Life afloat: No mortgage, no rent, endless water views
‘B eing able to do this makes me very happy.” That’s what Chris Johnson told me about his somewhat eccentric approach to life, living for the last six years, year-round, on a succession of different boats, in different places, working a variety of different jobs and rejecting land-based shackles such as mortgage payments, rent, careers you can’t walk away from and other conventional responsibilities.
“I’m trying to build a life I don’t have to take vacations from,” Johnson told me.
We were chatting on the aft deck of Johnson’s Togetherness, a 47-foot wooden cabin cruiser built in 1965 by the Matthews Boat Company, known in its day for manufacturing quality yachts. Johnson, who admits Togetherness needs a little love and carpentry, acquired it this year from a Craigslist posting, paying $1,000.
The setting, a glorious sunny afternoon in November at the end of a pier at Burr’s Marina in New London, looking out across the sparkling blue water of the Thames River, was a perfect exclamation point on Johnson’s assertions about the joys of a floating life.
I sought out Johnson after a picture by The Day’s Dana Jensen, showing Johnson and his dog, Honey, making their way out from a water-covered pier at Burr’s during the late October nor’easter, was published. I was curious to learn about city life on the water.
It turns out Johnson, 30, whose parents live in South Killingly, where he grew up, has only been at Burr’s a few months. He took a job there as a mechanic and service manager after seeing a posting on Craigslist. Togetherness and another boat Johnson owns, a 40-foot fiberglass sailboat, are moored next to each other there.
Johnson’s winter liveaboard arrangements change from year to year. He has spent some winters on a mooring in a cove on the river where a friend has a house. This year he may move the sailboat to a mooring and move Togetherness to a city marina that has showers and running water at the docks all year.
He usually heats his boats with a wood stove, which keeps them toasty warm, sometimes too hot, he says.
He stays on board during storms, even hurricanes, because that’s what you do to protect things, he said. He spent Hurricane Irene on the sailboat he owned at the time in Great Salt Pond on Block Island, an especially memorable endurance test.
“It tests you as a human being,” he said. “The challenges become a part of your life and who you are as a person.”
Johnson spent parts of the last six years on various boats on Block Island, where he often works for a marina. He has a lot of friends on the island, and even since living in New London often sails out to the island for weekend visits. (It’s cheaper to take the sailboat because the engines in Togetherness burn a lot of diesel fuel.)
If he keeps the boat, Johnson says he has in mind some restoration projects, including the frames around the big picture windows in the salon, which are rotted from leaks. On the other hand, he has it listed for sale, and he was planning to show it to someone later in the afternoon I met with him.
The sailboat, too, is listed for sale, and he has some cosmetic projects on that planned, before he can flip it at a profit.
Meanwhile, Johnson said he is happy not to be living in the kind of rented apartment he could afford for what he pays to live aboard a boat. He always has a view, and, when the spirit moves him, he can get underway and move somewhere else, or just anchor someplace where a waterfront house with a comparable perspective would go for millions.
He has an eye now on a 65-foot ketch. He saw it on Craigslist. It might work, if he finds a new owner for Togetherness.
“I don’t ever want to own a house,” he said, “just a bigger boat.”