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‘Liveaboards’ weathering harsh Maine winter on 35-foot cutter in Casco Bay

Posted Jan. 04, 2014, at 3:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 05, 2014, at 6:10 p.m.

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Maggie Morgan readies wood for her wood-burning stove on her floating 60 square-foot home, the cutter Viking.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Maggie Morgan readies wood for her wood-burning stove on her floating 60 square-foot home, the cutter Viking. Buy Photo
Richard Morgan chops ice from his home, the cutter Viking.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Richard Morgan chops ice from his home, the cutter Viking. Buy Photo
Richard and Maggie Morgan share a laugh below deck.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Richard and Maggie Morgan share a laugh below deck. Buy Photo
Maggie Morgan likens her home to a cabin in the woods.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Maggie Morgan likens her home to a cabin in the woods. Buy Photo
Home sweet home: Liveaboards Richard and Maggie Morgan clear ice from their home.
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Home sweet home: Liveaboards Richard and Maggie Morgan clear ice from their home. Buy Photo

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The summer people have fled, the docks are ice-covered and empty. Most boats are hauled out and shrinkwrapped for the winter.

But not all. The Viking, a 35-foot cutter caked in ice, rides out the storm in South Port Marine. Nearby a few hardy others do likewise. Outside it’s 5 degrees and bitter winds whip up Casco Bay.

After a bone-chilling storm dumped many inches of snow on the region, most people had a hard time rousting from their beds Friday morning.

Below deck of the snug Viking, Maggie Morgan fed kindling into a tiny wood-burning stove and the 60-square-foot ship starts to warm to a balmy 50.

“It’s like being in a cabin in the woods,” she said, giving a visitor a 30-second tour of the craft where she has lived now for more than a year.

During Thursday night’s snowstorm, Maggie and her husband, Richard Morgan, acted like most snowbound people. They streamed a movie on their laptop and buried themselves under multiple blankets. Only difference?

“The waves rocked us to sleep,” said Richard. “It’s about being connected to the way things are. We have direct access to the outdoors.”

And the outdoors has access to them.

These forlorn few are called liveaboards. Instead of living anywhere in a landlocked home, they choose to live in a well-engineered space designed to navigate the open sea. Tethered to the docks, they find liberation in deprivation.

While other people spend thousands in fuel, they make do with space heaters and a few sticks of wood.

Choosing Maine over Miami in the winter seems counterintuitive.

“We love it out here,” said Maggie, an itinerant yoga instructor.

No running water, a single propane burner for a stove, no refrigerator and no frills. Their port in the storm is an 80 year-old Oregon-built ship with a warm-toned fir interior. The windows are ports and the living room, dining room and bedroom are one and the same. What would be tight even by Manhattan standards works for this hardy couple.

They’ve been married for 18 years and say that, despite essentially living in a walk-in closet at sea level, the proximity has not hurt them. In fact, just the opposite is true. It has strengthened their bond and given them a new outlook on life.

“It’s not about living on the boat, it’s the experiences we get to have,” he said. “You start to trust yourself a little more,” she added.

“It’s about letting go of the dock lines,” said Richard, who coaches executives and billionaires to to do the same metaphorically. “That’s when you have the fun. Holding on is not when you have the fun. It’s when you let go,” he said.

“I used to prescribe to the rule ‘he who has the most stuff when he dies wins,’” says the former New Hampshire resident, who ran a lawn care business for 30 years and owned a home. But living snug in a sailboat changed that.

They are soothed to sleep by the water. They can prop open their hatch and see the day, invite in fresh air. Hear the birds. And community? They bring it with them.

“It’s not about a good living, it’s about a useful living,” said Richard.

As one of a handful of liveaboards here, they are invited to other ships docked nearby for dinner parties. Richard rents an office where he can meet clients. Maggie is often out teaching her practice across New England or traveling.

In a space most people would feel confined, they feel liberated.

For people like the Morgans, who winter on the water in Maine, there is no place they would rather be. It’s about freedom. It’s liberating, they say. Even when they have to start the day breaking loose the ice-bound craft or scurry to the bathroom up the ramp at 4 a.m. when it’s 4 below.

“We are free to move about the country,” said Richard, although they have chosen to drop anchor in South Portland for the second winter in a row. “It’s like every day is a vacation or an adventure. It’s a little more magical.”

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