The question: What is it like to live aboard a boat in Boston?
The answer, as given by Walter Hope, 54, moments into a phone call from the 60-foot motorboat he calls home: “Can you call me back in 10 minutes? The USS Constitution cannon is about to go off right next to me.”
And: “I was on the stern and saw a Pokemon character in the water.”
Developers have been on a tear lately to build multimillion-dollar condos with stunning! fabulous! harbor views. But even as the glossy waterfront towers grab all the attention, a handful of Bostonians are quietly living so close to the water that rush-hour ferry traffic complicates normal life — all for dock or mooring fees that typically run less than $1,200 a month, and on boats that generally cost much less than houses or condos in these parts.
“You can’t set down a glass of water expecting it to stay there,” Ali Wisch 30, explained as she floated on her 42-foot sailboat, moored somewhere between Logan International Airport and the Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor.
“It’s the opposite of living on land, where everything is still,” Wisch added. “Nothing is still.”
Well, the seas may be choppy, but from East Boston’s Jeffries Yacht Club, where Wisch lives, to Constitution Marina in Charlestown, where Hope is docked, liveaboards gushed about the mindfulness that boat living instills — and the near-mandatory spare decorating style that would impress even the Japanese global decluttering phenom Marie Kondo.
The Boston Police Department’s harbor unit puts the number of liveaboards in the inner harbor at 136. If you ask one for his or her origin story — about the journey from land to sea — and you’ll probably hear a tale of paring down.
“You kind of have to turn down your sentimental values and go, ‘I haven’t looked at that in 10 years, I probably don’t need it,’ ” said Bob Damiano, 54.
About 18 months ago he and his partner, Linda Riera, 52, moved from a 3,000-square-foot home in Arlington to Constitution Marina, where they live on a 40-foot sailboat. “Luckily we’re not knickknack people,” he said.
The move has also eliminated the particular kind of pressure that will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever gone away for the weekend.
“When we had the house, we’d go sailing every weekend, and when we’d come back on Sunday, we’d be stressed getting the house ready for the week,” Damiano said. “Now when we come home, we’re already home. We’re back at the dock and ready to go to work tomorrow.”
For her part, Riera said the move to a much smaller space has been “liberating” — even though before she left her job earlier this month, she had to spread her clothes between the boat, her car, and Biogen in Cambridge, where she worked as a research scientist.
“The shoes were particularly challenging,” she said. In an attempt to remember what she had, she would take pictures of the jackets hanging in her office. “I could look at it and say, ‘I’ll wear my red blazer when I get in.’ ”
The couple have become so enamored of the on-board lifestyle that they are — of course — blogging about it, and come September, they’re going to take off on a yearlong trip through the Caribbean and other ports of call.
In East Boston, at Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina, graphic designer Matthew Pollock, 27, is also in love with the lifestyle — “You come home from a hard day of work, and you walk out onto the pier to a beautiful sunset and all your friends are there,” he said — but he emphasized that the 27-foot sailboat he lives on would “not be for everyone.”
Like many other year-round liveaboards, he shrink wraps his boat in thick plastic in the winter to create a greenhouse-like effect, and uses a heater, but even so, year-round life on board is a far cry from the world of en-suite bathrooms and his-and-hers closets.
“My boat does not have a shower,” he began, “and I have a composting head system, so I have to empty the pee out on a regular basis [even in winter]. For standing up/walking-around space there’s 40-square-feet or less. That’s like a closet or even smaller.
“There is not a lot of storage space. You pretty much live like you are going away for a week, and that’s all you have. If you are someone who likes to cook, and you want to spread out, you can just forget about it — your galley is not comparable to a kitchen in even a smallish apartment.”
Pollock — who’s proud to be known as “AddMorale” around the shipyard — paused his litany to express (sincere) concern that a newspaper article would entice too many new people to move onto boats. (Maybe don’t worry about it.)
Meanwhile, a recent summer evening found Walter Hope, a branch chief with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and his goldendoodle, Splash, giving a visitor a tour of their neighborhood. It started at Constitution Marina’s waterfront pool (which is converted to a covered hot tub come winter), proceeded through a locked entry gate, and down a steep ramp to one of the marina’s many long docks.
“[We] always seem to go grocery shopping at low tide,” he said, chuckling at the maritime humor, before explaining that the ramps are steepest at low tide, making the trip with a grocery-filled cart harder. (In the right circles, you could tell, the anecdote would kill.)
Then he strolled past a potted herb garden — grown by a fellow liveaboard for the use of all — and onto his boat, Gratitude, named in honor of the help he and his husband got from the boating community when their former craft sank.
Splash headed to his water bowl, and Hope made his way to the front deck.
He looked across Boston Harbor at the spire of the Old North Church, the traffic moving slowly on the North Washington Street Bridge, and a fog bank hanging over the Custom House, and as a ship sailed by and a nice breeze blew, he felt like a man who had won a lottery very few people even played.
Ali Wisch and Phillip Gutowski’s boat
Walter Hope and Jeff Doretti’s boat