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Onboard lifestyle brings daily adventures

Joe, Claire and Cruisin spend most of their time on the aft deck.

by Audrey Thomasson

Joe and Claire Monroe loved boating so much, they shed their ties to land and moved aboard their boat. That was four boats and 29 years ago.

Now, whim and scenic shoreline determine where these vagabonds call home. From cruising up the Hudson River to Albany, N.Y., to fishing in the tropical waters off the Florida Keys, America’s Atlantic coastline is their backyard.

They say more than half the fun is getting there as they travel leisurely with dolphins and a variety of birds.

“I like the fact I take my home wherever I go...I don’t have to pack my clothes,” said Claire.

And choosing among all the perfect coastal settings is not a problem: They just pull up anchor and head to the next location.

The couple anchored in the Florida Keys for nearly five years and spent another 15 on Florida’s west coast near Venice, where for 12 years they ran Nautical Trader, dealing in quality used boat items. For four years they docked at Kent Island, Md., across the Bay Bridge from their former Annapolis home, and then it was off to New Bern, N.C., for a year.

A celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary at the Tides Inn put the Rappahannock River on their radar. They now live aboard CJ at Yankee Point Marina off the Corrotoman River. While the location is convenient to grandchildren in the D.C. area, they also love the beauty and history of the Northern Neck.

Claire’s galley features a full-size refrigerator and pantry. Joe is the dishwasher.

Land-based necessities such as grocery shopping and tailgating at football games at Joe’s alma-mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, require a car. When they cruise to a new location, they simply rent a car in order to return and pick up their vehicle.

Life onboard
Giving up a house means giving up room for stuff, even on a comfortable 44-foot Viking motor yacht with two bedrooms and two baths.

“Winter coats take up a lot of room,” said Claire, pointing out the guest shower stall which doubles as a coat closet in winter. A storage unit at the marina offers extra space for off-season clothing and supplies.

This year’s bone-chilling weather did not dampen their enthusiasm for living on the water, thanks to the marina for supplying an agitator that keeps the water moving around the hull so it doesn’t freeze. An electric fireplace in the salon radiates enough heat to keep the cabin toasty warm. Gleaming wood paneling embraces a room that has all the comforts of home—only in a smaller space.

Joe says they opted out of built-in furniture from the boat’s manufacturer and equipped their indoor living space with a leather love seat, secretary desk, trunk and other personal pieces that make it homey. Only the desk and a lamp must be secured when they venture out of port, which they say is often.

The dining area converts into a big bed to accommodate a third sleeping area for grandkids. What better way to spend summertime with grandparents than living in bathing suits and T-shirts, enjoying waffles on the aft deck while overlooking a coastal paradise filled with wildlife?

The couple is big on kayaking, and while Claire loves to ride her bicycle, Joe exercises on a rowing machine he keeps at the marina. They also work out at the YMCA.

The stateroom easily accommodates a queen bed and plenty of storage.

Sunsets don’t get any better than when they reflect off the water. And while waterfront homeowners are looking out at the river, live-aboards are gazing back at shore.

When it comes to bad weather, the Monroes don’t take chances, seeking safe harbor or occasionally having the boat hauled out of the water for hurricanes—a cost partially covered by insurance.

Every day brings another adventure, some good, some not so good, but always an entertaining story to be told later.

In Palmetto, Fla., he and Claire were awakened by police pounding on the side of the boat wanting to commandeer their dinghy to look for someone who had jumped off the bridge. The former naval officer allowed them to use the dinghy—but only under his command.

The family worked as a team when two intruders boarded the craft one night looking for easy pickings. The dog growled, Joe cornered them on deck and Claire called the law. Another time, he and his son chased thieves off the boat but stopped short when the intruders joined a large group of people partying in the woods. Once the police arrived, the culprits were identified and arrested. Police dogs recovered the stolen articles along the escape route. However, cops advised Joe to put on some pants.

“I am awesome in my skivvies,” Joe brags about such late night adventures.

He notes marinas like having people who live aboard their boat because they keep watch over the other boats.

Cruisin stares down manatees and other intruders.

An important family member is Cruisin, their water-loving Cairn terrier. Cruisin is the ship watchdog, entertainer and official greeter, whether a visitor arrives by dock or by water.

Once when they were out on the dinghy, a manatee swam under the small boat to the other side and rose up to look inside at the occupants. Cruisin and the manatee shared a nose-to-nose moment as they checked each other out. “There’s never a camera around when you need it,” said Claire.

Living simple
There is peace to giving up much of your possessions and living a simpler life on the water.

The Monroes didn’t have a second thought to unloading a washer and dryer in the kitchen in order to have a shipboard pantry. Now laundry is done on the aft deck in a single unit that washes and dries.

Claire was willing to give up many amenities for shipboard living, except one. It was only after Joe promised to be her dish washer that she agreed to a life at sea.

“He’s lived up to his promise, but not without complaining every meal about why it takes so many pots and pans,” said Claire.

Not every problem is solved so easily. The rising price of diesel fuel has cooled their twin engines somewhat. As far as boat maintenance, it helps that Joe is very handy. He does most the repairs except heavy duty engine work and he closely follows the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance program.

Some of the best aspects of their life-style are having plenty of time to read and meeting so many great people. Boat-dwellers in the Florida Keys are very different from those in the D.C. area. Conversations are completely different, says Claire.

While they may float from place to place, Joe and Claire are very much grounded when it comes to good causes. Currently, they are working with Yankee Point Marina owners Ken and Karen Knull on a sailing regatta in the fall to benefit the Independence Fund, which provides mobility to veterans who lost limbs in the war on terrorism. 

The Monroes don’t regret trading in possessions for a laid-back lifestyle at sea, turning their bow in a new direction and floating together through life’s adventures.

posted 03.20.2014

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