Newly married, couple in their 60s to sail into sunset Refurbished boat becomes a home

July 14, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

At 66, you don't mince words. When Harvey Greenwell met Mary Harris in Arnold last year, he told the 64-year-old he planned to buy a boat and live on it.

She married him anyway.

Now the newlyweds are preparing to sail into the sunset -- literally.

The couple bought a 57-foot wooden boat in October, married last month, and expect to have the craft ready by November. They intend to cruise south, stopping in the Carolinas and Florida, then head for the Caribbean. Next year, they'll journey up the Hudson River.

"People think we're crazy," says Mr. Greenwell, whose bones are getting a bit stiff. "Crazy old coots. And we probably are!"

Some might consider living out your life on a boat a departure from typical retirement. The couple's 10 children from previous marriages are aghast, they report.

"My daughter says, 'But mother, it could sink!' " says Mrs. Greenwell.

But, responds Mr. Greenwell, a feisty seaman with a white mustache and piercing eyes: "You can fight [boredom], or you can surrender. We're not ready to haul up the white flag yet."

Says his wife: "Senior centers are wonderful, but learning to whittle on ducks is not my thing."

Hauling lines and repairing decks, however, suits the former sales representative and political activist, who for years served on the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals and once ran unsuccessfully for the County Council.

For Mr. Greenwell, a retired engineer and vice president of Earth Laboratory, a company that tests soils for engineers, the Chris Craft cruiser fulfills a lifelong dream.

He had boat-shopped for years, finally finding the Doo Dah II at an auction, where prices tend to be "more realistic", Mr. Greenwell says. The boat was in poor shape, with a rotting cabin top, peeling wallpaper and shabby staterooms.

"Oh, it was awful," says Mr. Greenwell. "But it had the space we felt we needed. Neither of us is very agile anymore."

His new bride interrupts. "Oh, we are too!" she chides.

He laughs. "Well, you are."

Mr. Greenwell served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His knowledge of engineering enabled him to overhaul the engine, and he taught himself to do wood-working.

Mrs. Greenwell learned to handle lines and help with docking, and put in many hours sanding floors and refurbishing cabins.

The results are charming, almost too charming for Mr. Greenwell, who complains that it looks like a house. An enclosed deck in the stern exudes gentility from its Queen Anne chairs to its paisley-covered sofa. A large palm lends a Victorian touch. There are hardwood floors, wicker end tables and stereo equipment.

The boat's second level contains an antique dining room table and a blue-and-white galley, complete with washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator and freezer.

Mrs. Greenwell calls the space the "salon."

Mr. Greenwell interrupts her.

"It's the saloon. I keep telling you, it's a saloon, not a salon!" He shakes his head.

Off the master bathroom, or "head," is a sauna. Guest cabins are papered in blue and white; the master stateroom in cream, with a television and oil paintings. The couple's favorite spot is the upper deck "patio," where they grill, dine and sunbathe.

The Greenwells are not wealthy, they insist.

Says Mrs. Greenwell: "We don't have a great deal. But we're making the most of what we have. The economy won't allow us to live graciously up here."

If boaters ignore nightclubs and restaurants while cruising, boating can be relatively inexpensive, the Greenwells say. Winter electricity bills, which can run $200 to $300 a month, are the biggest expense. Diesel fuel also runs up a quick tab, at $1 for each nautical mile.

But docking isn't too costly. Right now, the Doo Dah is docked at Oak Grove Marina on the South River near Annapolis, a simple and safe place, the Greenwells say.

Stopping at places such as St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is also inexpensive, because the island is the site of a national park, Mr. Greenwell explains.

The Greenwells see their seaward journey as the only way they could afford to live in relative luxury.

"We didn't have much choice," she says. "We couldn't buy a house on the waterfront or anything like that. And assistance for seniors is practically nil unless you're impoverished."

Buying an affordable boat is not easy, says Mr. Greenwell.

"You have to persevere. You can find a suitable wood boat for $20,000 if you want do do a lot of renovation," but banks typically will not finance wooden boats. Sometimes parts are not available and you have to make them yourself.

"You have to know something about engines, woodwork and structure," he says. "And you'd better like hard work, crawling around this thing."

From the moment a mutual friend introduced the couple, the Greenwells have declined to take it easy.

The day they married, she relates, "we went to the courthouse and then to the Maryland Inn for lunch. Then we went to Hechinger's and came back and worked."

Mr. Greenwell lived on the boat last winter to save commuting time. His fiancee sold her condo and moved onto the boat in

May.

There's plenty of work left, and Mr. Greenwell is still "trying to get up the courage to throw his three-piece suits away," he says.

His new bride's only worry is getting stuck in unfriendly waters somewhere.

Teases Mr. Greenwell: "Ah, the natives will be restless and charging, and the engine won't start!

"If you're seeking security, you have to compromise on a boat," he says, his eyes twinkling.

"But that's the joy of it -- the danger. That's life."

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