SAN FRANCISCO -- A Google barge built with recycled shipping containers proved its seaworthiness Thursday as it cruised from the San Francisco Bay to Stockton. But many other details about the odd-looking vessel remain a mystery. Here are five things that we do know so far:
GOOGLE IS AN UNCONVENTIONAL COMPANY THAT CAN AFFORD TO BE FANCIFUL
CEO and co-founder Larry Page once built an inkjet printer out of Legos, so it wasn't a shock last fall when it was revealed the 50-foot-tall barge at a San Francisco Bay island belonged to Google. Documents filed by Turner Construction Co. said the Treasure Island project would be part of a three-vessel fleet that would cost Google Inc. about $35 million. The other barges are supposed to be moored in Los Angeles and New York. So far, only one other similar vessel has been spotted in Portland, Maine.
INTRIGUE SPURS SPECULATION
Google initially had little to say about the barge, leading to a guessing game about the intentions of the company based in Mountain View.
There were reports that the vessel might be turned into a party boat where Google executives could schmooze with government leaders and important customers. Others theorized the barge would be a floating data center to help run Google services -- a concept the company has patented. Speculation that Google was building an aquatic store for its products seemed to make the most sense, given that the papers initially filed by Turner Construction described plans for a "floating retail store."
Google tried in November to clear up the confusion with a still-vague statement characterizing the barge as an interactive retail center.
NAVIGATING THE REGULATORY WATERS CAN BE TRICKY
Google had hoped the barge would be completed by now, but those plans sank last fall after maritime officials began raising questions about the vessel. Work on the project came to a standstill as the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission concluded Google had not obtained the proper permits to build the barge at Treasure Island.
Rather than risk further delays and possible fines, Google decided to move the barge to Stockton, about 80 miles east of San Francisco on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta. The vessel made the short cruise Thursday. Port of Stockton Director Richard Aschieris told The Record in Stockton that Google has signed a six-month lease to moor the barge there.
MAINTAINING A SENSE OF WHIMSY
Google has been having fun with all the attention the barge has been getting. When it first sought to clarify its purpose last fall, Google said it was sad to report the vessel wouldn't be a refuge for "the last remaining dinosaur."
Another tongue-in-cheek statement came Thursday.
"It's been a busy six months for our barge and it's grown tired of all the attention, so we are moving it to Stockton where it can have a break, enjoy the city's delicious asparagus, warmer climate and get a bit of rest before its next chapter," Google joked.
If Google's plans pan out, the barge is expected to travel to ports throughout the West and become a tourist attraction that draws hundreds of curious visitors to waterfront areas.