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No overnight anchorage in Katama Bay

The Martha’s Vineyard port makes the move in the name of overcrowding and clean water

The Martha’s Vineyard port makes the move in the name of overcrowding and clean water

Boaters who have enjoyed free anchorage in Katama Bay on Martha’s Vineyard will have to make other arrangements this year. Citing crowds and concerns for the bay’s shellfish, officials have banned yachts from anchoring overnight.

“We are reaching the threshold of the number of boats the bay can hold,” says Edgartown harbormaster Charlie Blair. “It just got out of hand.”

Blair says when he was appointed harbormaster nearly a decade ago, some 15 boats would anchor overnight in the bay. Last year there was an average of 83 boats, with more than 100 anchored in the bay during some busy weekends and holidays.

“That’s a city,” says Blair. “At night it’s a forest of mast lights.”

Blair says the free pumpouts, showers and garbage service have contributed to the area’s popularity. Katama Bay is on the southern end of Edgartown Harbor. Some boats, ranging from midsized vessels to large yachts, have spent days, even weeks, at an anchorage.

Blair says that boaters can still anchor overnight in the outer harbor. The town also offers a transient mooring field, which costs $35 a night. The mooring field is by reservation only and is often booked months in advance, however. There also is limited dock space at the town’s marinas.

Blair has fielded numerous phone calls from concerned boaters. Many say that closing the anchorage area will create safety hazards and other problems for visiting boaters.

“To close this protected anchorage will force all vessels outside of the harbor and produce what we sailors call a lee shore anchorage. This is the most dangerous place for a boat to anchor,” sailor T.J. Salvidio wrote in an open letter to Blair. “With no protection to offer anchored boats, you are setting boaters up for a tragedy one summer night.”

Salvidio has launched a campaign to lift the anchorage ban and is asking other boaters who also oppose the ban to contact him at

Several boaters have asked that the town instead restrict the number of overnight anchorages, or limit the size of boats allowed to anchor. They say they are being unfairly targeted and that there are other factors contributing to the overall decline of water quality.

Town officials say aggressive measures are necessary. The state Department of Marine Fisheries closed the inner harbor to shellfishing several years ago and they want to prevent the same from happening to Katama Bay.

Shellfishing is an important industry in Martha’s Vineyard. Last year commercial and recreational fishermen harvested more than 650 bushels of quahogs, 150 bushels of clams, 15 bushels of oysters and about a dozen bushels of scallops. But last season juvenile oyster disease killed half the expected crop.

Officials are concerned that gray water released from the boats, such as the discharge from showers, dishwashers and washing machines, is too stressful for the shellfish. They also cite runoff caused by boaters washing their vessels.

“It is easy and convenient to blame the boats and ignore the real causes, the large multibath homes that ring the bay and their septic systems and, perhaps the worst polluter of all, the Edgartown outfall pipes which drain directly into the harbor,” wrote Salvidio.

“It’s a real tough decision,” admits Blair. “But if the shellfish beds were closed it would be a real loss.”

Blair says the congestion in the bay has caused other problems, such as accidents. There also have been several oil spills from boats.

The town prohibits boats from discharging marine sanitation devices in the bay and the free pumpout services have helped keep problems with boat sewage at bay. Last summer the department pumped out more than 20,000 gallons of sewage from boats throughout the harbor. The area is not federally designated as a no discharge zone, however.

“That would be the logical next step,” says Blair.

The town may install another mooring field in the bay, which would be available to area boaters on the town’s lengthy waiting list. Since these boaters will not likely be staying aboard, officials don’t anticipate a problem with pollution.