By Karen Robes Meeks
For the last seven years, Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department has galvanized the community to help its harbor department in need, whether it’s refurbishing lifeguard stations or installing a solar-powered emergency phone in a remote part of the sand spit.
Now, the nonprofit community group is tackling its biggest challenge yet: raising funds to refurbish a much-needed patrol boat for the harbor department.
Friends of the MBHD is working to reach its $100,000 goal to help the department outfit a newer used vessel with a pair of new Yanmar diesel engines and outdrives, updated electronics and other onboard systems, fiberglass work and a refurbished firefighting system.
“We’re a small city trying to improve their fleet, and this is a creative way that we’re doing it,” said Bill Luffee, president of The Friends of the MBHD’s Board of Directors.
Traditionally, the quaint seaside community of about 10,000 residents derived most of its revenue from tourism, commercial fishing and a power plant operated by PG&E. But over the years, regulatory constraints have shrunk the local commercial fishing industry.
Then in 2013, PG&E shuttered its power plant that previously brought high-paying jobs and local revenue.
“Back when the power plant was operating and commercial fishing was happening more, we just had more revenues coming in and we were able to provide all the services we’ve been able to provide over the decades,” Harbor Director Eric Endersby said. “Now we’re generating basically enough revenues to keep the lights on, but we’re not putting any money in the bank for capital programs.”
It left hardly any money to upgrade its fleet of two patrol vessels, which are used for various tasks such as vessel assists, search and rescue operations, firefighting, pollution response and cleanup and code enforcement.
The fleet covers the 1.1 million visitors (including some 3,600 vessels using our launch ramp) in Morro Bay in an average year. The boats are also key in helping communities within 100 square miles.
About six years ago, the Harbor Department purchased a new patrol boat to replace an older vessel for more than $400,000. Now the second vessel – a boat built in 1984 – needs replacing.
“It’s made a lot of great rescues and saved a lot of property and done some pretty amazing things over the years with lots of different people, but it’s just worn out, and it’s not cost effective to try and keep it on the water anymore,” Endersby explained.
The Harbor Department found a creative way to replace the second boat and saw an opportunity to purchase a newer, lightly used boat from Port San Luis, which was in the process of getting a new vessel. The department bought the 26-foot Radon boat and trailer with an $85,000 grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
But the grant and the Harbor Department’s reserves aren’t enough for the $160,000 in refurbishments needed to modernize the boat.
Endersby reached out to the Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department, led by Luffee, who formed the nonprofit in 2014 after serving on the city’s Harbor Advisory Board.
“As I was getting more and more involved, I saw that the Harbor Department, which is an enterprise zone, could barely keep up to date with a lot of their infrastructure needs,” he said. “They just didn’t have the money.”
Since its formation, the nonprofit has raised $75,000 to accomplish a handful of projects, including a project to build a floating dock for sea lions so the animals would stop climbing into people’s boats.
The nonprofit got to work, reaching out to donors and spreading the word via social media, mailers and print advertising, which hasn’t been easy in a pandemic.
“Because of COVID and all the other things that have happened, it’s been very difficult,” Luffee said. “You can’t really have events. You can’t meet people.”
Still, the Friends were able to raise about $50,000.
“Bill and the community have been wonderful in stepping up and seeking out some good charitable folks that they want to donate,” Endersby said.
Luffee said the goal is to raise the full amount by the end of the summer.
“We just had a rescue and if we didn’t have a reliable boat or if it was out doing something else, we might not have been able to rescue this person and that person might have drowned or died,” he said. “You must have a reliable and a stable fleet in cases of emergencies. It’s imperative.”
For more information or to donate, visit https://friendsofthembhd.org