As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. A good newspaper strives to get both sides, but sometimes in reporting a story, one side can elude us. This is especially true when that side lives on the water.
In reporting this week’s front-page story “Officials cut line on liveaboards,” we tried to get in touch with liveaboards in Quartermaster Harbor. We talked with people in the boating community, called some who have lived on boats legally, went down to Dockton, did everything short of knocking on boats. But we couldn’t get in touch with anyone who would be affected by the state and county’s plan to better enforce laws in the harbor and tell liveaboards to move on, and their point of view is missing.
We’re not sure how many people currently live on boats in the harbor — we’re told that in recent years there have been 10 to 15; currently there may be only a handful, and there could be more once summer comes. From what we understand, some people live on boats because they’ve fallen on hard economic times, some because they avoid mainstream society and some, perhaps, just because they like it. (Be careful not to confuse illegal liveaboards with those who live legally in marina slips.)
As Don Wolczko, a well respected islander and longtime boater, pointed out, living on boats can be a legitimate lifestyle. We suspect people have been doing it on Vashon Island since long before it was outlawed.
But it is illegal now, and seemingly for a good reason. Quartermaster Harbor is a protected marine reserve, and setting up residence there is like pitching a tent permanently at a state park — you just can’t do it. What’s more, it seems liveaboards undoubtedly dump their sewage and trash into the water. On Vashon, this works to further pollute a harbor that’s ecologically important and already in poor health.
If we at The Beachcomber had the opportunity to talk with liveaboards, we’d want to hear their stories. Are they from Vashon, or simply seeking safe harbor here? If they were ordered not to live in the harbor, would they easily sail someplace else, or would they be homeless, so to speak? Do they feel they have options?
Perhaps the only people to hear some liveaboards’ stories will be officials from the King County Sheriff’s Office, who this spring will knock on their boats to talk with them about the law and ask them to comply. We’re glad to hear the sheriff’s office will move slowly, giving warnings, talking with people multiple times if necessary and giving them time to make new plans before any legal action is taken. And perhaps, as a sergeant at the sheriff’s office suggested, some liveaboards could get access to the help they need as part of the process. While their presence in the harbor may harm the delicate marine environment, liveaboards could be vulnerable too, and we hope officials take time to hear their side of the story.