Boaters may outnumber hotel guests

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 7:00pm

The 2018 boating season has largely come to an end on Block Island. Harbormaster Steve Land told the members of the Harbors Committee last week that although there were still a few boaters dropping by the island on their way south for the winter, the weekend of Oct. 20 to 21 would be the last for pump-out services, and the new public dinghy dock by Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant would be pulled out of the water the coming week. The Harbormaster’s boat has been winterized, but the harbor patrol boat will stay in use for a few more weeks.

With that, members of the committee turned their attention to next year. One of the tasks is to determine just how many people visit the island by boat. “People are desperate to know the boat count — I don’t know why,” said Land. He prefaced the remark by stating that counting boats in the Great Salt Pond was “not a good use of time on a Sunday morning.” 

Land suggested using a drone to count the boats in the pond, because a visual count is not a very accurate way to count vessels.

Assistant Harbormaster Gary Ryan said that he and one of the seasonal workers had done a painstaking count a couple of years ago and found about 2500 boats on the Fourth of July.

Member Carl Kaufmann said that a count “validates the economic impact of boaters on Block Island.”

Member Gary Pollard estimated that there was probably an average of three people per boat, and that with 7,500 boaters their presence outstrips those staying in the approximately 500 hotel rooms on the island.

To get a more accurate count, Land would like to utilize drone technology. The drone would do a few “passes” and a computer program would perform the count.

Kaufmann said the computer program stitches together the drone’s footage and then eliminates all duplication.

“We’re going to shoot for that next summer,” said Land. He’s also shooting for having a new harbors office somewhere along the pond. “My goal is to have a presence somewhere on the water.” 

The Harbors office has traditionally been on an old barge by the Boat Basin, but the management of the Boat Basin did not want it there for the summer of 2018. The department utilized its office in Town Hall instead, primarily for the issuance of shellfish licenses. Town mooring rentals are managed out on the water by boat, utilizing a new computer system installed last year.

Land said that Champlin’s Marina had offered them a spot there, and he was proposing that funds be included in the upcoming capital budget to either build a new shack, or repair the existing one.

Pollard thought that the Boat Basin might come under new management and with that, the possibility of developing a new relationship.

The Harbors Committee hasn’t given up on finding more long-term solutions, and it continues to pursue the idea of some type of boating facility at Ball O’Brien Park. One of the ideas is to have outhauls there.  An outhaul is akin to a pulley-operated clothes line, whereby a boat is tied to a line tethered to a pole on the beach and hauled in. 

“We need to keep the outhauls on our minds,” said Land. “Residents especially want outhauls.” Later he said “All the marinas are for transients.  There’s no resident marina here.” 

“That’s partially because space is at a premium,” Pollard replied.

“Maybe turn the Coast Guard Station into a resident marina,” conjectured Land.

“I can’t see the town paying for it, but it’s a good idea,” said Pollard.

Pollard wants to see a boat ramp at Ball O’Brien and asked how much space would be needed for a turnaround area for vehicles with boat trailers.

Land said there was also the need for space to park those trailers for the day. “Ball O”Brien, with its steep pitch into wetlands may not be feasible,” said Land. 

“Outhauls are easier to accomplish,” said Kaufmann.

Pollard said both were needed.

“What we need to do now is secure a building for next year,” said Kaufmann.

“Now I’m waiting for the dust to settle,” said Land. “We’re going to move forward with a couple options. We need something to use for a couple of years.”

Harbors Assistant and committee Clerk Kate McConville expressed the hope that the situation would be temporary, and a more permanent solution found.

“The Harbors Department does more than just rent moorings,” said Land. “The first contact is important,” he said of greeting boaters and answering their questions about the island.