Thursday, June 08, 2006

Marinas in the Desert Seas

Dan ( had a post about why people choose a marina. Carol Anne ( replied and I had to add my two cents' worth.

Carol Anne said,
"At Elephant Butte, my favorite marina is the northern one, which is a mere quarter mile from the Fleet 141 Compound with no overhead wires in between. It’s also the closest to the RGSC racecourse....

At Heron, the NMSC runs the marina, which means it’s a very friendly place for sailboats and sailors. It’s in a cove away from the main lake, so it’s peaceful, but it’s a beat upwind through the Narrows to get to the main body of the lake.

Both marinas are in state parks, and so are away from industry (actually, the whole state of New Mexico is pretty far from industry). Both marinas may have to relocate if lake levels drop, making the location less convenient for the one at the Butte, and less secluded for the one at Heron."


[The "Fleet 141 Compound" is the Elephant Butte lake home of the skippers who are fleet captains of J24 fleet 141; their home is a popular gathering place for local sailors and is easily identifiable from a distance by the concentration of masts. The home is only a few blocks from a boat ramp, and there is a route to the boat ramp that is free of overhead power lines.]

[Also, it may be the case that ALL of the marinas at the Butte may have to relocate if lake levels go down far enough. 4407 feet above benchmark is spillway elevation; 4335' is this year's high point, 4320' the current elevation, 4298' the level at which one marina would have to re-locate, 4294' is when a second would have to relocate, and a possible worst-case scenario has the lake going down to the mid 4280s or so.]

And my comments,

To continue from what Carol Anne posted, many factors influence our choice of where to put a boat. One is our “migratory” habit of moving boats seasonally. The dramatic elevation and climate differences in New Mexico mean that temperatures near on various lakes can differ by 15 or 20 degrees. So, we can enjoy 85-degree (F) weather at Heron in the summer while it’s almost 100 degrees at the Butte. Conversely, we can often sail during the cooler months at the Butte while parts of Heron are frozen over.

Another factor is cost; although we like the convenience of marinas we can’t really afford pay for the season at Heron (where the marina is volunteer-operated and less expensive) and then also have to pay for annual contracts for both of our boats at the Butte. So, we need a marina at the Butte that will allow us a seasonal/peak of sailing season month-to-month sublet or similar arrangement. Also, unlike our cabin and land near Heron Lake, our home in Albuquerque is too small to store our larger boats (single car garage, short narrow driveway, limited street frontage, no rv parking, no vehicle access to back yard).

Another factor is limited selection. Unlike densely populated segments of the coast, our state has very few marinas. Elephant Butte Lake, once New Mexico’s largest lake, has but three marinas. Heron Lake has only the one. Navajo has a few - - about 20 miles apart. (The Colorado end of the lake is particularly friendly to sailors and Navajo is the only large lake in the region that is nearly full.) Only a couple of other lakes are large or developed enough to have marinas. Cochiti Lake, a moderate-sized lake within an hour's drive of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, once had a marina but lost it due to neglect and indifference by the local governmental powers that be. That’s it for marinas.

Yet another is suitability of slips and facilities. One marina we’ve tried had slips where the piers had sharp metal edges without wooden or plastic rub rails or bumpers. Sailboats, especially our water-ballasted high-freeboard small cruiser, can be hard to maneuver in tight quarters and in crosswinds, so a few hundred dollars worth of fiberglass damage convinced us to go to another marina.

The marina where the Batgal’s boat has been slipped has some sailboat slips that are easily approached, with maneuvering room enough so that she can usually sail in and out of the slip and not need to keep a motor on the boat. This marina also has, in addition to the usual chemical heads, bathrooms with flush toilets and running water (albeit cold) that are reserved for slip tenants (who have keys). This is a step up from what the other marinas have ... and saves a whole lot of steps up the steep hillsides (during low lake levels) to the far-distant (and sometimes off-seasonally locked) state park restrooms.

Yet another is management. One of the marinas at the Butte had been managed by a sailor who was friendly and helpful to other sailors. When new owners started making changes, instituting and enforcing fees without making significant or noticeable improvements (except for adding some potted plants and putting insulation in the ceiling of the marina store), he disagreed with their policies (making customers pump their own gas, for an example) and left to run another business up in the big city. Unfortunately, the people who had been hired to run the marina in the place of the previous marina manager simply didn’t have his intimate knowledge of the marina; as an expert diver he had touched every board, truss, bolt, anchor, and cable and knew precisely how to maintain the structure and keep it safe.

The marina also became much less convenient when the new management started locking the outer gate to the piers each night without giving the slip renters keys or a combination. So, anyone staying on board for a night would be locked in . . . unless they had a dinghy to row to shore or wanted to swim! And, if an emergency were to occur at night, fire, police, ambulance, or rescue personnel might have to wait for management to show up with a key or else have to evacuate a victim by boat in the dark.

In the meantime, Batwoman’s boat has been kept seasonally at the northern marina, where management is friendly, approachable, and generally accommodating. The owners are hands-on managers who spend much of their time at the marina. Although we did have a couple of minor items disappear from the boat overnight during night-fishing hours, we generally have felt very secure. Also, we have a feeling that the owners were looking out for our interests; when the Batgal, Dino, and Zorro had a dismasting on USA 38, the owner saw the sail come down in the distance and called the state parks rescue boat to investigate and help.

The story at Heron Marina is quite a different one, since that marina is administered by the New Mexico Sailing Club and run by volunteers. Also, I've had to become rather intimate with that marina, given my current responsibilities. We recently had a third of the slips replaced with a brand-new "A dock", but are still dealing with the effects of fluctuating lake levels, silting of the cove where the marina is set, and drought. All of this is probably material for one or more separate posts. Pat


At 10:25 PM, June 08, 2006, Anonymous AdriftAtSea said...

Good marinas are getting harder to find.

Out here on the East Coast, a lot of good marinas have been bought out and converted to dockominiums, with huge price jumps. A lot of the traditional waterfront businesses—marine chandleries, marinas, and boatyards—are being displaced by the rise in the value of real estate.

Another major problem that is occurring is the advent of laws forbidding or restricting anchoring.


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