I wouldn’t say it was moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it was a tremendous leap from a 5,000-square-foot log home in the northern B.C. forest to a 900-square-foot houseboat in the city.
My husband and I had split and, at 60, I was alone for the first time in my life. For the next three years, living aboard a houseboat, I was rocked to sleep in the tidal arms of Fraser - the river. The house was two levels, built on pontoons and secured to a wharf in Richmond.
No property is included with the purchase of a houseboat - not even the private wharf outside the front door.
Like all other water dwellers, I paid moorage, which included electricity. I heated the house most of the year with a small propane stove.
The home had a dormer verandah, which I had enclosed with a glass roof and sliding glass doors opening to a small balcony.
I moved my bed into the enclosed glass space so I could study the Big Dipper before falling asleep. Most of the time, it was heaven, but there were drawbacks.
Living on the river in the spring, summer and fall is great! Not so wonderful were days when winter storms buffeted the house and the pontoons took on water, so the house and I listed sideways. With no man around, I went out in the dead of night on the dark slippery wharf. With my hair forming icicles in the wind, I bailed out the pontoons until the place righted itself. That wasn’t a lot of fun. I was getting older, but the thought of being a landlubber again kept me bailing through three winters.
Some people are smarter than others. I never learned to read a tide guide before doing a big shop, so, when I returned with laden arms, the gangplank was invariably at a right angle as I tottered down clutching grocery bags. It was the same thing when I staggered back from the corner gas station with 10-gallon canisters of propane. The problem would have been solved with a little forethought, but I never seemed to run out of fuel or food when the tide was in.
Looking at the overall picture, houseboat living didn’t leave much to complain about for three-quarters of the year, except the leaks! Every float home I ever visited, including mine, leaked from the constant swaying back and forth on the tides. Not bad leaks, just hard-to-locate small drips, which necessitated a bucket on the floor until the culprit was found and patched.
Except for six more houseboats moored side by side along the dock, all my neighbours were boat owners who felt superior to us float home dwellers tethered to Mother Earth. At a moment’s notice, they could unhitch themselves from the dock and sail away for days or weeks. My immediate neighbours took off around the world!
Wendy and Bob Rerie and their two children, Sharon, 11, and Brian, 12, sailed around the world and back in a 42-foot Spray-Built called The Rovin’ Robin, while I was still tied up at the dock!
My other neighbours were ducks, seals and fish.
Over time, I became known as the Duck Lady because I learned quite a bit of Duck, and when I called - or quacked - to my feathered friends, they would fly to my front door looking for dinner.
Two domesticated large Muscovy ducks, which had undoubtedly escaped from a barnyard, became close friends. The two were inseparable girlfriends - they always swam and walked together. Because one was black and one white, I naturally named them White Duck and Black Duck. White Duck was really friendly (it was cupboard love, I’m sure). If I put a plastic sheet down on the kitchen floor (ducks aren’t house-trained), she would come inside and preen herself. Until then, I didn’t know ducks are aware of every single feather. If I touched a feather and said, “You haven’t done this one,” White Duck knew exactly which feather I had touched and swiped it with her beak. Black Duck never came in the house but deigned to sit on the balcony railing accepting tidbits.
Often there were emergencies. One day, I found a very thin duck at my front door. I brought her in, put her in a bathtub of water, and phoned Wild Life Rescue. They dispatched a volunteer and after examination found the female Mallard had an obstruction in her gullet, which prevented her from eating. It was removed and I was called a few days later to watch while she was released to rejoin her flock.
Life on the river was never dull. I was aware that salmon fingerlings migrated down the Fraser on their way to the ocean, but I didn’t realize they could be tamed enough to pat. One day, while sitting on the wharf, I noticed a group of fish swimming around under my house. Lying on the wharf, I held a half loaf of bread in my hand and lowered it into the water. Timid at first, the fish came and surveyed the situation and then started biting at the bread. Soon it became a ritual for me to bang a few times on the wharf and watch while the fish swarmed around waiting for a meal. They were about a foot long, and they got so tame, I could stroke their backs without causing them undue alarm.
Eventually, the novelty of river living palled - especially in the winter - so I regretfully decided to become a landlubber again. But the peace and contentment I felt while gently rocking in my float home, looking up at the stars at night, will remain with me always.
FEBRUARY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
FEBRUARY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
***Though surrounded on three sides by water, Vancouver has very little moorage space for float homes and what is available is pricey - the least expensive is almost $700 per month. There is a small but high-end houseboat community moored at the edge of Granville Island, a few homes at Richmond Marina, and two or three communities in Ladner along the South Arm of the Fraser. Some homes compare to any elaborate residence on land, but have space for a sailboat or motor launch alongside - and picture windows to watch the water world go by. ***
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