Home sweet boat: Bay Area residents choose to live aboard sea vessels

(Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
(Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Keith Frontz stood over the counter and poured icing over freshly baked cinnamon rolls that filled the room with a sweet, warm scent. Meanwhile, his wife, Becca Frontz, hurried to pick up laundry strewn about in different parts of the living room.

For the couple, it was another normal day at home, but their residence is unlike most. The kitchen is small—barely big enough for adults—and the living room TV is nothing more than a small tablet suspended from a support column. Hardly any natural light is able to penetrate the mail slot-sized windows along the walls.

This is all because the Frontzes live aboard a sailboat.

There are several Bay Area residents who choose to live on their boats at ports around Clear Lake. While there are similarities among such residents, they come from all walks of life, from single seniors to young couples to middle-aged parents.

The live-aboard lifestyle requires frugality, minimalism and comfort in tight spaces, but those who can handle it said they find a lot of satisfaction in living in, working from and recreating on boat residences. None of the live-aboards Community Impact Newspaper spoke to has plans to return to living on land anytime soon.


“Watching the sunset while you’re on your floating home, it’s hard to be frustrated,” Becca said.

DAILY LIFE


For Arthur Tailleur, living aboard his 50-foot sailboat is a 30-year dream come true.

The boater fell in love with the idea during a Toronto boat show in 1987. In 2014, he finally bought a boat in San Martin in the Caribbean Sea and took one month to sail it back to Galveston Bay to make it his permanent home.

Inside, Tailleur’s boat is similar to a small apartment. He gets electricity, air conditioning and heat through a power system he plugs into at his boat slip at Portofino Harbour Marina in Clear Lake Shores. The boat includes a bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a kitchen Tailleur has repurposed in certain ways to be more accessible in the cramped quarters.

Tailleur lives alone, which doubles how much boat space is available to him. He converted one of his bedrooms into a pantry, giving him even more room, but he is still a minimalist. After deciding decades ago he had wanted to live on a boat full time, he disciplined himself by slowing getting rid of possessions every time he moved. By the time he was ready to buy his boat, Tailleur was living in a fully furnished apartment and owned no furniture, he said.

The Frontzes are minimalists as well. Aside from the boat, the couple does not own much. They have a vehicle to run errands and get to work and a small assortment of clothes and other necessities, and that is about it. Becca even got rid of sentimental mementos before moving into the boat, knowing her memories of important events in her life are more important than the items she associated with them.

“I don’t even know what I got rid of anymore,” she said.

Keith lived aboard for two years in New Zealand before moving to Texas. It did not take much work to convince his adventurous wife to give the lifestyle a shot. They have been living on their 42-foot sailboat since May 2018.

In addition to kitchens and bedrooms, live-aboard boats have bathrooms, including showers. Keith and Becca use theirs, but Tailleur prefers to bathe at the marina’s clubhouse. Showering aboard makes the boat humid and empties its water tanks faster. The clubhouse includes a laundromat live-aboards use to wash and dry their clothes.

Spaces are tight, but some live-aboards house pets and even children. New live-aboards Alex Rodgers and Luke Escudé, who moved onto their boat in May, have a cat that spends time aboard and roams the marina outside. Tailleur and the Frontzes do not have children living aboard but know other sailors who have raised well-adjusted children on boats, they said.

A common theme among live-aboards is the money saved with their chosen lifestyle. They pay about $450 a month to rent boat slips at the marina, and their electricity bills are comparable or even cheaper than living in an apartment, they said.

“You get an ocean view for about half the price,” Keith said.

However, the money they save they pour back into maintaining their boats, which is constant work. The Frontzes spent $28,000 buying their boat but have spent at least $40,000 maintaining and fixing it, they said. Tailleur said it helps to be handy.

“I do pretty much everything myself. Otherwise it gets really expensive,” he said. “The whole idea is to be as frugal as possible.”

Rodgers and Escudé agreed.

“We’ve learned plumbing and electricity and all sort of interesting skills we never thought we’d have,” Escudé said.

WORK AND PLAY


Despite being only 25, Rodgers and Escudé own a Dallas-based telecommunications company and use the marina’s wireless internet to operate the business from the comfort of their boat. The couple is from Dallas, but they grew tired of the hustle and bustle of the big city and opted for a quieter life aboard. Still, the couple travels once a month back to Dallas to meet with their employees and drop in on friends and family.

Tailleur and the Frontzes also mostly work from home. Tailleur, who works in the medical field, uses large suspended monitors to do computer work from his center table, and Becca, also in the medical field, has to go to the Texas Medical Center a couple times a week for meetings but otherwise works from home. Keith runs his own software company but spends a lot of his time during the week working on never-ending boat projects, he said.

When it comes to work, living on a boat reduces stress. Coming back from a hard day at the office to your home on the water is relaxing, Becca said.

“You come back here and all just kinda washes off ya,” Keith said.

One of the major advantages of living on a boat is access to a weekend away at a moment’s notice, no packing required, live-aboards said.

Keith and Becca regularly sail away overnight, oftentimes taking friends with them. Tailleur is part of a sailing group that regularly hosts social events. He will invite co-workers aboard and sail into the bay to watch the Kemah Boardwalk fireworks from the water.

Rodgers and Escudé’s boat is not yet fully seaworthy, but the two look forward to sailing around the Bahamas and other destinations before eventually ending up on the east coast. In the meantime, they still get a kick out of the social interactions they have with other boaters. Live-aboards said the marina feels like a more closely knitted community than actual neighborhoods.

“It’s more social,” Escudé said. “The sailing community is super friendly and helpful.”

Rodgers agreed, noting that having an apartment in Dallas was just a place to stay.

“Here, you actually mingle with friends,” he said of the marina. “We go to their boats, and they go to ours.”

The live-aboard life is not for everyone. There is not much room for possessions or even people. Boats require a lot of work and money to maintain. Still, Keith encouraged those who have thought about it to look into the lifestyle more.

“For those that are considering doing it, give it a try,” he said. “I think you can learn a lot about what makes you happy in life.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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