Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bolger on Shantyboat Living

Phil Bolger is a name well known to anyone who builds, or contemplates building, their own boat at home. Here are some excerpts from a commentary he wrote by way of introducing a design for a live-aboard boat.

"Most readers live in a house of sorts, paying rent or mortgage, i.e., using significant portions of their budget for comfortable shelter. That money can be used effectively on the water as well, spending it first on a suitable craft, and then on supplies, repairs, fuel, etc. Indeed, depending on where, when, and how you care to live afloat, it may well be the cheapest and least regulated form of "living in comfortable shelter," assuming you actually like your local roots to be not much deeper than the bury of your anchors.

We are not talking here about dedicated mileage eating, cruising under sail or power. We are talking here about the usually overlooked option of moving rather limited distances at a time, under perfect choice of weather conditions, to a place you can either see already a few hundred yards away or can readily scout in a faster runabout carried aboard. We are talking here about "lifting your anchor every two weeks" as a local ordinance! harbormasters may require. We are talking here about living cleanly without discharge, be it in full view of but without annoying property owners ashore, or quietly tucked away in a marsh creek or an oxbow surrounded by nothing but nature. We are talking about the option of "staying around the area" for the full year, within reach of your post box ~ or gently "drifting" up and down the waters with the seasons, covering just a few miles or ten a day. Some formal berths, such as marinas and wharves, are suddenly very affordable in winter when the fair-weather yachties are all gone and ice and snow could make access to the shore unpredictable from day to day if you stayed out in the local bay or backwaters. Or you may already live in/move to a milder region in which a moderate amount of insulation won’t require much of a heating budget during the shorter days.

Between cell phones, photovoltaics, and windmills, working together with affordable huge industrial batteries, modern low electrical consumption radios, TVs and PCs, common availability of gasoline or #2 diesel, propane if you like it aboard, and endless square miles of empty dryout or flooded coastal marshland on the East and Gulf Coasts at least, and equally endless rivers, canals, estuaries, a formally itinerant lifestyle is perfectly possible around the town where your (temporary) job is, with true itinerant intentions unrestricted to last as long as you like it.

After the initial investment of savings, sweat, and some blood in the chosen craft, and a small emergency fund stashed away, onboard living can be pulled off with fixed income or periodic temp jobs to pad your budget a bit. If you can work out of your floating home, the better. But apart from getting supplies, including fuel, hitting formal pump-out stations (instead of going 3-plus miles offshore before pumping out waste), or tying up for repairs impossible afloat and by yourself, contact with people, authorities, and costly support services can be kept at a minimum if so desired. If you are determined and set it up right, you won’t be bothered by property taxes, building codes, snow in the driveway, flooding in the basement, termites in the roof, home improvement junk mail, and missionaries knocking on your door eager to convert you one more time.

You won’t be stuck with intolerable neighbors, nor the advances of the local cable company. You will have other problems, but as a lifestyle choice, they may be part of the experience you like, or at least tolerable side effects. If you want to be rational about any such choices, figure out what you might like better, see how you can get there, and have some reserves/plan to change your mind again eventually. Being aware of your options, the pluses and the minuses, is the rational part of it. The rest is obvious and hopefully fun. Ergo, this discussion of options.

Living aboard with minimal interest in actual miles-per-day-traveled allows equally overlooked opportunities in the choice/design of respective craft. To do this, you certainly would neither need a trust fund to finance the "suede lush life" on a large, complex, and costly power cruiser (or worse, offshore capable auxiliary), nor need to be cooped up in a tiny space with odd ergonomics, Spartan accommodations, surrounded by hardware and hull geometries fit to sail the coast but useless for your purpose. Ergo big budget power and sailing cruisers are off the table, why blow that much money, as should be much less pretentious but often tortured ideas of converting an aged and cheap fiberglass sailboat of moderate size.

What should be on the table for this particular purpose would be a craft with limited but reliable mechanics, with an easy to maintain and stout shape able to live upright on the mud in tidal waters, all quite obvious points. But it also has to more or less look like a boat! If the neighbors ashore dislike your craft, the accessible universe shrinks immediately, all the way to the harbormaster sending you packing for good, with the Coast Guard lurking outside to get you trying to head out of the harbor with your "thing." It has to resemble a real boat! You can not risk looking like a squatter, notwithstanding the fact that you actually are sort of."

From "Messing About In Boats," Volume 16 No. 14.

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