Life afloat: No mort­gage, no rent, end­less water views

The Day - - REGION - DAVID COLLINS d.collins@the­

‘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.”

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