Live-aboard boaters are able to weather the storm

At City Dock in Annapolis, residents take being snowed in without losing sea legs

February 11, 2010|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Living aboard a boat during a winter storm comes with at least one advantage: no shoveling.

"We try to keep the snow," explained Frederic Lafargue, 41, a Frenchman who lives with his wife on a 42-foot sailboat moored at City Dock in Annapolis. "It insulates really well."

The new snow dumped on the capital city transformed their yacht into a floating igloo. Inside their toasty teak-paneled cabin, the only hint of the storm outside was an occasional rocking when a gust slapped the mast.

Annapolis competes with Newport, R.I., for the title of sailing capital of the nation, and residents here embrace live-aboard boaters - particularly as the snowdrifts rise. Strangers have offered Lafargue and his wife, Sarah Mabrouk, use of their cars to grocery shop. Friends invite them to dinner. Neighbors pop in.

The flurry of socializing has depleted their onboard wine cellar to a few bottles of Chateau Margaux.

"I love these conditions," said Mabrouk, 32. "It is when life occurs again. The essentials take over."

Annapolis Harbor Master Ulric Dahlgren has no official tally of the city's floating population. But he does keep a close eye on about 10 populated boats tied up at City Dock. He's worried about onboard fires caused by faulty heating systems. He's concerned about carbon-monoxide poisoning inside the cabins. "With the snow, you have to keep the vents open," he said.

Another hazard is just boarding the boat. The sidewalk along City Dock was well-plowed Wednesday, but no barrier would prevent a pedestrian from plunging into Spa Creek if he or she slipped.

Climbing onto Lafargue and Mabrouk's boat, the Wildflower, involved treading over a narrow snow-covered plank, inching around an icy post and then stepping over the water onto the slippery, snow-covered fiberglass hull.

Though the couple came and went in the morning, by noon new snowfall had completely obscured their tracks.

Mabrouk, outfitted in heavy-seas sailing gear, unlaced her boots and left them on top of the cabin before climbing inside.

Lafargue heated water for tea, a process that revealed one drawback to sailboat living in an ice storm: Condensation forms on the boat's interior and then drips. To fix the problem the couple keep a dehumidifier handy and crack open some of the portholes.

The diesel-powered heater keeps the interior warm, and the system requires only a few volts of electricity to keep warm air flowing through vents near the three staterooms, the galley, the head and the salon. Solar panels keep the batteries powered.

The small kitchen includes the essentials: a few sharp knives, a stove and a cutting board. Living aboard a boat full time means you don't keep much extra stuff, a feeling the couple enjoys.

Mabrouk, a freelance journalist, has spent her snowbound days applying for grants. Lafargue, a photographer, spent some of the morning shooting snowy Annapolis scenes.

A few slips down, John and Eve Dennis stayed aboard their 33-foot sailboat and said their biggest concern was ice. Annapolis public works crews were initially dumping excess snow into the waters of Ego Alley, said Eve Dennis.

The piles froze, creating man-made icebergs they worried would puncture their boat's hull or cause rudder damage.

Dennis wishes they'd used a heater to keep the water around the boat from freezing. Other boat owners along the dock used the device, and it was helpful.

They didn't consider leaving their boat during the storm.

"Most of the people down here are cruisers," she said. "This is their home; this is their lifestyle."


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