Tag Archives: kayaks

Yacht Club Claims: We Own The Water!

Last summer, a Westport homeowner walked out of her Saugatuck Shores home. She strolled through her back yard, to the edge of the water. She slipped into her kayak, and paddled a few yards.

Suddenly, she was stopped. A woman from Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club, across the way, yelled that she was trespassing.

“We own the water!” the SHYC representative said. “We reserve it for our members!”

Stunned, the Westport resident retreated.

She’s not alone. A neighbor was reprimanded, the same way.

The Saugatuck Shores homeowner’s back yard.

Commodore Sandy Heller and Vice Commodore Roger Schwanhausser followed up with a letter. They sent it “as neighbors,” with “a significant safety concern for both you and our members.”

The letter continued:

We have received member reports, and have pictures, of kayaks stored on your property being launched by individuals crossing over our property line to access the water and into our Club basin.

This has created navigational hazards and safety to concerns to our members as they transit in and out of our basin. Recently, one of our members nearly collided with a non-member kayaker who was unable or unwilling to yield navigational right of way.

Kayaks, ready — but forbidden — to launch, near Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.

But safety was not the commodores’ only concern.

Further, as you may not know, the Saugatuck Harbor basin is private property. Our Club owns the land under the water, and per Connecticut law, also owns the water above that land up to the mean high tide line.

Any unapproved access to our basin is, therefore, trespass on our property and is not allowed by Connecticut law.

These facts are documented in our deeds and property records, which go back almost 60 years, and are recorded and memorialized at Town Hall in Westport.

We, at Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club, have always strived to maintain good relationships with all our neighbors. We are fully aware of our presence in, what is largely, a residential neighborhood.

We want to be respectful of our neighbors’ privacy, their safety, and their property rights. We would expect the same of you, and request that you refrain from any further access to our basin in the future.

But is it really “their” basin?

The homeowner asked someone in Town Hall’s Conservation office. “She laughed,” the woman says. “She said, ‘No one owns the water!”‘

Kayakers and boaters — not including the Westporter in this story — enjoying the water near Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.

The Westporter — who notes that “people come in with kayaks and paddleboards all the time from the other side of the inlet” — did what any reasonable person would do. She Googled.

She found Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s “Living on the Shore” page. It says:

While much of the Connecticut shore is privately owned, the coastal tidelands actually belong to all the people—not just in terms of our environmental and cultural heritage, but in a specific legal sense as well.

Under the common law public trust doctrine, a body of law dating back to Roman times, coastal states (as sovereigns) hold the submerged lands and waters waterward of the mean high water line in trust for the public.

The general public may freely use these intertidal and subtidal lands and waters, whether they are beach, rocky shore, or open water, for traditional public trust uses such as fishing, ­shellfishing, boating, sunbathing, or simply walking along the beach.

In Connecticut, a line of state Supreme Court cases dating back to the ­earliest days of the republic confirms that in virtually every case private ­property ends at mean high water (the shore elevation, which is the ­average of all high tides) and that the state holds title as trustee to the lands waterward of mean high water, subject to the private rights of littoral access, that is, access to navigable waters.

Public Trust sketch

What is the boundary of the public trust area?

The public trust area includes submerged lands and waters waterward of mean high water in tidal, coastal, or navigable waters of the state of Connecticut. On the ground, the mean high water boundary of the ­public trust area can often be determined by a prominent wrack line, debris line, or water mark. In general, if an area is regularly wet by the tides, you are probably safe to assume that it is in the public trust. The public trust area is also sometimes referred to as tidelands and is defined as ”public beach“ by the Connecticut Coastal Management Act, C.G.S. 22a-93(6). While the public trust area extends up navigable rivers, it does not extend inland to areas landward of the mean high water line.

What rights does the public have within the public trust area?

According to the Connecticut courts, public rights to the shore include the
following:

  • The public has the right to fish and shellfish over submerged lands. Peck v. Lockwood, 5 Day 22 (1811);
  • The public has the right to pass and repass in navigable rivers. Adams v. Pease, 2 Conn 481 (1818);
  • The public may gather seaweed between ordinary high water and low water. Chapman v. Kimball, 9 Day 38 (1831);
  • “Public rights include fishing, boating, hunting, bathing, taking shellfish, gathering seaweed, cutting sedge, and of passing and repassing ….” Orange v. Resnick, 94 Conn 573 (1920);
  • “It is settled in Connecticut that the public has the right to boat, hunt, and fish on the navigable waters of the state.” State v. Brennan, 3 Conn Cir. 413 (1965).

Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club

She found another page: “Access to Your Boat: Your Littoral Rights.”

Although shoreline residents must share the public trust area with their fellow citizens, every coastal property owner enjoys unique legal rights by virtue of owning waterfront land. Just as an upland property owner has the right to access a public road, a coastal property owner has an exclusive right to access navigable water from his or her property.

This coastal right of access is known as a “littoral” or “riparian” right. Technically, “riparian” applies to rivers while “littoral” applies to coastal waters, but the terms are often used interchangeably.

The littoral right of access provides the property owner reasonable access to the water from his or her property.

Reasonable access can be achieved by launching a boat directly from the shore, by use of a mooring, or by constructing a dock suitable for the site conditions and properly permitted by  DEEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Littoral access does not imply a right to build whatever size dock or wharf a property owner wishes, nor does it mean that a littoral owner may routinely exclude boats or moorings from the waters in front of his or her property.

In terms of access, navigable waters are equivalent to a public road, and a dock serves the same purpose as a private driveway. A littoral landowner may not exclude the public from lawful uses of navigable water, just as an upland owner cannot exclude the public from driving or walking on the street in front of his or her house. However, a duly authorized dock or other littoral structure is private property, and no one can legally interfere with the exercise of this right of access, just as individuals cannot use or block someone’s driveway.

Seems like the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club neighbor “shore” has a good case.

PS: Someone from SHYC told the Saugatuck Shores resident, “you can join our club.”

“I don’t have a boat!” she replied.

Pic Of The Day #1402

A few days ago, off Compo Beach … (Photo/Thomas Purcell)

… and just before the snow, at Compo Cove (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Pic Of The Day #1327

Colorful kayaks (Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

Photo Challenge #190

Westport is chock full of kayaks.

They’re stacked at Compo Beach, Longshore Sailing School, Downunder, and docks and driveways all around town.

But the kayaks in last week’s Photo Challenge were some of the most visible. They’re stored at Schlaet’s Point — specifically, in the little private park (supposedly) for Bluewater Hill residents only, next to the house at 259 Hillspoint Road with the massive stone wall and 3-flag pole.

We all pass by them often. But only Matt Murray, Rich Stein, Joelle Harris Malec and Sarah Hock knew exactly where they were. Kayak kudos to you! (Click here to see Amy Schneider’s shot.)

Here is this week’s Photo Challenge:

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

If the location rings a bell, click “Comments” below. And if you’ve got the back story to it, let us know too.