CLEARWATER — Less than a year after it opened, the Clearwater Harbor Marina is already showing wear and tear from a relentless source: boat wakes.
Boaters passing beneath the Memorial Causeway Bridge are throwing big waves onto the downtown boat slips, eroding supports for the floating docks and leading officials to ask for new low-wake zones.
The marina was built with more than 80 wave attenuators designed to help protect the slips. But waves up to 4 feet tall continue to smash into the 58,000-pound docks, breaking rollers and digging gashes into the attenuators' concrete pilings.
Critics of the $12.8 million marina, approved by voters in 2007, had worried that waves from the channel would damage the moorings over time. Unlike some marinas, the slips have no natural breakwaters to keep waves at bay.
The damage so far is minimal, limited to a few outer pilings that bear the brunt of the waves, city harbormaster Bill Morris said. A half-dozen damaged rollers, which guide the floating docks up and down swells, have been replaced for about $18 each.
But Morris said the impact of the wakes has surprised him over the last year. He said boaters too often cruise at high speed before throttling down abruptly at the low-wake line.
"We have a heck of a time getting them to slow down and not throw wake," he told the City Council last week.
To calm the wakes, Morris asked the council to expand the current slow-speed zone, which covers part of the Intracoastal Waterway and the shore north of the bridge.
Unlike most no-wake zones, Clearwater Harbor's slow-speed markers don't extend from coast to coast.
Council members supported a no-wake zone inside the marina last week and are expected to approve it at their meeting next week. A larger low-wake zone covering the rest of the channel below the bridge could begin next year.
After the marina's grand opening in September, some of the highest waves were thrown by commercial boats and dolphin chasers who frequently passed near the marina basins. Now, Morris said, most of the rough waves come from out-of-town travelers or boats speeding southward past Dunedin.
Though most of the inner slips and catwalks see little wave action, Morris said, boaters near the outermost attenuators have found trouble boarding due to wakes. The marina, with slips of 30 to 55 feet, is about two-thirds occupied.
No-wake zones are an unpopular fact of life for boaters and charter captains, who lose daylight and patience idling at low speed.
The zones were last expanded locally in 1999 to help shield the downtown waterfront, Morris said.
"Boaters don't like wake zones," he said. "I'm a boater, and I don't like wake zones. But I understand why they're there."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or email@example.com.