Greg Sabourin, expert boatsperson and the executive director of the Petaluma Small Craft Center (PSCC), has a reminder: “We’re a river town, but we don’t have a place to rent boats!”
PSCC, a nonprofit, nearly 15 years old, is dedicated to improving access to the Petaluma River. For the last 15 years, they’ve partnered with nonprofits and summer camps, offering paddle boarding and kayaking lessons, providing sailing lessons for kids and adults, and generally following their mission statement of “putting butts in boats.”
The Floathouse Petaluma, an idea almost as old as the nonprofit, has long been on their horizon. An upcoming River Art Fundraiser is being held to support it on Saturday, Sept. 17 at The Watershed in Petaluma.
A community gathering, it will feature artwork from 26 Petaluma artists, each of whom was taken out on the Petaluma River to find inspiration for their piece.
Floathouse Petaluma, when it opens at the end of the month, will be Petaluma’s first waterfront boat rental facility. The idea is to provide water access to everybody, not just those with hitches to bring rented boats to dock, or boats of their own.
The Petaluma River, Sabourin points out, is Petaluma’s longest park. And it’s PSCC’s mission to provide people with access to it.
It’s a dock-based boat rental center, right on Petaluma’s turning basin in the heart of the city. The Floathouse is built to rise and fall with the tide, and will offer a wide variety of watercraft options, year-round.
“You can go to Clavey Paddle Sports in Petaluma, and they can set you up if you have a car with a rack for a half day, the day or a weekend. But in terms of hourly rentals where you walk down to the dock and rent a boat and you’re out and gone, no cars, no transport, this is the first place,” says Sabourin.
Essentially, PSCC is in love with the Petaluma River, and they’re looking to share the love. And in fundraising, they started with artists—bringing the artistic community out onto the river to showcase the beauty as only they can.
“The idea really was to bring the active and lively artistic community out on the river. The question is what’s the view from the river? Not just looking at it but on it. What does it feel like? What is it like out there?” Sabourin explained. “So, last fall through this spring we took dozens and dozens of artists out on the river. Some people wanted low tide, some high; some people wanted mornings, sunrise; some people wanted sunsets. We took a lot of artists out, some multiple times, and they would go back to their studios to create the work as inspired by the river. We wanted to integrate these two communities, and it’s been very successful.”
It’s almost as though Sabourin and company at PSCC are the voice of the Petaluma River, and have called in the creative community, taught them the language and invited them to create their own relationship with the water that runs like a heart vein through the city of Petaluma.
“The more people you get out on the river, enjoying the river, and using it recreationally, the more people are going to want to serve and protect it. Our niche, if you will, is to really get people out on the river year-round. The more people on the water, the more they’re going to serve, protect and educate,” said Sabourin. “What’s been lacking is access. If you don’t own your own boat or have a car that can carry a boat, you can’t access; you can’t fall in love.”
The Floathouse corrects this lack of access, in an affordable, accessible way, and is intent on ensuring that everyone is able to create a relationship with the water.
“We’re making sure we also connect with underserved communities. On the program side, we’re making sure that populations who wouldn’t normally be able to access the river can also enjoy it. And it really took a nonprofit to make all of this possible. By the time all of this is finished, we’ll have raised almost $1 million to do all the funding, permitting, pile driving, dock building, buying the fleet, plumbing, electricity, solar, all of that. It’s a huge investment that wouldn’t have [been] penciled out if this was a commercial business.”
PSCC has stuck with this labor of river love for 12 years, through ups and downs and everything in between, and the payoff, as Sabourin said, is “that it’s going to be open soon.”
When fully operative, the Floathouse will provide enough income—along with continued fundraising—to keep PSCC functioning with a paid staff, while also providing access to the water and giving more Petalumans access to one of the city’s greatest gifts. It couldn’t be a better situation.
Join the community of Petaluma, the artists who made the work and the Petaluma Small Craft Center staff on Sept. 17 at The Watershed, 429 1st St., from 4-7pm.