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South Bay Racing at Risk

By Michael C. Burgess
Bureau Chief

At a workshop held by San Diego Unified Port District on Thursday, Sept. 13, members of several yacht clubs opposed the Port District's plan to create moorings for commercial barges south of Coronado Bridge, to the west of the navigation channel between buoys 26A and 32.

In the face of unanimous protest, the Port District's chief wharfinger, Dick Winship, agreed to extend the Port District's Sept. 7 deadline to the end of the month for accepting written submissions from other interested parties.

Betsy Duranty of Coronado Cays Yacht Club asked whether this would be a numbers game warranting a mass response from all interested parties. James Pughe, senior director of the Port District's Maritime Division, responded that letters from yacht club commodores and marina managers would suffice to thake the message ot the Board of Port Commissioners. Pete Curtin of the Navy Yacht Club said, "We don't want the best sailing area in the entire West Coast to simply go away."

"This is a treasure and our heritage, and we cannot let it be degraded in this way," sail fleet captain Roland Moritz of of Coronado Cays Yacht Club said.

According to such critics, the selected anchorage site would put an end to sailboat racing in the South Bay because there would no longer be a nautical mile of clear water for the upwind leg from a windward mark in the vicinity of buoys 28 and 30.

The wind in the South Bay blows 220-260 degrees, 90 percent of the time, and space is needed behind the start line because sailboats can't race from a standing start; they have to be able to sail a course that will cross the line at the correct time or risk disqualification. The need for commercial moorings arises because of a Port District ordinance of Aug. 22, 2000 designed to clear up the A-8 anchorage. According to Winship, the A-8 anchorage was inundated with sunken and abandoned vessels. He said people were even building boats on barges. The ordinance was drafted to allow Harbor Police to deal with the offenders. Although the A-8 anchorage is to the south of Sweetwater channel and poses no problem for sailboat races, the mooring of vessels more than 65 feet long is forbidden by the ordinance. Hence there is need to designate a new anch9orage for commercial barges somewhere else in the South Bay. Pugh explained that the Port District has to accommodate the needs of waterborne commerce as well as recreational users.

"Do you pass the 10th Avenue terminal very often?" he asked the meeting. "Do you see the barges there unloading sand? There's a lot of things going on in the port that affect commerce, that you may not be aware of."

Although Winship and his colleague Stuart Farnsworth said they expected only half a dozen barges to be moored in the proposed location for limited periods, this was unacceptable to yacht club representatives such as Bill Maxam and Jonathan Smith M.D.

Maxam said, "SDAYC calendar 2001 has 180 race days in the South Bay, exclusive of any youth program." Every single day in the summer, yacht clubs run youth activities in the South Bay. During the winter, they're every weekend.

More than one individual reminded Port District staffers that the US Navy encroached upon sailboat racing in the South Bay when it built Mud Island with no warning at all.

"We were sandbagged by the Navy when they built Mud Island and now we're being sandbagged again," one person said. Several pointed out that the proposed anchorage would place long commercial barges in front of moored Navy vessels and, in the light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, this was probably going to be seen as a security risk.

Given that the Navy had insisted that the center portion of Coronado Bridge be floatable in case terrorists destroyed it to bottle up the fleet in the bay, it was suggested that commercial barges in excess of 65 feet may pose a similar threat if they were set adrift and scuttled.

An ad hoc show of hands in the meeting showed that everybody except the Port District representatives was opposed to the selected anchorage site as shown by Stuart Farnsworth on an overhead projector and as circulated as an attachment to a letter of Aug. 14, 2001 signed by Stanley R. Westover, the Port District's director of marine operations. But Port District staffers, including Pugh, seemed to disown the map, claiming that it was drafted by San Diego Yacht Club.

Although every attendee seemed to favor the use of the old A-8 anchorage by commercial barges, this was not acceptable to Port District staff because it would undermine their position in litigation that has not yet been resolved.

Given the legal nature of this bottleneck, Duranty asked Port District staff, "Why can't you give temporary permits to the commercial barges pending litigation?" She said she would continue to research the feasibility of such a solution, as the Port District's only objection seemed to be an ordnance of its own making.

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