In case this blog has mislead you, and you have romantic notions of houseboat living, I thought it might be time to tell you about the life of the Spaniard, my husband Martin, who keeps us afloat and makes the whole thing possible.
We are entering our third fall living on Houseboat 28, and over the last 2 years we have learned volumes about living this lifestyle. We’ve refined and improved the systems around here so things are much easier than they used to be. And we know what to expect, and how to be prepared. Still, its an ongoing adventure. Things break down, wear out, and the unexpected is actually a pretty regular occurrence. Martin is the one who takes on the majority of the tasks of maintenance and repairs, with some input and moral support from me. The happenings over the last month is a good example of what I mean.
One rainy day, shortly after our return from our Baffin Island trip, we were sitting in the living room and counting up all the things we were dealing with at the moment. The messiest problem was the fact that our dog Kona had an ongoing, intermittent case of vomiting and diarrhea, and as it would happen, had woken up that morning without time to give us a warning that he needed to go outside. (It was a bit of a mess, but Martin managed to save the carpets.) This meant several extra trips to the island over the next few days for him to do his business. While we were sitting in the living room discussing this, we noticed a big puddle on the floor, which was coming from the second floor ceiling. It appeared our roof was leaking. (This turned out to be a flashing problem, precipitated by horizontal rain, and so was fairly easily repaired). As well that day both of the motors on our two boats were sick, one of which sounded suspiciously serious. (Turns out they were both an easy fix, in the end.)
The most annoying of all problems over the fall has been our fridge. In the spring we upgraded our aging and gas emitting old fridge for a new and improved non gas emitting fridge. (This turned out to be a $2000 failed experiment, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Our new propane powered fridge, while no longer setting off our carbon dioxide alarm (thus solving the problem of us having to get up in the night and throw it outside to stop its damned shrieking, and then go back to bed, hoping it doesn’t disturb the neighbours) blows out in any wind. So for the past several months its been off more than on. We’ve tried many things to sort this out, without success. (The company refuses to send a repairman out to look at it, because we live on the water.) Finally I took matters into my own hands and spent a day cleaning and tinkering with the burner, which improved the situation to some degree. Then I concocted a home made exhaust system, using what I could find at the local hardware store – a heavy duty water pipe valve and a length of exhaust pipe for a car (sadly about a foot too short, but it was all they had.) We now have a system that keeps our fridge running most of the time, if we are diligent and adjust it regularly according to the wind direction and strength. This has created a secondary problem in that now its running most of the time its freezing everything inside. I was absolutely starving at lunch time yesterday but I had to wait nearly an hour for my salad to thaw out before I ate it.
About two weeks ago, in a wind, (a 40 km/hr wind, nothing unusual around here), again while we were sitting in the living room, we felt our house dragging an anchor. It felt like a car had crashed into us, followed by banging and rebounding that went on for about 30 minutes. And the house shifted, turning perhaps 15 degrees, and moving a bit closer to the small rock near us. This made it quit a bit harder to park the boat, in the darkness of night, and in a wind. We have some dozen anchors, so it was no small task to figure out what had given way. Martin then spent the next 2 weeks underwater. He donned his scuba gear and got in the nearly freezing water and sorted things out. It took 2 weeks because all the chains and ropes between the anchors and the house are buried in the mud. They are heavy, which means he had to attach floats to them and wait a day or two for them to lift out the mud. As soon as the mud is disturbed, it also means there is zero visibility, so he then needs for the mud to settle before he can go back. It also meant he couldn’t be underwater on windy and wavy days, which stir up the mud. It turns out it was a bit of a mess under there. Several anchors were no longer attached, several had moved considerably over the years, and we also found a few we didn’t even know we had. We (that would be the royal ‘we’, I actually had nothing to do with the heavy lifting part of this work, which was all of it) borrowed the community ‘anchor yanker’, a floating wharf with a some sort of chain that allows one to lift up an anchor and relocate it, and put that to work for several days. (The anchors can weigh over a thousand pounds: I am blissfully unaware of how its even possible for one man to lift them and move them.) This whole project took Martin days and days to finish, and was not without some significant toll on him. Throbbing fingers from working in cold water and getting squished by thick neoprene gloves. A seriously aching back from doing WAY too much heavy lifting. And a worrisomely swollen knee after it was twisted. He was often blue with cold when he came out of the water.
During the anchor episode, we finally caught up with a neighbor who we knew was planning to move his big house closer to our house. (He is currently anchored not too far away but in a place that is too exposed. When we went away on holidays last summer, we were surprised to come home and find a new house in the neighborhood. Its strange how houses come and go.) We were upset when we heard that his new plan involved moving to a protected spot right by our house, which also necessitated him throwing an anchor across several of ours, and putting his house right on top of another one. (The one rule of houseboating that everyone adheres to is that you do not cross another’s anchor lines. Can you imagine what would happen if one house dragged (as they do) and tangled in the other’s anchors? Mayhem.) It was a very stressful situation, as of course we are all effectively squatters here, both he and us, and there is no official process that protects our house and anchorage, or helps deal with these sorts of disputes. Happily for all of us the situation was resolved with some calm discussion, and a solution arrived at that meets both our needs and his. We are helping him establish anchorage in a different place that doesn’t interfere with our own anchors. This will entail us giving him one of our anchors, and perhaps having to replace it with a new one. A bit of give and take, and it all worked out.
This week Martin and Kuzman went out on the lake moose hunting. Daniel, another neighbour who can always be relied to give a hand with the crazy things that come up with from time to time, was also away. It was a bit unsettling for me to realize there was not one man I could call on for help. I knew of course that Daniel’s partner Monique was still around and she is as equally helpful and handy as Daniel. (She on the other hand only had me to rely on – very good in a health care crisis, but not so strong in other areas.) I also knew however that her big boat isn’t running and Martin had ours, so we had no real horsepower to help us should we have needed that. (Are you getting the sense that its the community of neighbours that keep the whole bunch of us afloat – we couldn’t manage without everyone chipping in to help out in tough times, and it goes both ways – we too chip in and help them out. These lovely people are our houseboating family.)
Of course while the men were away, it would be the time for another neighbour’s house, a small place very near us, to break one of its anchor lines. While it was still firmly attached to at least 2 other ones, it was moving about much more than usual, and I feared it might break free and hit our place in the wind. (And I knew I couldn’t do a damned thing about it if that happened.) Luckily that did not come to pass ( and Martin is going to help him out in a day or two with the anchor yanker to get his lines reset), but of course there was some minor drama. At our place it was the water pump that died. We put a small submersible pump into the lake every week to fill up our water tank, and half way through filling the tank yesterday, it died. But that wasn’t too bad. (And of course, today, now that Martin is back, its working perfectly.) Poor Monique had it much worse. She discovered a small electrical fire in the wall socket, coming from the wires from the solar inverter. Luckily she was home when this happened, and luckily, because she is incredibly skilled and smart, (she is actually a professional artist, with many other talents as well) she was able to fix it herself. But it just goes to show how handy these men are, how necessary! (I think Mo could manage on her own, but I know I couldn’t.) Yay for manly handy men!
Today I have to go to town and pick up my jeep from the repair shop, with its new radiator, and Martin is in town trying to find a replacement boat plug ( as well as that submersible pump) for the Minnow. The old one has malfunctioned and the Minnow is in dry dock until he can fix it. That just happened today. (Yay, he’s back!)
In spite of all that, its been a beautiful fall here. The lake has been calm and picturesque, the fall colors have been glorious and the northern lights have been vivid beyond belief. All in all, still a great place to live. Although the Spaniard may not agree.
So kudos to my great husband, for all that he does to help us live here. I could never manage this life without him. And not only that, he also gets up every single morning and makes me a coffee. Which he then brings to me in bed. I am incredibly lucky to be married to such a great guy. Not only is he strong, skilled, hardworking and clever, he is also a very sweet and generous man.