Lisa McNelley was going through a divorce when she first visited a friend who lived in the houseboat community of Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
“I walked on board and fell in love with the environment. I thought, ‘What an interesting place for my son – it’s like the closely-knit neighborhood community I had growing up.”
She and her son moved into a houseboat, and she has loved the floating community ever since. Her son has headed off to college, but she and her new husband live in 1,200 square foot split-level home they call “Inn Deep.”
“It’s close quarters – you can’t not talk to your neighbors when you leave or come home.”
Celebrated in books, movies and TV shows, the Sausalito houseboat community consists of over 400 floating homes of various shapes, sizes and values approximately two miles from downtown. After the Marinship Shipyards were de-commissioning at the end of World War II, the docks proved attractive to people who lived aboard their boats and needed a place to tie up. By the 1970s, sewage and other problems led to a series of tense confrontations. Today, sanitation, safety and systems regulations apply to the houseboats just as they do to houses on land.
But to live here is to live on the water, with all the movement and weather that usually comes with being on a boat.
“When you live here, you are in a different environment,” says Jane Krueger, whose floating home measures 900 square feet.
“It floats, so you rise and fall with the tide and feel movement of the wind.”
Whimsical names have a long tradition on the docks; Mari Steeno lives in a 900 square foot houseboat originally called “The Golden Hindsight” and now named “White Elephant.” A retired registered nurse, she lived in Sausalito for ten years before moving here.
“I lived up in the hills, where it was foggy, and would look down to the houseboats, where it was sunny. Now I’m going into my seventh year of living here, and I love it. There’s a real sense of community. Your neighbors are close, but if you want to, you can be private.”
From her floating home, she has views of the lights of San Francisco and of Mount Tamalpais. The views and closeness to nature are, besides the neighborly spirit, things most often touted by houseboat residents.
“Every morning I wake up, it’s amazing,” says Jane Thompson, who recently finished building a 756 square foot floating home. An environmental scientist, she said that a motivation for was “To build a house for myself and pay it off before I’m an old lady.
“There are wonderful shore birds, and I see the occasional otter or seal.”
“When the tide goes out and there’s mud, it’s feeding time for the birds,” says Jane Krueger, a financial advisor who calls her home “Summer Place.”
She admits that there are inconveniences.
“When it’s stormy, you have to have everything tied down. And, if you’re at the far end of one of the docks, getting your groceries into the house takes a bit of forethought.”
She and her neighbors keep a collection of shopping carts at the head of the dock for just this purpose.
“They look tacky, but we use them.”
On Saturday, September 14, the public will have a rare opportunity to peek inside these and about ten other houseboats. Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., homes, ranging from funky to palatial will be shown off by the homeowners happy to answer questions about their unique lifestyle. There will also be live entertainment, food and refreshments and artists and authors from the community offering their work for sale. Advance tickets are $50.00 per person; on tour day, tickets will be $55.00 each.