Several vets like living on on their boats, but the Air Force, which leases the marina says it's not designed for long stays.
The wind whipped through the rigging of Gerald Wynkoop’s sailboat, the metallic rhythm resonating across the harbor. With the Golden Gate Bridge flanking the marina, Wynkoop glanced around his cluttered sailboat with a silent pride.
“My neighbors are sea lions and seals and birds,” Wynkoop said. “It’s a really nice place to live if you like some privacy.”
After suffering decades of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effects of Agent Orange from his time in Vietnam, the Army veteran does appreciate his privacy. For five years he’s had plenty of it, living aboard an aging sailboat in the Travis Marina, near the Northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Baker – a former army base-turned-National Park.
“Every time I come back down in here,” Wynkoop said, “especially when I come from a room with a lot of people in it, it’s very peaceful here.”
But the peace, valued by Wynkoop and a handful of other disabled veterans who live aboard boats in the marina, has hit rough waters. The Air Force, which leases the marina from the National Park Service, wants to end the live-aboard program and has given the vets until September 30th to leave.
“I can’t understand why they’re chasing out the only three disabled vets,” said former Marine John Collins, who lives on a sailboat a few slips way from Wynkoop. “What do we do?”
A letter attributed to Air Force Major Jonelle Eychner, written to the live-aboard veterans, outlined several reasons for the evictions.
“The Marina is clearly not designed for extended residency,” wrote Eychner. “ In particular, it does not contain residential support facilities, such as dedicated restrooms and a boat pump-out station for disposing of human waste.”
In the letter, Eychner said the section of dock occupied by the live-aboard residents “will require significant capital outlay estimated at between $700,000 to $1 million dollars. ”
According to records, the Air Force began leasing the Marina in 1996. The lease continued even after the Army turned Fort Baker over to the National Park Service in 2002.
But the Air Force letter to the tenants indicates it’s unlikely the National Park Service will continue to lease it the marina – an arrangement that allows military bases to offer recreational opportunities to its members. With the arrangement set to expire this month, the Air Force said it wasn’t inclined to spend money fixing-up the marina.
Wynkoop pointed out patches where the docks buckled, and electrical boxes he said were poorly repaired. He believes the evictions were the result of his repeated complaints about the condition of the marina.
“I already offered to throw myself on my sword and just leave if they’d leave my friends alone,” said Wynkoop.
Bay Area Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey petitioned the National Park Service to allow the veterans to continue to live in the Marina. In a written response to Woolsey, GGNRA Superintendent Frank Dean echoed the Air Forces’ assessment; “The marina has inadequate infrastructure to accommodate full-time occupancy, as few improvements have been made since the Army vacated the premises,” Dean wrote.
Wynkoop’s attorney also petitioned the government to draft a special agreement allowing the men to stay.
“They went through the ravages of war,” said attorney Colleen Shaw. “They’re on a fixed income and I just don’t think the federal government should be evicting veterans.”
Wynkoop stared off toward the Bay when asked where he’d go if forced to leave. He said he might pitch a tent in a park somewhere. As a tear trickled below the frame of his sunglasses, betraying his stoic veneer, Wynkoop peered into the cabin of his sailboat.
“I like my boat,” he said in a crackling voice. “There’s a lot to fix.”