culture.

west coast land boat: Life off-grid. In a boat. On land.

Is it unconventional? You could say that. Is it challenging? Most likely. But is it interesting? You can bet on it.

Rena Siddall / 22 February 2019

Note: names have been changed to protect the land-boat homeowners’ privacy.

How one B.C. coastal couple has made the move to live off grid. In a boat. On land.

That title wasn’t made up. While some people think downsizing to a tiny home is hard enough to imagine, and many of those who’ve decided to go for it have opted for converted vans and buses to make it happen on the cheap, it’s not an everyday couple that chooses to live the tiny home life off-grid and in a boat. A boat that’s, well, been beached in a sense. More accurately, it’s been intentionally trapped amongst the lush rainforest that we’re so lucky to call home on the pacific west coast. And it is some serious commitment to an alternative way of living.

What is living off-grid exactly?

Living off the grid can have different interpretations depending on who you talk to. But ultimately it involves living autonomously without accessing public services. It doesn’t necessarily mean living remotely like the notorious Bergie, “the Cougar Lady”” of the Sunshine Coast. And it’s not always technically legal. Take a home that is off-grid, in a place that may not be exactly zoned for, say a boat, for example.

And while you can find a plethora of off-grid accommodation on AirBnB or VRBO to rent for a vacation it’s entirely another thing to commit to off-grid living full-time. For a life that might otherwise be considered simple, it doesn’t come without complications. To fully live off-grid, Jack and Winnie, our land boat owners, use a woodstove and hot water tank using thermal dynamics to heat water through a copper coil around the stove. They cook using a propane stove. They use rain water collection and a manual well water pump. Their lighting is either propane or battery-powered while they’re working on a solar panel.

One reason people even opt for the tiny home route is because it offers the opportunity to do exactly that. Live life simply, sustainably and off-grid.

One man’s inconvenience is another’s comfort.

Jack and Winnie’s land boat, Mossy Maris, is a Bruce Roberts 28-foot ship that comes complete with a cedar shake roof and hand-split cedar shake siding. Her craftsmanship exudes a sort of folkloric, storybook, nearly hobbit-like look- if Frodo were to have come from Atlantis instead of the Shire. The boat, heated by an antique woodstove, “gets the interior nice and toasty in no time.”

But why a boat? Jack spends a lot of time on boats. He is also restoring a 1941 salmon fishing boat and is a commercial fisherman. “Hull shapes have a certain appeal to them, with steady flowing curves and few sharp corners. It’s a unique and affordable alternative to building from scratch, and there’s no lack of boats on the coast that need loving homes.” Maybe Jack and Winnie are on to something. Maybe it should be the other way around? No lack of people who need boats to call homes.

Getting by with a little help from your friends.

The aptly named Mossy Maris, (Maris means “of the sea”) was christened with help from Jack and Winnie’s friends drawing names from a hat around a campfire. Turns out even when you’re living off-grid it pays to make friends with your neighbours. For Maris to find her new home it was a three-hour trip to move the boat using professional boat movers. “Then we had a local fellow with a large crane lined up to meet us there. It was a bit of an ordeal and suspenseful; but we had the boat tucked away, horseshoed between a couple trees by noon.

Can you really live in a 28 foot beached boat forever?

While Jack and Winnie clearly love Maris and are inspired by both the creativity and simplicity of the tiny home movement, they have bigger plans for their property, “Jack also runs a bandsaw mill… and we’re slowly stockpiling lumber to build a woodworking shop/barn, and cabin. We’d always like to keep the land boat to offer friends and family while visiting.”

To truly live off-grid it appears you need to be part handy-man, part urban planner and fully pot-committed. Oh, and probably a little ballsy.  When asked, given the local property zoning and bylaw regulations, whether they had considered vacation rentals in the boat, that might offer that ‘real west coast experience’, Winnie simply laughed, “no comment.”

Rena Siddall / ohsnapcreative@gmail.com

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