Florida has a boat problem.
More to the point, Florida has an abandoned boat problem.
Unfortunately for us, and the many other cruisers who prefer to anchor rather than pay exorbitant marina charges, Florida also has a problem separating “Effect” from “Cause”, and so their answer to addressing abandoned boats has been both mis-directed and punitive. Let me explain.
Florida has generally genial weather (if you don’t count the occasional hurricane) and an incredible variety of used boats going cheap. The latter is due to it’s proximity to the Bahamas. Northerners get a boat, bring it south intending to travel to the Bahamas or perhaps the Caribbean, and then something happens, he or she decides they don’t like boats, or don’t like each other, or they’re afraid of the water, so they give up the dream, fly back home, and leave the boat to be sold. Maybe it sells, maybe they just give up, but the price is right for someone to buy it and use it as their home – perhaps someone who has no other home? Such boats are anchored wherever space can be found, collect the personal possessions of their owners and take on the look of a floating yard sale. A decrepit, decaying floating yard sale.
Enter the world of the wealthy elite. Someone with a magnificent view of the bay and 150′ of waterfront property decides they also own the view, and furthermore the water of the bay should not – in their opinion – be sullied by the presence of an anchored boat. ANY anchored boat, because of course anyone who would live on a boat must be poor, undesireable and probably criminal.
So this wealthy individual buys 20 old sailboats, sets up 20 makeshift moorings in front of their property, and illegally creates their own abandoned boat farm, so that thier view of the bay – the view they value so much – is now sullied by their own boats, but no undesireable, criminal cruisers (that would be Sionna and her crew) can find the room to anchor.
Next, this wealthy homeowner gets the local police to not only look the other way concerning his illegal mooring field, but to actively harass any boater who accidentally “strays” into Mr. Rich Homeowner’s space. And finally, he makes life miserable enough for his state representative, that the agency responsible for regulations in Florida’s waters moves to ban ALL anchoring in vast swaths of coastal waters – waters which have always been considered to be public, not private.
The logical answer, I’d have thought, was to do what every state does for abandoned and derelict cars. Tow it, contact the owners (Florida does register boats, so the owner should be contactable), and if they don’t claim their property, auction it off. Destroy the ones that won’t sell (yes, there’s a cost there, but there’s a cost to what they’re doing now that’s potentially much greater – the cost of lost tourism) and enforce the laws Florida already has relating to derelict and non-functioning boats.
They could have done that. But instead the state legislature has given the finger to boaters from Georgia to Canada (we see a lot of Canadian vessels heading south), basically saying “Don’t spend your money here, we don’t want it. Go home.”
You can, of course, go to a marina if you can find room. In many areas of Florida, anyway. But not in the best places, and really, nobody wants to spend EVERY day in a marina. Part of the charm of cruising on a boat is the ability and the option of dropping the hook and making your bed right where you are, rather than in a crowd. Besides, marina’s are wicked expensive.
So it’s still a big question mark. Will Florida’s new restrictions stick? Probably. Will other wealthy people in other states hear about the success of Mr. Rich Homeowner’s crusade against cruisers and force the enactment of similar restrictions elsewhere? It’s possible.
And in the current political climate, you might say it’s even likely.