By Phil Colpas
The sailboat saga on Siesta Key continues.
For many years, by Beach Access 8, there has existed a rag-tag yet picturesque collection of catamarans, which are sailboats featuring two parallel hulls of equal size. Sailors would simply pull them up on the beach, secure them roughly, or not, and pull them back down the beach when they were ready to sail again.
But the increasing popularity of Sarasota, and Siesta Key in particular, has made some small-town ways, such as leaving your sailboat on the beach, more and more difficult to maintain. Of late, some residents have seen their boats go missing.
At the July 12 meeting of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners, commission member Christian Ziegler again brought up the catamaran issue.
“My understanding is the property to the south or north … of the beach access … catamarans have been there for years and years, and one of the property owners complained, rightfully so,” he said. “Look, it’s private property and these boats were on their property. So, people moved them over … and then they went on(to) other private property and into our public access, which is owned by the county, that people use to get to the beach, and now catamarans are there.”
Originally, all boats were ordered to be removed by May 1 but the county commissioners agreed to a 60-day extension.
Nicole Rissler, the county’s director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, told the board
“As of yesterday for the deadline (July 11) — that was the extension you all provided — the public access, at Beach Access 8, which is only 60 feet wide, all catamarans have been removed from there. There were only three left, as of yesterday morning, and two of those were absolutely derelict. They were falling apart. Those pieces were removed. There was one that was sea worthy; that was removed and it is being held at Siesta public beach in our maintenance area.
“The remaining catamarans that are there in that area or to the south of beach Access 8 are currently on private property.”
Siesta Key resident James Burns used to keep his sailboat at Beach Access 8 with permission. He has now moved his boat elsewhere, and he continues to monitor the situation. Burns has a Facebook page called Siesta Key Sailing Club, which is all about celebrating sailing and sharing sailing information and stories.
Burns said now that the county has made this an issue, as many as 20 boats have been moved south of the beach access to private property — a 16-unit condo complex at 460 Beach Rd. — but only two have actual permission to be there. One of those with permission is Sam Hayes, Burns’ neighbor.
Meanwhile, the private property owner to the north has chased away those attempting leave boats on his property, Burns said.
“The sailing community here was originally about keeping our boats on private property, with permission, so we could all enjoy it,” Burns said. “Today, it’s all about not having permission. That’s unfair to the property owners.”
Said Ziegler, “I love the catamarans. If you’ve ever done a family photo shoot, you’ve done it in that area. I think it brings a lot of charm to Siesta Key.
“You have county property and who has a right to put their boats on there or not? Why can’t I put in a trailer with a boat in one of the parking lots or use the county administration parking lot to store vehicles? So, there is an interesting debate and discussion there. I’d like to keep the catamarans somehow, but I’m not sure how to do it.”
Ziegler suggested enacting some sort of a medallion program to allow participants to keep their boats there, but then the issue becomes “how do you pick who gets to stay and who doesn’t get to stay?” he said. “I know we need to protect the public access, but I’d like to keep the catamaran access for people.
“All this goes back to the fact that — I mean look, Sarasota County (is) the No. 1 place constantly for people to move to, to retire to, to visit, and there’s so much popularity and we’re having so much growth that now we’re starting to have these issues pop up that are really small-town… you got away with it during a small-town feel.
“Now, as Sarasota gets bigger, we’re running into these issues and, you know, we actually have stuff like this pop up that we’re going to have to address. I’d like to keep the small-town feel as long as we can and drag it out, and I think keeping the catamarans does that.”
The county commission decided not to take any official action at this time regarding the catamaran issue, preferring instead to take a wait-and-see approach.
“I guess we’ll let that play out and we’ll deal with it if we need to later,” said Alan Maio, the commission’s chairman.