Ken Goodings and Lynn Kaak moved aboard their Niagara 35, moored in Toronto Harbour, in the fall of 2003, after “selling up” and committing to the liveaboard life. With reports from Ken and Lynn, we shall follow their adjustment to this lifestyle and their continuing adventures. This article is from John Allemang
Torontonians who live on boats all winter are used to reactions of disbelief
Saturday, January 31, 2004
There’s a beautiful kind of bleakness to be found along the western edge of Toronto’s inner harbour, where the ducks huddle on the grey, icy wastes and brisk winds whip up whirls of snow that cloud the bare trees of Toronto Island. But it’s bleakness all the same. You don’t meet many people in the frozen silence of the Music Garden that separates the shoreline from Queen’s Quay West, and when you do, the chilled conversations are necessarily short.
“Does anyone really live on those boats?” a woman asked Pierre Bisaillon as he walked his two chows past a marina lined with vessels that appeared to be covered with plastic domes.
“They must be crazy,” he replied, as if there could be any other explanation. And then, conversation over, Mr. Bisaillon and his dogs made their crazy and contented way back to the Santana, the 33-foot sailboat he and his wife, Sylvie, have called home for the past year and a half.
It’s a warm and welcoming place, and about as unexpected a winter residence as you’re going to find anywhere in Toronto, where the icebound lake almost ceases to exist during the cold-weather months.
“It’s like living permanently on a camping trip,” Ms. Bisaillon says as she sips a freshly made cappuccino.
“It’s more what I like to call cozy living,” says her husband, stretched out in his living-room chair while the chows play with their toys on the enclosed deck up above.
The Bisaillons’ boat is one of 51 moored at Marina Quay West, a facility run by Harbourfront opposite the King’s Landing condos, just east of the massive Canada Malting silo. “This is a place for freer spirits who don’t take life too seriously,” says Mr. Bisaillon, business manager for the design magazine Azure.
But no one living at the marina equates being free with being uncomfortable. Underground parking is available on site (under the lake, actually), washers and dryers are housed in the marina office, almost every boat has a satellite dish parked outside, and a bright, two-bedroom craft like the Santana comes equipped with a gas stove, electric heat and snug washroom facilities, as well as a wireless Internet connection. With rental fees at $58 a foot for the season (plus the cost of hydro and regular tank pump-outs), this is one of the more affordable downtown habitats.
And yet the first question outsiders invariably ask, once they realize people actually do live on these boats, is, “Isn’t it cold?”
“People don’t believe it when I tell them,” Mr. Bisaillon says, “but on a sunny day, I can sit on the deck in a T-shirt and be comfortable.”
He is saying this on a cold, cloudy day when a turtleneck and a jacket seem a safer option. But the shrink-wrap canopy he has installed with basic Home Depot supplies and some neighbourly know-how successfully keeps the cold, rattling winds at bay. Down below, it’s much toastier, the perfect place to wait out the weather with a good book and the gentlest of dockside undulations.
“It’s so relaxing,” Ms. Bisaillon says. “On a boat, you’re hardly ever stressed out about anything. When you come home from work, it’s like being on a holiday.”
To achieve this state of on-board serenity is almost automatic in the summer, of course. In the winter, it takes more vigilance. Paul Brighty, a video co-ordinator for the National Hockey League, has lived on his boat for five years since moving to Toronto from St. Catharines. As a hockey man, he has no trouble making a case for the cold. “I love it,” he says, relaxing aboard his 36-foot cruiser, where he has satellite access to every NHL game. “Here, you can listen to the ice sing when the wind comes along and it starts cracking. Can you hear that in the middle of the city?”
And yet, he acknowledges, “there’s more of a stress factor in winter.” Humidity has to be watched in the heated, enclosed space, and so do carbon monoxide levels. Though all boats are equipped with detectors, a recent scare from an iced-up exhaust sent several residents to hospital. In a climate where the lake’s natural instinct is to freeze over, owners have to keep their patch of water clear so the boat doesn’t get crushed by the pressure. This they do with a device called a bubbler or agitator that keeps water circulating; but still it needs careful monitoring and adjusting and occasional hacking with a two-by-four.
“When you come home from working all day,” says former marina resident Roger Petersen, “breaking ice isn’t the first thing you feel like doing.” Mr. Petersen recently took a job as news anchor for CITY-TV in balmier Vancouver, and he can’t help reminding his ex-neighbours of the winter chores he has escaped. (They, in turn, pull in his newscasts and mock his ties.) Add to all this the 15-hour power blackout in the marina neighbourhood last week — far riskier for the exposed pipes and engines of boats than for the nearby condos — and it’s clear why some landlubbers find the idea of spending winter on the water just plain weird.
“It simply makes it more of an adventure,” insists Ken Goodings, a broadcast technologist at Ryerson University who moved into his $85,000, 35-foot sailboat from a High Park apartment last fall. Having experienced a day when the temperature on his boat, even with the help of emergency generators, never climbed above 5 degrees — at 2 p.m. he finally put on his jacket and tuque and crawled into bed — Mr. Goodings feels as though he has weathered the worst.
Now, he is back to concentrating on what drew him to the water in the first place. “It’s cozy and comfortable, you’re certainly in touch with nature. You can feel the wind and hear the rain, the view’s fantastic and there’s a great sense of community. In my house, I knew maybe three neighbours. Here, I can name 11 families, down to their kids and their dogs.”
It’s that intimacy, the kind that withstanding harsh conditions side by side helps to create, that led Mr. Goodings to slip one of his heaters onto the Bisaillons’ boat during the power outage while they were at work.
“It meant that our boat didn’t freeze,” Mr. Bisaillon says, “which would have been a $15,000 screwup. And it meant that Ken’s boat was a lot colder than it should have been.”
So they’re not crazy — just different.
Lynn Kaak Silverheels III – You can catch up with Lynn and Ken’s blog at – The Voyages of Silverheels III
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