An increase in the number of daily trips windjammers can take out of Camden harbor per season has frustrated owners of day sailing operations and is forcing the town to take a look at its decades-old harbor ordinance.
Because of limited space in the harbor and town-specific definitions for what determines a day-sailing vessel and a windjammer, Camden’s harbor ordinance strictly regulates windjammer and day-sailing businesses.
The town has tried to maintain the delicate balance between large windjammers, which take passengers out for multi-day overnight trips, and day-sailing vessels, which take passengers out for day trips.
But during the past month, this balance has hit rough waters following the select board’s May 1 approval of a request that amends the windjammer licenses, allowing the windjammer businesses to conduct 15 day sails per season, up from three.
A motion to rescind the license change failed at last week’s select board meeting because of a tie vote.
Ray Williamson, who brought forward the request, said more day-sail opportunities are necessary to keep his windjammer business viable because he’s seeing a decline in the number of customers seeking longer trips.
“I have three windjammers, and in the past few years we haven’t had the business to keep them all going,” Williamson said. “It’s not uncommon to have one of them sitting at the dock doing nothing.”
Owners of Camden day-sailing businesses say they were angered by the change in windjammer licensing because the change did not go through the harbor committee, which is supposed to review and recommend any changes to the town’s harbor ordinance
“It was abrupt and not fair to the rest of the businesses,” Ramiro de Acevedo Ramos, owner of the schooner Surprise and the sloop Anjacaa, said at the June 19 select board meeting.
Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said the process by which the license change went before the select board “wasn’t the best process.” But Caler-Bell said the discussion that has transpired is making it clear that it might be time to review the town’s harbor ordinance.
“[The ordinance] puts the town at the center of regulating these businesses quite strictly and I don’t think the town wants to be in a position where we’re so closely regulating these businesses to a point where they don’t have any flexibility in their operations,” Caler-Bell said.
Williamson said in the 30 years he has been in Camden Harbor, dynamics have changed and windjammers need to be allowed more flexibility to maintain their viability.
Camden harbor boasts one of the largest windjammer fleets in Maine, and the vessels have always been a draw for the harbor, Caler-Bell said.
“Moving forward it’s just about figuring out how to strike that balance,” Caler-Bell said. “So the windjammers can stay here and thrive, the day sailers are allowed to continue being successful in their businesses and the harbor maintains that iconic character.”
The harbor committee has not set a schedule for when it will review the harbor ordinance, but the committee’s chairman told the select board the review is a priority.
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