(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

(Thanks to Otis Redding for the title!)

The recent rains—which were very much welcome!—have caused me to plan my recent walks with more care than usual. Specifically, I’ve had to keep a close eye on the weather forecast to ensure that I didn’t find myself mi les from home, seeking shelter from a sudden downpour.

Just before the big storm last week I took a walk down to Docktown Marina. A reader of this blog who lives on a boat there had invited me down for a tour, and I was delighted to take him up on it. Docktown has a long and tumultuous history (which I’ll cover in a future post), and I was looking forward to getting an official tour.

Although I grew up very near the beaches of Southern California, boats weren’t a large part of my upbringing. My father did have a Sunfish sailboat, but that was little more than an oversized surfboard with a removable keel and a large sail. Over the course of several San Diego summers he used it to teach my brothers and I the rudiments of sailing. Other than the rare ocean fishing trip or ferry ride, though, that was the sum total of my experience on boats growing up. I’ve never really thought about owning a boat, and I’ve certainly never considered living on one.

The San Francisco Bay, at more than 400 square miles in area, is the largest landlocked harbor in the world. On this giant bay, there are only four deep water ports (where large ships can weigh anchor): San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, and—you guessed it—Redwood City. Shipyards used to be located along Redwood Creek and Westpoint Slough. Today we still have our deep water port, into which construction materials arrive from places such as China and South Korea and out from which we send scrap metal and salt. We also have several marinas for recreational boaters and “liveaboards,” Docktown Marina being one of them.

I’ve been aware of Docktown for a long time, along with the marina at the Port of Redwood City and the one at Pete’s Harbor. But what I didn’t know is that Redwood City currently has seven marinas! While that may sound like a lot, though, we’ve lost quite a few slips over the years. Our marinas in total can accommodate far fewer boats than they used to. And even if you aren’t a boater, consider that living aboard a boat can be extremely affordable. Depending upon the size of the boat (the monthly fees vary depending upon the boat’s length) your monthly fees could add up to less than $1,000 per month. Just try finding a rental elsewhere in the city for that! While the boat (or “floating home”) may be smaller than the average apartment, it typically has all the comforts of home: power, water, heat, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a place to sleep. And you needn’t own the boat, either: in many cases boat owners rent them out. But not all of our marinas allow you to live on a boat, and due to the finite number of slips finding an available space for your boat or a boat for rent can be very difficult.

But I mentioned that we have seven marinas. Allow me to take you on a tour!

Pete’s Harbor

If you have lived in Redwood City for any length of time, you most likely know about Pete’s Harbor. Pete Uccelli built Pete’s Harbor back in the 1950’s, at the very end of what most people think of as Whipple Avenue (the street actually changes names several times on the bay side of the freeway, but if you just follow the road you’ll get there). Pete’s had two harbor areas: the “inner harbor” and the “outer harbor”. The inner harbor was surrounded on three sides by Pete’s land, and was owned by Pete. The outer harbor is controlled by the State Lands Commission (SLC), a department of our state government who’s mission includes “providing stewardship of the lands, waterways, and resources entrusted to its care through economic development, protection, preservation, and restoration.” In 1984 Pete obtained a 49-year lease for the outer harbor from the SLC, enabling him to install and manage boat slips there. The following historical image from Google Earth shows Pete’s Harbor back in 2004. At that time the outer harbor contained two large docks with some 147 slips for boats (in this image, mostly occupied). The inner harbor was a bit smaller, with slips for 116 boats. While not all boats at Pete’s Harbor were liveaboards, many were: one estimate, from 2012, was that 114 of the 260 total boats had people living on them.

Pete's overhead

The story of Pete’s Harbor over the last couple of years has been a bit of a soap opera. In short, and leaving out the large amount of legal back-and-forth that went on, the story goes something like this: Pete Uccelli died in 2005, but not before selling an option to the property to a developer back in 2001. In 2012, Pete’s widow, Paula Uccelli, decided to cease operations at Pete’s Harbor and sell the property to the Pauls Corporation. At this point the SLC stepped in and blocked the transfer of the outer harbor leases to the new owner. The leases were then terminated in June of 2013. At this time, the outer harbor tenants—many of whom were living on their boats—were evicted and the docks were removed. Shortly thereafter the tenants in the inner harbor were evicted as well; today, there are no boats at Pete’s Harbor as the Pauls Corporation begins construction.

The project that has been proposed for the 13.8-acre Pete’s Harbor property (it has yet to receive final approval) would result in the construction of 411 apartments in a set of buildings ranging from three to five stories in height. In addition, there will be the associated parking, much of which will be in a large parking structure “wrapped” with apartments. There will also be a clubhouse, a community pool, walkways, and public open space areas along Smith Slough (in the above picture, Smith Slough is where the outer harbor was). It will also include a public marina, where the inner marina once was. But rather than the 116 slips that were once there in the inner marina, this new marina—which will still be open the public; you won’t have to live in one of the apartments in order to keep a boat there—will only have between 45 and 65 slips. And liveaboards will not be allowed. On the plus side, it will be built to modern standards, will comply with ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) requirements, and will include a hand-rowed boat launch for non-motorized craft such as canoes and kayaks. The project will include some 5+ acres of parkland and open space, although only 2 of those acres will be open to the general public: the rest will be reserved for the residents of the project.

Bair Island Marina

On your way out to Pete’s Harbor you will pass two other marinas, although you will likely only see one. Bair Island Marina, which is the closest to Pete’s Harbor, is nestled within The Villas at Bair Island, a 155-unit luxury apartment development at 700 Bair Island Rd. You need to drive into the indicated parking area if you want to actually see the marina. But it is a beauty! 95 slips, each with power, water, and cable/DSL/phone connections. Boat owners have access to parking, showers, a laundy facility, a kid’s playground, plus a pool, Jacuzzi, and a fitness center. Liveaboards are not allowed at this marina, at least not officially.

Bair Island Marina

Peninsula Marina

The one marina you will see on your way out to Pete’s Harbor is the Peninsula Marina. At least, you’ll see the water, in a gap between the bulk of the One Marina development and the final row of buildings on the far side of the marina. Before One Marina was built, this marina had something like 500 slips with a huge number of people living onboard. However, by April of 2001 the boat owners had been given notice, and by November of that year the slips were gone.

One Marina is a 231-unit condominium development (completely sold out!) built around the 14-acre Peninsula Marina basin. Just recently, they put in slips for 24 boats plus a hand boat launch for kayaks and canoes:

One Marina slips

So far I have yet to determine just who can use these docks, what restrictions will be placed on them (I’m assuming that liveaboards will not be allowed) and who will manage them. But it is strange to see so few slips in an area so large. For reference, here is a map of the One Marina development from their website; it clearly shows the size of the dock relative to the marina basin:

One Marina slips

DocktownDocktown

I mentioned Docktown Marina earlier; it may be the easiest to find, given that it has a rather prominent sign on 101, between Whipple Avenue and Woodside Road. You get to Docktown from Maple Street, which crosses over the freeway near the Redwood City K-Mart. Follow the road around the bend past the Bair Island Aquatic Center—which is a rowing club, for those of you might be interested—and you’ll drive straight into Docktown Marina.

Docktown is arrayed linearly along Redwood Creek (the creek that wends its way underneath 101, behind the Toys ‘R Us, and underneath Veteran’s Blvd. before diving underground) and has some 145 slips, most of which contain liveaboards.

Docktown

As you might be able to tell from the above picture, many of the slips in Docktown are occupied not by conventional boats but by what are termed “floating homes.” These are essentially conventional homes built upon floating platforms. They don’t have engines: when they need to be relocated, they have to be towed. These homes can get quite elaborate! The following picture shows two of the nicest floating homes in Docktown.

Docktown

Like a boat, floating homes are tied to a pier and have flexible connections for utilities. Unfortunately, only four are permitted to have a (flexible) connection to the sewer system. The rest, like more conventional boats, have to employ holding tanks that have to be pumped out on a fairily frequent basis. Fortunately, as with a septic tank, the pump-out service comes to you.

Docktown is part of Redwood City’s inner harbor area: the area that has been the focus of the Inner Harbor Task Force. Because of this, and because the State Lands Commission has control over Redwood Creek, the future of Docktown has been very uncertain of late. This is too complex a subject for me to go into here, but rest assured that I’ll cover it in a future post. Both because of the fact that the cost of living at Docktown makes it truly affordable for many, and because of all of the other activity planned for the inner harbor area (this area includes not only the new Maple Street Correctional Center, but also the old Malibu Grand Prix/Miniature Golf site) I’ll be keeping a close eye on it.

Port of Redwood City Municipal Marina

The Port of Redwood City is one of the things that makes Redwood City truly special among Bay Area cities. If you haven’t explored it, I’d highly recommend a visit. In particular, a stroll around the Port’s marina is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Port of Redwood City Marina

Easily visible from Seaport Blvd. (which is what Woodside Road becomes as it passes underneath 101), this 190-berth marina has a nice complement of services for the boat owner or occupant. Each slip has power and water, of course, and on-shore there are restrooms, showers, and a laundromat. In addition to the 190 slips, there are also 70 spaces for dry boat storage plus a launch ramp. There is also the nearby Sequoia Yacht Club (membership in which is not connected to the marina; you don’t need to own a boat to become a member), plus Spinnaker Sailing, a sailing school and club. Spinnaker actually manages the marina for the Port of Redwood City: they’re the folks to talk to if you are interested in obtaining a spot for your boat.

Redwood Landing Marina

As you turn off of Seaport Blvd. onto Seaport Ct., the Port of Redwood City Municipal Marina is on your left. Proceed straight ahead and you will reach a two-story building that once was a restaurant. Stay to the left of this building and you’ll come to the water: here there are some tiedowns for transient boats as well as a public fishing pier (did you know that Redwood City has a public fishing pier?). To the right of this pier is a dock with 43 slips: Redwood Landing Marina. This marina is also managed by Spinnaker but does not appear to be owned by the Port; I’m guessing that Spinnaker may have leased the rights from the State Lands Commission. In any case, liveabords are allowed here as well.

Redwood Landing Marina

Westpoint Harbor

If, instead of turning onto Seaport Ct. towards the Port of Redwood City Municipal Marina, you instead stay on Seaport Blvd. and keep to the right, you’ll eventually reach Pacific Shores, the large glass buildings you can see off in the distance from 101. Turn right when you reach Pacific Shores and follow the road around it until you reach the access road to Westpoint Harbor. You’ll have to stop at this point unless you have an invitation: Westpoint Harbor is a privately-owned and -operated harbor for residents and guests only. Due to this, and because of the way that the land forms a berm around the harbor, getting pictures was difficult. The best I could do, from the public sidewalk that rings Pacific Shores, was this:

Westpoint Harbor

Fortunately, we have Google Earth: it does a much better job of illustrating just what this particular marina is like:

Westpoint Harbor

As you can see, this is a good-sized marina. Currently there are approximately 270 berths, with room for 100 or so more. Construction here began around 2003: the harbor had to be dug out, and then the docks installed. Interestingly enough, according to the history section of the Westpoint Harbor website, this site was once home to the Portland Shipbuilding Company. And the Portland Shipbuilding Company, using concrete from a nearby plant, built concrete ships in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s! In fact, according to Wikipedia it constructed the first concrete ship ever built in the United States: the USS Faith. Unfortunately, this steam-powered ship only operated for about 3 years, ending its life as part of a breakwater in Cuba.

Today, Westpoint Harbor is a high-end (read “pricy”) marina housing many luxury yachts. A full set of services is provided (including Wi-Fi), and it does appear that you can live onboard—although I’m guessing that living on one of these boats would never be considered “affordable housing.”

Whether or not you own a boat, a lot of people do. Providing access to the water gIves Redwood City a dimension that most of our neighboring cities and towns simply don’t have. Like most of the real estate here, though, our marinas are being upgraded from affordable, run-of-the-mill places to high-end, but more expensive places. Unfortunately, there seems to be just as much demand for these pricier slips as there is for the expensive housing that is being built, squeezing out the boat owner or renter who can’t afford the new rates. Three of our marinas are now high-end, and the future marina at Pete’s Harbor will be soon. Of the remaining three, the Port Marina and Redwood Landing don’t appear to be in any danger of changing any time soon, but as I hope to spell out in a future post, Docktown’s fate is anyone’s guess at this time.

3 thoughts on “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

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