Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes

Come Sail Away

Some Torontonians are ditching their condos and cottages for life on water. Here, boat owners on why they love their floating homes

By Iris Benaroia| Photography by Kayla Rocca and Nathan Cyprys
| August 9, 2023

The Lifetime Boaters


Who: Paul Bedford and Laura Alderson Boat: A 42-foot 1989 Grand Banks trawler yacht Where: Toronto Island Marina


When they met in 2008 at U of T’s Hart House, Laura Alderson and Paul Bedford found that they shared an enthusiasm for boats. As a child, Laura would visit her uncles’ cottages in the Kawarthas, where they had small motorboats. “That was the highlight of the cottage experience for me,” she says. Paul’s father had owned two boats in his hometown of Oakville. At age 12, Paul puttered around Sixteen Mile Creek on a cedar strip boat he bought for $100 with paper-route money. (His dad chipped in for a 10-horsepower outboard motor.)

Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes

Five years ago, the couple decided to get a boat of their own and picked up a teak-filled trawler yacht in Parry Sound. “She’s my retirement project,” says Paul of Grand Plan, his fifth and favourite boat. During the warmer months, the couple uses the yacht as a cottage and spends as much time aboard as possible. “We’ll go home to get the mail or if the weather is lousy,” says Laura. They like the added bonus of skipping a long drive up north. They usually bike or walk from their condo at Yonge and Davenport to the waterfront.

Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes

When they don’t feel like cooking, they have dinner at the marina’s Upper Deck Bar. “We also like biking to the Island Café on Ward’s Island, where they grow their own vegetables,” says Laura. During the pandemic, their floating recreational home was a refreshing alternative to their downtown condo with its tiny balcony. “I have an office on the boat, and we have internet and watch TV,” Laura says. Paul enjoys refreshing the boat’s teak exterior, which was grey when they bought it. “I find hand-sanding the wood therapeutic and satisfying,” he says.

Related: This man’s floating home is at the centre of a cottage country feud

The couple has no plans to leave the water any time soon. “When we come across the harbour, any stress just evaporates,” Paul says. “You’re on an island, but with the city sprawled out in front of you—it’s peaceful.”

Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
“I’ve always loved the romance of owning an old wooden boat,” says Laura. “When we started looking, Paul, who knows how hard they are to maintain, said, ‘I know a boat that is fibreglass but still has enough wood to keep you busy”
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Coastal blues and whites give the boat a nautical feel
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
This grassy area is right in front of the couple’s boat at the marina. Muskoka chairs and a firepit mimic the cottage experience

 


The Artful Lodger


Who: Jamie Shannon and his Norwegian forest cat, Buddy Boat: A 42-foot 1989 Grand Banks trawler yacht Where: Toronto Island Marina
For the past 12 years, Jamie Shannon has been bouncing between his rowhouse in Kensington Market and his artist’s studio on the Toronto Islands. Jamie was the co-creator of Nanalan’, an erstwhile CBC children’s puppet series. Now, he’s the artist behind Puppet Island, which supplies high-end custom puppets for movies, brands and television.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
After years of ferrying across the lake to his workshop, Jamie bought an old boat from the island’s lighthouse keeper, Manuel Cappel, in 2012. “All the wood was rotting, so he sold it to me for $1,500,” Jamie says. It was named Girlfriend. He loved the boating life so much that, in 2019, he decided to purchase a second craft. La Ola Verde, Spanish for “the green wave,” is an upgrade from the beater. It sleeps six and has a kitchen, a toilet and a cold-water shower. Jamie bought it in Thornbury, Ontario, for $40,000, then took it on a two-week trip down the locks of the Trent-Severn with his dad and a friend.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Last year, Jamie decided that he wanted to be near his workshop full time. He rented out his Kensington Market digs for extra income, and he and Buddy moved aboard the vessel for six months. This year, he’s spending as much time aboard as possible and going on spontaneous outings with his pals. “The other day, some friends and I parked in the bay, played music and had a barbecue,” he says. Owning a boat has been joyful for Jamie. “I love the calmness of being on the water, and I love that I can drive my house around.” Still, the good life takes effort. “You have to fix a million things. I knew that, if I had a boat, I would never stop moving. I accept that,” Jamie says. “I don’t get worked up about always wiping, fixing and painting. It’s like owning a VW van. Your life is about making the thing work—and then there’s my real job as a puppeteer.”
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The boat, which can sleep six, has various compartments and features that can be reconfigured: there’s a double bed, a single berth, a smaller double berth and a double sofa
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The Optimus cooker (an oven) burns natural gas. The boat also has a Nova Cool fridge
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
“I put together gangs of good people and boat around,” Jamie says. “It’s a lovely life of the outdoors, community and authenticity.” He hangs out on the deck with friends and family, listening to music and enjoying home-cooked meals
 

The Floating Family


Who: Deb Francey, Andy Oakes and their 14-year-old son, Henry Boat: A 44-foot 1980 Gulfstar Where: Queen City Yacht Club
The year after Deb and Andy got married, in 2007, Andy asked her if she’d like to live on a boat full time. The couple owned a day sailboat and a condo at Village by the Grange, but they craved a greater sense of belonging. “The yacht club is very community-minded—that’s why we gravitated toward this lifestyle,” says Andy.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Andy is a mobile boat mechanic, which means he tootles around the island in a dinghy repairing people’s cabin cruisers. An aquatic apartment suited him perfectly. Deb figured she’d try it out. So Andy started looking for a bigger watercraft in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I found out I was pregnant in March of 2008, the day Andy saw a model of the boat we ended up buying,” says Deb. She joined him in Florida to live on it for five months while the couple rented out their condo. Then they flew to Toronto for Henry’s birth, before zipping back to Florida three months later to sail home with their two dogs and baby in tow. “People thought we were crazy,” Deb says. By the time Henry was old enough to waddle around the cabin, the couple had splurged on a roomier vessel. In September of 2010, they sold their condo and picked up Sassy II in Annapolis, Maryland, for $72,000 (US). They took three weeks to sail the boat back to Toronto—and it’s been their permanent home ever since.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Living on the island has been enriching. “I step outside in the morning and watch the swans swim by,” Deb says. Andy adds, “It’s like camping every day—but with amenities.” On weekdays, Deb and Henry take the ferry and TTC to work and school. On weeknights, they take after-dinner walks on the island and soak in the city skyline. Henry’s school pals get a kick out of coming over. “He’s said that, when he’s older, he’ll buy a boat and dock it next to ours,” Deb says.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Deb’s mom likes to find unique nautical gifts for the family. This scroll showing different knots came from her
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
This is the main salon, which functions as a living room. The boat also has two bedrooms
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
“I was always a gearhead,” Andy says. “Unless you’re rich, you have to know how to fix your boat”
 

The Neophytes


Who: Gary and Rita Bates Boat: A 43-foot Galeon 430 HTC Where: Oakville Power Boat Club
During the pandemic, Gary decided he needed a boat. The idea came from watching YouTube videos of people blithely sailing around the world. But Gary, a semi-retired entrepreneur who lives in Oakville, wasn’t looking for a Magellan-scale exploit.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
He wanted a spacious motorized vessel equipped with chichi comforts: advanced technology to make navigation easier, room to store electric bikes and a propane barbecue, and a stateroom he could stand up in. Rita was onboard with the idea. “We’ve always been adventurous, both in our businesses and in our personal lives,” she says. “We’re not afraid to try new things.” Rita is pursuing a PhD in literary and critical studies through the University of Gloucestershire, and the idea of completing the remote course on a boat was appealing. “We wanted to be able to live on the boat all summer,” she says. The couple had owned smaller boats, including a Crownline motorboat, but nothing you could sleep on.
So, in January of 2021, Rita and Gary popped into the St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show, in Florida, to check out their options. A sleek cruiser yacht caught their attention. “We fell in love with it,” says Gary. “It’s our two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on the water.”
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Made in Poland, the brand new $1.3-million craft was shipped from Europe to Washington, DC, before being dropped at Neptunus Yachts in St. Catharines. Liquid Asset, as the couple wryly named the boat, is stored at the St. Catharines facility over the winter, at a cost of $9,000 to $10,000 a year. “The boat club is the most fun part of owning a boat,” says Rita. “We’ve met great people—we spend more time there than we do on the water.” At first, boat ownership was something to keep the couple busy during the pandemic, but now it’s their lifestyle. “We ended up loving it way more than we thought we would,” Rita says.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The boat has a huge sunroof that opens up above the helm, making the interior seem even larger. “We often travel to different marinas around the GTA for short staycations,” Rita says
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Storage is a luxury when travelling. Some marinas aren’t within walking distance of grocery stores, and fridge space is limited. “We usually pack our scooters and use them to get around once we’re docked,” says Rita. “We also pack a small propane barbecue, even though the boat has an oven, because we love cooking outdoors”
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The main stateroom has a queen bed, and the second room has two twin beds
 

 The Mobile Cottagers


Who: Dale Christensen and Cathy Geddes Boat: A 49-foot Eastbay Grand Banks yacht Where: Toronto Island Marina
Dale and Cathy met in California 19 years ago. Cathy, a Canadian citizen, was working for a dental manufacturing company in San Diego, and Dale, who is American, co-owned a real estate development business there.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The couple got married in Palm Springs in 2006. During their courtship, Cathy took Dale to Toronto and Georgian Bay, where her family has cottages. “I fell in love with the waterways,” Dale says. He had grown up boating on the Missouri River, where the water tends to be muddy and fast, but he had never been on the Great Lakes. The couple ended up buying a cottage on an island in Parry Sound as well as a small motorboat. But, after eight years, the upkeep became too much, and they sold the cottage. As an alternative, Cathy suggested that they buy a boat they could live on for weeks at a time. Their first boat was a 37-foot trawler. They spent summers on it in Parry Sound, periodically popping into family members’ cottages. Cathy liked the freewheeling pack-up-and-go nature of their cottage on the water.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Today, they’re on their third boat, a teak-laden vessel called Blue on Blue, which they purchased in Maryland in early 2022. “It’s better than any condo in the city,” Cathy says. The teak fridge and freezer were filthy when they bought the boat, but Cathy refused to ditch them. She spent hours scrubbing them to preserve the boat’s history. Vintage details aside, the vessel also has modern frills, like air conditioning and an induction cooktop. They live on the boat from April to September, returning to their condo, near St. Lawrence Market, only when it rains for days. The couple spends the rest of the year in San Diego, but they’re always excited to get back north of the border. “The convivial island community and cottage-within- a-city lifestyle are unparalleled,” says Dale.
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
The bar area has built-in teak cup holders, a built-in cutting board and vintage drinking glasses as well as navy and white upholstery. “It’s very nautical,” Cathy says
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
Cathy and Dale routinely have happy hours with other marina members. “A brass bell gets rung, and we take our drinks over to a grassy area for charcuterie boards,” Cathy says
Inside Toronto boat owners' decked-out floating homes
“This boat is a labour of love and restoration, like an Airtream trailer,” Cathy says. “We wanted a boat with a teak interior. We’re always working to maintain its integrity and make it look good”
 

NEVER MISS A TORONTO LIFE STORY

Sign up for The Vault, our free newsletter with unforgettable long reads from our archives.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy.
You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The Latest

Surreal Estate: $1.4 million to live in a historic former school in Aurora
Real Estate

Surreal Estate: $1.4 million to live in a historic former school in Aurora