It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
If your boat is your home, your marina is your neighborhood. We spent more time picking out a marina than we did buying our boat. Finding a marina that allows liveaboards and pets, is family friendly, has good amenities (parking, laundry, good management, etc.), is close to work and shops and doesn’t have a two-year waiting list is as tricky as it sounds. It doesn’t help that there is a slowly creeping tide of anti-liveaboard sentiment inspired by a few bad apples. There is a growing prejudice that people who live on their boats are semi-homeless Jimmy Buffett wannabes who have been booted out by their fifth wife and float around in derelicts surrounded by raw sewage. Truth be told, most liveaboards take better care of their marina and the waters of their home port than your average boater, because it is their home.
Marina life is wonderfully peculiar. People can be your neighbors for years and you’ll always know them on a boat name/ first name basis. Never a last name. So it’s “Galaxy Chuck” or “Wayfarer Mike” or sometimes people get nicknames like “Barbecue Bob” or “Mr. Margarita.” Once we found out a neighbor we’d known for years was in fact pretty famous. We didn’t have a clue; they were just “Joe and Mary on Patience.” But
I’ll bet they relish the peace and anonymity found on the docks, and I am constantly amazed at what a great equalizer boat life is. The guy who spent his 20s in rehab, the divorced military dad, the wealthy retired banker, and the stay-at-home mom all come together over their love of boats. No questions asked.
We still borrow a cup of milk or an egg like landlubber neighbors do, but the rule of hospitality goes much deeper than that. It’s a given that you pop out of your boat to lend a hand when you see a neighbor trying to dock. And when I was pregnant and, later, with a baby in arms, I can’t tell you how many times fellow liveaboards bent over backwards to carry groceries and packages for me and to save me a parking spot. My husband and I have joked many times that we have to allow an extra 20 minutes when leaving for an appointment because we always meet someone on the way to the car. These encounters may result in a chat, a helping hand, or a spontaneous offering of wine and cheese. If it rains while you’re away from the boat, you can count on someone scrambling on deck to shut your hatches before your bed gets drenched.
The strong sense of community is why most of us stick with this lifestyle. “Almost everyone around you has something in common. A love for the sea or the feel of the breeze. I don’t know, but it’s relatively easy to meet like-minded people and to make friends,” says Lorraine Talmi, who lives aboard a 43-foot ketch with her husband, Shai, in St. Maarten. Lorraine and Shai bought a place on land when their boat needed a major refit after some hurricane damage, but they didn’t last long.
“I found it very isolating. On a boat, even one at anchor, someone was always waving when they passed by or stopped to chat if they knew you or liked the boat or were curious about the dogs, whatever,” says Lorraine. “In a land community everyone primarily keeps to themselves, unless it is to complain about the garbage, or the parking spaces, or what have you. It takes more time and effort to be friendly. We moved back to the boat as soon as we could get her ready to splash.”
Happily Ever After
I remember when I was pregnant with my son and folks would ask with bated breath about our plans. I’d smile and say, “We’re moving.” Looks of relief would appear on their faces, and then I’d add, “To a bigger boat of course.” Living aboard isn’t a fad or a whim; it’s a lifestyle. Fellow live-aboard Eric Kaufman jokes, “People keep checking in, wondering if we’re done with this little stunt we’re playing. My life is pretty darn good. It’s funny how many people don’t get it.”
I guess ever since I was a little girl exploring my first boat in that garden center, I’ve had a different concept of “home.” Home isn’t about possessions from a chain store; it isn’t wood and shingles and a lawn; and it’s not a city that will forget you when you move. As far as the concept of home and security go, for me, wherever my husband and son are, that’s home. It’s the moral of the story of our life afloat.
They vote for living afloat
Charlotte and Eric Kaufman are still in their honeymoon period. As newlyweds and fairly new liveaboards on their Hans Christian 36, they’re still flush with the romance of sailing off into the sunset. Charlotte beams that life aboard is better than she imagined, but jokes that cooking aboard is like trying to throw a dinner party with an Easy-Bake Oven. “I come from a big family so I was used to making big meals,” she says. “I had to learn how to scale down my cooking to fit the galley.” Charlotte is a high school teacher in San Diego and bemoans that one of the biggest challenges is finding the space to store a professional wardrobe.
But at least she enjoys mild weather all year round. Dave and Chris O’Neill, who live aboard their Prout 45 on the Magothy River in Maryland, say winter is the toughest part of life aboard, from the extra clothes to shoveling out the cockpit. “We keep the boat comfortably at 70 degrees with no problem,” says Dave. “But what gets you is having to run a hose from the marina office to get water because they shut off the dockside water all winter—and the walk back and forth to the showers when your clean, wet hair freezes before you get back to the boat.”
It sounds like a tough sell, but those who love it don’t care about the small print. Laureen Hudson lives aboard her Lagoon 47 catamaran in San Francisco with her husband Jason and their three kids. Laureen and Jason woke up and realized one day that they were just spinning around on the gerbil wheel of mainstream life and wanted a change. “The goal is to get out, expand our horizons, and teach the kids that the world is a far more diverse and fascinating place than it seems when you just see one part of it.” The strong desire to break out of the box and experience a world beyond four walls and beige carpet seems to be a common thread luring people into this life. It’s a desire to live your passion and live in the moment.
Cindy Wallach lives on a St.Francis 44 catamaran in Annapolis, MD, with her husband, 5-year-old son, and guinea pig. In 2001-2002, they went cruising on a PDQ36.