Some boats at the Santa Barbara Harbor were setting sail for the first time in awhile this week, as the sand-clogged navigation channel was being deepened and widened by ongoing dredging.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the harbor early on Friday, and punched through a big enough hole to greatly increase passage and navigability by noon Saturday, according to Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman.
Although the harbor was never officially closed following a large winter storm more than two weeks ago, many large commercial fishing and whale-watching boats were stuck, and some smaller vessels could only make it out at high tide.
On Monday, the Condor Express took to the seas for the second day since Feb. 27 after testing the waters on Sunday.
Sun-loving beachgoers set up chairs and towels around the dredging equipment's pipeline on West Beach, where the process of dredging sand to more southern beaches most likely will last another month or so, Kronman said.
Boats may be able to escape, but freedom won’t erase the financial damage already done.
Kronman guessed that more than $100,000 was lost by the partially blocked passage, including income the City of Santa Barbara missed out on by canceling a cruise ship visit last Wednesday.
“It’s still a narrow, shallow channel, but it should get wider and deeper moving forward,” Kronman said.
The delay in dredging, coupled with the failure to complete the process last fall because of a contract dispute, especially cost commercial fishermen and businesses such as the Condor Express and recreational tour companies.
The Double Dolphin faired slightly better, since its whale-watching cruises traversed the navigation channel a few days last week with guidance from Harbor Patrol, which freed the ship when it ran aground shortly after the storm.
Capt. Dana Johnson said the vessel ran allof its tours Sunday, and would resume its schedule Wednesday following some maintenance.
“The cruises we did take out were full and wonderful,” Johnson said of last weekend. “But we were affected in some way.”
Harbor Patrol Supervisor Steve McCullough said the channel on Monday was about 50 feet wide and 8 feet deep at zero tide — a vast improvement.
Boaters were encouraged to stay midchannel during passage, and Harbor Patrol said it would continue offering assists to those who call 805.564.5530.
Kronman offered more good news, confirming that Thursday’s visit from the cruise ship Grand Princess (and some of its 2,600 passengers) was still on, along with regular dredging scheduled this fall.