It’s been a holiday tradition: Willamette River boaters within a stone’s throw from Waterfront Blues Festival’s South stage, jockeying for position as they claim their territory for the four-day event.
Boats—from yachts to skiffs—sometimes arrive weeks early for the event, trying to hold space at anchor or along the North Breakwater public dock, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge.
But this year, the city Bureau of Parks and Recreation is cracking down on boaters, citing a long-standing but little-enforced rule that prevents mooring at the dock for more than three nights in a row, and sets the overnight limit at six days a month.
Boaters who have made the weeks-long waiting game a tradition are crying foul.
“We come up here and spend thousands to donate and participate in the Oregon Food Bank event and every year we have done the same thing,” boat owner Bradley McKay says.
The city has been writing warnings to boaters their craft could be towed. Some people, such as McKay, have received citations and that exclude them from the dock for 30 days.
He says he’s parked his boat, the 84-foot C'est La Vie, at the dock since shortly after Father’s Day—around two weeks.
He believes that the threat of removal is just a “bluff to get everybody off the dock.” So far, he says, it’s had an effect: The boat population has dwindled from full two weeks ago to about half of the usual crowd he’s grown to know after the last 14 years.
The city of Portland says the rule is being enforced for the first time ahead of the blues festival (which starts July 3) following complaints from other boaters.
“Not everybody can get out of work and stake out a boat dock that hasn’t been intended for long term use,” Parks spokesperson Mark Ross says. “In fairness to all during the busy summer season, rangers are now enforcing this rule.”
Initial boat removal notices were issued around June 20th, requesting that boaters remove their property by the 27th.
But the exclusion notices other boaters received may not have their intended effect. People receiving the citations can appeal their exclusion, and that process takes 30 days. By that time, the blues festival will long be over.
“Most people have been intimidated. I won’t be intimidated,” says Kirk Rowe, who owns the 48-foot Rockin’ Rowe and is a 10-year veteran of the blues festival. “I know how to play the game. They won’t get to me. I’m a local guy. I’ve spent so many years down there that there’s no way they’ll scare me off.”
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s department says deputies accompanied park rangers at the docks to oversee the delivery of exclusions, but as of Monday afternoon, the sheriff had not received any requests to aid in the towing process.
This year, McKay is determined to stay through the festival. For the first time in 14 years, however, McKay is second-guessing the sustainability of his tradition.
“If you’ve got to worry about it every day whether or not your boat will be towed - it’s pretty stressful,” McKay says. “It’s just not worth worrying about.”