On sunny weekend afternoons, the harbor near Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro looks more like a nautical freeway interchange than a tranquil respite for beachgoers.
Scores of windsurfers from throughout the Los Angeles area converge on the area, known by locals as Hurricane Gulch, to take advantage of ideal wind conditions, some say the best in Southern California.
At the same time, dozens of jet-skiers, lured by the area's unusual lake-like tranquility, pour into the man-made cove to master their craft in calm seas before venturing outside the harbor breakwater.
SigAlert at Sea
Add swimmers, fishermen and other boaters, and the area becomes a veritable SigAlert at sea.
"It gets kind of crazy in there, and there is yelling back and forth," said John Lorentzen, a Los Angeles County lifeguard who assists in rescues at the Los Angeles city-run beach. "It is kind of like putting car traffic on the Strand in Hermosa Beach or Manhattan Beach."
Concerned that congestion will get only worse as the busy summer season approaches, officials of the Los Angeles Harbor Department and the Department of Recreation and Parks have drafted a proposal that would effectively ban jet-skiers from Hurricane Gulch, requiring them to operate their craft 400 yards from shore in the outer harbor.
But while the proposed ordinance was intended to quiet complaints from windsurfers about so-called reckless jet-skiers, it has actually fanned a volatile territorial dispute between the two groups. Jet-skiers now complain that the proposal would give preferential treatment to windsurfers while forcing jet-skiers to compete with large boats in the harbor's shipping lanes.
Willing to Share
"We are more than willing to split the beach with them, but they want to push us out into a major channel," said Pat Hulett, a San Pedro jet-skier and a member of Club Mud, a Cabrillo Beach jet-ski organization. "It is unsafe for young people and beginners out there. We will have a death out of this."
Under the city proposal, jet-skiers would be permitted to launch their craft at the Cabrillo Beach boat launch, which is just north of Hurricane Gulch, but they would not be allowed to remain in the area. The city would post a 5 m.p.h. speed limit within 400 yards of the beach, effectively banning the motorized water-skiing devices, which cannot normally operate below speeds of 10 or 15 m.p.h. An access lane to the outer harbor with a higher speed limit would be provided.
Port and parks officials said they came up with the proposal, which requires approval from the Board of Harbor Commissioners and the City Council, during a recent meeting with jet-skiers and windsurfers. Several windsurfers had written to the city complaining about reckless and noisy jet-skiers, the officials said.
"It is spoiling all of the fun," said Wolfgang Veith, a windsurfer from Westwood who teaches the sport at the beach and attended the meeting. "We windsurfers like to enjoy nature in a more pristine form. We like the waves, the sand and the sun without any interference from gasoline-driven vehicles. We don't mind jet-skis in the harbor, but we don't want them near the beach."
City Decides to Move
Toni O'Donnell, who oversees Cabrillo Beach for the parks department, said city officials decided at the end of last summer that some new rules are needed, particularly since a nearby cove used by jet-skiers will become part of a new youth aquatics camp this summer.
"The traffic from that area will be shifting over to (Cabrillo) beach, so something has to be resolved soon," O'Donnell said. "There is some animosity between the two groups, but we can't say which group is right or wrong. We are just trying to make the area workable for both groups."
Last month, city officials said, two jet-skiers collided off Cabrillo Beach, leaving one of them with a broken leg. Windsurfers, particularly beginners who are attracted to the area's calm water, regularly complain about jet-skiers circling around them, sometimes forcing them to fall off their boards and causing at least one collision. City officials said there have been no serious injuries, but lifeguards have had to mediate several disputes.
"It is general ignorance on their part and discourtesy," said Betty Pfeiffer, a windsurfer from Hermosa Beach who said a similar problem arose years ago between motorboats and sailboats when there was a water-ski course at Cabrillo Beach. "Something has to give."
Farther up the channel, tenants at the city's new Cabrillo Marina have complained about noise from the jet-skis, which marina manager Steve Dillenbeck said sound like "motorcycles going up and down the street without mufflers."
Lifeguards and port officials responsible for patrolling the Cabrillo Beach area say the congestion poses a safety hazard that can be eliminated only by clearly separating the jet-skiers from other recreational activities in the harbor.
Several lifeguards said windsurfers, who need more assistance than jet-skiers because they often drift into the outer harbor with no way of getting back to shore, should remain closer to the beach, particularly since their boards are not classified as boats by state law and they are not required to wear life preservers. Jet-skis are classified as powerboats, and operators must wear a life jacket and carry a fire extinguisher on board, according to port officials.
'You Have to Compromise'
"Windsurfers far outnumber the jet-skiers as far as needing assistance, so it is my feeling that you want to keep the windsurfers as close to the beach as possible," said Lorentzen, the county lifeguard. "The beginning jet-skier is probably going to be worse off out in the harbor, but this is an area where you have to make a compromise."
But jet-skiers, who are circulating a petition opposing the proposal, said they have just as much right to use Hurricane Gulch and Cabrillo Beach as do windsurfers. Jet-skiers are banned from other public beaches in Los Angeles County and can only enter the ocean from designated launching areas, such as the one at Cabrillo Beach, county officials said. Windsurfers are forbidden only where surfboards are not allowed.
O'Donnell met last week with Hulett, the San Pedro jet-skier, to discuss an alternate proposal he has drafted that would preserve the area closest to the beach for windsurfers, but would allow jetskiers within 400 feet--not the proposed 1,200 feet--of shore. O'Donnell, who must review the suggestion with Harbor Department officials, said she will submit a final proposal to the Board of Harbor Commissioners this week.
Solution Called Unacceptable
Some windsurfers have already said Hulett's solution would be unacceptable because many windsurfers sail beyond 400 feet from shore, meaning the proposal would not solve the basic problem of both groups competing for the same recreational space. "Some people are still pressing for the Mason-Dixon line," said Glenn Barber, a Sherman Oaks windsurfer.
But several windsurfers enjoying 40 m.p.h winds at Cabrillo Beach on a recent weekend said they hope a compromise can be worked out nonetheless.
"I was out there, got overpowered by the wind and was blown into the rocks," said Doug Corbett of Los Angeles. "Two jet-skiers were there before the lifeguards to see if I was all right. I am glad they were there."