At home afloat: Life aboard a boat is romantic, but takes adjustments

  • By Debra Smith Herald Writer
  • Friday, March 7, 2008 10:46am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

When Del Bergeson gets home after working a shift at Boeing, he feels like he’s on vacation.

Sure, there are those days when the toilet overflows, the water unexpectedly gets shut off or the engine needs work.

But not many people can steer their house out to the middle of the bay to catch the sunset, or fall asleep lulled by the lap of gentle waves against the hull, or glimpse a gray whale sliding by.

Bergeson, 50, and his wife Katrina, 44, live on a 42-foot Ponderosa yacht moored at the Everett marina. They’ve named it Our Destiny.

They’re one of small group of area boaters who live aboard their vessels. A few hundred liveaboards reside at the Everett Marina. Other area marinas host anywhere from several hundred to a handful.

For people such as the Bergesons, living aboard can be romantic. Others are drawn to liveaboard life for more pragmatic reasons. Take Jim Wolcott, a 51-year-old freelance writer and Web designer who lives on his Cal 29 sailboat at the La Conner Marina.

His boat is a scaled-down version of a popular racing boat, and it could be used for that purpose, he said. But he doesn’t race now. In fact, he hasn’t done much sailing of any kind lately. It takes an hour to batten down all his belongings and another hour to motor out of the Swinomish Channel.

For him, living aboard is a natural extension of a life lived around boats. It’s something that just happened, he said. It’s affordable. And you can’t beat the waterfront view and the lack of yard work.

Wolcott spends time working on his laptop, above deck on fair days, below during inclement weather. He lives alone, and he said it can get lonely, especially during the dreary winter months.

He found his boat when it was an abandoned hulk and spent months refinishing the interior, rebuilding the engine and rewiring the craft. It’s now a sturdy, seaworthy vessel, but he has no refrigerator, no washer and dryer, no television and no shower.

He walks downtown for coffee and to buy the groceries goods he needs for the day. Today, sausages and beer are stored in a cool space under the counter.

“If it doesn’t fit on a 29-foot sailboat, I don’t need it,” he said.

People often ask the Bergesons how they managed to pare down their possessions. The two met through a dating Web site and married four years ago.

Del Bergeson was already living aboard a smaller boat, but Katrina had an entire life’s worth of stuff to jettison. She found it freeing and not particularly difficult to sell or give away much of it. They still keep some things in storage, including all their “landlubber” accoutrements such as bikes, fishing poles and Christmas decorations.

Their boat is homey, with about 600 square feet of living space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a small living room and a heated covered deck.

It’s roomy enough for the typical household appliances, including a washer and a dryer — just smaller, and fitted neatly behind a cabinet. A flat-screen color television hangs on the wall, and they have WiFi Internet access. They both have areas they can retreat to if they want time alone. Del Bergeson even has a spot for his tools.

If there’s one common thread among liveaboards, it’s their sense of independence, the couple said. But the lifestyle draws a diverse mix of people. Liveaboards around them are a varied lot — a doctor, an airline pilot, a family with small children, a retired couple preparing to set out for Mexico.

“Most liveaboards I know are all ne’er-do-wells and scalawags,” Wolcott said, but others are financially independent too.

It’s that kind of reputation, “the tarp thrown over the boat” stereotype, that keeps the Bergesons on guard.

Wolcott and the Bergesons said most liveaboards are conscientious. But there are also those who don’t keep up their boats, and there are “sneakaboards” who live at marinas without permission.

There are also those drawn to the lifestyle because it can be cheap. It’s not necessarily less expensive than renting or owning a home. For the Bergesons, loan payments on the boat and the moorage fee equals about $1,300 a month, they said. They may not pay property tax, but they pay tax on the boat. They spend $2,000 a year filling the diesel gas tanks on board.

It helps to have some fix-it skills because a boat mechanic can cost $90 an hour. Del Bergeson does, and he can’t calculate what he might have paid if he didn’t.

For whatever reason people choose it, this lifestyle is becoming a little more difficult. Some marinas don’t allow liveaboards and never have. Others have stopped.

Last spring the Port of Skagit County stopped allowing liveaboards at the La Conner Marina because of concerns about safety and boaters illegally dumping the contents of their holding tanks, harbormaster Paul Stannert said.

A few dozen people already living at the marina were allowed to stay; now all but five have left. Some left because the port also imposed a $155 liveaboard fee on top of the monthly moorage fee, Wolcott said.

In Everett, the port allows a limited number of liveaboards, but none in the 12th Street Yacht Basin, a new portion of the marina that opened in 2007.

The Port of Everett decided not to allow liveaboards during the planning stages, when they didn’t know if they would include the sewer accommodations the city required, said Lisa Mandt, a port spokeswoman.

The port ended up building the necessary accommodations but hasn’t revisited the issue, Mandt said.

The Port of Edmonds limits liveaboards to 15. Cap Sante Boat Haven, the public marina run by the Port of Anacortes doesn’t allow liveaboards, and neither does Fidalgo Marina, a private marina in Anacortes. Three other private marinas in Anacortes do, including Skyline Marina, Anacortes Marina and Anchor Cove Marina.

Richard Richards, the manager at Anchor Cove Marina, said several liveaboards from La Conner moved to his facility after the rate increase there.

Opportunities to live aboard are getting harder to find. Marinas are under pressure to reduce the amount of waste that boaters are dumping in the water, and that might be a reason, Richards said.

He said, however, that liveaboards bring something good to the marina: a set of eyes when no one else is around.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

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