This couple paid $150,000 for a motor yacht and moved in
Who they are: Karyna McLaren, a 31-year-old senior project manager at a private label manufacturer, and Francois Byrne, the 31-year-old owner of the clean tech company Hybrid Power Solutions
What they bought: Liberté, a 50-foot Bayliner 4588 motor yacht, for $150,000
What it’s costing them: $2,000 for an annual boat club membership fee, $5,000 for summer and winter docking, $1,500 a year for insurance and $2,000 a year for maintenance
—As told to Jessica Lee
Francois: “Karyna and I met in kindergarten in Mississauga, but it wasn’t till Grade 6 that we became friends. We dated on and off during high school and university, and we’ve been together for 11 years now.
“I’ve always been frustrated with housing prices in the GTA. The prices of condos or detached homes baffle me. After a few years of living and studying in Australia, we moved back to the city in November 2015, and the prices were going up like crazy. I thought, There’s got to be a better way.
“I turned to Karyna and said ‘I’ve got a great idea. Let’s buy a crappy sailboat, fix it up and live on it.’ I’d been driving boats at my parents’ cottage since I was eight or nine years old. She shut me down right away, because she didn’t want to live on a boat, so we continued to live at our parents’ places. We lived at Karyna’s parents’ place in Oakville and then with my parents near Square One.
“In 2018, we went sailing near Oakville for a weekend and spotted a big houseboat. Karyna said, ‘I could live on that. It looks like a normal house with sliding doors, and you don’t have to go down into the hull like a sailboat.’ And so we started looking for boats after that. We thought, We’ll give it a year, and if we hate it, we’ll sell it. We put in offers on two boats before seeing this one on a work trip to Ottawa.
“As a first time boat buyer, I had no idea what you should be looking for. We got really lucky that we landed on a boat that was maintained really well, and the seller wanted to show me more of the state of the mechanics than I wanted to see. We bought Liberté in October 2018, but it was in Ottawa and the Rideau Canal had closed for the season.
“The following summer, it took us seven days to complete the 400-kilometre trip back to Toronto. We had to pass through 40 locks. The guy who sold us our boat did the first two to three hours with us. He showed us how to do two locks, and I did two locks while he watched. Then, we were on our own. All I could think about was that I purchased this $150,000 boat, and it was now all in my hands. I was so stressed out, but I put on a brave face and thankfully there were no hiccups. We made it to Toronto safe and sound.
“We parked at Mimico Cruising Club, moved in and fell in love with living on the water. The interior of the boat is a lot like a 500-square-foot condo. There’s a lounge and kitchen area, two bedrooms, washer and dryer, and a washroom with a shower. But the way our boat is laid out, there’s a lot more privacy. I can go up to the deck and Karyna can be downstairs, so we both have our own spaces. In a condo you just don’t have that luxury.
“Our boat feels like coming home to a vacation, every single day. Our productivity went down the first two months because we were so relaxed. Instead of working in the evenings, we would have a glass of wine outside. Karyna had always wanted a dog, so in July 2019, we adopted our mixed-breed, Clarkie.
“We went on a few day trips to the Toronto Islands but mostly stayed put that first summer. We’d bring a battery pack from my company, which hooks up to the main power of the boat, and we also had solar panels for electricity. To keep warm in the winter, we have insulated, reusable tarps that go over the top of the boat, and we have a second layer of reusable vinyl on the windows and regular electricity in the winter for heating.
“One of the challenges was figuring out how we would be able to take 20-minute hot showers and do our laundry on board. It was easy in the summer when we had access to municipal water. But the pipes can freeze during the winter, so we needed to fill up the tanks ourselves every three to four days, which was a lot. In April 2020, we called up a filtration company out of Richmond Hill. They created a water-filtration system that sucks up water straight from the lake, filters out pollutants and has a UV light filter that kills bacteria. Now, we have infinite water because it comes straight from the lake. On top of that, we have a drinking water spout that has another four-step filtration system. The water is delicious, and we get it tested regularly.
“Before Covid, we’d travel by plane a dozen times a year for vacations and business trips. But when the pandemic hit and travelling was difficult, living on a boat really helped with our mental state. We had this beautiful place where we could relax, even if everything else was crazy.
“We’re fair-weather boaters, which means it needs to be very nice and calm before we’ll go out on the water. And Liberté is a very tall boat, so we get a lot of sway. Once, in July 2020, we were at Ward’s Island on a particularly windy evening. By nighttime, the winds and waves were pushing us ashore, so we couldn’t anchor. We decided to make our way back to the marina. Lake Ontario doesn’t feel big until you get on it in the middle of the night with really big waves. Then it feels like an ocean—very dangerous.
“The boat was swaying and our books and our plants were flying all over the place. It was nerve-wracking and stressful, even though we knew the situation was under control because the boat could handle the sway. Clarkie was on the bottom level, and he was freaking out. We were so happy to make it back safely to the marina that night.
“Those kinds of scares are rare, though. Moving onto a boat is the best decision we’ve ever made. We love the location, the freedom and being able to have a drink in the front of the boat while watching the sunset on a random Tuesday. It feels like the weekend all the time. A few weeks ago, we decided to go to the Islands after work on a whim. We picked up groceries and untied the lines, and we were on our way.
“There’s so many people who tell us, ‘This is so cool, I wish I could do this.’ It’s funny because it’s more affordable than a condo or a house. I wish more people would step outside of their comfort zone. You’ll always regret the decision you didn’t make.
“We’d like to buy an investment property one day, but have no plans to live on land. We’re not in any rush. We’re looking at Hamilton and Barrie, keeping our eye on the market. Someday, we’d love to buy a catamaran and sail around the world. We’re going to be life-long boat people.”