Liveaboards facing `end of days'

Published online: Dec 28, 2009 News Nat Levy
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More than a decade ago, island resident Craig Spencer had to choose between his home and his art.

The Southern California native, who moved to Bainbridge in 1987, rented a studio for his paintings and had a home on the island. But the bills for the two locations became overwhelming and Spencer was forced to choose.

He kept his studio - filled with paintings influenced by symbolism and Buddhist teachings - and moved aboard his boat, in 1997.

Spencer gets by on very little money.

He does yard work to cover his $200 monthly studio rent and trades paintings for dental work and other services.

Without the ability to live rent free on the water, Spencer wouldn't be able to continue his starving artist lifestyle.

"If I didn't have my boat, I would probably have to leave the island and I'd lose my studio," he said.

Spencer, and an estimated 15 other liveaboard residents, are competing for four spots in the city's new open-water marina, which was created by a council ordinance passed in October amid much debate and emotion.

Some liveaboard residents, like Gale Williams, have the ability to relocate if staying in the harbor isn't possible.

"If things start to become unreasonable, which most of it has, I can just pick up and leave."

Williams, who has been on boats all his life in one form or another, has property in Oregon. But many residents don't have that luxury.

"There's a difference between the people who want to live out here and those that have to," said Richard Seubert, a liveaboard resident from Texas who has spent the last eight years in Eagle Harbor.

The city is still negotiating terms of the lease with the state Department of Natural Resources, but if the open-water marina is implemented as planned, the liveaboard community and its 100 years of history on Bainbridge would be endangered.

"It's pretty much people turning their backs on the traditions that this island has always centered around," Spencer said.

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