My Experience of Boat Life

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meThe fine mist of a squeezed lime sparkles through the porthole light; then the plop of fruit into a cold gin and tonic. Happy hour begins. Down the way, a neighbour cranks up the Elton John. A bikinied blond across the dock winds her hair into a messy bun, taking a break from her book in the cockpit of a Jeanneau. A young girl is a whirl of brown legs cartwheeling down the dock, showing off her gymnastic lessons. Welcome to the dream; you live on a boat.

I always return to boats because I have a short memory. I forget nights aboard pitching and rolling, slamming into the dock. Nights with rattling halyards and wind filling the air like a high school orchestra tuning up for a disappointing performance. But when I contemplate living on a boat again, I only remember the best parts: the sun on calm water outside my window and waking up to the smell of coffee brewing in my perfect little galley. When you live on a boat, the best parts really are the best way to live and the worst parts can be challenging at times.

When people find out you live on a boat, they think it’s really something – either really kooky or really cool. Sometimes you avoid telling people you live on a boat because you end up answering the same questions again and again. Yes, I have a shower. No, it’s not that cold.

Sometimes, the best parts of boat life are your neighbours, or lack of them. I’d rather live on the smallest boat in a marina than the biggest apartment in three storey walk-up surrounded by people on all sides. Marinas are full of all kinds of people like film editors, teachers, Fortune 500 CEOs, dry-wallers, restaurant owners and mobsters. Good boat friends are different than regular friends. They will often do anything to help you out. And they expect the same in return.

miniarkBoat friends see each other at their absolute best and worst, sometimes all in one day. They see how you react when a man goes overboard. They’ve seen you face down after too much rum and they see you face up to high winds docking your boat. Maybe it’s the extreme conditions of boating that force you to trust your boat friends. Boat friends always offer or accept a beer. The same goes for food, help, shelter and advice. There’s definitely a sense of fraternity in marinas, especially among liveaboards.

A boat is a lot like the love of your life. When she fails, she’ll break your heart (and your wallet). But when it’s just you and her out on the water, in your self sufficient home, there’s no feeling like it.

I grew up landlocked in Alberta, 2500 kms from the Pacific and 4500 from the Atlantic. I was 33 when I first saw a Great Lake and will never forget it. I came over the hill in Kenora and there was Lake of the Woods in all her glory. I can’t remember being so happy to see a body of water. After arriving in Toronto to live, it wasn’t long before I found myself living aboard an ancient 26 foot Whitby sailboat (with no sail). She was a thick hulled cottage on the water, all 30 square feet of her. I could do the dishes, blow dry my hair and clean the floor, all from bed.

The boats changed over the years, but the lifestyle remained the same. You find yourself doing things you wouldn’t normally do, like eating cold catfish with a spoon for breakfast, hitch hiking in the pouring rain, or walking around the marina wearing only a towel and rubber boots.

If you want to get an idea of what living on a boat might be like, get rid of almost everything you own. Bring whatever is left over into one room through a window. Get a camping stove, a bar fridge and a bucket to pee in. If you want to simulate showering on a boat, jump in the closet with a wet dog. As for clothes, hang about 5 items and bring only two pairs of shoes: one for rain one for shine. Forget about a bathtub or a normal bed.

Boat life is an exercise in efficient living. Everything needs to be just so, all the time. You better do those dishes now, before your neighbour arrives with a frozen trout to defrost in your sink or a bleeding hand. Every single thing has its place on a boat, from the hook where your towel hangs to the bike pump tucked in the hatch under your pillow.

When you travel on a boat, it’s a great feeling to know that everything important you own is with you. You never worry about packing bags or forgetting something at home. You don’t need to look for lodging, you’re on it. You can point your bow in any direction and float around the world, or the lake, making your home wherever you land.

Getting your life down to a couple of duffel bags is liberating, leaving you feeling smug about landlubbers with their pointless chandeliers and overstuffed couches. You’re the only one at the company Xmas party who doesn’t want to win the big screen TV at the raffle. In the era of downsizing, nothing beats the minimalism of boat living. If you’re out shopping, you find yourself wondering, now where would I put that? You gently admonish ‘thoughtful’ friends who give you large useless presents like model ships or a vase when what you really need is a hanging fruit basket or more toilet deodorizer pellets.

When you live on the water, in a boat, you will get wet sometimes. If it rains for a week straight, you get even wetter. Basically you live outside. The Weather Channel is more than a passing interest for you. It’s not unusual to see boaters wandering around with wet asses, nobody thinks anything of it. And maybe the rain blew sideways all night and you didn’t know about a leak in the head and now all your clothes are soaked. Stuff happens on a boat. Living on a boat is basically just fancy camping.

People assume you’re rich either rich or crazy if you live on a boat. It helps to be both, but it can be done without being either. Although the people with brand new 50ft Searays usually are rich. And they look at you like you’re crazy if you tell them you live on a 25 foot Bayliner, which isn’t much bigger than a hammerhead shark. Living aboard is a lifestyle and for some it’s a better lifestyle than others, even though almost anything that floats can get you there. I would not hesitate to recommend this particular adventure.