Story by Rod Lotter // Photo by Cejae Thompson
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek believes people are truly free when they have no roots to keep them down. For some, the rootless existence of the nomadic human, which Zizek teaches, may be represented by a boat. Zizek says the first thing a human must do to be free is uproot themselves from the land and simply go with the flow. From there, a human can drop anchor wherever they choose and be free in the truest sense of the word.
The ocean represents the infinite vastness of nature. At sea, there is no land, no traffic and no people. There is only a boat, the sea and sky, as far as the eye can see.
This is the way of life preferred by Western MBA student Steve Winters, who has lived on a boat with his wife of 18 years, Julie.
"Living on a boat provides me with a real sense of freedom," Winters says. "It's kind of like a vacation all the time."
Eight years ago, while living with Julie in Kirkland, Winters bought a house boat that he docked in the Anacortes marina. The couple would pack clothes and food every Friday evening before driving to the boat for a weekend at sea. On Mondays, they would wake early and drive home to Kirkland for work, he says.
"Eventually we came to the conclusion that we might as well live on the boat, since we spent so much time there anyway," Winters says.
That is exactly what they did. Four years ago, Winters and Julie quit their jobs and sold their townhouse, along with most of their possessions.
"It was quite liberating to get rid of all the furniture and all the other junk we accumulated throughout the years," he says. "I once read this bumper sticker which said, 'the more I know, the less I need.' And that's how I feel since I have been living on the boat."
But life at sea is not for everyone, he says, especially for those who have a problem with 'cozy' surroundings and sea sickness. For Winters, the confined space of a water nomad's life has been a successful experience because of the healthy relationship he and his wife share.
"I was fortunate that I married my best friend," Winters says. "But, [life at sea] wouldn't work for a person who needs a lot of personal space. You have to really want to live the lifestyle in order for it to work out successfully. It takes commitment."
Since living on board, Winters and his wife have cruised from Puget Sound to the Canadian waters, and halfway to Alaska. Instead of the normal nine to five grind with bumper-to-bumper traffic, these water nomads only have to worry about stormy weather and dangerous conditions.
Winters says the positive aspects of living on a boat are the peace and quiet. The sea is larger than any city or state, making it the perfect spot for those who like their space. Not many people live at the marina where their boat docks, but Winters says those who do are some of the nicest people he has ever met.
"There is something about the lifestyle that creates camaraderie amongst all the boaters," Winters says. "It has something to do with the slow pace of life and that feeling of not being tied down."
The marina environment is the main draw for many who live aboard.
Mark Ravaris, the owner of El CapitanŐs hot dog stand, lived on his boat for 11 years. He said he felt free on the boat, but decided to trade his sails in for land legs last spring. Previous to living on the boat, Ravaris owned a condo in Everett for about 10 years. He says the transition from condo-to-boat-to-house was not difficult because he does not develop emotional attachment to material items, like furnishings.
"I just boiled it down to personal items like clothing and my lap top, and then put anything else in storage." Ravaris says. "You have to adopt a minimalist mind set."
Ravaris says his favorite memories are of warm, summer days when he would sit on a folding chair, crack open an ice cold beer and enjoy the scenery. Reminiscing about the boat he once called home, Ravaris says he does miss the gentle swaying movements that rocked him to a good night's sleep.
But, with the gift of good sleep comes the hassle of waking up and on a boat it's slightly more difficult to get out of bed. Because living on a boat is similar to camping, but with better shelter, Ravaris says it is tough to get out of bed on mornings when he can hear the cold wind and rain pelting his boat.
Winters' list of boating life inconveniences is short. Julie adds that having to pump out the holding tank, which contains all that nasty toilet stuff, is one of the few unfortunate aspects of the water life. But the disadvantages are nothing compared to the perks, she says.
"There is nothing better than the serenity I feel when I am anchored out in some quiet, private little cove," Julie says. "That feeling is so beautiful. Everything we've done to live on our boat was worth it. No doubt about it."
The life of a water nomad is a life of simplicity. No longer slaves to homes and the endless stack of bills that comes with it, they can rest easy and enjoy simple things. Things like sitting on the deck as the seagulls squawk, the waves lap and the sun is just beginning to set over the islands.