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Berkeley Marina


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Credit ©Berkeley Marina website

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When you picture being on the water, different images might  come to your mind. Like being a pirate... Or being a fisherman !For many of us,  this is what sailors are.  Passionate.  Adventurous. And fictional. But here in the Bay Area, there are many real life people who live their lives on boats.

I wanted to understand the draw, so I went somewhere I could find the answers.

Sharon Sumner : My name is Sharon Maurice Sumner, I live in Berkeley, California. At the Berkeley Marina.

Sharon Sumner owns a 40 foot long sailboat. SHE CALLS it Elise. Yes, the Elise is Sumner’s home. She pays 550 dollars every month to live here. That price includes a special residence permit issued to her and about one hundred other people who live there. Mostly men.

Sharon Sumner : "But a lot of times they call a man’s boat his mistress, because he spends so much time with her. They need love and attention. Otherwise they’re not going to take care of you."

Berth prices in the Berkeley Marina begin at just over 7 dollars per foot of vessel. The bigger the boat, the higher the price. Sumner’s boat is pretty big, but not big enough for all her stuff . For that she keeps a studio apartment in Oakland.

Sharon Sumner : "I have a sound studio, and a darkroom, and a computer setup, a washer and dryer there, a bath tub...you know ! And so that kind of energy about the drug abuse and having to be in a fortress isn’t my cup of tea."

But the Berkeley Marina is. Sumner’s boat is docked with more than a thousand others in what’s the largest public marina in Northern California. I WANTED TO MEET MORE OF the people who live there, so I went to a potluck that Sumner was hosting.

A group of about two dozen people hung out around a fire between the water and a community garden. One of them was a spoken word performer.

James Zealous : "My name is Captain James Zealous. I live down here, 2nd to last mast here in the dock. At D dock. I have been working in 21 different countries of this blue planet, but I am just a humble bay sailor."

I also met Vincent Felix.

"All of these boats are like a passport to an unimaginable world. For people that have never been sailing. "

He says there’s a romance to it. I ask him if it’s like having a mistress.

"A mistress is like sexy and fun, but this is more like, be careful !

Eva : You wish to live in a boat

Vincent : I have done it ! It's got a lot of plus and lot of minuses... It's beautiful, unique, lot of tradition, powerful, you are connected to hundreds of years of people surviving on the ocean. You are connected to the stars, the water, the ocean. You sleep you can feel the boat moving BUT i's pain it's cold, it's wet, you could sink anytime. Even on the dock. it's not easy.

Despite the challenges, it’s worth the trouble to Felis and his dockmate, David Machomick from New Zealand.

David Machomick :

"I came here to find a boat to travel across the Pacific in. A classic wooden boat. And I found one. This was almost 12 months ago."

He’s fixing up the boat in hopes of sailing across the Pacific ... without any electronic instruments.

Vincent Felis : "You can see, there’s very few visitors here as well. If you look up, there is no traffic, it's beautiful."

I leave the potluck, the sailors, their ships. I realize now, that there are as many different reasons to live on boats as there are people who live on boats. But there's one thing that brings them altogether : It's their passion !

Eva soncin

Berkeley CA