SAVANNAH — There is a stretch of sand at the end of Alley 3 on Tybee Island that once was covered by a concrete boat ramp.
Then a powerful nor’easter, almost strong enough to blow off a car door, swept in and washed the ramp away in 1994, said then-mayor Pat Locklear, 75, who witnessed the event.
"All of a sudden, the slab came up about 2 feet and went straight down," Locklear said. "So that was the last of it."
The ramp was never fixed — Locklear said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division would not allow it — but boaters, kayakers and Jet Skiers have continued to launch from there to this day.
Now, Tybee officials again are considering what to do with the old boat ramp on the Back River, a popular launch point for visitors to the uninhabited island known as Little Tybee across the way.
The launch point has become so popular the 16 parking spaces there often don’t accommodate all the people who want to use it. And the road is so narrow the vehicles commonly block the street or hang over the parking curb onto the property of Joe Sheffield.
Sheffield lives on the corner of Alley 3 and Chatham Avenue in a house perched 14 feet high atop concrete block pillars. He is not a big fan of the kayak companies that use the public boat ramp for their classes and tours. A sign on his balcony reads "Kayak at your own risk" and features a shark biting into a paddle.
The kayakers block access to the water for unreasonable amounts of time and also intrude on his property, Sheffield said.
"They are running a for-profit business and tying up public land where people put their boats in."
A place for boaters
A bit of a ruckus was recently raised when word spread that city officials were considering closing off the ramp to boats by placing some posts in the way. The idea came after years of having boaters get their vehicles stuck on the sandy incline — a number of locals claim.
The idea did not sit right with a number of local boaters at a recent infrastructure committee meeting.
They say they know how to properly unload their watercraft — the process involves stopping the truck before the road’s edge and easing the trailer down with a rope or tow strap — and it is the tourists who get stuck.
Some boaters say the kayak businesses are the ones that should be shut off. Instead, Inlet Avenue, another access point down the road, should be the kayak spot, they say.
"There is more parking available and the homes are buffered," Sheffield said.
But, kayakers say the distance a kayak needs to be carried across the beach from Inlet is too far and prohibitively difficult for one person.
Alley 3 is ideal for kayak outfitters because of its proximity to the water and Little Tybee, said Shane Parris, owner of Owner North Island Surf and Kayak. Closing off access would be a mistake, he said.
"We bring a lot of money to this island," he said.
Car-top launch point
Dan Lockwood, 66, who kayaks from Alley 3 almost every day, has another idea: Alley 3 should become a "car-top launch point" — meaning no watercraft that cannot be carried on the top of one’s vehicle should be permitted to launch there.
His reasoning: There is no room for the boat trailers and the vehicles dragging them to park.
Lockwood, who tows his 17-foot wooden kayak with his bicycle, said he is going to make the request at the next city council meeting.
"We should preserve that quiet spot and not be overwhelmed by boat trailers and the vehicles that tow them," he said.
Because of boaters’ opposition and the fact Fire Chief Skip Sasser uses the ramp for ocean rescues, city officials say they have abandoned the idea of closing Alley 3 to boaters — although City Manager Diane Schleicher is reluctant to call the launch point a "boat" ramp and does not promote it as such, due to its condition.
"When people do outdoor recreation, they do it at their own risk," she said.