Crackdown on squatter boats in bay off Sausalito
Time and tide, which wait for nobody, are not waiting any longer off the shore of Sausalito.
The cops have placed bright orange warning stickers where no warning stickers have ever gone before. They’ve placed them on the decks of dozens of small “anchorout” vessels bobbing in Richardson Bay.
“Warning,” the stickers says. “The Sausalito police may remove any vessel which has been left in city waters for 72 hours.”
And that’s exactly what the cops say they plan to do, beginning this weekend.
“We’ve been getting more and more complaints, more reports of
thefts and other problems,” Lt. William Fraass said. “As the number of vessels goes up, the calls for our services go up. And up.”
“The boats just sit there, like a giant parking lot,” said Officer Brian Mather. “More like a giant junkyard.”
For decades, small boats have squatted off Sausalito, their occupants unable or unwilling to pungle up $1,000 or more per month for the right to tie up at a tony marina berth. Over the past year or so, the number of vessels that anchor out, or sit motionless away from shore, has doubled. Now about 250 boats adorn Richardson Bay in either a charming giant armada or nautical homeless camp — depending on whom you ask — within hailing distance of the $35-aplate Crab Louis restaurants frequented by the wide-eyed tourists who insist on regarding Sausalito as an artists’ colony.
On a brief cruise through the floating anchor-out community, The Chronicle saw vessels in good repair, vessels in poor repair and vessels about ready to descend to Davy Jones’ Locker. Some boats were barnacle-encrusted dross with algae-green hulls, rotted cabins and missing paint. Their decks were piled high with what the mothers of the anchor-out sailors would doubtless call junk.
For months, Fraass has warned the boaters, at City Council and community meetings, that the city’s patience was nearly scuttled.
Longtime anchorouter Alden Bevington says he was evicted from his 33-foot yawl, Sanctuary, about a month ago and the vessel, which he conceded was in poor shape, was hauled off by the city and destroyed.
“This is a social issue, not a law enforcement issue,” Bevington said. “This is a problem of the economy. Richardson Bay is one of the last places where people can drop an anchor and stay.”
Bevington, who describes himself as the “ad hoc foreign minister” of the anchor-outs and seems to know everyone by name, acknowledged that some of his fellow boaters are broke, discouraged and in need of counseling. But being down and out isn’t a crime, he said, on land or on the water.
Sausalito, he said, prides itself on its slogan of “keep Sausalito salty.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “But the police don’t want a dialogue. They want us gone.”
Sausalito Mayor Joan Cox said the anchorouters are a “colorful population and some are well-intentioned, and we have compassion for them, but they don’t have permission to live on the water.”
She said the city did “not want to go out and seize boats, (but) this is a public health and safety issue.”
Boaters who rent slips at high-end Sausalito marinas such as Schoonmaker Point complain that many squatters paddle ashore in kayaks and rowboats to use the marina restrooms. But not everyone. And not everything sinks to the bottom of the bay. Soap floats, and so do other things.
“The main problem is the lack of toilets,” said Harbormaster Mike Rainey, gazing out from his office at the slips with the paying customers and at the bay beyond, with the free spirits.
“In theory, they’re supposed to have their toilets pumped out,” he said. “I’ve never seen a pump-out boat going out to service the vessels.”
Rainey said he allows the anchor-outs to tie up at the Schoonmaker Point’s dock, use its restrooms and toss trash in its Dumpsters.
“The alternative,” he said, “is worse.”
Some anchor-outers know about boats, Rainey said. Others don’t. On calm summer and fall days, he said, that’s not an issue. In rough weather, it is.
“The first big storm, some of these boats will break loose and run into other boats, or be carried over to Tiburon and slam into a dock,” he said.
Kirk Morrison and his friend Nick Masturzo pay about $700 a month to berth their 21-foot motorboat at Schoonmaker Point. They wave at their fellow sailors on the anchor-outs, but they’re not particularly happy about subsidizing them.
“It’s a free-for-all out there,” Morrison said. “It’s a problem. It’s like trying to solve the homeless problem in San Francisco. I don’t know what the solution is.”
Lt. Fraass said the first phase of enforcement will focus on about two dozen unoccupied boats. Later phases, he said, could target the anchorout boaters themselves.
The warning stickers are the latest weapon to be fired in the decadeslong battle of at-will boating on Richardson Bay. In the 1950s and the 1980s, non-rent-paying houseboaters conducted well-publicized organizing drives to protect their vessels. In 1971, houseboater Russell Grishman pulled a knife and tried to cut the tow lines that had been fastened by sheriff ’s deputies to his condemned craft. Deputies pointed their handguns at him, and he decided to put his knife down.
The new warning sticker policy follows Sausalito’s decision in 2016 to pull out from the Richardson Bay Regional Agency after some residents complained that its board, made up of city and county officials, wasn’t doing enough.
“We’re focusing strictly on the unoccupied vessels,” Fraass said, before quickly adding, “at this time.”
The anchor-outs, vessels that sit motionless in Richardson Bay offshore from Sausalito, are like a nautical homeless encampment with health and safety issues.
Former anchor-out resident Alden Bevington looks down into the living quarters of Greg Baker’s boat, the CA Marcy, among the hundreds off Sausalito.