Transforming the floating home community at Point San Pablo Harbor
on November 9, 2023
When Kathleen Clancy and Bob Keller moved their houseboat into the Point San Pablo Harbor 33 years ago, the first person they met was a man they remember by his license plate, “CPTBLUD” (Captain Blood).
“It was like walking into an old western,” Clancy said.
She remembers the day was gray, and the place was deserted. Decades before the couple moved in, John Wayne shot his 1955 film “Blood Alley” at the harbor.
Now it is home to around 35 houseboat and liveaboard boat residents and functions like a miniature utopian economy. The Sailing Goat restaurant brings hundreds of outsiders every weekend and monthly concerts are performed at the harbor’s event spaces.
Three owners — Yaella Frankel, Rob Fyfe and Daryl Henline — bought the harbor and surrounding 15 acres in 2016. They envision the harbor as an “unintentional community,” in Frankel’s words. She and Fyfe pull from their decades of Burning Man attendance to shape the values of their new home. Frankel has attended the annual arts festival in the Nevada desert 22 times.
“We’re doing our best to have a public Burning Man camp,” Frankel said in a phone conversation.
Before the owners acquired the property and started to clean it up, the shoreline was littered with contaminated debris: abandoned vehicles, broken tractors, tires, stacks of pipes, oil drums and oil pilings, according to Keller. Derelict boats dotted the harbor.
Fyfe says they have spent $2 million since purchasing the harbor, partly to make the space more habitable and partly to bring it into compliance with requirements from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. But the owners know much more must be done such as building a boat launch, setting public benches and picnic tables by the waterfront, and altering the jetties, which are out of compliance with regulations on bay filling.
The problem, of course, is funding. “We don’t have access to any more funding,” Fyfe said in the clubhouse interview. He said they are applying for grants.
Since 2016, they have repaved the road to the harbor, removed 50 dumpsters of debris, around 300 tires and 15 derelict boats, as well as improved internet access and the safety of the harbor, among other projects.
Larry Goldzband, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, applauded the owners for making much-needed improvements, but asked: “Can anybody who doesn’t have an awful lot of financial backing do this?”
Before the ownership change, the harbor was more isolated, according to Keller and Clancy.
“It was pretty remote to be here,” Keller said in an interview in the living room of their floating home.
As they remember it, outsiders were not as welcome. When they tugged their boat from Antioch up the San Joaquin River to their new slot at the harbor in 1990, Clancy and Keller said the rendering station was still operating across the water at Terminal 4. Back then, “if the wind blew the wrong way,” the harbor picked up the stench.
Delivery drivers and repairmen often got lost on the way out, apprehensive about going further up the winding road as it veered away from the bustle of Interstate 580.
The hillslope that fans into the harbor is now interspersed with hulking sculptures that have made their way to Burning Man and back: a faded ice-cream truck and a mosaic dragon, among others.
A 17-bed garden feeds the houseboat residents and supports a rotation of WOOFers — World Wide Organic Farmers, young people from all over the country working with the goats and garden in exchange for room and board. The owners pay a farm operator to tend to the 20 goats, flock of chickens and garden beds. By request, boat residents receive fresh vegetables from the garden.
The harbor tucks neatly into the shadow of the Richmond Bridge, over the hill from the giant golden shells of an old molasses transfer and storage area and the red-brick castle winery that hasn’t been in operation since Prohibition. Cleanup is ongoing.
“We love our little enclave here, our Shangri-la,” Fyfe said. Frankel corrected him, “It’s our Richmond Riviera,” she said.
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