Harbormaster wants boat owners to keep vessels 'seaworthy'

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

JUNEAU When he took his new job as Juneau's harbormaster this year, Lou McCall was surprised to find that Sitka and Juneau residents view people living on boats very differently.

''In Sitka, the harbor likes liveaboards because they keep the harbor safe and clean. Those boats are operational and (kept up). But in Juneau, there seems to be a stigma attached to liveaboards,'' said McCall, who was a deputy harbormaster in Sitka.

McCall, who has lived on a boat for 12 years, thinks the negative perceptions of Juneau's liveaboards may have to do with the tattered blue tarpaulins on boats throughout the city's harbors and some boats that obviously are unfit for use.

McCall said he will send letters to boat owners, asking them to keep their vessels ''seaworthy.''

According to city ordinance, a vessel is seaworthy if it's capable of getting under way on its own power at all times. A seaworthy vessel also should be constructed and maintained for the primary purpose of navigating the waterways in Alaska and not solely used as a stationary residence, floating storage or other non-navigational purposes.

Juneau Port Director John Stone said derelict vessels and flophouses have been a problem.

''Some boats that are not used for nautical purposes anymore are taking stalls in the harbor and excluding legitimate boats like fishing boats and working boats from using the harbor,'' Stone said.

Although some people neglect their boats, Stone said most liveaboards are responsible people.

''Many liveaboards are the ones that maintain the harbors and watch out for other boats,'' Stone said.

According to Stone, about 8 percent of Juneau's harbor users about 120 boats are liveaboards. Most of them anchor at Harris Harbor because it is near downtown.

There are various reasons people live on a boat. In Juneau, high housing costs are a big one.

''It is an alternative way to live in Juneau,'' said Bradley Scougale, who has lived in a houseboat named Maria Bree at Harris for three years. ''It only costs me $1,000 a year to live in a harbor. That is about the same amount you pay for a two-bedroom apartment for a month.''

Kimberley Jensen, 37, moved into a boat a month ago for the same reason. For years, the math instructor at the University of Alaska Southeast had been renting and hoping to save money to buy a condominium.

But the housing prices in Juneau rose faster than she could save. When her friend offered to let her stay at her 30-foot sailboat for free, she gladly accepted it.

''I don't want to spend $120,000 for a condo. That is outrageous,'' Jensen said.

Because the boat has limited storage space, Jensen reduced her compact disc collection from 300 to 75, got rid of half her books and clothes, and sold her bed.

She is now a regular of the Augustus Brown swimming pool, where she can take a shower. Life on the boat means going with the flow.

''You watch the tides all the time,'' said Mary Cogswell, 38. ''You wait for the high tides to do grocery shopping or throw away your garbage. The gangways can get really steep.''

During low tides, people sometimes have to walk a 48-degree slope. When waves shake the boat, Cogswell says to her husband, Bryon, ''why don't you step outside so the boat won't rock, baby?''

Although the Cogswells started living on a boat 15 years ago because it is cheaper, it has become a matter of lifestyle. Their daughter, Shawna, grew up living on a boat. The family of three moved into bigger boats three times to accommodate the growing family and more belongings. Now they live with three dogs in a two-cabin boat named Shawna Marie.

''My classmates think it is cool that I live on a boat,'' said Shawna, 11.

Living on a boat may be cheaper, but it demands work.

''Every year, you have to paint the bottom of the boat. And I usually work on the boat the whole winter so we can go fishing in the summer,'' said Bryon Cogswell, 39.

Linda Kadrlik, who owns a 32-foot fishing boat and a 106-foot ship Valkyrie, said ''a boat is a hole in the water which you pour your money into.''

''But it's a labor of love,'' said Kadrlik, who has lived on Valkyrie with her husband, Francis, for six years.

Liveaboards have created a unique community of their own.

''We all know each other, and we watch out for each other,'' Scougale said. ''When I built my boat, I lived in Montana Creek for three years. I only knew one neighbor, because he was interested in my boat. When I moved back to the harbor, I got to know everybody in two weeks.''

Although liveaboards are a close community, it has been difficult to keep a liveaboard association.

''We get together when we don't agree with the Docks and Harbors Board's policies,'' Scougale said. ''We all have different boats and needs. The only thing we can agree on is not to raise the fee.''

Most recently, liveaboards got together to protest the city's flat electrical rate.

Woodrow Fralix, who moved into a boat after camping in the woods for two months, sang a Beach Boys song to express his dissatisfaction: ''Oh, Sheriff John Stone, why won't you leave us alone?''

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