Plans by the City of Kelowna to establish a high quality environment for pedestrians in the Kerry Park area of downtown will close Okanagan Lake’s only deep-keel boat launch, leaving a segment of sailboaters without a place to launch their boats.
The narrow launch, located at the foot of Queensway, is one of four City of Kelowna boat launches but is the only one on the entire lake that can accommodate sailboats with a deep-keel, including Santana 525s, of which Kelowna boasts the largest single fleet in the world, according to one sailor who owns one of the Santanas.
But the City of Kelowna says the launch is under-utilized and people with deep-keel boats will have to find an alternative, including possibly using a crane to lift their sailboats in and out of the water.
“The long term plans of the entire waterfront and the Kerry Park concept is to establish a high-quality pedestrian environment and that’s really tricky with a conflict with a boat launch,” said Terry Barton, urban planning manager with the City of Kelowna.
“It’s not a great boat launch to begin with. It’s very under-utilized. It’s quite narrow. We didn’t think it was a big deal losing it.”
Kelowna-based sailors who used the launch each year to put their medium-sized sailboats into the water and take them out may disagree that it’s not a big deal.
The fleet of Santana 525 sailboats may only be about 30 to 40 strong, but the fleet hosts regular regattas throughout the year, hosting groups from around the world and allowing them to use their boats at no cost.
It’s an affordable hobby with Santana 525s only costing some $1,200, less than some Stand-Up Paddle boards.
Losing the boat launch would mean having to find alternatives of getting the boats into the water.
In areas like Summerland and Vernon, clubs utilize a crane to lift the deep-keel boats into the water and out.
On the Westside of the lake a private operator will do the same. But sailors say it’s ironic that the City of Kelowna is promoting healthy and active living while taking away a group’s access to the lake.
“It’s terrible for the sailors,” said Kelowna Yacht Club commodore Nancy Thompson.
“What’s going to have to happen is someone is going to have to rent a lift and everyone has to use it.
“It’s much better to have the launch. For the city to take away a huge aspect of life here is not a good thing.”
Former world champion sailor and member of the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, Gillian Thomson has been sailing and volunteering in the sport for most of her life.
A volunteer, coach and member of the B.C. Sailing Board, Thomson says sailing is synonymous with Kelowna and losing the launch will have a big impact.
“Every Wednesday night the keel boats are out there, the tourists love it and the boats are in so many pictures of the Kelowna waterfront,” said Thomson.
“It’s a part of Kelowna and a part of Kelowna’s healthy lifestyle opportunities. If the launch is absolutely coming out, there is going to be a lot of work to find an alternative.”
Sailors maintain they help to bring in a lot of tourism dollars to the Kelowna area by hosting regular regattas and making their boats available for use.
One member who wanted to remain anonymous questioned why infrastructure that is in place and used by tourists will be removed, to make way, in part, for a new tourism visitor centre.
Tourism Kelowna unveiled future plans for its visitor centre this week, just a stone’s throw from the launch.
“It’s part of the overall Kerry Park development plan being done by the City of Kelowna which includes the eventual elimination of Mill Street and the creation of a roundabout on Queensway to service the new hotel, which eliminates vehicular access to the boat launch whether a visitor centre is constructed there or not,” said manager Nancy Cameron in an email.
“Tourists bringing their deep-keel boats to the Okanagan will continue to have good access to Okanagan Lake with (a) marina which is located just across the bridge in West Kelowna.
“They provide crane services for deep keel boats and excellent parking for boat trailers, and so we refer tourists inquiring about deep keel launches to (them).”
Members of the Kelowna Yacht Club say they have been in discussions with the City of Kelowna about the launch and consultations with user groups on the Kerry Park concept were held in 2012 and 2013. For now the deep-keel launch remains open and the date of its closure is up in the air, with the Kerry Park development plan now in the detailed design stage and construction a few years away.
None of those designs, however include the launch and the city’s intention is to close it.
“We’re still open to hearing from people but our thought as a municipal government was establishing a key waterfront park is more important,” said Barton.
“There are some people who use the launch but the trade-off is that we are able to establish a nice park experience, close off the area to traffic and get rid of that parking lot.”