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Man seeks place to berth boat

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.

Gunther Woolleey may not be a man without a home, but his classic Baltzer 32-foot motor yacht is a boat without a berth.

After six days of wrangling with the City of Petaluma over berthing his boat in the Petaluma Turning Basin, Woolleey says he was ordered out of the Turning Basin at 1 a.m. last Sunday morning by Harbor Master Barry Thorsson. Woolleey said he injured an ankle in moving his boat, but complied with the order. As of Monday, his boat was berthed at a private dock near H Street, but he had been since ordered to leave that dock as well. In addition, he said he had been told that he could not dock at the Petaluma Marina where rental berths are available, nor return to the San Rafael dock where the boat had been berthed when he bought it two months ago, due to a dispute with San Rafael's Harbor master.

“I don't know what I am going to do,” he said Monday.

Woolleey, who grew up and attended high school in Petaluma, said all he wanted to do was park his boat in the Turning Basin until he could make arrangements for a permanent berthing spot. “I just wanted to come back to my home town,” he said. “I didn't ask the city for anything. I just wanted to be allowed to fill out an application and see if I could get a spot at the Yacht Club or the Marina.”

City regulations for use of Turning Basin berths expressly prohibit “live-aboards,” limiting how long a visitor may live on his boat to three days within any 14-day period.

Woolleey said he has never had any intention of living on his boat. “I came here to park the boat, visit my girlfriend and trick out my boat — make it even nicer than it is. I have no intention of living on it,” he said.

Before leaving the Turning Basin, Woolleey received two tickets from the city for non-payment of the berthing fees, which are $24 per day. The first fine was for $100 and the second for $500. The city ordinance calls for a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for a third.

City officials refuse to discuss Woolleey's specific situation, although Thorsson said the boater was fined for “non-payment of fees and not following the rules. The same set of rules apply to everyone,” he said.

Woolleey said he did pay the berthing fee, and has the receipts to prove it. He added that his attempt to keep his 1940's classic boat in the Turning Basin, where it had been parked for six days, was not a pleasant one, and included continual harassment, fines, mishaps, elimination of electricity and even a late-night intruder he said was wielding a knife.

Woolleey said he was harassed from the moment he arrived in the Turning Basin and has no idea why. Last week, the power was shut off to his boat, resulting in the loss of insulin he needs to control his diabetes. The diabetes is one of several health problems he is trying to control. He said he also has kidney problems, an irregular heart beat, severe headaches and blurry vision.

City Public Works Director Dan St. John, refused to talk directly about the Woolleey situation. “I'm not going to debate this in the newspaper,” he said. “Our visitors are expected to abide by the rules. They are expected to pay their fees and expected to be good visitors. Ninty-nine percent of our visitors abide by the rules and have a good time. We have a harbor master who runs a professional operation to make sure visitors and monthly renters have a great experience.”

The city ordinance gives broad authority to the harbor master. According to the Marina and Turning Basin Rules and Regulations: “The Harbor master shall interpret and enforce the rules, regulations, and ordinances pertaining to the Marina and Turning Basin. All orders given in the performance of his/her duties shall be obeyed. Every boat entering the Marina and Turning Basin shall immediately become subject to the authority and direction of the Harbor master. Each boat shall be berthed in the space assigned by the Harbor master. The Harbor master may assess service fees for any services rendered.”

In an incident apparently not related to his troubles with the city, Woolleey called Petaluma Police on July 25, stating that an intruder boarded his boat late at night and brandished a knife at him. Woolleey told police that he was able to use a martial arts kick to disarm the intruder, who he then kicked off the boat. Police confirmed that officers were called and a report was taken.

Woolleey's problems with the city come at a time when officials are still dealing with Jim Proctor, an admitted live-aboard who has lived on a boat in Petaluma waterways for the past 10 years. Proctor said he has paid his monthly rent to dock his now inoperable boat at the Turning Basin for the last three years, and can't leave because of severe medical problems. He has thus far accumulated more than $1,000 in fines.

Woolleey said his situation is totally different than Proctor's, pointing out that his boat is not only in good running condition, but is a much-sought-after classic, and he is actively seeking a berthing place in the area.

“I've got a million dollar boat and nowhere to go,” he said.

(Contact John Jackson at Johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com.)

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