More flocking to boats as prices soar onshore

BREMERTON — A seagull is the closest thing Harry Knickerbocker has to a roommate. 

The bird perches regularly atop an outboard motor at the stern of Knickerbocker’s sailboat, hoping for treats. 

“She’s kind of adopted my boat,” the 71-year-old said on a recent visit to his slip at the Bremerton Marina.

Gull visits are part of a meditative daily routine for Knickerbocker, who’s lived on boats off-and-on since the early ’80s. He has no interest in moving back to dry land.

“I love living close to nature,” Knickerbocker said. “It’s just peaceful.” 

Whether seeking serenity like Knickerbocker or escaping rising costs onshore, more Puget Sound residents are lining up for the opportunity to live afloat. 

Waiting lists for liveaboard slips at public marinas in Bremerton and Port Orchard have soared over the last 18 months, manager Kathy Garcia said.

“In the last couple of years it just blossomed,” she said. “Two years ago you could have gotten liveaboard status on a walk-in basis at either marina, now there are waiting lists at both.”

On the Seattle side of the Sound, requests for liveaboard spots at Shilshole Bay Marina doubled in the past five years, according to the Port of Seattle. Nearly 130 households are in line for openings among Shilshole’s 350 liveaboard slips — home to the largest liveaboard community on the West Coast. 

Garcia said there are waiting lists at nearly every Puget Sound marina, and the calls keep coming. 

“We get calls every day,” she said. “Usually multiple calls.”

Marina managers can’t say for sure what’s driving the wave of interest, but they believe the region’s supercharged housing market is playing a role. Liveaboards can rent a slip in Kitsap County for a few hundred dollars, while the average apartment onshore runs more than $1,000. 

“I don’t think it’s the romance of living on a boat so much as the cost,” said Richard Johnson, a Port Orchard Marina liveaboard who works in yacht sales.

Johnson said he fields several inquiries a week from callers eager to buy a vessel they can live on. Many have never driven a boat, he said, and most don’t realize they can’t simply buy a boat and move onboard.

State rules generally allow marinas to offer 10 percent of their slips to liveaboard tenants. That means Bremerton Marina rents only 25 spaces to people living on boats — hence the long waiting list. 

Locating a slip to rent is one of many considerations for a prospective liveaboard, Johnson said. Boats cost money to buy and more money to maintain. Living quarters are cramped — especially for couples — and winters aboard can be long, cold and dark. 

“This. Is. Not. For. Everyone,” Johnson said, emphasizing each word. 

That said, Johnson, 66, and his wife Mary, 57, are right at home on their 36-foot yacht.

The Johnsons sold their house, put their extra stuff in storage and moved aboard four years ago. Since then, they’ve learned to love their scaled-down lifestyle. They like taking their home with them as they cruise Puget Sound and relish the communal feel of the Port Orchard Marina. 

“We are a little community here,” Mary said. “Everybody watches out for everybody.”

Cost is a factor, too. The Johnsons pay less than $600 a month to live in Port Orchard marina — a rent that fits their budget. They aren’t sure what kind of a home they could afford on land.

“If we were to move into an apartment, we’d be moving backward in life,” Johnson said. 

Across the inlet, Knickerbocker is equally committed to his floating existence. The retired economics adjunct and Vietnam veteran has lived in marinas on both coasts and sailed solo on open-ocean cruises. 

These days he spends most his time writing and appreciating life in his watery backyard. Knickerbocker said he feels more attached to his sailboat than to any home with a foundation. 

“You don’t put a name on a house,” he noted, but a boat “becomes an extension of your personality.”


Similar news:
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>