April 24, 2009

The Eesi Life

Think of a space 10 feet by 25 feet. In it are a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Now imagine living in the space with your significant other, and a cat. Ok I know there are downtown condos this size selling for $400K plus but I’m talking about something a little less, shall we say, investment friendly.

Several years ago my boyfriend and I, tired of paying big rent for a small space, bought an old fishing boat. Named Eesi, she was wooden and weighed 22 tons and moved like a log jam. We paid $5000 for the boat and were prepared to sink another five thousand into her to make her livable. We’d seen enough converted fishing boats to know what we wanted. We had a plan. We would dry dock the boat for the winter – do all the work ourselves in the evenings and on weekends – put her back in the water in Steveston by April – and live on the cheap, slightly off the grid – a cell phone and a PO Box address.

Eesi was 32 feet long and had a wonderful, old fashioned feel. She was built in the 50's and her style conjured images of a harder yet simpler life. Her pilothouse contained a small galley; a single burner, a small sink with a button on the floor to operate the water (cold only), a fold down map table. A blackened pump toilet and moldy foam bedding occupied the V berth at the front of the boat. The interior lights operated off of the boat’s battery.

Our plan was doable, if somewhat ambitious. We removed the back wall of the pilothouse and added an addition – four sheets of particleboard for the sides, and one for the roof. Next came fiber glassing everything together. Once things seemed joined and sealed (though not pretty), we painted it white, put a french door in the back and two windows on either side. It was bright and airy, uninsulated and drafty. We ripped out the galley and put in new kitchen cupboards, counter top and sink (with hot and cold water). We were given an old propane oven and a bar fridge. The map table stayed. As for the pump toilet, we replaced it with a shiny, new pump toilet. But it remained accessible only by sitting on the galley floor, crab walking through a three-foot hole in the wall under the steering wheel, then jumping down onto the floor of the V berth. We wired the entire place for electricity.

All our possessions went into storage and we moved on board May 1st. We had a futon for a couch and a bed, a 13" TV/VCR combo – but no cable – a steamer trunk that was both storage and dinner table, and a rocking chair. We bought a metal rack that held our clothes, and a space heater that took the chill out of the air immediately in front of it (but nowhere else).
Our first night was anticipatory. We got ready for bed, unfolded the futon, fluffed the duvet and pillows, climbed under the covers, and wondered if we would sleep. Sleep, as it turned out would be one of the easiest things to do in a 250 square foot floating home. The sound of waves lapping on the side of the hull, the gentle rocking motion of the entire boat and the complete blackness without city lights, was all somehow reminiscent of an earlier, familiar place. We slept like babies.

Living was another story. There was no such thing as privacy. If I wanted to read and my boyfriend wanted to watch TV, I learned to tune out and he to turn down. With no washroom, bathing was done in the kitchen sink – showers taken at work. Food had to be purchased each day as our cupboards and fridge didn’t hold much. Dishes had to be cleaned and put away immediately, as our home was prone to rapid side-to-side movement. The wakes of large boats became our version of noisy neighbours.

We also learned that a boat is more work than a house. Imagine a black hole that you throw your pay cheque into as soon as it’s cashed. The roof leaked. The bilge pumps, which perform the vital function of pumping water out of a wooden boat, drained the battery and stopped working. The message from our floating neighbours prepared us for the sight of Eesi listing, but not for the three feet of water that had to be manually pumped out to keep her from sinking. When the transmission just stopped working (and the cost to repair was almost more than we paid for the boat), our dreams of pulling up anchor to spend idyllic weekends roaming the Gulf Islands fizzled. Out of money and patience, it was time to jump ship.
It had been a valuable experience. We had decluttered and downsized to such an extent, that we had so little, we missed nothing. We were surrounded by water and wildlife – swans, ducks, eagles and the occasional sea lion. After work we would open a bottle of wine and sit on the back deck enjoying the sun, talking with neighbours. And we laughed -- at the craziness of what we had done, the experience of doing it and the fact that we were still together. We proved to ourselves that we could be happy with less space and few gadgets. And that our possessions and address didn’t define us.

We tried to sell Eesi, but there wasn’t a big market for wooden trawlers that didn’t trawl. We ended up trading her for a pick-up truck and moved back into the city. We took our belongings out of storage, moved into a bigger place and started accumulating things once again. We eventually traded the pick-up truck for a newer car and all reminders of Eesi disappeared from our lives. But – we still drive by marinas longing to spot her ungainly exterior and hopeful she is still floating somewhere. The alternative is too sad to consider.

Was it an expensive, debt-causing, crazy thing to do? You bet. Was it all-consuming with constant repairs and maintenance? You bet. Was it inconvenient, challenging and just plain aggravating? You bet. But would we do it again? You bet.


Dan Johnson said...

Awesome! How long ago was that? You may have told me but I forgot..good memory, just really short.

Lianne said...

We bought it in 1999 and moved on in 2000 and moved off in 2001. Really a great experience -- what an awesome community, living with commercial fishermen and off-griders like us. We wanted to move it to Coal Harbour, but with no transmission it would have taken too long to row it.