Life on the Water: Both Sides Now

West Pier is featured in the New York Times | photo from Vimeo | post by Larry Clinton

It’s gone viral around here, so perhaps you’ve seen the New York Times article titled Living on the Water—Houseboats can be a more affordable way to live near a city center.

Published on April 26, the article starts by describing how Aislyn Greene and Jeannie Cruz decided to buy a home last summer on West Pier in Kappas Marina. Although they didn’t consider themselves suburbanites, “they also quickly realized that living in a city center in the kind of home they wanted was way out of their budget,” writes reporter Alyson Krueger. She goes on to describe some of the amenities of our neighborhood: “The community is so serene that geese and otters also call it home. And yet it’s only a 30-minute ferry ride to San Francisco, and downtown Sausalito is a 10-minute drive away. There is an ice cream shop, an organic grocery store, a seafood restaurant and a quaint cafe—all within walking distance.”  Sounds nice, even if the walking distance reference is a bit exaggerated.

The article goes on to briefly profile folks living on houseboats or live-aboard yachts in harbors as far flung as New Jersey, New York and Chicago.

One disadvantage, according to Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow, is that houseboats don’t appreciate the way conventional houses on land do. “When we think about home buying as an investment, the investment part generally comes from the increasing value of the land,” Ms. Olsen said. “As cities fill up, land with good access to amenities and jobs becomes more scarce, and the value of the home increases. So a houseboat—where you own the house itself, but rent the slip where the house is docked—doesn’t make a good long-term investment.”  Our local realtors might disagree, based on the recent run-up in selling prices here on the docks.

But other disadvantages to living on water are spelled out in graphic–sometimes stark–detail in a recent Harper’s Magazine piece about our local anchor-out neighbors: Lost at Sea—Poverty and paradise at the edge of America.

Based on some interviews he conducted here in 2015, associate editor Joe Kloc tells the stories of anchor-outs like Dream Weaver and Innate Thought, who introduced him to Larry Moyer aboard the Evil Eye on Liberty Dock. Asked about his long-term residence in the community, Larry told Kloc, “I got here, and I said, ‘I don’t ever want to do anything again for the rest of my life.’” Sadly, Larry passed away in 2016, although that unhappy news is not reported in the article.

Here’s how Kloc sees the anchor-out scene: “Today, people come to the anchorage from all over the country, on Greyhound buses and in rust-eaten cars that are scrapped on arrival. They purchase boats from other anchor-outs for as little as a dollar, or claim damaged vessels discarded by sailors from Oakland and San Francisco, and go to work patching their hulls and sealing their roofs. Time passes: health declines, money runs out. They wake up each day in a creaky plywood boat, with no food and a persistent cough, and, happy or not, for many there is no going back to the old way of things.”

The two articles present a striking contrast in the joys and woes of life on the water.