This Labor Day weekend I climbed aboard my 1983 Schwinn Traveler bicycle and set out on a different type of harbor cruise.
Words that came to mind on this hot summer day, as I pedaled from Huntington Beach to Newport, were working waterfront facilities, holistic, accessibility, inclusive and enjoyment.
I thought back to when I first came down to the harbor in 1975 to sail the Hobie 16 my father had just bought from Fletcher Olson at Hobie Newport. We launched the boat off of 18th Street and I immediately immersed myself into sailing and our harbor.
In Cannery Village there where sailmakers, dock builders, canvas makers, marine machines, electricians, yacht brokers, new boat sales, marine instrumentation dealers and a marine documentation service. Lido Village and down the Mariner's Mile, from Newport Boulevard to Dover Drive, was all full of working, marine-related waterfront facilities. This blend of the marine industry was the authentic attribute of our harbor and made for a special place to be a part of.
In the present day, as I rode my bike from the boardwalk down next to City Hall and into Cannery Village, I ran into an old friend. We talked about how times have changed and how they and Schock Boats were the only marine-related business left in the village.
I continued my cruise and went through Newport Shipyard, Lido Village and then down Mariner's Mile. What was left of the marine industry was maybe a handful of yacht brokers, five or six new boat dealers with little to no inventory, two marine insurance companies, one sailing club and a gondola service.
Because it was the last weekend of summer, many rental companies were renting paddle boards, kayaks and electric boats — always a good sight to see. The large charter boat fleet has never been so active, but the true essence of our harbor was missing.
What happened, where did everyone go? We all know that the demand for waterfront property has skyrocketed, city codes have changed, and property owners' best use of their land has cycled toward residential condominiums.
The marine industry had to pack up and move onto the mesa or into the riverbed. My principal concern is preserving public access to the waterfront for tourist, locals, pleasure boats and commercial users. If we lose access to our harbor now we might not get it back for 100 years.
How can this happen? What happens if more condominiums are built around our harbor, if tideland permits become so expensive that marina owners remove their slips and shipyards close down? How long will these new residents put up with the noise levels of large charter boats, restaurants, shipyards, commercial users and pleasure boaters?
City leaders should take a step back, harbor users should get involved. Waterfront planning should be long-range, with wide range thinking from our whole harbor. Our harbor should not be just about economic development or how much eelgrass we have. It should be like making a fine wine, year after year, that blends these elements together, preserves our history, culture, use and captures the essence of the special place that it is.
Good wine comes from time, not by being rushed or forced into a bottle. It should be shared, enjoyed by everyone and improve with age. So, lets open a bottle together and let it breath and talk more about the cheese.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.