The LAW: Is we IN or Is we OUT?
(Caution: Rant Alert)
One of the disturbing trends visibly unfolding over the span of my lifetime is loss the Commons.
It's a general loss, but at the moment, I'm thinking of lost freedom of the seas. That, and the conversion of Citizens into Outlaws; not by any sudden turn to crime, but overtaken by the rising tide of Law.
To go swimming - skinny or clad - at one's own risk. To imbibe while safely at rest. To mix it up in one's own bedroom with whichever adult consents to play. To let go of one's own life at a time of one's own choosing.
All of these and others - to some extent or another, from place to place - lie outside the Law. Prohibitions have long been in place, and yet stand, despite some encouraging softening of the Law or its enforcement.
Freedom to come and go - or abide - as one pleases. To sit on a side-walk or linger in conversations among friends or drop one's hook outside a marked channel.
These are freedoms drowning in that steadily rising tide.
I first got into sailing toward the end of the early revival in blue-water cruising.
Quasi-Hippie cruisers set forth in funky, home-built boats to rediscover the world. Moitessier, Jones, Pardeys, Hills and many others blazed a trail. But on their heels came the droves of 'turn-key' boats with their crews of well-heeled, extra-curricular tourists.
We on the low road get caught in a squeeze play.
Rising regulation of anchorages - anchoring, moorage and entry fees, permits, registrations, and outright prohibitions - has been squeezing us from shoreside. From the water, our factory outfitted, proper-yachtie neighbors pay these fees without flinching, then add their voices in condemnation.
Consider the word, derelict. Here's a list of meanings in order acquired:
- In poor condition due to neglect or abuse
- Shamefully negligent in not having done what one should have done
- A person without a home, job, or property
This word once usefully distinguished abandoned, hazard-to-navigation watercraft from those in hand. Haul 'em away, auction or crush 'em, and good riddance.
The next level drops the notion of use... 'poor condition' is now a matter of judgement. Um... well, authorized and trained inspectors condemn structures on the basis of fair, sound, objective evaluations, right? If you happen to be living in hazard, we're saving you from yourself.
Shameful? Should? Now we're getting personal! The Puritans are on the warpath. And they have no qualms about codifying such BS into law that applies to us all, regardless of Constitutional principle.
A person without...??? Wait a minute... weren't we disposing of derelicts a few rounds back???
So what (or who) is a derelict? Anyone who offends the 'community norms'. And these have such a fine track record of liberty and justice for all.
Might as well say undesirable and get it over with (What? They did??).
Arguments Against Derelicts
"If everyone were doing it, then..." aka "If we let you, then we'd have to let everyone!"
Probably the most common 'argument' put forward. It's a flat assertion of opinion masked as 'logic'.
First, it's ridiculous to think that many, much less everyone, might be tempted into doing 'it'.
The liveaboard life isn't exactly most folks cup o' tea. There's a lot of work involved. Space is small, both physically and socially. Boats rock and take on water from time to time. Anchors drag.
Second, the 'whatever' at the end of those ellipses is usually just as fantastic.
The harbor/harbors/world would be wall-to-wall boats. The water would turn to sludge. The fish will be caught and eaten by - Lawd forbid - derelicts!
So, let's remove that 'd'... the Law forbids.
"You're parasites are living for free on the backs of the rest of us!" aka "You're part of Entitlement Culture!"
Umm. Not exactly.
In most of the communities where fees are charged, boats at anchor are the only ones paying for zero services... doesn't cost the community a dime. Our use of shoreside infrastructure is charged separately. Our pockets are robbed with 'liveaboard fees' to cover dockside services bought and paid for.
Our expenditures ashore enrich your local economy, and incur local sales taxes... this of course makes us taxpayers within your community. Meanwhile, we often contract for jobs ashore, to earn the money we're spending. Volunteer in community organizations or projects.
Meanwhile, a liveaboard presence provides services without charge. We hop to, to pump or secure a vessel in trouble (most often one of yours). We rescue you and your frightened children when you dump your canoes.
No, we pay our way as we go, trading an honest hour for an honest wage.
It is you, I would say, who are not entitled to profit from those for whom you've done nothing, for use of an anchorage which predates your community.
"Well, you're squatters, then, squatting on Public Land!"
These 'lands' (sea floor) were considered open to Public Access, and guaranteed under maritime Law, until they were appropriated by state and local governments for 'regulation and revenue'. Heavy on the revenue. Stands until challenged in court, however.
Without changing the Law of precedence - which remains US Maritime Law - to assert that anchoring in Public Waters constitutes squatting and that liveaboards are therefore squatters... well... that's called libel (I have nothing against squatters, or even being one, but its intent is libel when so used).
'Course, it takes a legal team to defend oneself against that, and them in the big houses got 'em.
"Liveaboards pollute our pristine waters!"
This is a good one.
Liveaboards are subject to the same discharge Laws that regulate all vessels. They are generally obeyed, and where not, are subject to enforcement.
Meanwhile, those 'pristine waters'? One harbor was only beginning to recover from pollution from the Creosote factory that had enriched the town for a near century... other towns have similar polluters who are currently not only permitted, but wooed, encouraged and embraced.
How is it that the Environmental Impact Statement for mines, clearcuts, factories, quarries, roads, docks and so on consistently state 'no significant environmental impact', while liveaboards constitute an environmental crisis?
Road and sewer run-off, sewage discharge from 'treatment plants' (ever visit one?); the pump-out of oily bilges from recreational craft (whose numbers dwarf us); that mega-yacht soaping off its topsides (more 'grey-water discharge' per yacht than the whole liveaboard fleet could potentially emit in a year); ditto any fishing fleet present. And airborne emissions? Don't get me started.
All these slide by without comment. "But last week I saw that bum scrape his plate overboard!"
I agree that liveaboards participate in pollution to a degree. But given our generally low-consumption lifestyle, I find it hard to buy that our homes are worse polluters - even per capita - than those with much larger, highly complex and over furnished homes plus their bevy of high-polluting tools and toys.
Comparing tiny liveaboard communities head to head with sprawling shoreside communities, what are we to conclude?
"Bunch'a eyesores!" or "The derelicts in our viewshed detract from property values."
I respect my neighbor's right to their own aesthetics.
When they wish to replace a beautiful stretch of shoreline with an ugly box, chosen from a catalog and built by the lowest bidder, litter their lawns with plastic furniture... I don't complain. If it's bad enough, I'll move on.
So I really don't think we should be passing Law to outlaw - or at least harass - a high-priced dive.
Okay. You get the picture.
These folks aren't particularly monstrous. They tend to oppose government regulation, Big Brother, infringement of personal and communal freedoms. They just don't connect the dots across the water.
Point is, the Law is on the move. Sitting quietly at anchor, we are perfectly legal one day, owing cash money to grubbers the next, and quite possibly hustled along by threat of force the day after.
It's kind of pathetic.
We toe the line. We comply with the Law, both its letter and - more than many - its spirit. We're respectful of person and property. We consume little and contribute much. Like any other community, all this in-the-main.
Yet, one day, we find ourselves 'derelict'... Outlaw...
...and it's time to move along, over that shrinking horizon.
PS. I've used 'us' and 'them' language throughout. However, some of our liveaboard friends -as in any other community - have been poor neighbors. At the same time many among the shoreside communities have stood up for liveaboards at some cost to themselves. To you, I offer my heartfelt thanks!