Timothy Johnson


Outdoors: Pity the Yachtsman

A mooring in one of the Island’s protected harbors is a convenience for small boat owners, allowing them to avoid the Vineyard’s few public ramps, where boaters of varying trailering skills launch boats and, on occasion, their vehicle and the boat together. Further up the boat food chain, a mooring is a necessity for the owners of boats with utility-wire-snagging masts and T-tops.

But finding a mooring, as more than a few would-be Island Ahabs have discovered, is much more difficult to come by than a boat. Anyone will sell you a boat, after all; some will even give you a boat. But it requires plenty of patience to reel in a concrete block on the bottom of one of the coveted harbor locations. It also helps to have a certain amount of morbid luck – those ahead of you on the wait list must die before you do. (And even then they can pass the mooring on to their immediate family. Some moorings have been in the same family for more than seventy years.) There are stories, true stories, of parents adding the names of newborn children to a town mooring list. And why not, when the wait for a prime spot can encompass a time span from birth to college graduation – with a master’s.

“The inner harbor list is about twenty-five years long,” Charlie Blair, longtime Edgartown harbor master, said.

Massachusetts law gives town harbor masters the authority to issue mooring permits, which are meant to be “made available to all of the public on a fair and equal basis.” Edgartown is the Island’s most popular boating destination and hosts the most boaters. Blair said Edgartown permits 1,000 moorings spread out across various town water bodies. Of those, the town owns 100 that visitors may rent on a daily basis. Since the town is not adding any new moorings, he said, “somebody’s got to give up to get.”

As with real estate, location equals desirability. Unlike the inner harbor, Blair said there is no wait for a mooring in Sengekontacket Pond. “Eel Pond is about five to seven years; Katama is about seven to ten years,” he said. But, he added, all wait times are relative. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, because if there’s a recession the first thing to go is the yachts.”

A $20 fee maintains a name on the wait list and Blair said the town sends out invoices every two years. “That,” he said, “takes care of the dead people.” Asked what he knows about people adding the names of children to the mooring wait list, he simply laughed and said, “I know that they pay me $20 every two years.”

Chilmark permits 200 moorings, most of which are located in Nashaquitsa Pond, said harbor master Dennis Jason, who retired this spring. The wait is about “seven to ten years.”

With space at a premium, it is not surprising that a mooring would be the subject of a custody battle in a divorce. “So we had to go to town counsel and we had to make a decision on that,” Jason said. “We try to keep everything – at least in my seventeen years – as straight and orderly as we can, and every year there’s some kind of glitch that comes up that we have to go back to town counsel to remedy.”

John Crocker, Tisbury harbor master, said he permits 775 moorings across the inner and outer harbor, Lagoon Pond, and Lake Tashmoo. The town controls about sixty moorings, some of which the town leases to transient boaters. Crocker said there is a wait “for everything” but no constant. He highlighted the variable. “When you assign a mooring, you don’t really assign the person, you assign the boat. And the boat has to be appropriate for the swing room, or the size of the tackle, or whatever the issues happen to be.”

Crocker estimates the wait list for Tashmoo is about five years. He said it is the same everywhere along the coast. “There is way more demand than there is supply.”

Crocker said he fields constant requests from people who say they have just bought a boat and need a mooring. And then there is Ted Box.

Since 2011, Crocker and the Island watched as Box built the seventy-foot wooden scow The Seeker on a vacant lot off Beach Road in Vineyard Haven owned by Ernie Boch. Up against a deadline, he moved the boatbuilding project to a lot down the road owned by Ralph Packer, owner of R.M. Packer Co., and a supporter of Box’s dream project. Finally, well behind schedule, after seven years and with much fanfare and some anxiety, last year on July 14 The Seeker slid into Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Crocker said, “So finally Ted launches the boat and he brings it over to Packer’s pier and it sits there for several days and I get a phone call from him. ‘I need a mooring.’

“He built it for seven years – on Beach Road – and never figured it was going to go somewhere. I told him I couldn’t help him. And he yelled at me! I’m supposed to do stuff like that,” Crocker said, still incredulous at the thought. “Can you imagine building a boat right there on the harbor and never thinking where it’s going to go?”

The Seeker was moved to a mooring Packer owns in Tashmoo.