Missing the boat

The 'new' Tiverton harbormaster boat that Mr. Vannier helped obtain from the state. The 'new' Tiverton harbormaster boat that Mr. Vannier helped obtain from the state.

For towns with harbors, there’s no understating the value of a good harbormaster office.

Westport seems to understand this; Tiverton might take a lesson from its neighbor to the east.

Westport is blessed with a first-rate harbormaster (Richie Earle) who has been there for years, knows the waters well and is there to assist boaters — whether locals or visitors. He has the help of an able corps of assistants.

Tiverton is about to lose a first-rate harbormaster (David Vannier). He knows boats and the water too and has been on the job four years, working long hours for the very part-time annual pay rate of $5,000. He has no assistants — not for lack of asking — and is burned out.

Waterfront towns that don’t know better miss a golden opportunity by minimizing the job. Too often it becomes a police function — an afterthought whose main tasks are rounding up a few weekend speeders and collecting mooring fees.

The good departments are staffed by salty characters who know their way around boats and bad weather. They know how to guide a boat to a mooring, corral a boat gone adrift and recognize trouble before it starts.

And they are ambassadors to visitors, often the first to greet transients looking for a place to tie up for the night. Those same transients then head ashore to spend money on supplies, a drink and dinner — and later spread the word to others about this great port to visit.

Tiverton’s departing harbormaster and Harbor Commission understand these possibilities but Tiverton has mostly missed the boat. The town has no moorings or dockage of its own for transients (the capable boatyard does its best to fill the gap), and usually no harbormaster present to answer a question or lend a hand. Faced with such disinterest, visitors tend to pass the town by for someplace that offers a warmer welcome.

Perhaps the transformation of Tiverton’s Stone Bridge will preface a rebirth of the town’s appreciation for its priceless waterfront, and with it the valuable role a top notch harbormaster can play.

In the meantime, thanks Mr. Vannier for a job well done.

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