It’s about 11 a.m. on Friday as Erica Clarkson walks along a dock at Pillar Point Harbor. She finds her skiff tied up, slips on her lifejacket and hops aboard. After a few tugs at the engine to get it started she begins to navigate toward the outer harbor where her boat is anchored.
“This will always be home,” she said as she steers her way out.
Clarkson, who lives with her boyfriend, Joshua Gift, has been living in the outer harbor for about four years. They work as commercial fishermen, providing crab and salmon to locals and visitors. Clarkson is wearing rubber boots that go up to her knees, a black hoodie that says “Fisher Girl” across the chest and her hair is tied back in a ponytail. Gift also is wearing rubber boots and donning a hat and an ascot tied around his neck.
The pair lives with their pink and gray bird Muschiu, who has his own perch inside the boat. He nibbles on an almond resting on Clarkson’s shoulder as she stands in the dining area of her boat. The boat rocks ever so slightly back and forth, something Clarkson said, “you get used to pretty quickly.”
“It’s very interesting during a big storm because it will rock and roll,” she said. “But I would not trade it for living in a house. No way.”
Pillar Point Harbor offers an opportunity for people to anchor out, or tie their boats to moorings beyond the docks, for a small fee per day. Currently, the outer harbor has about a dozen or so people living on their vessels. The San Mateo County Harbor District maintains a pump-out station at Pillar Point Harbor so people can safely dispose of waste.
Unlike many land dwellers, the term Clarkson and Gift use for those in more conventional living arrangements, the couple traded a backyard for the open sea. Standing on the stern of the boat looking toward shore they say they have the best view of the Coastside.
Clarkson, who is from San Francisco, worked for years as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley. She also is a photographer and spent a lot of time coming to the Coastside to take photos. That is where she met Gift, who had a boat in the outer harbor.
It was not long after that first date that she gave up her apartment and moved in with Gift on his boat.
Gift, who is from Ben Lomond, learned to sail at 12 years old. He started living on a boat eight years ago. A tradesman, he and Clarkson previously worked at a tile company doing restoration.
They enjoy living anchored out. It affords them privacy and quiet, which is not always the case for boats docked at the harbor.
Gift says their boat offers everything a traditional apartment or home may have, including a heating system, refrigeration, a working kitchen and bathroom. Clarkson is an avid cook, who uses their kitchen to prepare dinners such as the one they planned that evening, black cod and rice.
“Life in general out here is peaceful,” Clarkson said, “but you are constantly keeping an eye out for danger because it is always around you.”
Both Gift and Clarkson said they feel part of a community living in the outer harbor. They know who lives in each boat and feel a camaraderie among all the people living at sea in the harbor.
“It’s a sense of community,” Clarkson said. “On land you are lucky if you know your neighbor. Here we know our neighbors very well, and we look out for each other.”
The two are adamant they choose to live on their boat not out of necessity but because this fits their lifestyle. They would not trade it for anything.
A sign adorned with “Home is where the anchor is” hangs in their dining area.
“That’s not just there for decoration … the fact that we can pick up that anchor and go anywhere and be home, that is a wonderful feeling,” she said. “We are not less than anybody else.” r