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Home Sweet Houseboat

“Houseboats reflect a hedonistic Great Gatsby lifestyle, a homespun simplicity, a mellow oneness with Mother Nature. They create envy in the hearts of us, confined to the stability of the land. They reflect a colorful past and hope for the future…But most of all, they reflect their people.”

– Passage from Houseboat: Reflections of America’s Floating Homes…History, Architecture , and Lifestyles, Ben Dennis/Betsy Case

Having grown up on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, houseboats have always been an accustomed part of my surroundings. In elementary school, part of our year-end field trip included a walk down to the public wharf, sketchpads and 2B pencils stuffed in our knapsacks, to create our own childhood renditions of any boat of our choosing (in retrospect, I think it quite brave of my teacher to take a horde of rowdy kids to the marina, where potential disaster abounds in every uneven plank and haphazard tow line).

Finding your own Pink and Pastel Palace

It was always the houseboats that drew the most attention, in particular a floating pink and pastel-trimmed palace not unlike something Barbie and her cohorts would live aboard. Even then, at ten years old, I understood houseboats as something well outside the ordinary.

The only common denominator when it comes to houseboats is their unique diversity. From dilapidated shanties on the verge of imminent swamping, to luxurious monoliths fit to rival any land-built structure, they are indeed about as far removed from your cookie-cutter residential developments as you can imagine.

For some, the appeal of houseboats lies within their embodied sense of freedom. Imagine being able to pull up anchor and sail off because you don’t care for your neighbours. There is an inherent sense of adventure built into the houseboat lifestyle, not only in terms of the opportunity to relocate one’s entire residence, but in navigating the challenges that accompany life on the water – being at the mercy of the weather, for example, or finding ways to avoid saltwater corrosion.

For others, houseboats serve a different purpose altogether. Growing up, I joined friends to spend weekends “up the lake” – Powell Lake, to be exact, where the circumference of its giant mass is dotted by a large community of floating homes. In contrast to the distinctly boat-like homes we curiously admired during our school field trips, the float homes on Powell Lake are generally immobile structures, cabins built atop floating rafts serving as summer homes for most, and year-round dwellings for the more resilient.

Life on the bohemian waters

Whether migratory or immobile, the one major requirement of houseboat lifestyle is the ability to effectively adapt to life on the water. This is one of main reasons that, in general, houseboats tend to attract people outside the sphere of so-called “normal” society, appealing instead to a more bohemian crowd – artists, poets and people seeking something more creative than the nine-to-five routine. A tour of any houseboat community confirms this inspired eclecticism – floating homes are embellished with unusual sculptures, brilliant stained glass masterpieces and unique personal touches that indicate a true sense of pride in one’s living space.

In many cases, houseboats fulfill a form of micro-living, of paring down the extraneous so that what is left is a synergistic interplay between occupant and household. Much of houseboat architecture is designed to maximize space, ensuring that every element serves a useful purpose. I know from discussions with my best friend, who spent a short amount of time living aboard her own boat, that everything must have its place, and there is no allowance for redundancy. Many people cannot fathom living this minimalistic existence, but for others, houseboats offer something meaningful – living with less, close to nature’s heart.

An interesting mix of lifestyles

For many houseboaters, it is their unique community that reinforces their lifestyle. The vibe is a concentrated small-town feel, with privacy reduced to a minimum. In the 1977 book Houseboat, authors Ben Dennis and Betsy Case highlight one community where tassels are hung out to communicate to neighbours a request for total privacy. As in any small town, being part of a houseboat community means very little takes place outside the scrutiny and opinion of neighbouring live-aboards. But it also means that, at any given time, someone’s got your back. My friend once locked herself out in her pajamas early in the morning and was able to call on the assistance of a trusty neighbour to help her break back in.

With micro-living gaining swift momentum, there’s no doubt more and more people will look to houseboats as a possible option. There is much to consider when it comes to living on the water. True, there are no lawns to mow, and exercise comes as easy as taking the rowboat for a few laps, but it’s also important to consider that some lenders might not be keen to finance a houseboat, while the cost of mooring can come in at a sizeable sum. It’s well worth some thorough research if life on the water is calling your name.

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