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Shapiro vs. Sausalito

Houseboat War 1.5 1974-5

Carl Shapiro vs. the City of Sausalito

A yellow dredge sat scuttled in Richardson Bay, less than 100 yards south of the Napa St. pier, and about the same distance from the shoreline and the Sausalito Cruising Club. It was a barge with huge steel tanks for flotation, a wooden deck and 2-story superstructure.

For anyone who might not know, a dredge is a very large piece of marine equipment, more or less a waterborne earth mover. Its purpose is to remove large amounts of sea, bay or river bed for the purpose of creating channels in relatively shallow water to accommodate deep-draft vessels. Think Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel, way bigger, on a barge. The lower part of the superstructure still contained most of the machinery that operated the 120-ft. boom, which still hung out over the bay supported by its steel cables. The upper part, formerly a pilot house and living quarters, was empty.

Joe Tate had lived on the dredge for a short period, and so had Greg Myers, who came away with the nickname “Dredge,” which stuck. Captain Dredge became a notorious waterfront character.

After the first houseboat war, it became clear that our free ride at the Gate 5 & 6 waterfront - thanks to the magnanimity of Don Arques, the freethinking owner of the Marinship property - was ending. Our little utopian anarchy, besides being a thorn in the side of established law and order, was situated on prime Marin County waterfront. A lot of perfectly good and very expensive real estate was going to waste.

When Joe acquired the Richmond, a 65-ft. tugboat and began converting it to sail, he needed a place to tie it up in deeper water than at Gate 6, where the ebbing tides left everything sitting on the mud at least once a day. He moved it to the Dredge. Thus began a mini-exodus from Gate 6. Some of the crew of the intended future voyage of the Richmond were the first to relocate. I acquired a vintage wood cabin cruiser, more appropriate for the less-sheltered open water at the dredge than the little plywood houseboat I had been living in, and named the boat Turkey of the Sea. Jeremy and Marcia brought the H&R Block, a reasonably seaworthy craft, the origin of whose name I can't quite recall.

Not long after came Dean Puchalski and his family, and Salty and Marla, each bringing in big barges. We were beginning to take up space on the bay, which did not go unnoticed by the powers-that-were in Sausalito. Joe rigged an underwater power cord, connected it somewhere on shore and the Dredge had pirated electricity. We were now living “for free” and creating an “eyesore” not under the protection of a beneficent shipbuilder and cattle rancher, but in open water close to downtown. As if that weren't enough, Salty brought in a crane barge and began lifting boats out of the water to do bottom and structural repairs.

Meanwhile life went on at the Dredge. The population increased. At least two babies were home-delivered there, and we had big communal dinners in the upstairs space on the main structure. That is, until Michael Woodstock moved his family into it.

At some point, the City of Sausalito took action, making it illegal to “moor a vessel in the waters of Dunphy Park” (newly created behind the Cruising Club on property that had been a vacant lot). It was a vague designation that although aimed at us, by necessity included any vessel at all, even visiting yachts. The new ordinance required a permit.

So Dean went to City Hall looking to get himself a permit. Right around then we received a summons, en masse, to appear in court and face charges of violating the new law. Joe Tate engaged Carl Shapiro, the brilliant lawyer from San Anselmo to represent us. Shapiro was known as a “public interest” attorney, experienced in battling corporate and bureaucratic powers.

When our day in court arrived, a rare storm was blowing from the south, and large swells building up from Oakland and beyond were playing havoc with some of our boats. We had to scramble to secure several of them exposed to this weather, and we arrived at the Marin County Civic Center late for our inquisition.

Our explanation of being delayed by the storm conditions was met with denials from the Sausalito city attorney, who reported “mild” rain and wind ashore, where no one had to deal with four and five-ft. swells coming up the bay. On land it just seemed like a windy, rainy day. This general ignorance of life on the water was common but was now working directly against us. With the judge already suspecting us of being liars, the city attorney began his questioning.

Sausalito's attorney was a weasel-like little fellow, ill-suited to his job. He used an intimidation technique that was likely taught at second- and third-rate law schools and almost embarrassingly transparent. The idea was to knock the defendant off balance with an attempt to make him doubt his own identity.

“Mr., uh, Costello, is it?”

The hoped-for reaction was something like, Hmm, let me think about that for a minute, maybe I'm really someone else and don't even know it. He did the same with every single one of the Dredge people.

When Dean Puchalski took the stand and the city attorney opened his questioning with, “Mr. umm, Puchalski, is it?” He badly mispronounced “Puchalski” and Dean interrupted to correct him (“Poo-hall-ski”). At this point the judge interrupted to say,

“Well now, I grew up in a Polish neighborhood and never heard such a pronunciation,” suggesting that Dean didn't know how to say his own name. Things were not looking so good. But it was Dean's testimony, led by Carl Shapiro, that turned the tide in our favor.

Carl Shapiro: ”Did you apply for a permit to moor a vessel in the waters of Dunphy Park, Mr. Puchalski?”

Dean Puchalski: “I went to city hall and asked for an application.”

Shapiro: “And did you get one?”

Puchalski: “No, they didn't have any.”

Shapiro: “Had they run out of copies?”

Puchalski: “I don't know. The clerk didn't seem to know what I was talking about.”

Shapiro called one or another bureaucrat from city hall and asked to see a copy of the permit to moor a vessel in the waters of Dunphy Park. Nobody could produce one, and it quickly came to light that such a permit did not actually exist. Under oath, the flustered, red-faced city attorney was forced to admit this.

Given no other choice, the judge dismissed the case. The war was far from over, but we had won this battle and bought some time.


  1. Jim Gibbons February 16, 2017

    Jeff, I just gotta say I really like your writing, especially when it comes to the 70s waterfront. I was up in Mendo during this time, and for some reason have been writing more about the mid-seventies than any other era, but I read your waterfront stuff, like this piece, and I’m always amazed how interesting you make it, and how you remember all the info! And I want more! Hope you put together a book some day including all of it.

  2. Craig Quirolo February 17, 2017

    Thanks for this memory boost…I was working for Varda and Watts in Gate 5 at the time and did not get involved in the “battle”. ‘One eyed Roger’, who also worked for Varda and Watts did participate “in the Last Free Ride” but was lost at sea on Seagulls cement sailboat heading for Panama. The time I spent living in Gate 5 and working for Varda in the 70s shaped the direction of my life. Keep up the stories that was one heck of a time never to be repeated.

    • Jeff Costello Post author | February 17, 2017

      Craig, the cement boat voyage was doomed from the start. Roger had to be running from something to get aboard. He was maybe the only competent sailor on the boat. Seagull came to me once with a Martin guitar and asked why he couldn’t get it in tune. The strings were wound on ass-backwards,causing extreme friction on the nut. I showed him how to do it, but right then I wondered how he could manage an ocean voyage in a badly home-made cement boat.

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