My Fantasy: Living on a House Boat

 

House Boats in Sausalito come in a wide range of shapes, colors and sizes.

House Boats in Sausalito come in a wide range of shapes, colors and sizes.

Peggy and I are in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Since the beautiful sandy beaches and an occasional margarita have pulled Peggy away from her guest blogging, I decided to do a quick post on houseboats. Peggy may have soaked up enough sun to get back to blogging later this week. (grin)

As water people go, I’d place myself on the lower end of want-to. Even though I’ve travelled by sailboat, water taxi, gondola, fishing boat, raft, kayak, canoe and cruise ship, I prefer other means of transport— like walking, or bicycling, or driving, or flying. (The flying part, however, thanks to security hassles and the modern cattle car approach to air travel, has worked its way down the list over the years, while kayaking, which I’ve come to think of as walking or backpacking on water, has worked its way up.)

I have a confession to make here, though; I have always dreamed about living on a houseboat. I can’t really explain why. Somehow, it seems romantic. Maybe it appeals to the nascent hippie in me. My introduction to these floating fantasies was in Sausalito during the late 60s. I’d wandered into the town on a whim and there they were: beckoning. I was a responsible adult at the time, however, or at least trying to be. I had a wife, a job, an apartment, and a large basset hound named Socrates who drooled a lot. How much more responsible can you get? (Yeah, I know, have babies who drool a lot.) Anyway, I banished the thought of living on a houseboat and returned to my exciting life in Sacramento.

On my August trip up the Northern California coast, I learned that Don McCoy had helped establish Sausalito’s houseboat community in the mid-60s before he had tuned in and dropped out to found the Chosen Family commune at Olompali. This fact led me to drive thirty minutes south down 101 from Novato to re-explore my lost youth.

Sausalito has changed almost beyond recognition. At least it seems that way to me. I spent most of my time dodging tourists. There were at least a million (slight exaggeration). I didn’t have time to look around when I drove through town for fear of running over one. But the houseboat community felt familiar. Each home had a unique personality, emphasized even more by art and plants surrounding it. If there were a major difference from the 60s, it was in who could afford them. The days of naked hippies joyfully cavorting on the decks had long since passed.

How you build your houseboat is only limited by your imagination. And I might add, the size of your pocketbook.

How you build your houseboat is only limited by your imagination. And, I might add, the size of your portfolio.

Ditto the above with art and plants.

Ditto the above with art and plants.

This driftwood crocodile was lurking on a ledge.

This driftwood crocodile was lurking on a ledge.

And this guy popped out of a flower pot.

And this guy popped out of a flower-pot.

The houseboat docks were decorated with flower gardens. The flower head here seemed like it was lit from within.

The houseboat docks were decorated with flower gardens. The flower here seemed like it was lit from within.

Other areas also have their houseboat communities. Victoria, British Columbia is one. Peggy and I stopped by to check them out on our way home from a weeklong kayak tour on the north coast of Vancouver Island last year.

 

We discovered this little yellow jewel on the Island of Vancouver in Victoria, BC

We discovered this little yellow jewel and its perfect reflection on the Island of Vancouver in Victoria, BC

Caption

Several Victoria, BC houseboats with downtown Victoria in the background.

We found a different kind of houseboat in England. They were six feet wide and up to sixty feet long. (Think of it this way: If we were configured in the same way, our noses would stretch out some 20 feet. Pinocchio would be jealous.) Three summers ago Peggy and I, along with Peggy’s sister Jane and her husband Jim, spent a week piloting one of these “narrowboats” along the Trent and Mercey Canals near Robin Hood’s old hangout. It was a kick— maneuvering our long boat, stopping at pubs and villages along the way, and pulling off at night to camp along the canal. This inexpensive, gypsy-like lifestyle has great appeal for some people and they’ve turned their narrow vessels into gaily painted, imaginatively named houseboats. Sign me up.

Here I am, piloting our 60 foot boat down the Trent and Mercey Canal. It's a good thing we only travelled 3-4 miles per hour.

Here I am, piloting our 60 foot boat down the Trent and Mercey Canal. It’s a good thing we only travelled 3-4 miles per hour.

Our crew. Peggy and Jane operated the locks. Jim and I piloted the boat.

Our crew. Peggy and Jane operated the locks. Jim and I piloted the boat.

As this photo suggests, the Trent and Mercey Canal Canal can be quite scenic.

As this photo suggests, the Trent and Mercey Canal can be quite scenic. Low underpasses limit the height of the narrowboats.

How would you like to have a house named Belly Button? Fun names, plants and unique paint jobs give narrow boats personality.

How would you like to have a house named Belly Button? Fun names, plants and colorful paint jobs give narrowboats their personality.

A community of houseboats, Trent and Mercey Canal style. They could be gone the next day.

A community of houseboats, Trent and Mercey Canal style. They could be gone the next day.

We spotted this water cask with its realistic portrayal of a dog on top of a narrowboat.

We spotted this water cask with its realistic portrayal of a dog on top of a narrowboat.

Next to the boat, sitting on the owner's lap, was the dog.

Next to the boat, sitting on the owner’s lap, was the dog.

 

NEXT BLOG: Peggy will post her blog on the small towns of Cotswold, England.

24 comments on “My Fantasy: Living on a House Boat

  1. I think I’ve only ever been twice on a houseboat – once on Atlin Lake in BC’s far north, and once visiting a friend who lived in one just outside of Vancouver in Ladner. I’d love to live on a houseboat (well for a short time anyway). And I’d love to do one of those long boat journeys – sounds like fun. The photo of the little yellow houseboat is a beauty.
    Alison

    • I would imagine that you and Don would love the narrowboat tour, Alison. I am with you on the short time, at least for a trial to see how much I liked it. Wasn’t the yellow boat a cutie. It certainly fits the ‘small house’ category. Might work well for a single person, or two if they really liked each other.:) –Curt

  2. I, too, find houseboats fascinating. Though I’ve never been to Sausalito, I have walked around the houseboats in Victoria. So cool to imagine living there. Though perhaps a bit cramped for a family.

    • It could get a little tight with more than one or two children, Carrie. Peggy and I wandered for four years in our small RV, maybe a 100 square feet. I was surprised at how easily we adjusted. Wouldn’t have worked with a child or two, however. 🙂 –Curt

  3. What a lovely post. Have always been intrigued by houseboats – London is full of great communities but sadly the cost of mooring is changing the types living on the river. Our land borders on the Canal de la Robine just outside Narbonne. Our walks along the towpath into town do offer great opportunities for boat and houseboat spotting. The majority of boats are of the plastic pleasure palace variety but there are still some character vessels afloat. Some even ocean going yachts with their keels lifted — travelling from the Med along the Canal du Midi to the Atlantic. Always an interesting walk!

    • Thanks, AC. Costs have skyrocketed in the Bay Area as well.Doesn’t matter where, or on what you want to live. Didn’t realize you lived on one of the French Canals. The towpaths in Northern England were delightful as well. Peggy and I loved the whole experience. Fortunately the boats were still of the traditional type, at least those we saw. –Curt

  4. Loved this post! Earlier in the summer I was on a beach on the Willamette that runs through Portland and gazed and dreamed in envy at the rows of houseboats that lined the opposite shore. I would love to rent one for a vacation someday! I adore the last photo 🙂

  5. I used to warm up to the idea until I realized the overwhelming effects of hurricanes along the Atlantic coast. These examples you’ve shown are something else!!

  6. The best boat trips of all were the many trips I took between Australia and Europe. Five weeks of glorious sailing on a big liner.
    Now, flying is so much cheaper. I love the houseboats and it must be great to live on one of those.

    • Peggy and I enjoyed our cruise in the Mediterranean, Gerard. It took us to a lot of places in a short time. The draw back was we never got to spend more than a day in each location. I may have to try renting a house boat. –Curt

  7. Curt – I think you’d get a little itchy on a houseboat, unless there was plenty of easy “get out of the house” environs nearby to keep your attention. Maybe I am right about this.

    With the real estate obscenity in the Bay Area, there are few “off the beaten path” enclaves. The harbors were grabbed long ago. Sausalito, as you point out, is long, long gone.

    Excellent photos. I like the photos of the narrow boats.

    • Probably right, Bruce. I do need space to roam. We were fortunate in Oregon to back up to national forest on one side and river on the other, plus five acre development requirements (all at an extremely affordable price). I told my realtor that I didn’t want to be able to see another house, a requirement he just couldn’t comprehend. Still, fantasies are valuable. They don’t have to be realized. (grin) –Curt

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