- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Jack Hunt of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., always dreamed of making his home at sea. For the last two years, he and his wife, Jackie, and their sons, Tyler, 13, and Austin, 11, have been sharing his vision.

Their sailboat, Rough House, a 44-foot-long Island Packet 420, is currently docked at Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Annapolis. The craft has taken them up and down the East Coast many times and to the Bahamas twice. This winter, they are headed to the western Caribbean. Mr. Hunt hopes to spend three years in the South Pacific eventually.

“I always wanted to go traveling around the world on a sailboat,” Mr. Hunt says. “There really is no better venue because you have your house with you. It’s a lot better than trying to fly on an airplane.”

Living on a boat requires a spirit of adventure and love of the water. Most people who engage in the lifestyle desire to live simply and explore the world.

Mr. Hunt, who is a retired district fire chief with the city of Miami, is pleased that he can include his children in the learning experience. He and his wife are home-schooling their boys.

“It’s really the best history and culture lesson that you can imagine,” he says. “I definitely want them exposed to other cultures and languages.”

The Hunts have a wind generator that powers the boat’s battery when they aren’t at a dock. They also have a device that removes the salt from seawater in case of emergency. They also are considering installing solar panels for additional energy.

It’s hard to estimate how many people live aboard boats, says Linda Ridihalgh, editor of Living Aboard magazine in Austin, Texas, which has a circulation of about 9,000. Many of them may live on a boat for part of the year and return to land for the colder months.

She believes the way of life is growing, however, especially since baby boomers are reaching the age where they can retire early and take advantage of other opportunities. Even if a person is still working, a boat can become a professional headquarters.

“The Internet has transformed people’s ability to work anywhere,” she says. “You can have a home office on your boat as well as anywhere else.”

Cindy Wallach, 30, who lives year-round on a PDQ 36 sailboat at the Annapolis Landing Marina, works as a free-lance writer and television producer. Her husband, Doug Vibbert, is a computer engineer. They have made their home at sea for about five years with their dog, Schooner.

The vessel has two staterooms with queen-size beds, a galley, and a salon used as a sitting room. There is one bathroom and a storage room.

Ms. Wallach also owns a car for errands around town. She frequently gives rides to other people who live aboard boats.

“It’s just such a great community,” she says. “I don’t think you could find this on a regular land-based neighborhood.”

To prepare for Hurricane Isabel, which is due to arrive to the Metro area tomorrow, Ms. Wallach and her neighbors have been helping each other ready their boats.

On Sunday, they moved her sailboat to a secure location, otherwise known as a “hurricane hole,” in Harness Creek. In addition, they tied her boat to trees with chains and ropes and removed the sails and canvas. She and her husband plan to find an alternate place to stay when the storm arrives.

The camaraderie among neighbors also is helpful when surviving the winter months, she says. At times, it is frustrating to haul clothes to the Laundromat in the snow.

“It can be treacherous getting on and off the boat,” she says. “It’s slippery. We had a gal fall in the water last year.”

Further, the water in the bay usually freezes and clunks against the boat. Snow on the deck also needs to be shoveled. The canvas on the boat must be removed during the winter, since it isn’t strong enough to hold a large amount of snow.

However, Ms. Wallach says that the boat is warm and that she doesn’t lack anything important, such as a television for keeping up on current events.

“You can make it as fancy as you want,” she says. “We like it because it forces you to get outside more and meet your neighbors. You don’t go to Pottery Barn and buy all sorts of junk you don’t need.”

Reducing material possessions was Andrew Heidt’s major challenge when moving into his Catalina 30 sailboat, where he has lived for about 1 years in the Spa Creek Marina in Annapolis. Before living on a boat, Mr. Heidt, 24, sailed with his father for 15 years.

After graduating from college, he decided he wanted to wake up every morning on the water, especially considering the cost of buying a house in Annapolis. He figured it would be more economical for him to live at sea. He especially likes to entertain guests on his vessel.

“It’s kind of like being on vacation all the time,” he says. “It’s a really good time.”

Two extended vacations on a boat convinced Alison and Marc LeBlanc to sell their home in Treasure Island, Fla., and take to the open ocean in April 1998. The couple has spent this summer on Angel, a Pearson 365, at Annapolis Landing Marina, where Mrs. LeBlanc, 39, works as the assistant dock master.

By working summers, she tries to save money for travels to warmer destinations in the winter, where she will relax. In October, the LeBlancs plan to sail to Florida. During past winters, they have sailed to the southern Bahamas. Mrs. LeBlanc estimates that she spends about $7,000 every six months on living expenses. Currently, they don’t own a car.

“My husband misses a big-screen TV and a recliner chair,” she says. “At this point, I miss a king-size bed, but the benefits of the lifestyle [are] that it’s extremely simple and very economical.”

Occasionally, Mrs. LeBlanc wishes she had more personal space. Since she and her husband live so closely, she says resolving conflicts is important.

“You find out really quick if you really like your spouse or not,” she says. “When we’re traveling, I will sit in the cockpit, and my husband knows to stay below.”

The best part of living in a home that moves is that the cold weather can be avoided, Mrs. LeBlanc says. If she did decide to stay in Annapolis for the winter, she says she would make sure the boat’s plumbing hoses wouldn’t freeze. She also would buy a space heater, if necessary.

In the meantime, she is enjoying the fall season with time in the Florida sun to come. It will take about a month to travel there from Annapolis.

“When people say, ‘Where do you live?’ I say, ‘Today, I live right here,’” she says.

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