Bainbridge Island's liveaboard tradition facing extinction

Bainbridge Island's liveaboard tradition facing extinction »Play Video
Ted Stoughton has been living aboard his 24-foot houseboat in Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor for 16 years, surviving on $560 a month.
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. - For nearly a century, boaters have been allowed to anchor in Eagle Harbor for free, and for as long as they want. But now this historic floating community on Bainbridge Island may be about to disappear.

The motley collection of boaters, known locally as "liveaboards," is facing eviction, due to a nixed deal between the island government and the state.

Ted Stougton is one of the liveaboards. His commute is by rowboat. And his home is a simple 24-foot houseboat anchored not far from the Bainbridge ferry terminal. He's lived there for 16 years.

"It's a very simple, sustainable life," Ted says.

As a liveaboard, he says he can live on his income - a monthly Social Security check of $560.

That's because he and about 20 other liveaboards can anchor in the middle of Eagle Harbor for free - a tradition local and state bureaucrats have allowed for nearly a century. But that may soon end.

The state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the seafloor where the anchors fall, has been removing open-water liveaboard communities for years. Bainbridge Island's is the last still in existence.

But this week, the Bainbridge City Council, the floating group's last hope, may have sealed their fate by nixing a lease deal with the state, calling it too expensive.

"Figuring out those costs and assigning those costs to the liveaboards - it just wasn't feasible for a number of them to pay their share," says Brenda Bauer, Bainbridge Island's interim city administrator.

In Ted Stougton's case, roughly two-thirds of his monthly income would have gone to mooring fees, a cost he can't afford.

But others say the liveaboards make Eagle Harbor look more like a floating shantytown, with their derelict boats covered in blue tarps.

Meanwhile, a few feet away, there are nice house boats. And moored at nearby slips are huge pricey yachts.

The contrast leads some to say it's not an economic issue - but more like a cultural one.

Dave Henry, part-time dockmaster, has been following the debate for years.

"It's really hard for government to legislate aesthetics, that's really the bottom line," he says.

Now anybody staying longer than 30 days would be trespassing.

And Ted predicts, "These liveaboard boaters become a little more transient. They will go from community to community."