It is now the morning of 12/19/13, and we have already been on the telephone with “Katrina,” Administrative Assistant for the Boot Key City Harbormaster, and have learned that a meeting did indeed take place last evening, at Boot Key Harbor City Marina with representatives of the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Service), local Marathon, Florida governmental officials, and a host of cruisers. If you have been following this situation both here on the SSECN, and/or on the Cruisers’ Forum (see both http://cruisersnet.net/?p=129366 and http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f57/civil-rights-attorney-needed-marathon-fl-116693-11.html), you know that a HOST of cruisers have lodged serious complaints and questions about “heavy handed” actions on the part of FWC officers in boarding and inspecting vessels both at anchor, and on the city provided mooring balls, in Boot Key Harbor.
The Marathon local government became integrally involved in this matter following a very substantial cruising community presence at the last city council meeting. Unfortunately, the on-line minutes of this meeting are not yet available, but we are told the city government expressed serious concern about the actions of the FWC, and it apparently became quite clear that local government was very much an ally of the entire cruising community in this matter.
One of the prime movers in this entire affair has been the captain of the sailing vessel, “Thin Line.” Late in the day on 12/19/13, the master of this vessel posted a note on Cruisers’ Forum, which we have reprinted below! It makes for very interesting reading, and provides what is probably the BEST summary of the 12/18/12 meeting!
Back to the timeline, the result of all this early interaction was that a meeting was arranged for the evening of 12/18/13 to bring together all interested and concerned parties. As alluded to above, this meeting was indeed held, and, thanks to our conversation with “Katrina,” we are able to provide a summary of what took place.
We interviewed “Katrina” on the morning of 12/19/13 at some length about this important gathering, and were told that the meeting encompassed better than three hours, and provided a forum for many cruisers to voice their concerns to Captain David Dipre, lead FWC representative, who “chaired” the meeting. We were told the give and take between cruisers and the FWC “went fairly well,” and many “left with a positive note.”
Captain Dipre suggested that all cruisers and boat owners who experience future problems with FWC officers, contact him directly at 305-289-2320. He and his fellows also brought along books of Florida boating regulations which were distributed at the meeting, and it was discussed which regs applied to the situation in Boot Key Harbor.
And now, we will leave our reporting mode, and enter into some editorial comments. ALL CRUISERS AND LOCAL BOAT OWNERS WHO BROUGHT THIS SITUATION TO THE FORE, AND SHONE A SPOTLIGHT ON THE ACTIONS OF THE FWC, HAVE DONE A GREAT SERVICE FOR THE CRUISING COMMUNITY! With this much attention being paid, it’s a very safe bet that FWC officers operating in Boot Key Harbor will be very mindful of courtesy and their own conduct regulations for some time to come!
It is the editorial opinion of the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net that Boot Key Harbor is once again, and will most likely remain so for some time to come, a welcoming place for both resident and visiting cruisers. And, that’s a very good thing indeed, as Boot Key Harbor is the finest and most protected natural anchorage in all of the Florida Keys.
Be ASSURED that the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net will continue to monitor this situation closely. Let’s all hope the meeting of 12/18/13 closes this unfortunate chapter which has blemished an otherwise sterling cruising destination in the Florida Keys. Please let us know about your experiences in BKH by sending e-mail to Contact@CruisersNet.net, or following the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below!
And now, PLEASE READ THESE IMPORTANT WORDS FROM THE CAPTAIN OF THE “THIN LINE:”
Sorry I haven’t been able to respond until now, our harbor internet is being worked on so I couldn’t write last night and I had to work today.
Last nights meeting was well attended, both by boaters, the FWC, and other interested parties. There were 2 FWC Capt’s, and 1 officer, 4 USCG, as well as the Mayor and several city council members. While the discussion was at times heated and several times seemed to derail and go off track, overall there was much good discussion. What I find interesting is the varying opinions of the way the meeting turned out. I personally think the meeting accomplished everything we set out to do. We,,
1. Brought attention to the problem.
2. They acknowledged our voice by having the meeting, and by those who attended.
3. They were in PR mode and attempted to put a human face on the FWC, Capt Dupree represented them well.
4. The FWC acknowledged there were problems with some laws and they are working on getting them resolved.
5. Cleared up some rumors that were blown way out of proportion.
6. We were able to establish that almost, if not all, of the questionable interactions were from 1 particular officer. (training issue)
7. Capt Dupree stated that his officers are being instructed to show greater discretion and more respect for the boaters in Boot Key.
8. Both Capt’s have instituted an open door policy, as well as gave out personal numbers to discuss issues as they happen instead of letting it come to a head.
9. Agreed we need to keep this open dialogue and should have a town hall type meeting a couple times per year.
Sure, some of the people that attended wanted a full blown apology, with FWC admitting they did something wrong and groveling, obviously that was not going to happen. They do have to maintain the integrity of the field officers (even if they were wrong) however the general impression I got was they were there to repair the relationship. The Mayor and the city showed a huge amount of support and validation for us as boaters and wanted to make sure this was resolved. Overall the people that attended were well behaved, well mannered and even though a few wanted to bring pitchforks and torches, they checked them at the door. Most importantly my kids were there from start to finish, they got to see how people can rally together and change things. It was also another example of always standing up for what is right, even if it’s not directly affecting you right now, it could have eventually and it was just plain wrong. Everyone stood together, we made our voice heard and to me, that means we won this battle.
Thank you to everyone for your support, your phone calls and your kind words, they helped tremendously! For those of you that were going to skip Boot Key, don’t, you’ll be missing out on a strong community of amazing people I’m proud to call friends.
*_The following is what I said at the meeting when I was asked to speak. I hope I represented the harbor well and I tried to walk a “thin line” between being an upset boater/member of this community, and being a city employee. _*
*We are here tonight to raise questions, questions we as boaters need answers to. Hopefully tonight we will all leave here a little wiser and with far less anxiety. The FWC’s presence in the harbor starting on Thanksgiving day was overwhelming to say the least. Nightly spotlighting, and late night boarding of vessels without cause brought a sense of fear into Boot Key Harbor. This is a family community of live aboard boaters, these are our homes. I also know that FOR NOW… these are not offered the same protection, but they should be offered respect. A little bit of tact on the part of the FWC officers in question and we might not be here tonight.
Capt Dupree you said something the other day that stuck with me, it’s something I think might have prevented the entire situation in the harbor if those officers here would have followed your advice. “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should” Just because you can board a vessel at 11pm, waking a family, scaring the children AND the parents out of sleep and into a state of disorientation, doesn’t mean you should. Using discretion and a little bit of tact, goes a long way with the public, just as the decision of your officers went a long way in creating this negative situation. Their actions have reached far beyond the mangroves of Boot Key Harbor. There are articles nationwide in magazines, internet and other media, and the city marina is fielding calls daily from all over the country about this situation. On cruisers forum alone there are over 15k views and word is spreading fast. We all await the outcome of this meeting. Many people have decided to skip Boot Key until this is resolved. This lost revenue creates a ripple effect that also reaches far and beyond the harbor. Cruisers bring money, dispensable income that infuses the economy here in Marathon. These businesses also have an interest in the outcome of this meeting.
I understand after talking with you, several of these citations were warranted. Many times the one ticket written was the least of the many infractions the individual could have gotten. Other times the citations have been odd, if not just plain bizarre. Writing tickets for things nobody has ever heard of, again, “Just because they can”. Capt Dupree, what we want is consistent interactions and for you to pass this message to your officers in the field. We are not going to live in fear, we will not put up with heavy handed officers, and we WILL call into question at the highest levels, the necessity of actions such as nightly spotlighting and shining into my 8 year old daughters bedroom window. How many nights in a row do you have to “check my registration”? Capt Dupree we welcome the dialogue and the help in returning Boot Key Harbor to the way it was before Thanksgiving. Respect is not something that comes with a gun and a badge, fear does not earn it and it is not blindly given. When it is not given to us we question that authority, so tonight lets try and repair what has been damaged and show each other mutual respect.. Thank you. *
What was the reason for the heavy handed and (in my view) illegal police activity?
Captain Mike Wright
Captain Wright wrote, “What was the reason for the heavy handed and (in my view) illegal police activity?”
1. What was the answer you received from FWC?
2. What do you expect to change as a result of the meeting?
My good friend Walt Avery has retired from his career as a marine biologist working in Tampa Bay on seagrass restoration to live aboard his lovingly restores Pearson 39. He is a waterman with as good a knowledge of the rules and regulations as any one I know but he is now fighting a jack-booted FWC in Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor.
He relates the story of a family with children rousted in the middle of the night for inspection.
I don’t know how aware you or those in the Marine Industries Association are of what is going on but he reports that FWC is running off law abiding yachtsmen with enforcement of obscure regulations (like needing a 12-volt system on your dingy to maintain a yellow over white light over the long winter night.)
Law abiding yachtsmen are facing criminal prosecution for bizarre laws.
The restaurants are losing customers who don’t want to get caught taking their dingies back to their boats after dark without full lighting, not just a motoring light.
Boot Key Harbor, which generally has a waiting list this time of year has a 20% vacancy due to FWC tactics including late night inspections and demands that out of state yachtsmen from states that don’t require registration of documented vessels must now register their boats in Florida if they stay longer than 60 days. Think of having to pay sales tax on your yacht’s value if you want to come and spend money in Florida.
I want to spread the word. Our marinas could be next.
Actions speak louder than words. Hopefully, the meeting will help the situation. But don’t get your hopes up. This has been going on for decades in Boot Key Harbor. I was there in 1988, when they did a joint operation with the Florida Marine Patrol, Monroe County Sheriffs, Customs and immigration, and the FWC.They sealed the harbor on both ends,and using a bullhorn, ordered everyone to return to their boats and standby for boarding. They then spent the entire day boarding boats and writing frivolous citations. I believe Capt Dipre is the same guy who was some kind of spokesman for the FWC at the time. He went on the local radio station and basically said they planned to keep on doing it. Boot key Harbor has been the subject of harassment for decades, with occasional periods of relative calm, followed by more harassment.
Also see the Sept 2007 issue of southwinds, and scroll down to the “letters”, where this then “officer” Dipre is mentioned, regarding another raid. It appears he is probably behind most of the harassment, but seems to be softening his image a bit at the recent meeting.
This Dipre guy has been defending his cops for the past 25 years, with any relief being short lived!