Sausalito houseboats

Sausalito’s houseboats range from the palatial to the questionably seaworthy, and the community counts among its members doctors and lawyers as well as some of the original artists and bohemians who created the waterfront neighborhood. What’s it like to live in a floating home?

We’ll talk to several longtime residents about the history of the community, and discuss big changes currently underway to disperse and remove some of the more eclectic and ramshackle residences.

Larry Clinton, houseboat resident since 1982 and president of the Sausalito Historical Society
Cyra McFadden, houseboat resident, writer and editor
Joe Tate, houseboat resident, leader during the "houseboat wars" and lead singer/guitarist for the RedLegs, the waterfront's homegrown rock band
Stan Barberich, president of the Harbor Equity Group, a Waldo Point Harbor resident association, former president of the Floating Homes Association and houseboat resident for 27 years

  • Beth

    Remove some of the more eclectic and ramshackle residences? These are what give the area character.  Get rid of them and you simply have the 1% mentality making Marin Co look even more snobby and elitist.

    • Fred

      Gentrification is just one way in which the USA is becoming a Third World country, but it’s happening everywhere.

  • Rhet

    Here’s one of those houseboat inhabitants:

    • Vanda

      Thanks so much for posting Rhet! As someone who lives in 200 sq ft of World War landing craft on South Forty Pier, I can totally relate, and endorse the decision she has made. We are so blessed to live here, and let’s hold on to the old boats and the lifestyle as long as we can!

      • lzl

        we lived on one too, from 86-90 or so, on south 40.  I miss it.  the lifestyle should last forever.

  • Chris

    One of my first memories after moving to the bay area from the east coast  in the late 80’s is hanging out on one of those boats.  One of my friends worked in a yard grinding blisters and reglassing sailboats for ‘yachtsmen’ 🙂   His sublet was this old wooden hull….i wanna say it was a junk.  No rigging…no masts….just a hull.  The irony wasn’t lost.  Here he is subletting for $150/mo and living on a boat while hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of boat are slipped just down the road…..owned by folks who can barely handle a sloop rig. 

    We’ve lost so much character of the bay area already…..I hope ya’ll prevail.

  • Shecky2w

    …I lived in a Marin Yacht Harbor for the last 5 to 6 years and I loved the whole boat life when I first moved in. There was a sense of community and serenity. But over the last 2 to 3 years, all of the harbors have turned to a refuge for people who are down and out on their luck and has become unsafe and almost criminal. I moved away …i miss it terribly

  • Phyllis

    Hi, Joe.  Besides Shell and Stuart B.,The beautiful and dedicated Jane Cain, and radio personality, Travis T. Hippe come to mind around the mystique of the Gates Co-op that you spoke of during your reign as king.

    • Joebtate

      I found a nice picture of Travis just yesterday. I’ll be posting it on facebook at

    • waterG

      Sorry to mention but Travis T recently passed. We all miss him dearly.

  • Lisadaniellewojcik

    Wow I had no idea that the gates community was going to be broken up.  I hope that doesn’t happen! I think Beth ( below) sums it up perfectly.

    The Sausalito houseboat community is one of the most special places I have encountered, in perhaps the world!     

    I stumbled on the houseboats by accident, when a friend was out to visit, and we were biking around the bay. She asked ‘what are those…” I never noticed, so we went to check out…

    I have been drawn to them ever since.  I had a one of most romantic evenings of my life out there, have brought my parents to stay overnight on one and can always find peace and inspiration strictly from just wandering or kayaking around in the amazing and diverse communities.

  • Mary

    My daughter, son-in-law and grandbaby live in the co-op of Galilee which is some houseboats but many active boats that can be taken out and actually sailed.  My son-in-law is a wooden boat builder and has a shop on the waterfront so living there is very convenient to his work and it is an affordable way for them to live.   Their harbor is really a community – full of caring people who live their lives in close quarters but who respect each others individual lives.  I realized just how close knit they are when our grand daughter was born this past winter and our daughter’s  friends and neighbors cooked dinners for the family for about three weeks.  

  • Unclefishbits

    A wonderful story from a local woman…  I live in Tiburon, and there is a lovely lady named Jeannie who ran Jeannie’s Java for years – I believe she is 76 now and was forced to close the shop.  But I thought I would relate this sentiment… the way that houseboat community impacted and affected people’s outlook on life.

    I was getting an iced coffee, and she ambled back to grab a cup of ice.  By then, we started talking about Tiburon Open Space, and loving art of the local area…  She had the pitcher of iced coffee in one hand, and the cup of ice in another.  She slumped back against the wall, and exhaled loudly, “You know, I knew this artist, when I first moved here. He invited me to his houseboat, and I was never the same.  The colors, the designs, it was a different world.”

    Then she sets down the pitcher and cup and starts to swoon a bit, fanning invisible flames.  “This man was so romantic, but SO naughty. I blushed for the first few days, but that was the most wild week of my life”.  She stood there for another 30 seconds, silent, half gazing at the ceiling… with a lazy smile.

    I had to sort of inturrupt her, “Jeannie?”  

    Oh sorry. Just day dreaming.

    I am not quoting this right… she was so much more adorable, and a bit more salacious.  She is still around…. a wonderful lady. She said that the community had that impact on people.

  • Peter DuMont

    Stand by for future announcements and planning for the “Ring of All Nations — Floating Peace Theater” for San Francisco Bay.  Our concept is for a mobile facility, capable of docking at locations around the Bay. One hopes the Sausalito Community will find a way to accommodate and most of all enjoy the visiting Peace Ring.

    Peter DuMont

  • Kaj

    Hi Mike. Im in the building trades and ten years ago got a job on the Taj Mahal boat there . First day I was there the first thing it was get out my level and put it on the mantle and turned around when I heard laughter . Didn’t realize my standard practices didn’t apply. No use for a level on a boat.
    Kaj from Oakland.
    Rymes with hi.

  • Ron

    Back in the early 1970’s gate 5 was a place like no other…The barges and boats were all over the place in no particular order and sat in mud some of the time…Artists, musicians, writers were everywhere….Some successful, most not..I lived up on Cloudview….My friend Shel Silverstein lived in what could loosely be termed a houseboat but in actuality was an old barge…One of the most memorable days of my life was on Shel’s boat listening to Shel and Bob Dylan play each other songs all afternoon…The boat is still there and a friend of Shel lives on it…Sadly it is now attached to a slick wooden walk…No more mud to walk through…Everything changes……sigh…..

  • centerpost

    Many of the old docks were floating. They fit in with the environment and created a diversity of wildlife. The new docks are ridged and permanent and serve as bay fill. The new docks shadow the bay bottom causing the mud to die. They must not only be stopped. They must be removed.

  • Wbushrod

    I’ve lived st the arques marina,for 28 years now,
    They keep trying to develope it,
    They can’t, so all they do is raise the rent $25 a year, till we move out, i guess.
    I lived on sailboats though, next to pat kuletos old houseboat.
    He put so much junk in it, it had a permanent list.
    His roof use to leak in winter, he had a huge pot in his bedroom.
    It was a three story houseboat that leaked on all three floors.
    Yeah, living on the water is real fun.
    Bill f

  • Roygbvus

    Interesting, but the show before this about the current mass killing in Syria, backed by President Assad and his fashion-plate wife (her name is pronounced like ‘asthma’) – that show should be aired at 10 p.m.  This war in Syria is going to affect millions of Americans. 

  • Elliott

    I was wondering if there are any house boats available to rent for like a day and a night or two during the weekend, for a lovely get away from the hustle and bustle of the city?

    • Vanda

       Elliott, check out there are a ton of boats listed (including my small one) However as of Sept the Harbor are enforcing County rules that prevent us from doing short term rentals, so better try one quickly as after that we will not be able to do it, or we risk not having our leases renewed:-(

    • Butterflute

      check out Cottage by the Bay

  • Butterflute

     The historic artifacts of the 1916 Charles Van Damme ferryboat mark the spot where the houseboat wars took place. A community stood up for it’s right to live the life they wanted and they won.  Without this story, there would be no houseboat community.  These artifacts and the community garden surrounding them should be incorporated, not as an afterthought, but as a tribute and centerpiece for the entire Gates redevelopment project.  It would really be great if the Waldo Point developers would recognize this opportunity and lend a hand instead of threatening to destroy everything if the community falls short. Over 6,000 was raised to help restore the artifacts, but with nowhere to place her or means to move her, these funds are insufficient.  

  • J.A. Kendall – Artist
    I lived at the community from 1970 – 1978 on the A-Frame out behind the Charles Van Damme. This was one of the MOST creative times of my life. My series of 12 sepia pen & ink wash drawings, hopefully capturing the flavor of what it was like to be there back then surrounded by structures such as the Madonna & the Owl, the Issaquah, the Vallejo, the Charles Van Damme, and the old San Rafael ferry leading to Shel’s boat where I had the opportunity to spend some time, was a true highlight of my life. Knowing incredible people like Larry Moyer, Shel Silverstein, Larry White ( who I spent time with on Shel’s boat while we worked on my creative project for my Master’s degree ) Michael & Penny Woodstock & their girls, Joe Tate, Maggie Catfish & the rest of the Redlegs, Ale Ekstrom, Saul Rouda, Rupert Pickles, Big Dan, Chris Roberts, Captain Garbage, my old girlfriend Elizabeth, my neighbors Josie, Jose & their daughter Rainbow and the many others that are etched into my mind such as Piro Caro, who lived upstairs on the San Rafael ferry, made life back then both memorable and unforgettable. Redlegs parties on the “Arc” brought the community together in all sorts of positive ways. After leaving the community in 1978, after experiencing some of the houseboat wars up close, and not returning until 30 years later in 2008 I noticed some BIG changes. It was a different feeling to see the new massive floating homes 3 decades later. THANK GOD that some remnants of the past were still there as I remembered them when I made my way back to where I used to live, such as Penny Woodstock’s boat. When I left in ’78’ Katrina, Alyss & Crystal were 6, 3, & 1 . I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see them 30 years later standing in front of Penny’s boat that I knew so well. Michael would be so proud of them all now. To see all 12 of the scenes that I created, which were done at the community as part of my Master’s degree in Creative Arts for San Francisco State back in 1972, please check out my site My new series of signed & matted 11″x 14″ museum quality giclee images of the community back in the early ’70’s is now finally available. You old timers out there who were part of something really incredible with me back then, at THAT special place during THAT special time, should recognize these scenes. To this day I continue to use sepia brown ink ( used originally to capture the feeling of the mud flats at Waldo Point ) to create my timeless scenes from around the world. To those in charge : PLEASE LEAVE SOME REMNANTS OF THE PAST FOR THIS GENERATION TO ENJOY. Not ALL change is necessarily for the better. Congratulations to all the original Redlegs who recently got together for a reunion. You guys STILL ROCK !  Go GATERS !!!

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