They're called live-aboards, simply enough. Not to be confused with those who vacation in Charleston aboard their luxury yachts, these are the men and women who live here year-round, but choose to do so off dry land on a boat.
Doug Florian grew up in south Florida, but it wasn't until high school that he first stepped aboard a sail boat after he was selected as one of two dozen kids to take part in a marine biology class in Key West. An anatomy and physiology teacher at Trident Technical College, Florian has called his 1972 Pearson 33 home since fall of 2011. He was just returning to Charleston after spending some time in Florida helping his mother recover from a serious car crash that left her with two broken legs. Looking at the local prices for housing, Florian found it more affordable to buy a boat and live aboard rather than deal with the hassle of finding an apartment or home-buying. While his path to becoming a live-aboard was mainly a matter of finances, what he found along the docks of the Charleston City Marina was a caring group of boaters willing to look out for one another.
"It was an affordable option for me, but through that I met an incredible community with regards to the people here sailing and so forth," says Florian, who became an officer with the Charleston Ocean Racing Association after moving onto his boat. "It's an amazingly tight-knit community. If something goes wrong, somebody has an issue, or something comes up, there's always someone to look after you."
As of February, the annual dockage rate for Florian's section of the marina is $14.25 per foot, per month based on length of dock or vessel, whichever is greater. There is also a $2,100 annual live-aboard fee. If you have a 30-foot boat, this equals out to about $600 per month for rent, but the annual rate also includes water, cable TV, electricity, and wifi, which doesn't sound like such a bad deal when considering prices on the peninsula.
As far as the day-to-day necessities, Florian's floating abode has everything one might need — full plumbing, two showers, as well as a stove and oven. If he knows bad weather is on the way, Florian makes sure to fill up on fresh water before the storm hits. Sometimes he'll set a few crab traps overboard to catch dinner, which is about as fresh as you can get. The marina provides laundry facilities, as long as you don't mind the walk, but for some live-aboards making their way down the docks on the right day can be the best part of life at the marina.
"The walk up the dock in the morning, if it's not raining or hot or anything like that, it's really nice sometimes. It's almost like therapy," says Tripp Paterson, who resides aboard his Catalina 37. "You have the dolphins hopping around beside you. All the life you can see looking down into the water, it's like a decompression time."
Paterson grew up in the Greenville/Spartanburg area and moved to Charleston in 2002. Following his divorce about three years ago, he decided to downsize and try out life on the water.
"Living on a boat is a lot different than going out on one every now and then, so it's a pretty big transition. But it definitely has its advantages," he says. "Everybody has the same problems out here. It's kind of the same hassles you go through. There's kind of a family atmosphere out here at times, which is neat to be as diverse a group of people as it is."
Paterson grew up on boats, but was nervous at first when he started to entertain the idea of living on one. Some nights aboard the Goldrush, when the wind is blowing against the dock, he can hear the fenders creak and the rigging clang against the mast.
"Sometimes you hear that all night long. You wake up the next morning and try to figure out whose boat it was, so you can fix it," he says.
But for Paterson, Florian, and all the other live-aboards in Charleston, these are just the minor quirks and annoyances that go along with having your home on the water and living among those who do the same.
"I had very simple aspirations in terms of just having some living space when I got the boat," says Florian. "But through it, I learned to sail, got plugged into everybody who just loves sailing, and people look after each other here."