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Wanted: home for houseboat

Since twice ordering its demolition in Port Gamble, the City of Bainbridge is giving the houseboat Wicca yet another shot at life.

Through the end of October, the city will be accepting proposals for anyone who wants to take ownership of the historic Eagle Harbor liveaboard home and possibly return it to Bainbridge.

The city will rate plans in part on whether the houseboat would be restored to its historic condition, and whether it would be returned to a “suitable location on Bainbridge Island.” People offering proposals will also have to convince city staff that they have the financial means and space to complete work on the vessel.

Eagle Harbor liveaboard Ray Nowak said he’ll be among those submitting proposals for Wicca. Nowak lived in a houseboat alongside Wicca for years and said he would do everything he could to bring it back to Eagle Harbor.

“Absolutely, that’s the intent,” Nowak said. “The Wicca is something that is a precious part of the history of the harbor.”

Wicca began life as a floating boathouse in the 1940s then in the 1970s was converted into a houseboat, with cedar shake sides and a peaked roof. Over the next 30 years it served as a floating home for a long list of islanders, and a centerpiece of an eclectic liveaboard community.

Last winter Wicca fell into disrepair and was seized by the city as a dangerous structure.

In March the city contracted with Caicos Corp. to have Wicca removed, and Nowak, a Caicos employee, drove the tugboat that towed Wicca to the company’s yard in Port Gamble.

In Port Gamble, the house portion of the houseboat was removed from its float and set on shore. After allowing 60 days for restoration plans to be floated by interested citizens, the city ordered Caicos to demolish what was left of Wicca.

Islanders, including some who had lived on Wicca, turned out at a June city council meeting and swayed the city into granting Wicca a stay of execution. After consideration by its Community Relations Committee, the council decided to declare Wicca surplus property and allow city staff to request proposals for its restoration. If none of the proposals meet the city’s standards, Wicca could still be demolished.

To return Wicca to liveaboard shape, a new owner would need to reinforce the cabin’s structure and build a new float, Nowak said. The refitted vessel would have to pass muster with the city’s planning department before returning to Bainbridge. The new owner would have the option of nominating Wicca for the city’s register of historic properties.

Returning Wicca to Eagle Harbor could be more difficult. As a liveaboard it could legally be moored at one of the harbor’s marinas, but could not be anchored out. The city is currently overhauling its harbor policy, and negotiating with the Department of Natural Resources to determine whether any residential vessels will be allowed to anchor in Eagle Harbor.

Island shipwright Peter Marshall isn’t sure yet if he will submit a proposal for Wicca, but said he hopes Wicca won’t be altered too much from its classic shape.

“Clean it up, paint it and put it back on the water,” he said.

Detailed criteria for Wicca proposals are available for download at the city’s website: http://www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us.

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