Float Free or Die

Bri­tish Columbia’s last house­boat squat­ters fight evic­tion

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Laura Trethewey & Chloë Elling­son

Bri­tish Columbia’s last house­boat squat­ters fight evic­tion

On Oc­to­ber 8, 2015, Mark Hay­den, by­law of­fi­cer for the town of Lady­smith, Bri­tish Columbia, char­tered a boat. For five min­utes, he mo­tored along the ­ar­bu­tus-lined banks of Van­cou­ver Is­land un­til he reached a stretch of the coast of­fi­cially called Dis­trict Lot 651. Lo­cals know it as the Dog­patch, and, for years, it’s been driv­ing the small is­land town mad. Lady­smith has a low crime rate, an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, and a pic­turesque down­town that’s cut off from the water. Get­ting to the Dog­patch in­volves cross­ing the Trans-Canada High­way and the over­grown rail­road tracks, and de­scend­ing down a forested path to reach the wa­ter­front — it’s lit­er­ally on the wrong side of the tracks. Ac­cord­ing to many towns­peo­ple, the boats an­chored there are “eye­sores” that leak oil. The peo­ple who live on board are “water squat­ters” who clog the har­bour, sap tourism dol­lars, and bring a slew of un­seemly prob­lems to oth­er­wise idyl­lic Lady­smith. Ru­mours swirl of thieves and drug deal­ers com­ing to shore at night to pil­lage and ply their trade. The Patch is one of the last at-an­chor com­mu­ni­ties in BC, and the town is try­ing to clean out the squat for good. Its res­i­dents, a mix of ad­ven­tur­ers, rebels, and ­so­ci­etal mis­fits, live off the grid and don’t pay for moor­age. The Dog­patch­ers know what peo­ple say, but to them, it’s just mud­sling­ing. They’ve ­en­dured far worse.

As Hay­den en­tered the calmer wa­ters, he wove in and around the fifty-eight an­chored boats. Some showed signs of life: a curl of smoke drift­ing from a chim­ney, the drone of a gen­er­a­tor, kayaks strung to stern. But many looked run­down, with rust and al­gae stains rim­ming the hulls, bat­tered tarps pulled across their decks, old bi­cy­cles and paint cans piled on board. Oth­ers looked long aban­doned. The of­fi­cer taped a slip of pa­per to ev­ery ves­sel. The in­frac­tion: vi­o­lat­ing the town’s zon­ing by­law that lim­its an­chor­ing on the stretch to seven days. If the Dog­patch­ers stayed past Novem­ber 15, the no­tice warned, the town could re­move their prop­erty and force them out.

When the of­fi­cer ar­rived at Daniel Inkersell’s boathouse on the south side of the Patch, Inkersell was in­side drink­ing a cup of cof­fee and re­pair­ing the en­gine of his clas­sic Chris-Craft yacht. Inkersell is a hand­some, cheeky man who “likes to have a time,” as he says in his bouncy Nova Sco­tian ac­cent. A typ­i­cal twenty-six-year-old is in the city: dat­ing, drink­ing, build­ing a life. But Inkersell has tied his im­me­di­ate fu­ture to a crum­bling pil­lar in the Patch. In Fe­bru­ary 2014, he bought So­journ for

$8,000 with money he earned plant­ing trees, pick­ing grapes, fight­ing fires, and ru­in­ing his back in the In­te­rior of BC. An affin­ity with wooden boats runs deep in the Inkersell fam­ily. His dad once owned a sleek, all-wood Chris-Craft sim­i­lar to So­journ . His grand­fa­ther, a ­wood­en­boat sur­veyor, dis­missed any ves­sel made of fibreglass as “Tup­per­ware.”

His plan was to re­fur­bish the yacht him­self and up­sell her to a Chris-Craft fan, but for the last year and a half, he’d been strug­gling to find a place to re­pair her. He’d bounced be­tween a nearby work yard and the Dog­patch, be­tween sleep­ing in his truck and liv­ing at an­chor, be­tween find­ing an in­door space to var­nish and rolling out in the rain. He had been liv­ing in the Dog­patch full-time for two months, fi­nally mak­ing progress on So­journ’s en­gine, when the by­law of­fi­cer pulled up with a sput­ter.

Inkersell, keep­ing it pro­fes­sional, asked for more de­tails about the no­tice and for the names of all the peo­ple aboard Hay­den’s boat: an RC MP con­sta­ble, a town parks em­ployee, and the driver. As the en­tourage mo­tored away, Inkersell con­sid­ered his op­tions. Reach­ing a com­pro­mise be­tween the town and the Dog­patch might be eas­ier than haul­ing up an­chor. If he moved, this would hap­pen all over again some­where new.

In the fol­low­ing weeks, Inkersell mo­tored his skiff from boat to boat, col­lect­ing sig­na­tures on a let­ter to Lady­smith’s ­mayor. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the Patch is, well, patchy. The wireless re­cep­tion is steady, but many of the dozen peo­ple who live there don’t have cell­phones or email ­ac­counts. News gets spread from ship to ship or ship to shore, the sur­face of the water act­ing as a nat­u­ral mega­phone.

Inkersell col­lected thirty-five sig­na­tures from Dog­patch­ers, some full-time, some part-time, some of whom moored a recre­ational boat, and oth­ers who lived at the nearby ma­rina and spent time in the Patch. Re­luc­tantly, he signed the let­ter as chair­per­son of the newly formed Lady­smith Har­bour Com­mu­nity. Not long af­ter he mailed it to town hall, Dog­patch­ers who owned cell­phones be­gan to pass him me­dia re­quests when they crossed paths. Inkersell de­cided it was time to buy a phone him­self.

In the 1930s, the coal mine near Lady­smith shut down, putting an end to coal wash­ing in the town’s har­bour. A log-sort­ing op­er­a­tion moved in next, and, in 1985, it closed down, too. Since then, the wa­ter­front has sat un­de­vel­oped and the sea life has crept back in: writhing nudi­branchs, pur­ple starfish, grey crabs. It’s also be­come a place where aban­doned boats are left to rot.

Trans­port Canada took an in­ven­tory two years ago of prob­lem ves­sels across BC wa­ter­ways. With forty-five boats, the Dog­patch had the most by far. Vince Huard, a Patch res­i­dent, es­ti­mates that there are hun­dreds more sunk be­neath the sur­face, jet­ti­soned by nearby mari­nas or ne­glect­ful own­ers, fart­ing up fuel and that dis­tinc­tive gaso­line sheen. “The Dog­patch is like this big red dot on ev­ery­one’s map,” he says of the wrecks. Be­fore he took his cur­rent job as a fish­er­man, Huard worked for a lo­cal busi­ness that dis­posed of derelict boats. That’s how he found the one he now calls home.

Four years ago or so, Huard left a nearby ma­rina to live in the Dog­patch. Time is slip­pery here. Cer­tainly, he ar­rived be­fore the Dog­patch grew up and a group of reg­u­lars be­gan to call this place home. “We all kinda for­get the day. And I don’t have a mind for dates,” he says. The ­com­mu­nity

evolved at an in­fin­i­tes­i­mal pace. Some­time in the late ’90s, the first res­i­dent of the Dog­patch, a vet­eran named Paul Coop, ar­rived, and more soon fol­lowed, re­al­iz­ing they could live on the same water as the nearby ma­rina but for free. As one boat left, the next took its place. Af­ter a while, peo­ple started to stay. They had to haul their own water and fuel, but that suited the type who dropped an­chor here just fine: pen­sion­ers, wel­fare and dis­abil­ity re­cip­i­ents, sailors, boat­yard work­ers, peo­ple with more time than money and a com­mit­ment to life out­side the main­stream.

In 2008, the prov­ince made an at­tempt to clear out the ­area by haul­ing away docks and equip­ment unan­nounced. (The event still haunts a few Dog­patch­ers who came home to find their few pos­ses­sions miss­ing.) By most ac­counts, the Patch has cleaned up since that first sweep. Some of the trou­ble­mak­ers moved along, and a rel­a­tive peace took root. Then, last sum­mer, the fires started.

Last July, a boathouse in­ex­pli­ca­bly went up in flames the day be­fore a town rally to oust the most no­to­ri­ous ves­sel in the Patch: an aban­doned 108-foot trawler called Viki Lyne II with 13,000 litres of oil in her guts. Two hun­dred towns­peo­ple gath­ered on the beach and on the water, in power­boats and kayaks, wav­ing hand-printed signs beg­ging Trans­port Canada to re­move ­Viki Lyne II be­fore she burst. A month ear­lier, a sail­boat went down, leav­ing a slick of oil and chil­dren’s toys bob­bing on the sur­face. Later that sum­mer, two more boats caught fire — one burned down to the wa­ter­line, and the other was left to drift ashore. In the Lady­smith Chron­i­cle news­pa­per, the ­RC MP won­dered whether vig­i­lante jus­tice was tak­ing root. Town gos­sip la­belled the Patch­ers junkies and drug deal­ers who stole from law-abid­ing boats and ru­ined the har­bour for ev­ery­one else.

Many in Lady­smith feel sym­pa­thetic to the Dog­patch­ers be­cause of the poverty, men­tal ill­ness, and ad­dic­tion that some of them face. Some even ad­mire their tenac­ity: “I per­son­ally con­sider most of the live-aboards to be the ste­wards of the Dog­patch,” read a let­ter in Take 5 mag­a­zine. “And I say: Let them stay.” But the town def­i­nitely wants that trawler gone. “The li­a­bil­ity is tremen­dous,” says Rod Smith, the manag­ing direc­tor of the Lady­smith Mar­itime So­ci­ety docks next to the Patch, where about twenty peo­ple pay to live on board boats. “The sus­pi­cion is that the only thing hold­ing the hull to­gether is the marine growth.” Ac­cord­ing to a Coast Guard– com­mis­sioned sur­vey, the sink­ing of Viki Lyne II is “im­mi­nent,” but peo­ple in the Patch vo­cif­er­ously deny that. Look at the spray paint on Viki Lyne’s hull mark­ing the wa­ter­line, they say. The water hasn’t moved, so how can she be sink­ing?

If the 13,000 litres of oil in­side Viki Lyne II were to break free, the spill could spread to four nearby oys­ter farms, to First Na­tions land, and to the newly ren­o­vated Lady­smith Mar­itime So­ci­ety docks, which of­fer a sleek counterpoint to the Patch’s dis­or­der.

For years now, the town has talked of re­viv­ing the wa­ter­front; Viki Lyne II and the sink­ings have turned this talk into Lady­smith’s most di­vi­sive is­sue. Many ob­sta­cles stand in the way of the town’s plans: re­me­di­a­tion costs es­ti­mated at $27 mil­lion, un­clear own­er­ship of the water lot, and, of course, the peo­ple who live there. For Dog­patch­ers, it’s not just about the free rent. Liv­ing here is an iden­tity, a way of life, and, for some, a safe haven from the streets.

If there’s a sher­iff in the Dog­patch, it’s Traci Pritchard. She is forty-seven years old, bears a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Pamela An­der­son, and has mus­cu­lar up­per arms and a husky laugh. “It was pretty sketchy,” she says about her early years in the Patch. “A lot of par­ty­ing in the evening and drugs. I de­cided I had had enough when some­one broke into my boat. I took care of ev­ery­thing af­ter that.” Traci says she has of­ten jeop­ar­dized her safety by try­ing to bring or­der to the Patch. On the in­side of her shal­low pink skiff is a warn­ing: “Be­ware the dogs; they eat ev­ery­thing I shoot.” Many in the Patch try to avoid con­fronta­tion, but Pritchard will ap­proach any­one who dis­turbs the calm. This has re­sulted in nose-to-nose shout­ing matches, bran­dished flare guns, re­strain­ing or­ders, cut lines, miss­ing equip­ment, and whis­pers about who’s re­spon­si­ble for what crime.

It’s not easy be­ing one of the few women in the male-dom­i­nated Dog­patch, but Pritchard went through a haz­ing process be­fore earn­ing her spot as the de facto author­ity fig­ure: “The guys here would pull tricks on me, pull my an­chor, and I’d wake up and be on the shore. They ran the other girl outta here, but eight years later, I’m still here.” (There are two other women liv­ing in the Patch. One is a recluse who rarely comes out of her boat, and the other is a new ar­rival who de­clined an in­ter­view.)

In her nearly fifty years on Van­cou­ver I­sland, Pritchard has lived many lives. She was mar­ried for eleven years and has two adult daugh­ters. “I was very tran­sient ­af­ter my di­vorce,” she says. She moved from shel­ter to shel­ter, strug­gling with alcohol and drugs and the lin­ger­ing trauma of a past as­sault. When she de­scribes the de­tails of how a Nanaimo man stalked her for two years be­fore con­fin­ing and beat­ing her, her eyes lock on some dis­tant point.

In 2009, the port author­ity in ­Nanaimo — twenty-five kilo­me­tres north on the Tran­sCanada High­way — in­sti­tuted in­sur­ance fees in the har­bour where Pritchard lived. The owner of the boat she rented pulled it from the water and, sud­denly, Pritchard was home­less. Still, she wanted to live on the water. “I found it kept me mov­ing,” she says. On a trip to Vic­to­ria, Pritchard bought her own boat for a dol­lar and chris­tened it Plan B. The owner had planned to ditch it in the Patch, and that’s how ­Pritchard wound up here.

“I wore my snow­suit to sleep, had no heat, no noth­ing,” she says. She re­fur­bished and resold Plan B , bought an­other boat, fixed that one up, and resold it for the most cash she had ever held in her hands, $4,500. That be­came the down pay­ment on her cur­rent home: a 2,000-square-foot float­ing shin­gled cot­tage that she calls An­chor Man­age­ment and that she says she’ll die on.

Re­cently, af­ter the LMS in­stalled a float­ing log bar­rier be­tween prop­er­ties that forced Dog­patch­ers to mo­tor their skiffs far­ther ­into the chan­nel if they wanted to reach the docks, Pritchard de­cided to build a dock for the Dog­patch. No one of­fered to help. Even­tu­ally, she aban­doned the project on the beach. “I ac­cord her as much space as she de­sires,” says Bryan Liv­ing­stone, a long­time Patcher. “I would not want to get into a fight with her, be­cause she’d win, hands down.” Oth­ers are less san­guine about the ar­range­ment; they re­sent how Pritchard ­ca­reens for­ward, con­sult­ing no one.

There are many splin­tered ­re­la­tion­ships like these in the Patch. Hardly any­one is uni­ver­sally liked, and alcohol is the most po­lar­iz­ing of vices here. The sober ­Patch­ers — whether they be re­cov­er­ing ­al­co­holics or long-time ab­stain­ers — are iso­lated from a core group of rowdy ­drinkers. There are long-stand­ing feuds that have

grown out of per­ceived slights, neigh­bours who never speak, on-again, off-again ­friend­ships. Ev­ery­one seems to have a bit of gos­sip on ev­ery­one else.

But many also tell sto­ries of sav­ing some­one or be­ing saved. On land, you might walk past some­one passed out on the side­walk, but on water, the ­un­writ­ten law of the sea de­mands that you help some­one in need. Pritchard can count eight peo­ple she’s res­cued over her time in the Patch. Once, she opened her front door to see the bow of a boat flush against her dock. An el­derly cou­ple couldn’t haul up their an­chor and had drifted right ­into ­An­chor ­Man­age­ment . Pritchard spent an hour pulling the heavy, slip­pery chain from the depths. A few years ago, she had a heart at­tack, and a for­mer wharfin­ger at the LMS docks heard her call­ing for help. He drove her to the hospi­tal, and, in her delir­ium, she called him dad.

In No vem­ber, a month af­ter the evic­tion no­tices went out, Pritchard was down to her last ar­ti­cle of clean cloth­ing: bright-pur­ple py­ja­mas pat­terned with bug-eyed, neon-green frogs. She tucked them into a pair of gap­ing rub­ber boots and dragged a bas­ket of colour­ful cloth­ing along the LMS docks. “I so had no clean clothes,” she says with a laugh. Many peo­ple in the Patch shower, fill up water tanks, and use the laun­dry ma­chines at the ma­rina, but the Dog­patch and the LMS re­main un­easy neigh­bours. While some Patch­ers wage a never-­end­ing bat­tle with the wealth­ier LMS — over the float­ing log line, for ex­am­ple — Pritchard has be­come their most ac­tive vol­un­teer. She ­pro­cesses all the re­cy­cling in a spe­cial boathouse crammed with bot­tles and a wheel­bar­row. Dur­ing the sum­mer, she vol­un­teers as a boat greeter. Each slip has a planter that Pritchard and other vol­un­teers ­dec­o­rated with fake flow­ers, old per­fume bot­tles, drift­wood, and other finds from beach­comb­ing ex­cur­sions. “I’m con­stantly mov­ing, here,” she says. The mo­men­tum of liv­ing on pitch­ing, heav­ing water pro­pels her for­ward as she shifts from one task to the next and the next. She has sea legs that shake when she’s back on solid land for too long.

In the Patch, a fairly rou­tine chore such as laun­dry mul­ti­plies into myr­iad steps: ­piloting a dinghy around the LMS ­break­wa­ters, hoist­ing bas­kets of cloth­ing over the gun­nel and onto the dock, cal­cu­lat­ing the right mo­ment to step from ­sway­ing deck to sway­ing dock. This back­drop of dan­ger and ne­ces­sity breeds an ­in­tense fo­cus on the task at hand.

Aside from in the sum­mer­time, there is no traf­fic here. The tides ebb and flow two times a day, pirou­et­ting boats around their an­chors. Ev­ery morn­ing, Inkersell sprin­kles oat flakes into the water for the min­nows be­neath So­journ — his “aquar­ium,” he says. The res­i­dent seal is like a neighbourhood dog, fol­low­ing peo­ple as they row back and forth to their boats. A fam­ily of ot­ters moves as one wrig­gling mass. They are the rac­coons of the Patch, crawl­ing into dinghies, eat­ing ev­ery­thing, shit­ting every­where. When Pritchard hears the sweep and flap of a blue heron pass­ing her win­dow, she peels back the cur­tain and sees a dinghy ap­proach­ing her dock. The herons are good watch­dogs.

The in­te­ri­ors of Viki Lyne II are splat­tered with pi­geon shit and rust. Un­der­foot, you’ll find bro­ken glass, empty pop bot­tles, bent nails, and soft moss that’s sprouted up be­tween the wooden planks. Roost­ing birds flut­ter to­ward a hole in the roof at the sound of foot­steps in the wheel­house. Inkersell, who lives next to the trawler, goes on board reg­u­larly to se­cure her ropes be­fore a storm — and to shop. The Patch’s scourge dou­bles as its hard­ware store. He finds sheets of Plex­i­glas and spools of rope to use on So­journ . Once, he crossed paths with some­one cart­ing out a bar­rel of steel scraps to use for an an­chor.

No one is im­pressed if you pay for some­thing new in the Patch, but if you find it and jerry-rig a so­lu­tion — that’s a story. The dump­sters at the end of the LMS docks act as an in­for­mal trad­ing post. One day in Novem­ber, a com­post­ing toi­let sat there for only a few hours be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing. ­Nor­man Brook, a for­mer Patcher who now lives at the LMS docks, was telling Dog­patcher Lew McArel about a TV he dropped off at the dump­ster. “Oh, I picked that up,” McArel said, but he hadn’t been able to find the re­mote con­trol. Brook handed it over.

A few Patch­ers track where the town’s restau­rants off-load their goods at the end of the day. These dump­ster divers who haul back wood pal­lets to use for their stoves jok­ingly re­fer to them­selves as “free­gans.” The Lady­smith Health Care Aux­il­iary Thrift Shop on First Av­enue is their store of choice. McArel has no prob­lem wear­ing women’s jeans so long as the zip­per is long enough. “We in the Patch are not the con­tam­i­na­tors,” says Bryan Liv­ing­stone. “We are liv­ing on the left­overs, the dis­cards. We have, ­eco­log­i­cally, a very small foot­print.”

Ev­ery­one in the Patch has a half-fin­ished project: Inkersell labours over his en­gine, McArel fixes a moun­tain bike in the rain, Pritchard taught her­self how to re­pair a gen­er­a­tor. “Part of the rea­son I bought this boat is not only to re­fur­bish it, but to ­de­velop my­self as well,” Inkersell says. “Ex­pe­ri­ence, the way I see it, is knowl­edge. When I’m fifty, I don’t wanna be this guy who doesn’t have much life ex­pe­ri­ence and is in this shitty job.”

On No vem­ber 12, three days be­fore the town was ex­pected to re­move the boats, Inkersell spoke anx­iously into his new cell­phone. “Can we get a con­fir­ma­tion or a state­ment that, come Novem­ber 15, no fur­ther ac­tion will be taken?” he asked. He was on the line with Ruth Malli, Lady­smith’s city man­ager. Af­ter Inkersell mailed the pe­ti­tion, Malli and the ­mayor in­vited him to an in­for­mal meet­ing in which the two sides agreed to work to­gether. Although the town couldn’t guar­an­tee it wouldn’t re­move boats on Novem­ber 15, Inkersell left the meet­ing feel­ing op­ti­mistic.

Days passed, then a week, and he heard noth­ing. He says his calls and emails to Malli and the mayor went un­re­turned. (Malli says she al­ways called him back.) He stopped by town hall; he was told nei­ther of them was there. The night of Novem­ber 11, the first storm of the sea­son screeched ­into town. On a boat, there are many ­noises: creaks, moans, slaps, slams. ­Even­tu­ally, you learn to tune out the everyday din. Around 4 a.m., Inkersell woke to an un­fa­mil­iar bang.

He climbed out of his warm berth and slipped on his flip-flops. Out­side, rain flew in sharp hor­i­zon­tal blasts, and waves crashed in from the south­east. Inkersell dis­cov­ered that one of the car tires that pro­tected his boathouse from rub­bing against the cedar dock had been mushed into a flat strip of rub­ber. One big wave would raise her up and slam her down, and might crack the boathouse clean through. In the dark, Pritchard passed by in a skiff, shin­ing a flash­light and check­ing boat lines. Wait­ing for a break in the waves, Inkersell squeezed a new tire be­tween the dock and his home.

That day, Inkersell spoke with Malli for five min­utes. She needed other ju­ris­dic­tions to ap­prove an ex­ten­sion of the deadline, and she didn’t have their go-ahead, she ex­plained. “She said peo­ple are still ex­pected to move by Novem­ber 15, and has any­one done that?” Inkersell said af­ter he hung up. “I said, ‘No, peo­ple are fear­ing the ocean more than your evic­tion.’” He rubbed his eyes, hunched over the ta­ble in his gal­ley. There wasn’t enough time to find a new place to an­chor, to pack up the boathouse — with the gen­er­a­tor, smoke­house, skiff, and float­ing docks — and haul it all away. And what if he left, and the town de­cided to work with the peo­ple who didn’t? He didn’t have a choice but to stay.

“I bet­ter not get fuck­ing ar­rested for this,” he said.

Som etimes, Pritchard thinks of mov­ing An­chor Man­age­ment out of the Patch ­al­to­gether, leav­ing be­hind the pol­lu­tion, the in-fight­ing, the end­less scram­ble to sur­vive. “Liv­ing here takes a toll,” she says, look­ing at a pic­ture that shows her when she first ar­rived, smil­ing her dim­pled grin, a less weath­ered ver­sion of her­self. There’s a rea­son most in the Patch are healthy, able­bod­ied men.

But, even­tu­ally, bod­ies break down, driv­ing even the diehards away. Nor­man Brook has lived at an­chor most of his adult life, in­clud­ing two and a half years in the Dog­patch. He is fifty-eight years old, but looks older, with a long white beard, sun­worn skin, and friendly hazel eyes. He has suf­fered from chronic pain and headaches since he was in­jured while serv­ing in the navy in 1978. His wife has fi­bromyal­gia.

Four years ago, Brook re­ceived a set­tle­ment from Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada, and the cou­ple moved into a slip at the Lady­smith Mar­itime So­ci­ety, where it costs him $620 a month to park. The Patch rou­tine of cut­ting up wood for warmth, of ­mo­tor­ing back and forth to land to walk their two dogs, had be­come too much for them. But still, they visit the Patch of­ten, and, if their health per­mit­ted, they would choose an­chor­ing there over the safety of a pub­lic dock. “The only real se­cu­rity of per­son I have ever felt is liv­ing at an­chor,” Brook says.

“I hate get­ting old,” Lew McArel says bit­terly. If the town evicts him on Novem­ber 15, he’ll have nowhere to go. “Go where?” he says. “I’ll just live on the streets.” Oth­ers seem just as de­pen­dent on the Patch as McArel. There’s an eighty-some­thing deaf mariner who lives on a strung-to­gether col­lec­tion of boats pow­ered by a boom­ing gen­er­a­tor, and a cou­ple of hoard­ers get­ting by on dis­abil­ity cheques. Pack­ing up a sub­sis­tence life­style is a chal­lenge in it­self. But where do you move when your way of life is im­pos­si­ble every­where else?

On No vem­ber 15, the Dog­patch was at max­i­mum ca­pac­ity: ev­ery owner with a boat was there, wait­ing. It was grey and cold, a shiver of rain sprin­kling the water. As evic­tion day pro­gressed, the sun broke weakly through the clouds. A con­vivial feel­ing crept up. For once, ev­ery­one was in the Dog­patch for the same rea­son. Peo­ple who hadn’t shown their faces in months were on deck, sip­ping beers and watch­ing for the town’s next move.

Inkersell spent most of the day fid­dling with So­journ’s re­built en­gine. That’s how he used to spend his time be­fore the by­law of­fi­cer mo­tored up and he be­came an un­likely spokesper­son for an ­un­ex­pected move­ment. Inkersell had given up his time, his pri­vacy, and his plans, and, in the end, those sacri­fices didn’t seem to have pro­tected his boat or any­one else’s. He ­squirted more oil into the en­gine and got back to work.

Through­out the day, a man went through the Patch drop­ping off en­velopes with the words “Fight the Evic­tion” scrawled on the front. When he came to Pritchard’s dock, she told him off for com­ing aboard with­out per­mis­sion. Then she saw the en­ve­lope. In­side was a let­ter claim­ing that Dis­trict Lot 651 be­longed to a lessor that this man knew in Cal­gary and that the town had no right to re­move their boats. The town main­tains that the water lot, re­gard­less of who owns it, is still sub­ject to mu­nic­i­pal zon­ing rules.

Af­ter hours of trial and er­ror, Inkersell’s mo­tor fi­nally roared clean and loud, just as it was sup­posed to. Inkersell backed her out of the boathouse, keyed up and ex­cited. As he rounded the Lady­smith har­bour, one of the en­gines failed. He turned ­So­journ around and took her limp­ing back to the boathouse with the re­main­ing en­gine. He had tugged at the tan­gle in­side So­journ , and, for a mo­ment, briefly bro­ken free.

Later in the evening, a small party gath­ered on Huard’s boat. That day, he had hauled up Dun­geness crabs from far­ther out in the chan­nel, and now he was at the bar­be­cue, slather­ing them in sauce. Inkersell poled his skiff over to Huard’s boat, gon­do­lier style. A few days ear­lier, the en­gine on Inkersell’s skiff had died as well. Un­til Inkersell found a cheap re­place­ment, he’d be stuck pad­dling around the break­wa­ters to the LMS docks. A water run that had once taken five min­utes now took twenty.

As Huard grilled crabs on the deck, Inkersell took a seat in­side at the wooden gal­ley. Across from him, Luke English, a new­comer to the Patch, ate a bowl of spaghetti and flipped through a book of knots. Ev­ery­one called this twenty-six-year-old long-haired tree-plant­ing trou­ba­dour “New­bie.” He had ar­rived three months ago and knew noth­ing about boats, but the Patch­ers liked him all right so far. He set aside the empty bowl and strummed a few chords on his gui­tar. “I’m a happy noo­dle man,” he sang to him­self. “I’m Ital­ian.”

Out­side, the sky faded from blue to pink to black. Huard flicked on his head­lamp to watch the crabs turn from grey to red on the bar­be­cue. “You stay as long as you can, and then they will kick you out. Why? ’Cause it’s the best place on the water,” Huard says. “We don’t have rights. It’s all at the whim of when the water lot is sold to some­one. Then we gotta go. Mean­while, we’re gyp­sies. We gather in an area, hang out ­to­gether, pro­tect each other, and then even­tu­ally we all scat­ter and find a new place.”

As the stars came out over­head, they were re­flected in the ocean be­low. The party in­side grew louder, voices and ­gui­tar strums ric­o­chet­ing off the tight in­te­rior. The con­ver­sa­tion swung to the Novem­ber 15 deadline. No town of­fi­cial had shown up. Ei­ther the Dog­patch had called the town’s bluff or they were liv­ing on bor­rowed time.

“We’re here, aren’t we?” Inkersell said. He held up his glass. “Here’s to an­other seven days.” New­bie im­pro­vised a new song on the gui­tar. “They want to kick you out of town,” he sang in a bluesy twang. “But at least your boat hasn’t burnt down.”

Later in Novem­ber, Lady­smith by­law of­fi­cer Mark Hay­den stood on the shore count­ing the boats in Dis­trict Lot 651. From his van­tage point, he could see that ten ves­sels had com­plied with the in­frac­tion no­tice and left the coast. The re­main­ing boat-dwellers ­con­tinue to live in the Dog­patch. Town ­coun­cil is still fo­cus­ing on re­mov­ing ­en­vi­ron­men­tally threat­en­ing boats. Viki Lyne II re­mains in the Patch to­day.

Top: A so­cial gath­er­ing with mu­sic and food on Vince Huard’s boat con­cludes a day in the Dog­patch. Left: Traci ­Pritchard eats a bowl of ra­men ­noo­dles on her boat, ­An­chor ­Man­age­ment . She got the idea for the name af­ter watch­ing the ­movie ­Anger...

Left: The Lady­smith ­Mar­itime So­ci­ety docks are lined with flower boxes dec­o­rated by Dog­patch ­res­i­dent Traci Pritchard, each styled with a unique ­vis­ual theme. Right: When asked what his most prized pos­ses­sion is in the Dog­patch, Ken ­Ire­land...

Top: Lew McArel takes a break from re­pair­ing a bi­cy­cle on his work boat, Sil­ver Har­vest . Left: Brian Char­ron, who lives in the Dog­patch part-time with his St. Bernard, Buddy, can be seen boat­ing across the Dog­patch from a port­hole in Vince Huard’s...

Top: Nor­man Brook walks his dogs to land via the Lady­smith ­Mar­itime So­ci­ety docks. He lived at an­chor for more than thirty years but now lives at the docks with his wife “be­cause of our age and our health,” he says. Left: Vince Huard reaches out to...

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