They could be boatpeople or salty seadogs. But the title most commonly given to people who shun dry land in favour of making their boats home is ‘live-aboards’. We meet a few floating Aucklanders.
As a boy Stephen Prinselaar drew pictures of the yacht he would some day sail around the world. Last year, he decided it was time to follow through on his childhood dream and seek the boat he would call Parallel Life.
“I took a year off work to go looking,” he says. “The problem was I’d told so many people I was finally going to do it that I really had to pull it off. I bought her in Tahiti and then sailed her to Tonga and on to New Zealand.”
Born and bred in Auckland, Stephen chose to quit dry land a year ago and live full-time in the central city on his 11.5m catamaran.
“In the end, living my dream was far easier than not living it.”
“I love living on the sea. It’s a very therapeutic place. It calms you down. You notice the weather changes, the fronts coming through. You’re constantly reminded you’re on a boat by the rocking and the rise and fall of the tide.”
He gestures around the light-filled cabin. “I call this a four-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling. How much would that cost to rent in the central city? I love living here because I feel like a tourist in my own town. Staying here has made me really proud of Auckland.”
The boat doubles as Stephen’s office so no one blinks an eye when his work attire includes a length of red rope for a belt. He keeps a car, parked 20 minutes’ walk away, and enjoys seldom needing to use it. He has a favourite laundromat in Royal Oak but everything else he needs is on his boat. There’s gas in his kitchenette and a fridge hidden in the bench seat. A machine rolls past and empties waste from his holding tank.
His two children live in Auckland and spend every second weekend with him on the boat, where they have their own rooms.
“They love this life. I’d like to instil in my kids that alternatives do exist to the formulas we’ve all been fed.”
Stephen loves the water and says although it’s great to have a base for now he appreciates being able to set sail at the drop of a hat.
“If you really love travelling, this is like having a fully loaded 747 ready to go anywhere in the world.”
On Queen’s Birthday Weekend he made the most of the extra day and sailed to Great Barrier Island.
Since moving on to his boat he’s encountered a fraternity that lives and travels on the water.
They are the most fantastic group of people you will ever meet.
His French neighbours are preparing to sail in search of summer; boaties from all over the world come and go from the marina and Stephen revels in it.
“The community is very international. Sitting here you could be in Sydney or Cape Town. It makes it a very cosmopolitan part of the world.
“The sunrises and sunsets are just fantastic. I’m watching America’s Cup catamarans out my back door, watching history go by.”
As for how long Stephen will be here … well, anything could happen.
“I imagine I’ll spend the summer months in the Bay of Islands then book back here in March.”
Of course, he acknowledges living on a boat is not everyone’s cup of tea.
To find a woman who wants to live this lifestyle… she’s really got to be living it already. But if it comes down to choosing between a woman and the sea, the sea wins.
The afternoon sun has set the harbour shimmering, the deck rolls gently and the sounds of the city seem oddly distant.
“This is the beginning of the dream. It’s happening,” beams Stephen.
Most live-aboards in Auckland are found at one of the eight marinas that allow the practice (see list below).
Outside of marinas there are 3500 moorings in the Auckland region but there’s no way of knowing how many, if any, have permanent residents. Auckland Harbourmaster Andrew Hayton controls 78 “mooring management areas” and says anyone staying aboard a boat needs to comply with marine pollution regulations.
“A lot of people go away for the weekend and stay aboard their boats. As long as they comply with the regulations and maintain their vessel they are entitled to do so.”
Living permanently on a mooring is not encouraged.
“We do get complaints from time to time and we check to see whether the person has suitable holding tanks on board, but it’s very hard to do anything unless you catch someone in the act.”
In his experience, most boaties are conscious of keeping the harbours clean.
Managers of the eight marinas we spoke to said most live-aboards are internationals who come for our summer and stay no longer than a few months. Some marinas, such as Westhaven, limit the live-aboard option to overseas vessels. The number changes constantly but there are probably about 200 people living aboard in Auckland at this time of year.
n Hobsonville’s West Park Marina, Janine and Michael Strickland live aboard their 12m ketch, Sulali. When The Aucklander arrives, the ground at the marina is wet from a passing shower and a rainbow frames rows of boats.
Michael hails from Devonport; Canada-born Janine was raised in Bayswater. The pair knew each other as teenagers and rekindled their friendship 10 years ago when Michael taught Janine to sail and she went on to buy her own trailer-sailor.
When Michael was 10 his father built him a boat. “I’ve been hanging around boats ever since. I lived on [my boat] Independence on a mooring on Waiheke on and off for a couple of years. I’m happiest when I’m afloat.”
Janine also grew to be happiest afloat and when the couple married four years ago they bought Sulali and sailed around the South Pacific for seven months.
“Now she’s the best navigator on the boat, and a confident skipper, too,” says Michael with admiration.
Janine says living aboard gradually became normal.
“We had our great adventure and living on a boat becomes part of who you are. It seemed incongruous to change that once we got back to Auckland.”
Walking ashore to use the marina’s ablutions block has become routine, as has keeping the water and gas tanks topped up.
“There’s a wonderful free library here where people exchange books,” says Michael, “and we see the other live-aboards regularly because we’re always walking to the showers or the dairy. Everybody keeps an eye out for everybody else. It’s very safe.”
“And there is a smattering of women,” says Janine, “five or six who live here with their partners. There are even some families with children.”
Winter can be challenging, she explains. “There’s condensation and it gets damp. We’ve bought a dehumidifier to try and help this winter.
“And there is limited storage,” she adds, stepping over to her wardrobe which measures about 30cm across and can fit six clotheshangers. “My mum has a wardrobe for me at her place, which means I can go and change over my clothes once a week.”
Michael says limited space aboard their two-bedroom boat means the couple shed many of their possessions when they bought it.
“It helps you reduce your dependence on things.”
But the perks counter any inconveniences.
“We take our house with us when we go on holiday,” he says. “There are no lawns to mow – you just put your head outside, see what the weather’s doing and set sail.”
Of the 60 or so boats in the marina with live-aboards, many are owned by Kiwis. Others are owned by foreigners who live here seasonally.
People who live here are more relaxed. They seem to be less bothered by the pressures of working or having a house.
Both Stricklands work full-time: Janine’s a nurse and Michael maintains parks.
They keep cars on shore and say Westpark is conveniently located for commuting. “We rent our berth here and it’s significantly cheaper than renting a home,” says Michael.