite swift and we found it easier, safer and far less expensive to take our sailboat out from the mooring ball rather than a docking facility and others do the same thing; this is called ‘wet storage.’
“Jay was a member of the original AAC that began in November 2003, although the Town actually started exploring a mooring field back around the turn of the century, because it was the real ‘wild, wild west’ out there, with people anchoring where they wanted, so there needed to be some type of organization and regulations, meaning that the original committee had to come up with everything from scratch.
Field Rarely Full
“There are quite a few boats who choose to anchor off Fort Myers Beach, but not in the Mooring Field, usually to the west of the Matanzas Pass Bridge or east of the Mooring Field. They can purchase pump-out boat tickets but do not have access to any of the other upland service benefits. They can use the dinghy dock, however, as we used grant money to construct that, so it is open to the general public and not just to those in the Mooring Field. I encourage boaters to use the Mooring Field because of the safety aspect, especially when a significant storm strikes our area, and that is the main reason why the Mooring Field came into existence.
“Another Mooring Field advantage is that when you use the dinghy dock, you are right in the main downtown area, with easy access to some of the island’s best bars and restaurants as well as Times Square. I don’t see any disadvantages, other than the fact that just two restrooms and showers are not enough for a 70-ball field. Another may be that those facilities close at the same time as the Matanzas Inn office does for security, at roughly 10 p.m., while some would prefer 24/7 availability.
“At this time, I do not believe the Town should expand the Mooring Field, even though the AAC a few years back encouraged it to examine extending its lease west of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, but we did that because that process can take years to accomplish. Economically, however, now it is not a good idea, because the Mooring Field is rarely full, even in season, and it costs quite a bit of money to install and maintain mooring balls. According to Matanzas Inn, it is at 95% for only a couple of months, with the rest of the time being like it is now, with very few people for the next 3 to 5 months. People love coming and returning to the Fort Myers Beach Mooring Field, but I honestly don’t know if expanding the Mooring Field facilities at the proposed new building at Bayside Park will increase its attraction.”