After 20 years of living on a boat,
more than 10 of them with her husband Robert, native Annapolitan
Cindy Fletcher-Holden is used to the misconception that she's
a bum. Sitting in her professional art studio with one of her
huge, abstract paintings as a backdrop, she explains, "People
ask me, 'What bills?'---as if we don't pay any.
have the same kinds of bills that you have---boat slip rent to
pay, property tax, electric (we have our own meter), and a 15-year
mortgage bill." That anyone would think that the couple could
live on their custom 47-foot Dillon Offshore ketch-rigged cruising
sailboat for free makes Cindy laugh.
According to many live-aboards like the Holdens, theirs is a widely
misunderstood community. Harbor master since 1988, Ric Dahlgren
estimates Annapolis' live-aboard population at about 100, changing
every season with "snowbirds," traveling up and down the waterways,
some seeking southern sun, others sailing north to avoid the summer
There are many different types of live-aboards: transient cruisers,
year-'round residents, those who live "on the hook," or at anchor,
and others who are "plugged in" at a dock. One can be an adventure-cruiser
traveling and living "off the grid," or by solar or battery power
only. Or one can plug in at the same dock for a season or a year
and watch DVDs, microwave popcorn and enjoy central heating on
As many live-aboards are glad to explain to us "dirt-dwellers,"
the number of modern conveniences one has on board is a matter
of space, choice and lifestyle. The boat is, after all, their
home. Just as some land-dwellers live without televisions or computers
by choice, some live-aboards have a washer and dryer or a plasma-
screen TV on their boats. More rugged or transient types do not
have cars or telephones.
California sailors exploring the East Coast, Chris and David Dewees
decided to duck into Annapolis for the winter, bringing their
lovely 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cruiser Lucida back to her home
port where she was launched in 1968 from Trumpy Yachts in the
harbor. Fulfilling their travel dreams, the couple thrives on
their non-traditional lifestyle, including not hearing the phone
ring. They laugh when explaining how their old friends can't quite
decide if their cruising life is exciting or downright irresponsible.
The choice for a more adventurous lifestyle seems to lead most
live-aboards down the companionway into their floating homes.
When Emmy-Award winning television editor and photography director
Bill Thompson had to choose between moving to Detroit or taking
early retirement from CBS, he sold his house and went sailing
for five years. Now running his own production company Saltworks
Creek, he and his wife Debra have been living on a sailboat for
more than 20 years. Their CT 41-foot ketch-rigged sailboat Phantom
is docked a few blocks from Bill's Eastport office.
John Eger spent some time sailing around the Caribbean as a mate.
He cruised into town for the first time in 1989, had a beer at
the now defunct Marmaduke's Pub and fell in love with Annapolis.
He decided to "put down his sea bags and stay." Now living aboard
a Heritage West Indian 36-foot trawler called Mister E, he runs
his own boat services gig, installing marine electronics, delivering
yachts and repairing boats.
Eger runs into plenty of "wanna-be" live-aboards. "They have this
fantasy about living on a boat, but they have all this stuff,"
he says. "They're not ready to get rid of stuff. You have to be
able to commit to a minimalist lifestyle."
Since John had only a sea bag and enough money to buy a boat when
he started living aboard, committing to the lifestyle was easy
for him. In the years since his move aboard, he hasn't acquired
any typical land-dweller baggage such as furniture. Space is an
issue these days, however, since his girlfriend Sarah Buckingham,
a teacher, just moved off her sailboat a few docks away and onto
his trawler. "We are consolidating our floating stock," he says.
The couple is also in search of a larger boat better suited to
"What do you do in the winter?" is the most frequently asked question
according to Eger, Thompson and other live-aboard residents. "We
turn on the heat" is the stock response. Boats plugged in at a
dock can have central heat and space heaters. Even boats on a
hook can have powerful, long-lasting batteries or solar power.
Bill Thompson notes the reliability of services on a boat, "We're
self-sufficient. We don't worry about power in a storm like people
in houses." He also points out that since there is less space
to heat and the winter water temperature can be higher than the
air temperature, a boat could actually be warmer than a house.
Cindy Fletcher-Holden's favorite oft-asked question is "Do you
cook?" She has heard the question so many times that she jokingly
replies that she and her husband heat up Dinty Moore beef stew
over a little burner. "They believe me!" She laughs. In reality,
the Holdens have a fully-equipped kitchen (or galley in boat-speak)
with an oven, stove and modern refrigeration system. As is their
tradition, they cooked a Norman Rockwell-style Christmas feast
this year, including a 14-pound turkey and two home-baked pies
for six guests with room for more at the table.
There are year-'round live-aboards who live with fewer modern
conveniences, but not many in Annapolis, with our varied seasons,
unlike the ever-tropical islands with enormous live-aboard communities.
Duane Hull, a retired professional artist and Navy man, has dropped
anchor in Annapolis for 23 years. He admits that land people look
at his lifestyle and think of him as a sort of Marlboro man or
caveman. In Sol del Mar, his 26-foot sailboat anchored in Back
Creek, he has an eight-square-foot living space.
In such a small area, he must be very organized. He has special
stacking, storable cooking pans in his galley. To make his favorite
meal of round steak, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables,
he has learned to rotate pans so that it all arrives at the table
hot. Then he manages to stow all the cooking gear in a compact
fashion. It has taken 30 years of practice in the galley as well
as sharing cooking suggestions with live-aboard friends he's found
while sailing as far away as Alaska and the Panama Canal.
Anne Merke, assistant editor of Chesapeake Bay Magazine,
lives on a 28-foot Newport sailboat with her fiancÚ John Levelle,
a marine electronics specialist. People ask her, "Is there a bathroom
on your boat?" This question could make a crowd of seasoned boaters
snicker for two reasons. One, a boat's bathroom is referred to
as a "head," just as the kitchen is called a "galley," which makes
the question humorous to sailors, who are known for their attitude
Also, experienced Bay boaters all know a few boats with less-than-desirable
facilities (such as a friend's racing vessel L'Outrage
and its infamous bucket). We wouldn't choose to live on those
boats. All new boats designed for cruising life are equipped with
bathrooms, including showers. Older boats can be adjusted for
modern life, just as you can remodel the bathroom in your home.
The other question land-dwellers like to ask live-aboards is,
"How do you deal with the small space?" The common response is
that they adapt. They knew what to expect when moving aboard.
Cindy Fletcher-Holden says she has dreams about opening cabinets
and finding rooms on the other side. When she wakes up, she's
perfectly content with the space she has. What she can't fit on
the boat or in her studio goes in a storage unit with her windsurfing
Bill Thompson says that space is just not an issue. He's been
living on boats for so long, he gets lost in hotel rooms. Chris
and David Dewees went from living in a four-bedroom house to 32-square
feet of living area aboard Lucida. "We've spent a lot
of time modifying our living space on this boat, just as we did
when we had a house," David explains. "You utilize the space the
best you can to suit your lifestyle." His first mate adds, "It
helps if you marry your best friend."
Patty Privacy (a pseudonym to protect the single sailor) doesn't
feel the least bit claustrophobic in the cruising sailboat she
calls home. One starry evening on deck, her friend commented that
she had "the world's biggest living room." Whereas house dwellers
ask questions focusing on confinement, boat dwellers tend to focus
on freedom---their ability to drop the lines and take off into
the blue yonder on a whim. "It surprises people that I use my
boat on a very regular basis," says John Eger, who travels every
summer weekend to St. Michael's, Oxford or "wherever the log canoe
As much as we try to pinpoint the discomforts of this different
lifestyle with our dirt-dweller inquiries, the live-aboard community
is simply happy. Some have Internet and cable connections, wide-screen
TVs, microwaves, and 12-disc CD players. Some don't. Material
stuff doesn't seem as important to live-aboards as to the rest
of us. Freedom and living closer to Mother Nature on a daily basis
are priorities for them.
Without needing the large sums of money required to buy a local
waterfront land home, live-aboards enjoy the waterfront benefits-sunsets,
the sound of the breeze whistling through the halyards and that
vacation mood everyday. Better yet, they can pick up their anchors
and sail their homes wherever they wish. "That's the best part,"
says David Dewees. "Wherever you go, you're always home."
Winans finds that oil painting, cooking and training for
triathalons are all great ways to procrastinate writing.