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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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Escaping the rat race for simplicity, peace of mind

Barn swallow aerobatics are entertaining.

by Tom Chillemi

The rhythm of the river is calming. Water soothes the rough edges of hectic worlds. People are naturally happy around water. Things move slower at the shore. A respite at the Rivah is rejuvenating, and it can be hard to leave. Some have chosen to stay near water.

While many live on shore, others have found a better way of life living “off shore” on the water in boats. For them, the simple pleasures are always close at hand. They have found peace.

I was looking for someone who lives on the water when I found “Mister E” His full name remains a mystery.

Mister E found a river that’s to his liking where he docks his old houseboat. Its paint is faded. On the flybridge is an over-stuffed reclining chair. It’s red, and it swivels. The captain could pilot the boat from this chair, but it’s been a long time since it was used for that. At 46 years of age, there is some doubt if this boat could move under its own power. No matter, where would Mister E go that’s better.

From the top deck he looks out on a sheltered river. Among his neighbors are osprey, great blue heron and a bald eagle’s nest. Barn swallows chirp as they zig-zag to catch flying insects, and perch, lined up in a row, on a beam. 

The early sun will just about reach his top deck. He can fish any time he wants; a stack of poles is at the ready. 

The front porch of his 1970 Pacemaker houseboat looks like the entrance to any house, with a few items left to be put away later.

Mister E has distilled his life to its essence.

His dog Freedom lies at his bare feet as Mister E explains that money is the root of all evil. 


When the oilfields dried up in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s, Mister E and a buddy, while blindfolded, threw two darts at a map of the East Coast. One dart stuck at Virginia Beach. And so they set off in an aging van, like explorers seeking a better life, and landed in Tidewater Virginia. 


What happened during his next 30 years? His life got complicated by family, kids, a mortgage and working as an electrical contractor. The recession and his divorce in 2009 led him to his home on the water—a refuge from “on-shore” problems. “I have come to a new understanding of life and the purpose for which we live,” he wrote in an email. “In my mind’s eye I was reborn, a new person, leaving the old behind and foraging ahead.

“Money is the root of all evil in this world. It is an addiction I have conquered!”

Mister E “played the game” for 45 years . . . “living to work” and straining under the yoke of debt until it all collapsed about 2008.

After moving to his 35-foot boat in 2010, Mister E kept some “stuff” in a storage building. But after 4 years he let go of things he no longer needed.

He gave much away to his children and ex-wife; it wasn’t worth fighting about, he said. “I’ve seen families torn apart fighting about junk.”

Too much is not enough

There are some things Mister E likes in the on-shore world. “But I’m not willing to sacrifice what I have to get them. I like this. I’m not going back.”

He said people work for their material things, which often times leaves them unsatisfied.

“Do you ever see people that think they have enough?” he asked, adding that many of the boats around him are rarely used because the owners have no time. People work all year for a week or two of vacation, he noted.

“When do you reach success? When do you have enough stuff?” It’s a cycle without end for some, said Mister E.

Mister E expanded on the cost of living and all the expenses associated with a home. “You never really own your house.”

I bet his “floating home” is paid for.

There’s 450 square feet of living space on Rebel Yell, which is 42 feet long.

Sometimes a deal finds you
Brandon Taylor of Urbanna was a motivated boat buyer in the fall of 2015 when a 42-foot Trojan came his way. Selling the 1968 wooden boat named Rebel Yell was the owner of King’s Dominion, who named the boat after the roller coaster at his park.

Taylor was motivated for another reason. Staying with his family was a visitor that wouldn’t leave. So, when a boat big enough to be a floating home came along last November, he took a chance and bought it. “We kind of fell into it.”

They gave up the lease on their house, and Taylor, his wife Christine, their 7-year-old daughter Kayleigh and son Bradley spent last winter and spring on Rebel Yell. The visitor found another place to live.

Asked what it was like living aboard a boat, Taylor quickly answered, “It’s the best sleep in the world.” The gentle rhythm of the boat lulls him into a sound sleep, he noted.

It is quiet and there are always breezes, sunrises and sunsets across the water.

They love sitting on the bow in their covered slip and watch lightning flash and listen to thunder roll.

Water is calming. Fellow boaters at marina made friends. “It’s like a close knit family,” Brandon explained. “Every weekend is a party.” 

Boating people are always eager to lend a hand if you need it, he said.

Their daughter loved the boat and chose nautical toys such as fish and dolphin.

Measuring 48 feet overall and 14.5 feet wide, Rebel Yell has about 450 square feet of living space. Due to its economical size, they are able to keep it comfortably warm all winter. 

Wintering on a boat has challenges, such as when the marina water is turned off so it won’t freeze. Brandon uses a hose to fill his boat’s holding tank with water to shower and flush.

The slip fee and electricity total about $425 a month, Brandon said. “You can’t rent a house for that.”

And it’s waterfront to boot.

The Barnacle serves hot breakfast and lunch on weekends at Mobjack Bay Marina on the North River in Mathews.

Come and get it
If you are on the Mobjack Bay and get hungry you can head up the North River to Mobjack Bay Marina and The Barnacle, a 40-foot floating concession stand serving hot breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Owner Bambi Parker of Mathews always wanted a restaurant on the water, and that’s just what she has. Boatyard manager Danny Reid built the restaurant with the help of his brother David. Starting with a pontoon base, they added walls, roof, and screened-in porch, then outfitted the interior with a full kitchen, all to health department specifications, said Bambi.

The menu includes homemade biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, pancakes and fried apples, and weekly lunch specials featuring smoked pulled pork with homemade cole slaw, and homemade crab cakes, she said.

Picnic tables with a sunbrella are nearby.

The Barnacle can be contacted at (804) 363-4600. 

posted 09.01.2016

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