Jane Walton admits that the problem of abandoned catamarans doesn’t rank high on San Diego’s list of major concerns. It’s really not a problem, as much as it is a bother and a mystery: why would people pay several thousand dollars for a catamaran, only to leave it flailing anchorless and unprotected on the beaches of Mission Bay near Riviera Drive?
Walton had nine catamarans and three small sailboats in front of her Riviera Drive home all last summer, a noticeable increase from the previous summer, when the problem first occurred. When winter storms moved through Sail Bay last November, some of the unanchored cats on that section of Mission Bay blew up onto the iceplant-covered shore. Several eventually blew back into the water, but one, entangled now with weeds, still remains unclaimed. Last week’s gusty winds sent the small craft whipping around, their hulls colliding and their twenty-foot aluminum masts swinging perilously close to the second-story view windows of Walton’s beachfront home.
When the catamarans first appeared along Sail Bay, Walton remembers that “they still had their sails up, so I thought the owners would come back that same day and move them, but they never did.” Now there are at times up to ninety small craft along the Riviera Drive shoreline, and property owners are upset enough that their councilman, Mike Gotch, called a Tuesday-night meeting to gauge sentiment for getting rid of the boats, and to hear the catamaran owner’s side of the story.
For the Riviera Shores homeowners, the beached and abandoned boats block access to the strip of shoreline and bay – “and not just for us,” emphasizes Walton, “but for everybody who wants to walk down here.” City litter crews won’t clean stretches of beach blocked by the small craft, and residents worry they could get slapped with a lawsuit should a precocious grade-schooler be hurt while fooling around on a boat. There are small aggravations too, like the blocked views and the time “a friend of a friend” called Walton to ask if they could park their catamaran on the beach. “I said I’d rather they didn’t, but told them honestly it wasn’t my property, and they could do as they pleased,” she recalls. A week later, the boat owner telephoned Walton screaming that their catamaran was missing and demanding to know when it was taken and who took it. Walton didn’t know anything, but the boat owner remained indignant.
The catamaran owners favor the Sail Bay shorelines because they can park their crafts free-of-charge. In contrast, the 200 licensed tie-downs and beach bars provided for boats and the west side of the bay from Mariners Basin, at the south end, north to Santa Clara Point, cost sixty dollars per year. And while catamarans illegally beached on the west side are routinely impounded by the Harbor Patrol, there is no city ordinance against parking boats temporarily on the Sail Bay side. “It is illegal to abandon a boat there (on Sail Bay),” says David Peterson, a Harbor Patrol officer. “But it’s not illegal to park them. So it’s a cat-and-mouse game. We leave a warning note, and the boat owners move it a few inches and claim they sailed it.” To stop the enforcement glitch, Peterson’s staff has written and submitted submitted to the city parks and recreation department an ordinance banning boats from the Sail Bay shore.