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Story by Janice Henshaw | photos by Nunn Other Photography –
“Hark, now hear the sailors cry / Smell the sea, and feel the sky /
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic … ” – Van Morrison
Have you ever dreamed of living aboard a boat? Watching the sun sink into the ocean from your deck as seals with curious eyes and long whiskers pop up to check you out, and seagulls and eagles fly overhead as they search for their last meal of the day? And after you’ve said goodnight to the stars, you curl up in your warm, comfy bunk and float off to sleep, lulled by the ocean swells.
I have had this dream for quite awhile. In fact, my sister Shelley painted a picture for me of a playful red tug that she laughingly called the “Ms. Jolly Janice.” So when Seaside asked me to do a “boat” home review, I was delighted. It was time to find out what it’s like to say: “My home is a boat.”
Rain fell softly in the harbour as I met Jeff McLeod at Port Sidney Marina, where he welcomed me aboard his 40 foot-long sailboat, a Beneteau 393 named the “Am Cala.” Jeff said a loose translation of the name is “my safe haven.” Once inside the Am Cala, it does feel like a haven on this chilly day; the cabin is warm and cozy. A Wallas forced-air diesel furnace that Jeff described as “life-altering wonderful” solves the perennial boat problems of humidity and condensation.
The light inside the cabin is bright, coming in through large acrylic skylights and portholes. White ceilings, white trim and white leather bench seating provide a bright contrast to the rich colour of the cherry-stained teak trim. Jeff made us tea on his compact stainless steel propane stove, which is gimballed, allowing it to tilt and stay level even when the boat is heeled over. If the burners get extinguished, the stove shuts off the flow of propane, and the cabin has a gas detector alarm. These precautions are in place because propane gas is heavier than air. If the gas leaks, it can settle in low, confined areas and explode if there is a spark.
Other appliances include a microwave, which can run on shore power or by way of an inverter when anchored out, and a 12-volt electric fridge/freezer. Six paired six-volt batteries (GC2s) can store 700 amp hours of power. They can be charged by roof-mounted solar panels or by the generator in an hour and a half if anchored out during cloudy weather. The cabin has efficient LED lights and a couple of halogen lights, which provide a warmer glow.
There are three other cabins, one in the bow that has a built-in bunk for Jeff and space to hang his clothes and shelve his books. Two other small cabins are in the stern of the boat. One has a bunk for guests, while Jeff uses the third cabin for storage. There are two heads (washrooms) with showers. A third shower on the deck has a panoramic view. It must feel terrific to shower in the sunshine after an invigorating swim in the sea.
On a windy, wet day, Jeff sometimes finds the journey to buy provisions to be a bit of a grind. Boaters can’t drive up to their front door! Each purchase must fit into an assigned space so that everything remains stowed, even in turbulent seas – a place for everything, and everything in its place. To fill up with fuel, Jeff motors over to Van Isle Marina, where he also uses the pump-out facility to dispose of wastewater.
If Jeff needs a change of scene during winter, he sails over to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island or drops his hook (anchor) in False Creek. Or he heads to Tod Inlet for a day of kayaking. No need for ferries or a car, but winter travel does require a toque and gloves and a full set of foul weather gear. Jeff doesn’t wear a survival suit; he uses harnesses and a double clip system to lessen the odds of falling overboard.
Jeff has always been a big traveller, and living on a boat means “I can take my home with me.” During his career working in IT, Jeff was based mainly in Calgary, but he flew down to sail in the Caribbean, first on chartered boats, and then on the Am Cala, which he bought 10 years ago. After two years of flying back and forth to work, Jeff decided it would be way more fun to live on the Am Cala full time, and so he dispensed with work and spent the next seven years sailing in the Caribbean.
The trade winds and weather in the Caribbean make it an awesome place to live and sail, says Jeff. He described a 17-mile pink beach of crushed shells that he anchored off, the only boat there. “The sea is so blue that its colour reflects off the bottom of white clouds.” To bring the boat home to B.C., Jeff sailed it to Florida and then had it loaded onto a freighter for the rest of the journey.
Jeff has sailed up and down the West Coast to Mexico and Panama, the seas of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and through the Straits of Singapore. He competes in the Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race and on one return trip, encountered a terrible storm that had formed from the collision of two hurricanes. Jeff said the following waves were as high as apartment buildings, so the boat was in danger of pitchpoling (the bow would bury itself in the wave trough and capsize the boat end-over-end). With a great deal of skill and perhaps a little luck they arrived home safely; that adventure doesn’t seem to have affected his passion for sailing. Remarkably, he has never been seasick.
To live aboard, Jeff said that it helps if you are, or at least have an interest in, being a bit of a DIY plumber, electrician, sewer, mechanic and fibreglass/woodworker. “Something always needs maintenance,” and with a breakdown, say in the South Pacific, a sailor could be thousands of miles from a marine supply store or a mechanic. When tied up at marinas, other live-aboards provide a strong community of support and friendship. Though not unique, this relationship of helping others is “foundational to those who go to sea, prescribed by both law and tradition.” Jeff sees this play out when winter gales turn to winter storms, even in the marina.
It sometimes takes a guest’s astonishment to remind Jeff of things he might otherwise take for granted. These include daily interactions with seals, sea lions, whales, otters, turtles, fish, bivalves, starfish, eagles stealing fish right off his fishing line, and all sorts of seabirds, owls, and hummingbirds.
One of Jeff’s favourite moments is when porpoises appear and surf his bow wave. “They will do a quarter roll and fix me with a stare from a big dark eye. A wave of my hand will send them shooting off to perform a backflip or some other aquatic trick before zooming back to the bow to quarter roll again and check my reaction. Exquisite!”
After saying goodbye to Jeff, I walked along the dock admiring the other boats and reading their names … Simply Irresistible, Naughty Luffer, Mystic, Jolly Mon, Coastal Cottage, Mandela V, Wanderer, First Star, Fish ’n Chips, Silver Wings. Ah, to live on a boat – they come in all shapes and sizes, just like our dreams.