Bill Price: Maintaining Richardson Bay

by Steefenie Wicks

In his book, “Sausalito: Moments In Time” Jack Tracy wrote that:

        “Sausalito with its mix of cultures and people has never  been a melting pot. It has never been a smooth broth, either bbut rather a lumpy chowder with gritty bits in it.”

Today Bill Price might find that Tracy’s quote aptly describes his constituents on  Richardson’s Bay.

Since 1995, Bill Price has been in charge of maintaining our local Bay.  He removes sunken boats, dead trees, and garbage that tends to take refuge off our shores.  He has also been dedicated to making sure that all the local beach areas are cleaned of debris.  When he started this job, he remembers that there were 15 to 20 sizeable sunken boats sitting on the bottom.  Each had to me sectioned off to be removed; seldom did they come out of the water in just one piece. Even today, he tends to go out at a minus tide so that he can see if there are any new sunken structures or vessels.  Then there are the days when the wind comes up, some boat on the anchorage will break loose, and he will be called to make sure that it does no damage while it’s out free sailing with no one onboard.

Raised in Napa Valley, Price learned to sail at an early age in Cape Cod, aboard a little gaff-rigged sloop.  His family was a sailing family, and his brother maintains a sailboat in one of the local harbors that they take out on a regular basis. He once lived on an old hay scow docked on South 40 Pier called the Stripper. For years he and his wife did charter work aboard vessels in both the Caribbean and Europe. One of the things he talks about during those years was being anchored out.  He speaks of the freedom you experience when you live this way but also how that way of life is becoming rare. 

To his knowledge, Sausalito is still one of the only places that offers a free anchorage.  But with a free anchorage comes the problem of how to deal with the day to day reality that you are allowing a community to grow, but it has nowhere to go. Price notes, “Historically, the Sausalito and Tiburon areas had these floating Arks. In the early 1900s, people would rent them; they would then be taken out and anchored in selected areas.  People would live on them for weekends or summer retreats, so there have always been people with vessels anchored in the Bay. These moveable Arks where brought in, tied to docks when not in use; they were not anchored in the Bay all of the time, which is the difference.  There is still one of these floating Arks maintained in Tiburon -- it’s used as a historic museum.”

Price is the first to tell you that he is not the police.  He does not police the Bay but he does maintain it. Sometimes in order to do this he must use his skills as a diplomat to ensure that individuals anchor their vessels so their neighbor is not in their scope; sometimes this takes quite a bit of diplomatic skill.

Price loves the fact that historically Sausalito has been able to maintain its free anchorage.  He would like to see that continue but with the reality of the current live-aboard boom, he wonders if it can be maintained.  Currently, he is wrecking 70 derelict or abandoned boats a year, up from 30 boats for the past several years. He also feels it’s not slowing down.  People started anchoring out in Richardson’s Bay during the Gold Rush area but Price feels that it intensified in the 1960s when people started living on their boats. At one time the area called Gate 6 was home to over 110 small floating structures that were either tied to a dock or anchored in the Bay.

Currently, all that remains in this area off the existing floating homes community are a few “houseboats” that have been anchored in this section of the Bay since the 1970s.  Price feels that he has seen a real change, a kind of explosion of people now living on boats anchored here.  There was a time when he would go out to maintain the Bay by counting the number of boats that were being abandoned in the anchorage; now he counts those that are inhabited.  Price feels that if Sausalito is going to maintain its historically free anchorage, some changes will have to be made.

Price loves the freedom of the Sausalito anchorage but the way it is evolving now seems to be bringing about problems.  He says in the end, he would hate to see a State agency get involved, perhaps saying we’re going to have to shut this down; that would be a shame.