In Sausalito, multiple communities coexist. There are the people who live in homes scattered across the rolling hillside, and another floating population of mariners anchored indefinitely in Richardson Bay. The “anchor-out” community, as the latter is called, live predominantly rent-free, escaping the high prices of Bay Area housing for a more calm and autonomous lifestyle.
Randy Bonney, a 67-year-old anchor-out, has lived on the water for the past several years. As a former Sausalito business owner for three decades, Bonney took up a nautical life after retiring, which has allowed him to remain in the Bay Area on a fixed income.
“A number of people have chosen to become anchor-outs or have been forced to become anchor-outs,” Bonney says. “It’s not easy, but I am very content having my own space. I am one of those salty dogs, I guess.”
There are roughly 200 vessels — from cluttered, deteriorating sailboats to pristine cruisers — anchored off the Sausalito waterfront. Some of them serve as homes for the area's homeless. According to the 2015 biennial Marin County homeless count, 14 percent of the county’s homeless population lives on boats.
However, as the anchor-out population grows, tensions are rising on land.
Some in Sausalito are concerned that the anchor-outs are responsible for polluting the environment, overcrowding the harbor and drug-related activities out on the water. Earlier this year, the Sausalito City Council passed a policy limiting vessels to anchoring-out for more than 72 hours before risking impoundment.
Yet the mariners resist these claims and are working to assert their nautical rights in lieu of the restrictive laws.
“The anchor-out community itself has chosen to get its own organization together and become a little active politically,” Bonney says, “and is also trying to become proactive in taking care of our own issues and problems and taking that burden off of the state.”
Among the oldest of the anchor-outs is Greg Baker, 78. Having come from a long line of seamen, he’s lived on the water intermittently for the past 50 years and is helping to organize the anchor-out community in hopes of legitimizing their way of life.
“Most people out here are quiet, unassuming folks that are no different from the people living ashore,” Baker says. “But in general, it’s a very benign community and we’re trying to work it on our own.”
Since the 1950s, the anchor-out community has solidified their nautical lifestyle in the face of opposition from those on land. Despite the growing controversy, the anchor-out community persists on the glassy waters off the Sausalito shore.
“Sausalito has always had an aura and a reality of accepting unusual, artistic existences here,” Bonney says. “Most of that has gone away, there is very little left. But it still has a flavor here that Sausalito likes to brag about and the people on the hill like to brag about. And I like that, and I think the anchor-outs are a good part of that.”