Inevitably, the arrival of spring in Newport heralds the arrival of boats—boats by the hundred, flocking to the sailing capital of the East Coast to enjoy one of the most famous, picturesque, and pleasant bays in the world. And with the arrival of so many boats, the laws of supply and demand being what they are, dockage rates naturally skyrocket. And so, in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, all the winter liveaboards vacate the marina and scatter to various anchorages and mooring fields for the summer. It was extremely pleasant, a few days ago, when we moved Ganymede out of the marina; out of the fishbowl of public scrutiny we’d been in since the winter canopy came down and passers-by could look straight into the portholes.
It’s better out on the water—much more sailorly: you commute by dinghy to go ashore; lines, oars, knots, water, seaboots are a daily thing; there’s always the chance of going sailing on an afternoon off work. But this year the big move out was tainted by an ugly cloud: an anchorage restriction, rumored for years but never truly believed, was passed by the Newport Waterfront Commission last fall. This Newport anchoring ordinance decreed that a boat can no longer anchor freely in the designated anchorage: the limit on anchoring is two weeks, then the boat must leave for four days before it can anchor again. The stated reason for this was to prevent the wanton use of the anchorage as free storage for uncared-for boats. While admittedly this has been a small problem in the past, the real reason is far more simple. It’s about money. As long as people are free to anchor, the local mooring-rental mafia sees dollars slipping through their hands. But make free anchoring not an option for all of us who live and work in Newport harbor, and a hefty chunk of our hard-earned money is perforce forked over to them.
Having known since late winter that this was on its way, and being law-abiding folk in general, we had secured a mooring for the season, though the rent was more than twice what we pay for winter wharfage. But other long-time anchorage dwellers, arriving from other parts without an inkling of what transpired, have been forced to scramble to find moorings. Many cannot afford it, and will have to shuffle from pillar to post to stay within the law, and risk a ticket if all they want to do is live in peace as before and go to work.
It seems unfair that a few careless people taking advantage of a rightfully free anchorage should be able to ruin the dwelling place of an entire community—for that’s what we were, from young fellows just starting out in the boatbuilding trade, to families raising children, to semi-retired septuagenarians; a whole little village on the water—but really that was only an excuse. The Mooring Mob would have found some other pretext if that one hadn’t been ready to hand. It’s happened all over Florida; it’s spreading like a cancer to other places: where some lame reason or another is cited for keeping people from anchoring freely, when we all know it’s because every free anchorage keeps money from the coffers of the avaricious.
Truly it has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil. And now a great evil has been done to sailors in a place that prides itself on being one of the sailing capitals of the world. On the day that the Waterfront Comission passed that ordinance, Newport lost—nay, stamped underfoot—one of the things that made it such a wonderful place. And all for money. It was a sad day for Newport; a sad day for freedom. A great place for sailors to live and work? Not anymore.