Making a home on the water

Published online: Jun 23, 2009 News Chester Allen, McClatchy Newspapers
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Bob and Shari Buelt's waterfront home is a study in elegance.

The floors are gleaming mahogany, tasteful paintings decorate the kitchen walls, and each room has a wonderful view of Budd Inlet in Olympia, Wash.

And the home rocks everyone to sleep at night.

The Buelts and their daughters, Sydney and Annie, live aboard S/V Pearl, the family's 49-foot-long sailboat.

"We've lived on the water for almost three years now, and we love it," Shari Buelt said. "It's just a simpler life, and we don't have to pack when we go on vacation. We take our home on vacation with us."

Living aboard a boat - once the domain of crusty old sailors and "Margaritaville" wannabes - is now common at many marinas. In fact, being a liveaboard - the term for people who have abandoned land for the water - has never been more popular.

Life for such liveaboards is simpler by design, and that includes simpler finances.

A house mortgage - and property taxes - are history, although some liveaboards do have boat payments. Liveaboards do have to pay for electricity and water, but their pumpout fee is included in their slip rental.

And liveaboards don't have a lot of room, so they don't spend a lot of money on furniture or anything else that could clutter up a small space.

Most liveaboards say living a quieter, less materialistic life - and being close to the water - is what lured them into living on a boat.

Bob and Shari Buelt lived in a nice Portland, Ore., neighborhood, but they dreamed of living on a boat and cruising to the South Pacific.

"I work for the airlines," he said. "And job security hasn't been great since 9/11, so we started reconsidering how to live more simply, and to live our dream."

Living the dream meant selling their home and furniture and most of the stuff that people collect over a lifetime, buying their boat, and moving to Swantown Marina in Olympia.

Eventually, that also means making that dream of a two-year South Pacific cruise a reality.

It's easy to untie the boat and take off for new spots. The Buelts spent 42 days cruising last summer. But there also is little room for people and belongings.

"If we buy something new, something else has to leave," Shari Buelt said.

Lester and Meridee Marsh live aboard their 42-foot Chris-Craft at Swantown Marina.

Lester, a retired machinist, has lived afloat for 12 years in Olympia and Tacoma, Wash.

Being close to nature and being rocked to sleep every night - along with no more lawn mowing - are just a few of the pleasures of living on a boat, Marsh said.

"But you also get to know the best people," Marsh said. "I lived in a house in Tacoma for 22 years, and I knew one neighbor. Down here, I know dozens of people, and I talk to them every day."

Ginny Stern is still getting used to having "tons" of space - 360 square feet - on her new houseboat moored at West Bay Marina. Stern, a state Department of Health hydrogeologist, lived for four years in a 190-square-foot boat before she sold it and bought her new boat.

The stern of the boat has a gracefully curved ceiling and huge windows with a view of Budd Inlet and the state Capitol.

"I've got one of the best views in town," she said. "I like to sit there and watch the water and read."

Stern's boat is actually a house built on a barge. It began as a floating ranger station in Alaska. The boat is airy and attractive, and Stern has a nice kitchen and bathroom.

The downside to the space: Stern's bedroom is small, and she has to tuck her legs under a bulkhead when she goes to bed.

But the rocking - the connection to tides, winds and nature - is important to Stern.

"If the wind shifts when I'm asleep, I wake up right away," Stern said. "Then I go right back to sleep."

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