Harbormaster Nancy Cappelmann gazes out her window at the barge with a crane floating in front of her office at the entrance to Harbour Town Yacht Basin and smiles.
That equipment will carry a lot of her worries away.
For the past two years, Cappelmann has fretted over the loss of business from boats that bypassed the marina and its striped lighthouse on Hilton Head Island's south end.
Sediment has accumulated over the past decade, making the yacht basin too shallow for many boats during low tide. The largest yachts that once provided a backdrop for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing found it nearly impossible to dock there.
But after years of study and debate, preparations began last week to unclog the yacht basin. Gull Point and South Beach marinas, and Braddock Cove creek in Sea Pines also will be dredged. Baynard Creek will not be dredged, as its property owners association decided to opt out of this year's project.
"It's going to really make a big difference in our operations," Cappelmann said Wednesday. "We've been very limited in the numbers of boats. A lot of our long-term customers haven't been able to visit us, and they're looking forward to coming back."
About a dozen of the basin's 100 slips are unusable because of silt filling the channel entrance, and boats longer than 60 to 70 feet can't be accommodated, Cappelmann said.
The basin is only 4 feet deep at an average low tide. Dredging will deepen it to 8 1/2 feet at average low tide, eliminating what's become a tedious game of musical chairs to move boats around so that they're not stuck by shifting tides. Twice a day at low tide, most boats can't travel in and out of the channel between Calibogue Sound and the marina, Cappelmann said.
"Every phone call ... you have to have a tide chart right beside you for every boat, for every reservation," she said. "Just to be able to set that piece of paper aside and be able to welcome our boating guests in at any time will be great."
Commercial sightseeing and charter operators that operate from the marina say they also have taken a hit.
Vagabond Cruise mothballed its 65-foot-long yacht two years ago because the water wasn't deep enough to run full-time, company president Keith Walston said.
Vagabond will put the yacht back in service, after dredging of the basin is completed at the end of December or early January, he said
"I've seen a lot of dredging operations in Harbour Town in my 22 years on the island, and I don't think I've ever been as excited to see these guys and their equipment," Walston said. "It had gotten to a dire circumstance."
RBC Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot and Chuck Larson, managing partner of Crazy Crab restaurant in Harbour Town, said they also will be pleased to get started.
Wilmot said the yacht basin sets the tournament apart from other PGA Tour events and is valuable to those marketing the tournament and the island.
"It opens up more opportunities for sponsors, residents and spectators to socialize and provide entertainment and hospitality for clients and their guests," he said.
Boeing's plans to wine and dine guests aboard its company yacht ran were scrapped in 2012 because the yacht basin couldn't accommodate the boat. Wilmot said he is not sure if Boeing will try to bring the yacht to next year's tournament in April, but "it is in the back of their minds."
The project is being privately funded by a group of boat-slip owners and Sea Pines residents, as well as Sea Pines Resort and Gull Point and South Beach marinas.
The entire project should be completed by late March, according to Mark King, president of the Club Group, managing agent for the Harbour Town Boat Slip Owners Association.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.
Dredging set for Harbour Town: Nov. 19, 2013
Sea Pines dredging contractor hired; South Beach owners agree to participate: Oct. 10, 2013