Jenny Halteman
September 08, 2015 11:16 am

Living aboard a boat isn’t for everyone. The lifestyle tends to scare away even the most adventurous of people and so those of us that actually dare to “live the dream” tend to be an interesting group of people. Young, old, married, single, families: there are all walks of life on the docks. And when you zoom in even further and look at the women who live on boats, things get even more interesting.

Madrigal is a 1978 Ericson 35’ sailboat and she is what I used to call “home”. This boat was not meant to be a live-aboard. She was made for racing, which means she is sleek. Not only does this mean that I live in a beautiful (yellow) sailboat, but it means my yellow sailboat is small. Really small.

The challenges of living on a boat that small are numerous. Many are obvious—storage is at a minimum, the boat is constantly rocking and rolling, and the challenge of doing laundry is nothing to scoff at. I spent six months without a fridge. Some trials are a little less glaring. Since I live aboard in Boston, I get to spend the winter months tipped at an angle as the wind howls through the rigging. Docks get slippery. Mattresses, headliners (ceilings) and lockers (closets) collect moisture. I’ve woken up with my sleeve frozen to the hull on more than one occasion, I’ve had to throw out my favorite shirts, and discovering that your mattress is soaked from the bottom up is absolutely disgusting. Equally gross is waking up from condensation drip drip dripping on your face.

A visiting friend once told me that the only other community she’d seen as close-knit as the marina was a nudist camp. Common ground (or in this case, common water) builds community, and the kind of women I have met who live aboard also endure these challenges and it is in the face of these challenges that we become connected.

The women who live aboard boats are quirky, but also come from all walks of life. They are doctors, lawyers, writers, students, librarians, and business owners. Some women are retired. There are single women who do all the maintenance themselves, married women, women with children.

I have met my very best friends on the docks. There’s Kelli, who lovingly named her boat Fattycakes. She is a writer and a mother. She wrenches on her engine, paints her deck, and fixes the leaks in her boat while her husband is away. Kelli is my rock. We laugh together and cry together. Who am I kidding—I’ve never seen Kelli shed a single tear. But she lets me cry on her shoulder in the middle of the night, getting tears on her fluffy pink bathrobe when I’m struggling.

Nicola lives on her boat, a 28′ Tartan named Me Too. She is known to cram over a dozen people into the small cabin of her boat, then laugh at us as we all have to shuffle in circles just for one person to use her head (bathroom). She hosts her annual “Sailors, Waifs, and Strays” Thanksgiving at her house in Marblehead. Potluck-style, we all gather together as a boat family when we are unable to be with our own and spin tales late into the night, reveling in the community we created and thankful for the day on warm, dry land.

Madrigal was not our first boat. In fact, my husband and I started off living on quite possibly the ugliest power boat I’ve ever seen, but of course at the time we thought it was perfect. That is, until we went out sailing. So, we started out living on The Fitzcarraldo and when it was time to sell, we received a phone call from Christina from Washington State. Of all things, the reason she fell madly (and I mean madly) in love with the Fitz was because of the sea glass tile my husband and I had installed in the galley. She was a woman on a mission, and because of it she became one of my closest friends. Christina would do anything for anyone. I never know which family member is going to be living with her or for how long. She and her partner have no qualms about a sister or cousin or long-lost-maybe-used-to-be-related-step-uncle-Joe living with them for months or even years.

The compassion of the women who live-aboard does not stop at the marina gates. An online group of women who sail boasts over 6,000 members and is growing. These women have flown countries away to attend funerals of families they’ve never met. Money is readily donated when a member falls on troubled times. This is a constant listening ear no matter how big or small the issue. I’ve seen women have lengthy discussions on hairstyles that best suit living aboard, how to stay safe during a hurricane, and how to replace the holding tank (yep, the sewage tank equivalent) all in the same day.

Though I loved living on a boat, I’m not anymore. The reason is simple: My husband and I started a family, and while we had no qualms about raising our children aboard, we couldn’t stand our children not being closer to family. Selling the boat was sad, but leaving my boat family has been most difficult. Our three year anniversary of dirt-dwelling is coming up soon and there is not a day that goes by without me thinking about this community and the dozens wonderful women (and men) who made me feel so at home. They will always be my boat family.

[Image courtesy Warner Bros.]

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