The view from Mick Kronman’s waterfront office is stunning. Boat masts jut into the sky, and a sea of liquid silver stretches into the distance as far as the eye can see. For Kronman, however, a full view of the harbor is not just a nice perk — it’s an essential part of his job.
Kronman is the harbor operations manager for Santa Barbara, a role that has traditionally been dedicated to overseeing the Harbor Patrol (HP). This explains Kronman’s windowed perch, which allows him to keep an eye on the harbor and surrounding coast. Halfway through the interview, he notices a brownish hued cloud and grabs a pair of binoculars to check for fire.
Fire is a serious concern for the harbor. “Saltwater and electricity don’t mix,” says Kronman. The presence of salt transforms water into a conductor that can channel electricity to fuel sources. In addition, the harbor has a plentitude of wood: The docks are all wood, the buildings on the harbor are mostly wood, and the boats themselves are often built largely of wood. The fact that all this wood sits on a large body of water doesn’t offer Kronman any comfort. Flames can spread by leaping from boat mast to boat mast, just as flames on land leap from tree to tree.
Fire is just one of the many waterfront emergencies HP has dealt with over its long history. Kronman shares the story of a far more unusual emergency that involved a 1,200-pound Arabian stallion nicknamed William. On May 15, 2012, William was on the beach for a photo shoot when he got a sudden urge for a swim. The horse bolted into the sea and kept on swimming as far away from the camera as possible. It was up to the Harbor Patrol to locate the swimming horse and tow it back to shore, which they did by rigging a support harness to its saddle and keeping his head above water with a rescue buoy.
The occasional exciting rescue aside, much of a harbor operations manager’s daily work is to manage long-term harbor parking spots for boats. Because demand exceeds supply, there exists a complex system of waiting lists, lotteries, and allotments to meet demand and also reflect the harbor’s commitment to supporting a working waterfront. Commercial fishermen and liveaboards — the harbor’s permanent residents — have a much easier time finding a home in the harbor. Liveaboards, Kronman explains, are a “good thing for the harbor. They’re the eyes and ears on the water” who can spot a smoldering fire at night when Kronman is no longer around to keep watch.
The role of harbor operations manager has undergone a major transformation in the years since Kronman was hired. He spends less of his time heading the HP and more of it implementing policies and coordinating programs that create a safe, clean, and vibrant harbor community. For example, Kronman coordinates Santa Barbara Harbor’s annual Parade of Lights, a holiday-time procession of light-draped boats along the waterfront, and the Clean Marinas Program, which includes a suite of initiatives to reduce trash and pollution inside and outside the water. Kronman credits John Bridley, the former waterfront director, for having “that vision for changing the waterfront world.”
Kronman has done a lot in his 16 years as harbor operations manager to realize Bridley’s vision. One of the things that Kronman is most proud of is helping to design the Lost-at Sea-Memorial. Memorials are “such projects of the heart,” Kronman says. “They can be a bit garish and overdone because emotions of the heart are limitless.”
But the Lost-at-Sea Memorial is decidedly not. It consists of just two benches sculpted into whales’ tails, a Chumash compass rose, a few bronze plaques, and a bronze dolphin. One of the benches faces boats going out to sea and the other faces boats that have made it safely back to harbor. The memorial is visible from Kronman’s office and serves as an eloquent testament to his work — offering safety and community with compassion and grace.