Don’t Blame Boaters for Harbor Pollution, Round 2

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April Fools’ Day is Sunday, and this day reminds me of all the pranks that we use to play on new crewmembers while on yacht deliveries. However, there were unwritten rules that made the food off limits, and the pranks had to harmless. Well, sort of, anyway. Placing cellophane over the toilet bowl is harmless, right?

However, there is another “April Fool” that you can own for only $69,500,000, and this is not a joke. You can visit the nicest ports around the world aboard your 200-foot Feadship built in 2006 by Feadship member Royal Van Lent & Zonen. She will draw attention as you cruise Newport Harbor, but you will need to call ahead before stopping at one of the fuel docks as the boat holds 33,025 gallons of diesel. You might need to take out a second mortgage on your house because a fill-up will cost around $165,000, which will allow you to cruise 5,000 nautical miles at a speed of 13 knots.

However, on a humorless note are the comments made by Jack Wu in his new newspaper, in his column titled “Wu: Fire pit removal illustrates lack of conservatism” on March 24. Now I want to start by stating that I like Jack. But he like many others are still blaming any pollution in the harbor on the boaters. I have written numerous articles that the boaters are not the ones polluting our waterways, and every landlubber who thinks so should look in the mirror.

Jack wrote:

“When I lived on Lido, I remember taking my then-6-month-old triplets to the little beach there. Kids were jumping in and out of the harbor, they were swimming in the harbor, and they were drinking the harbor water. All the while yachts and boats (there’s a difference) were cruising by, with their giant twin diesel engines, spewing God-knows-what into the water and into the air.

“The harbor is always covered with a very nice slick of oil, gas and trash, all from the ‘Largest Pleasure Boat Harbor in the Nation.’ And my kids were eating the oil-soaked sand.

“What are the chances, do you think, people will complain about the health hazards these boats have and try to ban them? Are out-of-towners bringing their boats down for the weekend? Nope.”

Now, I want to address each point separately to help educate everyone, so let’s start with diesel engines in the first paragraph. Yes, diesel engines do emit exhaust into the air but nothing into the water except cooling water. The first federal standards (Tier 1) for diesel engines were adopted in 1994 and even more stringent regulations have been phased in over the years. God probably does not know as much as the EPA and AQMD as to what the engines emit and the regulations imposed on the engine manufactures.

You spill a little fuel into the harbor from your boat and you are subject to a minimum fine of $50 and up to $25,000. However, studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of pollution and petroleum in Newport Harbor is from urban run-off produced by landlubbers, so everyone needs to do their share in keeping our waterways shipshape.

Now, the second paragraph blames all the trash in the harbor on the boaters, but again I need to educate. We all know that the vast majority – more than 90 percent – of bay pollution is directly related to the storm drains and creek openings that empty a large portion of Orange County storm runoff into the harbor. Additionally, trash enters the water from the bay beaches, backyards, and people throwing trash out their car windows. Just take a look at the harbor after a rain storm and you can see all the trash that was washed into our harbor. Boaters are under the Marine Pollution Act that states nothing can be tossed overboard into the harbor – nothing. Commercial boats have to have a written pollution and trash management plan, required by the Coast Guard.

Finally in Wu’s last paragraph, wow, where to begin? As I have mentioned, boaters are constantly under attack as the source for all the pollution in our waterways. Some lakes have banned certain boating activity, environmental groups are trying to impose even stricter regulations, and others will not be happy until boating is banned for good.

Now, who are the boaters in Newport Harbor? Everyone uses the harbor from the bayfront homeowner with a boat docked behind their house, to the out-of-towner trailer boater launching at the Dunes, to the out-of-town couple with their boat in one of the harbor’s marinas. Oh, let’s not forget the International traveler touring our beautiful harbor aboard one of the harbor’s charterboats.

Jack, nothing personal, just wanted to educate the readers, and remind everyone to quit pointing the finger at the boaters who do not want to pollute their water playground. You can read Heal the Bay’s report card for Newport Harbor in my July 15, 2011, Indy column.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific. Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.” You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at or

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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  1. Mike – all the things I wrote in that column, and that’s what you took offense at? I was just trying to illustrate, in the most sarcastic way I could imagine, the hypocritical nature of the fire pit complainers. Do you really think my kids ate oil soaked sand? On Lido for that matter? You obviously don’t know the Lido Isle sand, which is trucked in daily fresh from the sand factories in Hawaii…on pollution free boats, mind you.

  2. I would like to comment on Mr. Wu’s statements. For over 9 years I served as Director of Boating and Waterways for the state of California. Between what used to be Independent Waste Management, the Coastal Commission and the Department of Boating and Waterways millions were spent on clean Boating education, Clean Marina programs, grants for sewage pumpout stations at both public and private marinas there has been saturation outreach to remind and assist boaters to keep their waters clean. I haven’t met many boaters who didn’t care about keeping their waters clean.
    Time after time and test after test on polluting items from oils to foam cups and other trash point to people dumping into rivers, drainage canals etc., or what is called “non-source point pollution” . When you see the guy in the car in front of you throw his trash out of his car that falls into the gutter, if it rains before the street cleaner comes by, that trash will flow into the gutter and if it rains long enough, will end up in a harbor somewhere.
    If you can picture a boating couple anchored in Newport Harbor to watch the sunset, the last thing they want to see is a bunch of foam cups and plastic bags. I have been out with these folk who actually will slow down and pick up that trash rather than let it pollute their water.
    One last point, engine technology, especially in outboard engines have reduced exhaust emissions in both two and four stroke engines to a fraction of what they were a decade ago so the days of watching a boat go by leaving a trail of oil on the water is long gone.
    It is really easy to pick on boats simply because they are there with all of the trash floating around them. It is far harder to do the necessary research into identifying the real culprits.
    I would urge other like minded boaters to sound off about this situation and let Mr Wu know what they think of the cheap shot Mr. Wu has taken at us.
    Also keep in mind that there aree over 3 million paddlecraft in Californiathat do no polluting at all.
    Raynor Tsuneyoshi

  3. Mike:

    Although sometimes quoted in them, I have never written a blog response or letter to our local newspapers, but am making an exception in this particular instance because journalistic opinion is one thing, but outright journalistic exaggeration for effect, disguised as opinion is another .

    Thanks for your NB Indy response to Jack Wu’s astoundingly uninformed, factually-unsupportable and irresponsible comments on Newport Harbor boating-related water quality and presumed bay water quality/air pollution sources in his strange deviation to the bay from his rant on the fire rings removal issue. The connection between the subjects escapes me.

    After recent decades of highly successful Newport Beach community effort, as well as many infrastructure, environmental and operations improvements and monitoring and enforcement to support federal, state and local water quality standards of our bay , this community is way beyond needing or accepting this kind of random nonsense written about boats and bay water quality issues. His misunderstanding of boat operations are

    This is particularly unfortunate coming from someone such as Mr. Wu who is presumably in a position to know better and has the power of the press to either inform and suggest courses of action to readers or to confuse the reader by misstating and sensationalizing the issues as he has in this case. A little bit of review of the Pilot’s files, checking with City Harbor Resources, and visits to Google and Wikipedia would have made this aspect of his boating rant moot.

    As you mention, the proof of our community’s harbor quality efforts is documented every day and month of every year. The Heal The Bay and other independent and government samplings and studies, daily public agency monitoring document this progress and extraordinary water quality improvements over many years and a lot of local effort, used as an international model.

    As you also note, the water and air quality environmental aspects of boating harbors like Newport have markedly/measurably improved over the past couple of decades through increased government environmental regulation and innovative boating industry response in engine and vessel designs, new bottom paints and new vessel cleaning procedures.

    Newport also has the largest concentration of electric-powered boats in the world, massive numbers of human and wind powered vessels and gets more non-boater people onto the water in fewer vessels than anything short of a cruise port. Visitors to our inner harbor public beaches have continued to increase markedly over recent years and they aren’t coming out of the water covered with oil or gasping from exhaust fumes – more likely brushing off floating eel grass and kelp fragments reflective of the improved harbor water quality.

    Additionally attesting to our unique recreational harbor water quality are the many tens of thousands of adults and children who continue to use our bay beaches and swim in the harbor waters without water-quality health problems, sharing the harbor waters with those boats of all sizes and types (purposely?) misunderstood and maligned by Mr. Wu, but for which the harbor was originally developed, and continues as a major public asset of our community into the future.

    As a personal observation of water quality in our fine boating harbor, four generations of our family have continuously lived, water-recreated and docked boats on the Balboa Island South Bayfront (downwind/leeward shore) since the late 1920’s on the same type of waterfront beaches as Mr. Wu’s brief Lido Isle past experience. (and yes, our kids and their mother before them, ate the sand just like his did, but none of it was oil-soaked, and their lungs are fine and were unsullied by boat exhausts)

    After lifetimes living and recreating on the Newport Harbor waters/water’s edge, and working on many other recreational boating/commercial waterfronts we have not experienced any of the purported boating-related water quality problems, or presumptive related health problems suggested by Mr.Wu.

    Our NH water quality issues occurred on rare, post-major rainstorm occasions, where inland watershed pollution sources draining into Newport Harbor were the clear contributors. ( It would be nice if Mr. Wu could journalistically champion this very real need for stronger regional action affecting our harbor water quality rather than battle imagined evils such as boat exhausts.)

    We as a community and a region are all still trying to solve this problem completely, but being at the end of the drain pipe is the real 99% problem, not the 1% that might be boat-related, as we have carefully documented, legislated and enforced over the decades. Newport has been a much-copied leader in the improvement of many water quality and harbor operational areas over the past 15 years-so successfully that it is apparently not even noticed by folks like Jack Wu. (Cleaning up 70 years worth of shipyard bottom stuff in the recent successful Rhine Channel dredging seems to have escaped his notice as a water quality improvement related to unwinding the negatives of our boating history, one more every six months)

    I, for one, am growing increasingly unsupportive of those in the Fourth Estate like Mr. Wu who make these kind of sweeping generalizations for shock value (to what end?) under the guise of “sound/word-bite journalism” and “free speech” and “opinion/columnist”. This in order to gain visibility and notoriety at the expense of actually informing and educating the general public reader about things they need/want to know.

    Opinions publicly spoken in the media , particularly at the local level, should educate us, help us understand and address/make decisions about the real issues, not cause confusion over the facts or create fear and loathing of imagined evils, (even in an election year).

    It appears to me that the long tradition of the Daily Pilot as a reasoned local voice of focused observation and change in this community is diminished by Mr Wu’s intemperate and wrong-headed use of his “columnist/bully pulpit” role in this instance. His abysmal ignorance of the facts related to how boating use and water quality interact in the bay and the real world in general should be embarrassing to Pilot editors and publisher who have well-documented these issues and solutions for our city.

    His comments, though seemingly insignificant on the surface, ignore years of Pilot-described efforts and progress of the many Newport citizens, City staff and elected officials, past and current, to accomplish measurable Harbor environmental and operational progress on many levels after nearly 70 years of benign neglect and partial solutions.

    His “observations” also ignore decades of federal and state-regulated change in vessel and motor design, strong local laws and local enforcement of violations/citizen complaints related to water quality and vessel operation which reduce the actual boating water quality impacts to measurably inconsequential harbor-wide levels. They ignore the reality of those factors such as regional urban and rural drainage into the harbor that actually contribute the most significant impacts to water quality. Someone at the Pilot needs to show him the story files on this.

    I, Like you and many others, have willingly assisted and supported community harbor-issue solutions by spending thousands of hours in volunteer roles and donating pro-bono expertise over the past 20 years on various City committees and commissions related to the Harbor. We have seen the success of our efforts and I think we have a much clearer perspective and grasp of the real issues and facts than Mr. Wu.

    I hope Mr. Wu can someday write with pride about what he has actually accomplished to help move Newport harbor forward. My reading of his musings in various local publications (some quite informative and interesting) suggest it is time for him to be a contributor/contrarian, rather than just contrary, journalist serving the community. ( I am sure he is a fine father and accountant.)

    Maybe we could take him to lunch (on the water), help him learn more about the harbor and boating and give him some ideas about real ways to benefit his harbor, his community and to enable his family’s healthful enjoyment of both. Certainly it will be a more interesting and newsworthy subject than doggedly pursuing the future of the fire rings as a continuing major story thread. My hope is that he will return to his first love as a writer- that of political punditry.

    Now, back to working with you and others for a better Newport Harbor…..

    John Corrough

  4. Normally, I would agree with Jack on most things he writes. I missed the article. Where did you go Jack? You were not in your usual spot in the Indy. Some other guy was there in your place. If I can assume Whitehead’s summary of your article is close to accurate, then I agree that removal of the fire pits was unintelligent on numerous levels. Jack’s comment that he was being “sarcastic” is not the same as a retraction of his comments regarding boaters in Newport Harbor being a significant cause of water pollution. That observation is almost as unintelligent as the reasons for removal of the fire rings. First of all, whatever boats Jack has personally seen “spewing God-knows-what into the water and into the air,” multiply that by hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, locomotives etc. on the road. The spewing of which washes directly into the bay through the storm drain system unless it is intercepted by the municipal once-a-week street sweeper. Secondly, being an active boater in Newport Harbor myself for over 25 years, it is clear to me that no one cares more, or is more conscientious about water quality than our boating community. To insinuate that that group is somehow even a small cause of any “pollution” is as unintelligent an opinion as that held by the fire ring haters. I also admit to having to consult my thesaurus for a synonym for “stupid” and unintelligent was the best I could do, but I am not a professional writer like Mike and Jack.

  5. The four other comments to Jack’s “sarcastic” illustration hit all the correct points. Anytime we are on a harbor cruise or on the open ocean, we always make a point of picking up plastic or other debris found floating. I guess I know only boaters who care about the ocean, because they don’t want to pollute and gladly embrace new technology. Mike, thanks for your insightful article.

  6. Well OK, while we’re at it, don’t forget how most of the trash gets in the bay! Its called the San Diego Creek/Peters Canyon Watershed. Being immersed in OC water quality issues and water quality federal lawsuits, I as local waterman, see boaters and most of the marine industry doing a good hands-on job in regards to water quality, could it be better? what couldn’t?. The concern for fuel in the water really needs to be addressed at boat manufactures and US Coast Guard level. The pleasure boat fuel tank venting system have been almost stone age with perfect solutions on the books for 60 years, just not enforced. Microscopic solids are the biggest threat to the marine eco-system. More damage is done to our bay from landscape runoff that dumps high levels of algae feeding nutrients (that a bigger topic). While its great folks pick up trash from the waters surface, how do we clean up the real pollution? So you want something to really bitch about?, lets stop and divert the daily millions (18-25milion) of gallon of toxic runoff and sediments coming into our bay 24/7 rain or shine. The Irvine Company and the County have turned Newport Bay into a flood control system( that should piss all of you off), and the end of the pipe is the harbor entrance (and into the newly sacred MLPA’s), from a still growing watershed.
    The bay needs dredging because many inland washes and small creeks have been turned into storm water systems that have and still carry tons of crap into our bay daily. We really need to fix this problem because as many know the upper bay drop basins recently dredged, are filling up daily! The County which is under command by The Irvine Company because of growth & massive developments are good for commerce, but keep changing restrictive rules for the County Basin plan, and OC drainage plans to make certain harmful numbers look smaller, you don’t want them bigger?. Just remember Newport Bay is suppose to be a recreational bay, with two water quality goals, safe water for body contact, and a sustainable healthy fishery for consumption. Boaters don’t make dirty water to play in, greed does. Hey! any nay sayers for some raw bay Japanese oyster shooters freshly plucked from our waters? , didn’t think so.