… of waking up and slipping your boat into the water right from your dock.
… of letting go of city sounds, traffic, and asphalt.
… of looking out your living room window to a view that makes your heart sing every time you open your eyes.
Thirty years it took to realize a dream that seemed like a hopeless fantasy.
But let’s start at the beginning…
I was born into a world surrounded by water. Long Island is big, but you never lose the feeling that water is everywhere: ocean, river, bay. Within a couple of miles from where I grew up, two enormous bridges span Long Island Sound to reach the Bronx, another world, attached to the mainland. Other bridges extend their tentacles across the East River to Manhattan and more bridges leap across the mighty Hudson to New Jersey and beyond.
The year I was born, my young father build a small skiff in our basement, using plans from Popular Mechanics magazine. When it was nearly done, he took the boat apart to get it outside and paint it green. Then he attached an old motor and drove us out to the North Shore, put us all in the boat, and ferried us around Long Island Sound.
No doubt the little green boat started it all.
When I was ten, my folks bought a summer place on a lake in New England. We learned by trial, and mostly error, to waterski, fall out of canoes, row, sail, resurrect old boats, and generally squander entire days just messing around on the water. We only came home for dinner because my mother insisted. Boats everywhere! It felt like heaven.
But idyllic times do end. Off to part time jobs, college, then to a grownup life. Eventually, I landed in Oregon and discovered a new set of coastal waters to explore. When I found myself with $400 in the bank, I used it to buy an old beat up wooden sailboat and spent a year fixing, sanding, and painstakingly – lovingly, even – applying seven coats of varnish. My own boat!
As I sailed up and down the Willamette River, my route would often take me past the houseboats moored along the shore and I would slow my pace – even when wind was alluringly plentiful – to let myself wonder what life was like in those magical tiny houses. Some were ramshackle places, barely floating. Others were tidy little cottages. A very few were fancy homes, the idea not yet being in vogue. Many had small sailboats tied up to their decks. Some had rowboats and a few had kayaks. What would it be like not to have to endure Saturday mornings at the boat ramp? Something like the lakefront houses of my childhood, only simpler. And floating.
Thirty years went by, punctuated by serial commitments: a different little sailboat here, a slightly bigger one there, a couple of kayaks, a canoe, a stint with a C-Dory. After a while, I admitted that I was powerless in the face of my addiction to boats and said, “The hell with it!” and just started keeping all the smaller ones. I kayaked the Willamette and ventured into Multnomah Channel, discovering more houseboats. I became one of those people who paddle by, just a little too close, because I couldn’t get enough of the whole idea. I combed through real estate listings and surreptitiously haunted every houseboat for sale. But, no matter how hard I wished, I couldn’t afford any of them. Except the ones that were sinking and falling apart. Eventually, I accepted my fate and finally stopped looking. Then one day…
I happened upon a newspaper ad with miniature pictures of “floating homes” with big prices. As I tossed it in the recycling bin, one picture caught my eye. There was the prettiest little fog-grey house with a good-sized deck and… what? Affordable? Must be sinking. I felt the familiar tug and the expectation of disappointment. But, the very next minute, I was calling the realtor and hopping in the car to take a look. Miracle of miracles, the house wasn’t sinking and it was attached to, of all things, an island.
And the rest, as they say, is history. I live in that little fog-grey house now. I sit on that deck and look out over the river, a constantly changing panorama. It’s like watching the world go by. Big boats, little boats, earnest rowers, ducks, geese, grebes, bald eagles, osprey, heron, and my favorite harbinger of winter, the cormorants. And every manner of fish jumping. And ancient sturgeon deep under the surface. And seals looking for salmon. And deer on the opposite shore, and coyotes, and… I could go on and on.
Which is why I started this blog. Because there is nothing quite like living in a house that floats and I thought maybe someone would enjoy hearing about it. I feel so lucky hanging off this island that sometimes I think I’m going to burst. So, if you’re interested, I’ll just talk about this place every so often and you can let me know if any of it speaks to you. And if you find yourself paddling oh-so-slowly past that row of houseboats, admit you are powerless. Welcome to the Club.