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Countians trade 'the burbs' for boat life


Bill Hudgins says he doesn't miss commuting over the clogged highways to Washington. He doesn't miss wearing a tie and he sure doesn't miss mowing the yard.

He gave up middle-class suburbia four years ago to live on a sailboat anchored in the West River, off Galesville.

Now he commutes each day to his office at the Hartge's Marina by rowing ashore in a fiberglass dingy. He wears golf shirts and tennis shoes. And in the evenings, he takes out a spritzer and enjoys the gentle swaying of the boat as he watches the sun set.

His lifestyle is not unique. Anne Arundel County officials estimate about 1,000 people in the county live on boats year-round.

Although Mr. Hudgins lives alone, couples and even families have chosen to live on the water rather than beside it.

In Edgewater, David and Helen Murphy have lived 10 years on their sailboat, which they share with an Abyssinian cat named Tristan.

Also living on the South River, on two houseboats docked at the Liberty Yacht Club, is the Kenney family -- Roberta (Bobbie) and Darrell, their daughters, Crystal and Jennifer, and Jennifer's boyfriend, Randy Collier.

Those who have chosen to live on boats rather than in houses and apartments say the marinas become neighborhoods. On Halloween, children go trick or treating from boat to boat. Residents share Christmas trees and Thanksgiving dinners in marina meeting rooms. They keep up with the comings and goings, gossiping like small-town neighbors.

"All my life I wanted my own home," Mrs. Kenney says. "I had to decide whether that was what I really wanted. Did I really want that commitment?"

Her family has lived on the boats for three years. Although Jennifer and Randy plan to move off their boat in a couple years, when they've saved enough money for a house, Mrs. Kenney says she will never leave it.

"I love the serenity here and the camaraderie," she says. "I can have the worst day in the world, but when I drive over the hill and see the water, it all goes away."

Mrs. Kenney has taken to feeding the ducks that paddle up to her boat each day, searching for crusts of bread -- even naming some of her favorites, like "Broken Bill," a mallard with a mishaped bill.

The Murphys say they have no plans to move off their boat either.

Mr. Murphy decided to move on board when he grew tired of sharing a duplex with friends and wanted something of his own. "My feet hit the floor one morning and I said, 'I'm tired of paying rent. I want to own something,' " he says.

The Murphys at first moved onto a 27-foot sailboat they bought for $9,800. After a couple years, they found the 41-foot yawl, which had been damaged by lightning. They bought it for $25,000 and restored it. They have lived in Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, and have sailed the boat across the Atlantic.

"We love owning this. I couldn't be as proud of a house as I am of this boat," says Mr. Murphy, the dock master at Liberty Yacht club. Mrs. Murphy is a chemist working on her doctorate degree.

"It's a working thing," he adds. "A house just sits around and collects leaves in the gutter." Within minutes, the boat can be readied for sail. The TV and coffee maker are stowed and the sails hoisted.

Life on a boat has its advantages. No yards to mow. No door-to-door salesmen. "If you don't like your neighbors, you can always move," Mr. Murphy says.

One also learns to pare one's possessions to a minimum. Don't look for the box of Christmas tree ornaments or the closet full of unwarn clothes. The Murphys cook on a two-burner hot plate, and take their showers at the marina.

The Kenney's house boats have more conveniences. They have showers and microwaves. Jennifer Kenney keeps two cats and a parakeet on her boat. But still there are space limitations. Mrs. Kenney, for example, bakes cakes in casseroles and won't buy a pot that doesn't have more than one use.

For the Kenneys, living in houseboats was more economical than renting a town house in Crofton. They bought used houseboats and fixed them up. Slip rental is $300 a month; utilities cost another $30 to $120 a month, depending on the time of year.

But living on a boat is not necessarily cheaper than living in a house or an apartment, Mr. Murphy points out. In addition to mortgage payments for the boat and $3,200-a-year slip fees, there are maintenance costs. New sails can cost $5,000.

Jennifer Kenney says she misses having a washing machine, and detests trying to walk on ice-covered decks in the winter time. Mr. Murphy says he sometimes wishes he could have a basement with tools and a workbench.

But for those who love life on the water, the inconveniences pale in comparison to the freedom. For while all sorts of people live on boats, they are united by a common characteristic, Mr. Murphy points out: at the heart of each is a wandering spirit preparing for a distant voyage.

The Murphys would like to sail to Easter Island. The Kenneys have salvaged a sail boat and are outfitting it to sail to the Caribbean and perhaps on to South America.

"Now our whole life is focused on saving money, fixing up the boat and getting out of here," Mrs. Kenney says.

Mr. Kenney, a heavy equipment operator, and Mrs. Kenney, a nurse, plan to get work on whatever island appeals to them. Crystal, 14, will go with them, completing school in correspondence courses.

"We want to enjoy life . . ."

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