PORTLAND, Maine — Krystin Noyes had never imagined living on a boat, but last fall she became one of the few, proud and hardy souls that make up Maine’s year-round live-aboard community.
Noyes, 28, is an artist, waitress and free spirit who had moved home to Maine last spring after spending a few migratory years doing seasonal restaurant work in far-flung locales like Puerto Rico and Montana. She’d just settled into a Portland apartment and begun to unpack her belongings from storage when she went on a fateful date with a guy who lived on a boat. Nate Taylor, 31, an analyst at IDEXX in Westbrook, took his dinghy across the bay to meet her, and eventually Noyes was smitten — both with the man and the idea of living on a boat.
So last fall, she packed up her belongings yet again and moved onto the 36-foot aft cabin trawler that spends winters at DiMillo’s Marina at the Old Port in Portland, and summers at a marina in South Portland. The year-round live-aboard lifestyle is not for everyone — but it certainly has been a good fit for Noyes.
“My favorite part is just being on the water,” she said. “I’m a water baby. I can’t wait until it’s time to jump in again.”
Living aboard a boat year round seems like a natural fit in warm, sunny places where jumping overboard at the wrong time of year will not lead to hypothermia. Maine does not immediately leap to mind, at least not to most people. But it does appeal as a year-round destination to some, according to Kathy Pickering, the Belfast harbor master. The city serves as landlord to a handful of folks who tie up at Thompson’s Wharf in the winters. Liveaboards like wintering over in the harbor in large part because slip fees are inexpensive in the off season — a 30-foot boat in Belfast would cost just $150 a month, she said, adding that the fees do not include water or electricity.
“It’s pretty bare bones,” she said. “Nothing is included. It’s a place to park your boat. For some people, it works out. A lot of people have a romantic idea of living on a boat. It’s not that. It’s a really particular way to live. Not a lot of people can do it successfully or happily. You have to do without a lot of stuff, and you’re always dealing with the conditions of the weather. It’s really not for everybody.”
Some of the challenges of living on a boat are similar to those of camping. When the weather is bad, it’s hard to keep the rain or snow outside the boat where it belongs. Because a lot of boats are not set up well for cold weather, Pickering said that liveaboards will frequently wake up to cold water dripping on their faces from condensation inside. Liveaboards also often have very different perspectives on stuff than their land-based neighbors, in part because there’s usually very little storage.
“They’re minimalists,” she said. “And putting up with weather and whatnot is something they expect to do and almost thrive on … up here, you have to be pretty hard core to live aboard all year round. You really have to be in the right frame of mind. For some people, it’s great. They just enjoy it.”
Anne Bryant, an associate editor at WoodenBoat magazine in Brooklin, has spend some time living aboard a 32-foot wooden sailboat, “Mimi Rose” with her partner, Colin Sarsfield. She said over the years, many landlubbers have wondered aloud how they can live in a space that small. That wonderment may be on its way out, she said.
“I think it’s being normalized, surprisingly, by a land trend — the tiny house movement and off-the-grid living. Once you relate those things to a boat, people see it not being so foreign to them. To be able to pick up and move your house is something that everybody, I think, can relate to.”
Noyes and Taylor definitely can, although so far their boat has mostly done it’s traveling around Casco Bay.
“Eventually we want to sail around the world, once we learn how to sail,” Noyes laughed. “Baby steps.”
For the moment, they’re happy with their power boat, named “Foursome” by the previous owner, although the couple would like to change that to “Yggdrasil” after a holy tree in Norse mythology. The Foursome was shrink wrapped for extra protection from the elements, and under the shrink wrap, the couple and their cat and dog spent the winter doing ordinary things, although with a slight twist.
For drinking or cooking water, they must fill up water jugs, and to take showers or do laundry, they head ashore to the marina’s facility, and use a composting toilet on board their vessel. Noyes, a small person, does most of the cooking and dishes because the galley is “more my size,” she said. They heated the boat this winter with a kerosene space heater, which kept them cozy, and they enjoyed the unusual perspective they had on city living in the wintertime. In the mid-March snowstorm that slammed southern Maine, they ventured off the boat with their dog and explored the snowy, deserted cobblestone streets of the Old Port.
“I feel like it’s hard to be a cranky person when you’re right here on the water with a waterfront condo view,” she said.
It’s much more affordable, though, than living in a condo, at least in the wintertime. Off-season slip rental fees for the boat work out to about $450 per month — much less than Noyes’ share of the last apartment she rented with roommates and without water views. They also like their neighbors at the marina a lot, describing the community as “really tight,” and Noyes appreciates having what she calls a floating studio for her art. She’s done paintings of seagulls and lighthouses and shares her photographs on Instagram under her username “Onesy.”
“I take so many pictures all the time,” she said. “Seeing all the nature stuff is really fun for me.”
That’s also true for Bryant, the sailor, who took up birding after she began living aboard the Mimi Rose. She also loved seeing the sea life and learning about weather observation and prediction.
“To say nothing of phases of the moon, tides and knowing my clouds,” she said. “Once the boat’s up in the wintertime, if I lose track of the tides I feel like I’m not tied to anything. I can’t wait to launch the boat again, and be more aware of that rhythm.”
Noyes may not have been a liveaboard for very long, but she’s planning on sticking with it for the long haul.
“We’re not going back to land,” she said. “We want to encourage other people to be boat people, too. It’s the best. We’re going to take over the world one day.”