Despite a gloomy marine layer, the owners of the Dragonfly, a 26-foot sailboat, were all smiles and sunny dispositions as their boat passed its first inspection as part of the requirement of getting a slip at Dana Point Harbor’s newly installed boat docks.

The French-made, cherrywood boat is among 260 vessels that will move into the harbor’s first five completed docks in the next two weeks.

The docks – between Baby Beach and the Island Way Bridge  – are the first of 16 phases to the renovations that will create a new 2,254-slip marina. The $115 million project is expected to take five years.

It’s been 48 years since there was a new dock in the harbor.

“We’re really excited and thrilled to be moved into the new docks,” said Lori Shelton, who with her husband, Shane Dandy, brought the Dragonfly in for inspection on Tuesday, April 11. “I love the design, the architecture and the finely-chiseled docks.”

“Instead of square ends, they’re rounded, so we can move the boat in gently,” Dandy added.

The inspection – which included checking to make sure the boat was not leaking too much electricity into the water and an overview of its seaworthiness – didn’t take long and the Dragonfly passed with flying colors, making its owners proud. In a few days, it will get another review from the U.S. Coast Guard. This is the couple’s fifth boat and their 18th year in the Dana Point Harbor.

The new docks are the first project completed in a massive $500 million overhaul to the harbor by the developer group Dana Point Harbor Partners. In 2018, the group won a 66-year lease from the County of Orange and in return the partners are making the improvements in both the marina and on land.

Joe Ueberroth, of Bellwether Financial Group, is handling the marina project; Bryon Ward, president of Burnham Ward Properties, is heading up the development of the harbor’s commercial core; and Bob Olson, of R.D. Olson, will build two hotels once entitlements from the California Coastal Commission come through.

Under the public-private partnership, the developers are expected to design, fund and build the improvements, then operate those portions of the harbor through the life of the lease before returning the property to the county. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Harbor Patrol building and docks are not part of the partners’ lease.

Work on the marina began in August with the demolition of the rusted and decaying C docks. The debris was hauled away and the new docks, which were built in Northern California, were trucked down and installed. New gates with security cameras have also been installed and there are new gangways and railings.

“This is a state-of-the-art marina,” Ueberroth said. “There is no steel in the system. When you walk the old docks, all the steel there is corroded. This is a new-generation type of dock. Dana Point is getting the best.”

The progress has come with some learning curves, Ueberroth said, adding that both phases one and two are rolling out at the same time. Next, the group will tackle the marina’s East Cove where docks A through F will be removed and replaced with an even larger dock system to accommodate 300 boats. Demolition there should begin in May.

The larger harbor area and Dana Wharf will also be replaced, but that is likely two to three years out, Ueberroth said. There will also be a guest dock. The largest boat that will be accommodated in the harbor will likely top out at about 109 feet, Ueberroth said.

“I always want things to go faster,” Ueberroth said of the pacing. “But, we’re pleased with our product and excited for the tenants.”

As part of the construction, Bellwether hired a team to keep an eye on the wildlife in the harbor, especially its sea lion population. The Coastal Commission required potential disturbances from the noisy pile driving be watched. But, Ueberroth said few sea lions were sighted within the mandatory 300-foot zone near the construction, and there were no observed disturbances.

“We were very meticulous in watching their behavior,” he said. “It will be interesting when we get to East Cove where there are more sea lions.”

The new docks are generating enthusiasm among harbor visitors and the nearby businesses.

“It’s been pretty exciting, people are coming over to watch the boats going in,” said Kelly Reinderknecht, the marina’s general manager. “It’s been since 1978 (that) a boat came into a new dock.”

Boaters in the newly completed section have until April 25 to move into their new slips so demolition can start on the next phase.

Some boat owners who have rented in the harbor have balked at the rate increase for slips announced in 2021 ahead of the marina renovations and filed a lawsuit in court arguing the higher costs are not in compliance with the Tidelands Act because they would limit public access. Ueberroth called the argument baseless and said there is no violation, adding “The rate in Dana Point continues to be below market rate.”

The first boat owners to sail in were Sheila Bayati and her husband, Alex Sanchez, aboard their 28-foot power boat Xalt, which arrived early Friday, April 7.

“We weren’t planning on being the first,” Bayati said, but added, “Oh my God, it was amazing.”

“The setup is absolutely correct,” she said of her new slip. “The old dock was extremely worn and wobbly. Now our twin boys can walk around in their bare feet and we don’t have to worry about them getting cut up.”

On Tuesday, the Laguna Hills couple was out to take the boat on a spin through the harbor. The weather was a bit cool, so they opted not to go out to sea.

“We just love the water and being out on the boat,” Bayati said. “We’ll spend time at the dock, take it out, and anchor near a sand bar, we spend most of our holidays on the water.”

“We love Dana Point Harbor,” she added. “We used to live in San Juan Capistrano and were there every weekend even before we had a boat. We’re so excited about the changes.”


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