Real estate


Set sale: I couldn’t resist living on a boat

Jasu Hu for The Boston Globe

In my early 30s, while renting an apartment in South Boston, I became aware of Boston Harbor’s live-aboard community. As a sailor who started on the Charles River, progressed to cruising New England waters with friends, and had reached a stage of not wanting to return ashore at the end of the weekend, I immediately changed my tack. I stopped looking at condos and started researching boats. About six months later, I found the boat of my dreams and traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, to see it and have it surveyed. Two months later it was delivered to a yard on the North River, and I moved aboard.

Ineke (“one who nurtures”) was my home for 10 years. While only 28 feet on deck, it had been built to live on and was well-outfitted with a diesel stove for heat and cooking and a tiled head with a shower. It was also incredibly beautiful, with an all-wood interior, teak decks, and a spruce bowsprit. That first summer I lived on a mooring and rowed ashore to shower (this saved water and power) and drive into town to my corporate job.

The move to a dock that fall was a necessary, if reluctant, concession. Docks present their own problems: ice, for one; line chafe for another. One fall night as I stepped up to the deck, I slid into the water between the hull and the dock. I bobbed in and was out on the up bob. It happened that fast and was one of several “baptisms by hellfire.” Another time, a dock line snapped in the wee hours during a storm, and the boat turned sideways in the slip. Despite the assistance of half a dozen of my live-aboard neighbors, we couldn’t straighten her out until several hours later when the wind abated.


Life aboard mostly gave me much joy. I welcomed each new sailing season with a cruise to Provincetown on Memorial Day weekend. Friends joined me for an overnight anchored off Great Brewster Island or a weekend visit to Manchester-by-the-Sea or Gloucester. I cruised the coast of Maine and the waters of Buzzards Bay. I met people on the waterfront and while cruising who widened my horizons. A California man who offered a raft-up in Bar Harbor, Maine, later invited me to sail the coast of Ireland on his boat. A German couple invited me to join them on their trans-Atlantic sail home. I accepted these offers and more.

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There’s an oft-quoted saying that “a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into.” I learned early on that if something required repair, I needed to do it myself, if possible. The best mechanics and craftsmen were nearly impossible to schedule, and the ones who were available were often of questionable talent. So several years in, when compression problems had to be addressed, I found myself rebuilding the engine one winter. My aging diesel mechanic was supportive — he offered use of his shop and help, if necessary — but he wasn’t up to the job.

After a decade of living aboard, I moved ashore in 1998. Perhaps it was the best decade of my life. I hope not, but all these years later, I still have weak moments when I trawl the boats-for-sale listings until I come to my senses.

Deborah Holt lives in Boston not too far from the waterfront. Send comments and a 550-word essay about your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.