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The first of a (we suppose long) series of legal wranglings between homeowners in Florida and shipowners, used to moor in the stretches of water these luxurious houses overlook, ended some weeks ago. And homeowners got the better: some coastal zones in Sunset Harbour, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach have been forbidden to moorings. According to the ordinance, “the boats have a deleterious effect on residents’ health, safety and wealth and they cause an aesthetic pollution, since they are not pleasant to see and they interfere with the views and enjoyment of the wonderful landscapes in Biscane Bay”.

Southern Florida is a tactic place for many people who have decided to live on their boats because it is near the Caribbean and it is equipped with all the necessary repair services. Maybe that’s why the overcrodwing of boats has made moorings less rare and expensive and more and more people have decided to live in the harbour, maybe in the same mooring for several months.

Conflicts between residents and sailors

Conflicts between  shipowners and the owners of these million-dollar-homes are not new. On one hand, the ” terrestrial” report that boats release what they shouldn’t  in the sea by provoking pollution (there is no evidence for the moment), they might spy their houses, they are an obstacle for the children who want to go on water motors and that, in summer, it’s like having a parking in the garden. They also add that those who live on their boats don’t pay taxes and use services without giving their contribution to the community.

On the other hand, the “marine” reply that it’s only a matter of money, that the government wants to protect the interests of the whealthiest and that the mooring right is inviolable for sailors. Someone even dares to say that in Florida there’s an “anti-sailing boat” culture and that the real reason is the jealousy of those who live in a 2-million-dollar-home and sees another one enjoying the same landscape free… Mark Reinhardth, one of the “liveaboard”, as people call them in USA, cares about being integrated in the hosting community and he has interviewed some people to discover why they hate sailors. The answer has been ” Because you get by with little”

As it often happens, the matter has acquired some grotesque profiles. A long article in a newspaper of Palm Beach (browardpalmbeach.com) describes in detail some of the quarrels of what it defines a ” sailor’s class war”. A resident of Sunset Lake, a body of water between Florida and Sunset Islands, seems to be used to heading some very poverful lights against boats at night in order to disturb shipowners’ sleep and force them to go away. Sometimes, he also turns some deafening loudspeakers on. And, finally, he has gone further: he bought thirthy 12-foot-boats and he moored them just in front of his home, in order to impede other moorings (and, yes, we consider this illegal and dangerous because the boats are all unattended, but we aren’t lawyers). Someone has filmed some of these “threats” and he has published the relative videos, by provoking the indignant reactions of many shipowners, who have decided to meet and moor just in front of the angry resident’s home.

barche ancorate a sunset island
Photo by Deirdra Funcheon – www.browardpalmbeach.com

The administrative measures

The government of Florida was forced to make a decision in a “hot” situation, even complicated from an administrative point of view: each municipality was in fact providing for local ordinances, by creating a rather no-navigable situation for shipowners. The government decided to reclaim the jurisdiction and it launched a specific programme to create some buoy moorings for boats. Some of them is already operative and a final decision should be made by 2017. Meanwhile, however, sailors are at the mercy of residents’ moods and decisions: some sailors tell of frequent police visits aboard, others can’t dock with their tender because the local ordinances made “the docking of non-authorised boats” illegal.

Sure, there are many abandoned or unseemly boats in the area and they deserve some restrictions but many of the shipowners involved in these decisions are people who have simply decided to live (also or only) on their boats; they are retirees, professionals, tourists and they have been accused and treated as some homeless who pollute sea and beauty. They got hungry and we’ll just have to see how this ends. 

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