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Life Under Sail

Special to the Star

Fri., July 6, 2018

Lisa and Rick Marshall, and son William, at the helm of their sailboat, Tanakee, in Port Credit. (LUCAS OLENIUK /TORONTO STAR)

Family life for the Marshalls is pretty typical: parents Lisa and Rick stagger work schedules around their son’s school pick-ups, Saturday is for cleaning, grocery shopping, and Hockey Night in Canada during the winter. Their 15-year-old cat Dodger sometimes wanders.

What’s unique, though, is that the Marshall’s home is a sailboat: a 38-foot, C & C with about 350 square feet of living space, not counting outdoor decks and cockpit. Or as Lisa says, “about the size of a New York City apartment.”

The boat that next-door neighbour Blake Lloyd lives on at the Port Credit Yacht Club is palatial by comparison: a 50-foot Bayliner powerboat with 750 sq. ft. below deck and another 250 sq. ft. above. Or as Lloyd says, like a two bedroom + den condo, with a terrace.

Lloyd and the Marshalls live aboard all year and are part of a growing community of people who do so, from Bluffers Park in Scarborough to Port Credit Marina, and various yacht clubs and marinas in between.

Blake Lloyd lives aboard his powerboat, Life's Delight, year-round at the Port Credit Yacht Club where he is a neighbour to the Marshall family. (LUCAS OLENIUK / TORONTO STAR)

Braving winter storms can be unnerving, Lisa says, and leaving the boat in the early morning to shower at the clubhouse when it’s snowing or raining, aren’t so pleasant. But “99 per cent of the time we enjoy it — we see the sun coming up, we get this view every day and we love that it’s so quiet, right here in the city.”

The Marshalls have lived aboard for 20 years, Lloyd for nine years. “My first winter was a bit of a shock,” Lloyd admits, although the shrink wrap keeps things warm: up to 26C on some sunny days.

Mastering the space constraint takes practice and patience. The Marshalls manage because, after 20 years living together onboard, they are “used to being in each other’s company and we’re both pretty chatty,” Lisa says. “But we also have different rhythms. I’m a night owl staying up till 11 p.m. and reading or watching Netflix, and Rick’s a morning person in bed by 9.”

They shop smaller but frequently during the week, shower and do laundry in the clubhouse, and declutter often. And they have an off-site storage locker to handle seasonal items.

When it came to having a child, Lisa was determined to make it work. Their son William, almost 9, has the larger forward berth and they have the smaller aft room. They spend four winter evenings a week taking William to hockey games and practices. When he wanted to learn drumming, Lisa found a roll-up electronic practice pad with drumsticks. He plays mini hockey in the living area, does homework at the flip-down dining table and in summer hangs out with the other boaters’ kids; in winter he has school friends over.

COST: Compared to Toronto’s escalating real estate and rental costs, living on a boat seems cheap; yacht clubs and marinas are overrun each spring with inquiries. But living aboard is more expensive than people realize. While a fixer-upper sailboat can be purchased for as low as $40,000, the fixing-up part can be pricey and monthly bills are considerable. In addition to hydro and water (usually included in summer mooring fees), there are docking fees based on boat length and fees for pumping out (sewage). As well, a yacht club charges initiation fees — marinas don’t — plus rental of storage lockers and a mailbox.

Lloyd figures he spends $10,000-12,000 a year on maintenance and docking, and his initial outlay was more: an older powerboat like his starts around $150,000 (U.S.)

There’s also ongoing upkeep. “There’s always something to fix or replace,” says Lisa. “Good thing Rick is so handy: electrician, carpenter, diesel mechanic … otherwise we’d have to pay someone else to do it.”

And accidents happen. Two years ago, Lloyd ran into a rock and did $52,000 damage to the bottom of the boat. En route to Florida one year he blew an engine that ate up another $100,000.

WHY? Given the cost, the effort, the depreciation and minimal living space, the question is: Why live aboard?

“Definitely the freedom,” says Erin Carey, a TDSB administrator who has lived aboard for 20 years. She had no prior sailing experience when she answered an ad by “Captain Bob” in Vancouver and hopped aboard his 31-foot Hughes sailboat. After 13 months, she returned to Toronto to buy her own boat. Since then she’s upgraded three times, the most recent purchase a 43-foot Irwin sailboat with her partner Dave Drage. For them the appeal is being able to choose their priorities and schedule, living minimally.

Once when having their boat renovated, they took an apartment in the east end. “We hated it, the cat hated it,” Drage says. “You’re vulnerable to bad landlords and we like having control over our lives.”

For Lloyd it was a growing frustration with “being a slave to stuff.” His position as president of the Industry Applications Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) — the world’s largest technical professional society — had him travelling constantly for two years. He was never back long enough to enjoy his large waterfront home or its kayaks, jet skis and snowmobiles, and he wanted the freedom to head south whenever. His boat had been docked in Fort Lauderdale, then Myrtle Beach, and he’d spend a week or two there in the winter. Nine years ago, he sold the house and “toys,” brought the boat back and parked it at PCYC to live on.

The close-knit community of like-minded people also appeals to those who live aboard.

“This is a community, and there’s nothing like coming home when the picnic tables are full and people are around, playing music, laughing,” says Carey, who has lived on board for 20 years. “You could get away with never cooking dinner — it would always be there and offered. People always help and share things. Everyone is just trying to get along and live a lifestyle that will make them happy.”

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