Houseboat owners find home at N. Miss. marina

November 2011 News M. Scott Morris - Associated Press

Solid ground feels funny to someone who isn't used to it. Raymond Shoemaker is such a person.

"A lot of the time when we go up north to visit our son, we'll be lying in bed and something will be wrong," the 72-year-old said. "It's that we're not moving -- that's what's wrong."

Shoemaker and his wife, Sharon, have lived on their boat since 1996, and home has been a slip at Midway Marina in Fulton -- a town in Itawamba County east of Tupelo -- since 2001.

"We pretty much stayed here. My wife got a job at the hospital in Tupelo and worked there until earlier this year, when she retired," Shoemaker said. "It's a nice place. The people are friendly, and I like a small town."

The marina attracts like-minded people united by their love for life on the water. Some of them stay for a night, and others stay for years.

"We used to be beach bums," said Phyllis Reynolds, 65. "Now, we're river rats."

She and her husband, Gary Reynolds, 72, used to sail around the Florida and Alabama coasts, then slip rental fees started cutting into their budgets, so they decided to travel.

"We pulled into here," she said. "They told us, 'If you stay for two days, you'll never leave.' "

"They were right," Gary Reynolds said.

"It was one day," his wife added.

They met because of their mutual love for sailboats, but recently realized they needed more space. It wasn't easy to let "P's Pride" go.

"That was a hard thing to do because we lived on it for 14 years," said Phyllis Reynolds, the "P'' in "P's Pride." "She took care of us."

These days, they live on a trawler called "Magnolia" with their cat, Shackles, who's also a "river rat."

"He's lived all but four weeks of his life with us on a boat," Gary Reynolds said. "He's 4 years old. This is all he knows."

You'll find a wide variety of vessels docked at the marina. This is a busy time because boaters are traveling along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on the back end of America's Great Loop.

Mike and Gail Preston of Cairns, Queensland, Australia, stopped recently for the night. Like other "loopers," they went north from Florida up the Atlantic Coast, then through the Great Lakes and into the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers to get to the Tenn-Tom Waterway on their way back to Florida.

"When you finish, they say you 'cross your wake,'" Gail Preston, 61, said, "because you get to where you started."


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