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Why was a house floating in the middle of San Francisco Bay?

A two-story houseboat was towed from San Mateo County to Marin because the state forced out a community of houseboats

A houseboat in the bay.
A two-story houseboat was towed from Redwood City to San Rafael through San Francisco Bay on Monday. | Source: Jonah Lamb/The Standard

The handsome two-story home with a picket fence was listing to starboard.

While the shingled home would fit into any leafy suburb, on Monday it was out to sea, so to speak, as it made slow progress past the Ferry Building around 9 a.m. and ferry passengers snapped pictures of the anomaly. The boat was being towed through San Francisco Bay on the last leg of a two-day journey from Redwood City to San Rafael.

A day earlier, Edward Stancil had watched as the boat began its journey up the bay, departing from the Docktown Marina in Redwood City. He questioned whether it would survive the trip. 

“It’s precarious,” Stancil said. “The thing’s ready to sink. That was the biggest houseboat they had in Redwood City.” 

The slow-going vessel would probably not be able to fight a high tide and so would have to wait for the slack tide for a window to move. It would probably not be able to move at all during the southern bay’s low tides. 

A houseboat in the bay.
A houseboat on a two-day journey from Redwood City to San Rafael as it makes its way past San Francisco on Monday. | Source: Jonah Owen Lamb/The Standard

Stancil, who says he is the last remaining resident of Docktown, speculated that the boat probably sat in the mud Sunday night before making its way to San Francisco. 

The boat was apparently one of dozens that have had to move away from their homes in a San Mateo County waterway after the city was forced to relocate them following a long legal battle. 

When reached by phone Monday afternoon, the boat’s owner, who declined to give his full name, said he was not aboard during the towing but that the vessel was expected to make landfall in San Rafael by Monday afternoon.

The apparently unseaworthy boat’s arduous journey north, while very much a curiosity, is far less of a tale than why it was forced onto the bay in the first place.  

A houseboat is seen being pulled across the Bay on Sunday. | Source: Courtesy Edward Stancil

That goes back to a 2015 lawsuit filed by a nearby resident and lawyer, who claimed the marina was not allowed on state waterways, according to a news report. That suit was settled, with the agreement stipulating that the city would remove the 60 to 80 vessels. 

A July 2023 news report noted that only nine residents remained in the harbor.

“Like a little island—a little oasis in the middle of Silicon Valley where you don’t feel the pressure and the expense,” resident Nina Peschcke-Koedt told ABC7 about the community. 

Redwood City obtained control of the marina and adjacent state land in 1945 and then leased it to entities that managed the marina from 1965 to 2013, according to a 2016 removal plan. The city, which did not respond to a request for comment, then took over the marina and began paying residents settlements to leave after the state ruled that live-aboard vessels were not allowed to block public access to a state waterway. 

But just last year the group that sued took the city to court again, claiming it hasn’t lived up to its promises to clean up the marina and relocate its residents. 

The attorney who headed up the suit, Ted Hannig, who was one reason the giant houseboat crossed the bay Monday, lives across the creek from Docktown and loves boating and sailing, according to his law firm’s website. Hannig did not respond to a request for comment. 

The boaters who live nearby may not have loved him back. According to his lawsuit cited by Palo Alto Daily News, Hannig alleged that someone at Docktown fired a golf ball at him in retaliation for raising concerns about the marina.

As for the displaced houseboat, its owner did not return follow-up calls to check whether it made safe harbor.

According to a spokesperson with the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday, the houseboat was given a safety escort Monday to where it finally anchored. But that destination was not San Rafael as the owner, who did not return a call for comment Tuesday, initially told The Standard. It was taken instead to a haven for anchor outs—Richardson Bay off Sausalito.

Still, the vessel may remain in limbo as the county recently passed a new ordinance requiring a permit to relocate a boat into its waters. It’s unclear if the boat has such a permit.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at