Living the good life aboard a boat in Bremerton

Steve Abbott lives aboard with his wife and their pug, Tuggy.  - Seraine Page
Steve Abbott lives aboard with his wife and their pug, Tuggy.
— image credit: Seraine Page

There’s nothing wrong with being a little coastal.

At least that’s the way the live aboard tenants feel who reside within the Port of Bremerton’s marinas.

“I think it’s such a neat lifestyle,” says Kathy Garcia, Port of Bremerton marina operations manager. “Boaters are generally happy people.”

With almost 600 available slips between the Port Orchard and Bremerton marinas, Garcia has 44 who are regular, live-aboard tenants who prefer sea to land. Some of the port’s tenants, like Marvin Messer, have lived on a boat for a good chunk of their lives. Messer became a live-aboard tenant back in 1984.

“I realized I was working all week, mowing the lawn all weekend,” he says of living in a regular house prior to his boat. Taking care of a house and boat was more than he bargained for, so he ended up pairing down to just a sailboat, which ended up serving as a house as well.

“I realized I could not afford a boat and a house, so I chose the boat,” he says, as if it were as simple as selecting the day’s outfit.

Messer remembers a time when his was the only boat on the pier when he first started living in the Port Orchard marina. After his divorce, he recalled looking over Puget Sound from his Manchester home and longing to be on the water.

“I looked across the sound and saw boats and thought, ‘this is silly,’” he says. “I just rather work in the boat in the sunshine and on the water.”

Most days, Messer can be found toiling around his boat, fixing things here and there until sundown.

Messer took the equity from his home and put it into a sailing boat instead. A South Seas 36, to be exact, made in Taiwan. With views of the mountains and Bremerton shipyard, Messer thinks his spot has the best scenery. The shipyard is also where he fell in love with boats, and is where he retired from just five years ago. At age 17, he started as a marine electrician. The  simple commute from the Port Orchard ferry to the Bremerton dock made renting space in the marina seem like the reasonable thing to do, he says.

“I try to keep things as simple as possible,” he says. “I have everything I need.”

Taking a peek around Messer’s cabin, it does indeed seem as though the bachelor has just about anything he would need. There’s the small stove to heat the boat in the winter. There’s a one-person kitchen in the left corner; a small dining table that will seat everyone for an impromptu family dinner, and a bed to sleep in. Messer’s laptop even takes up residence in the sailing vessel, and he’s got cable television for entertainment. Instead of hosting a dinner party, Messer says he’ll take our friends sailing.

“I think it’s really sweet,” he says of boat life. “I think this is the nicest marina anywhere, certainly on Puget Sound.”

The tight space, although large enough for him, does not accommodate anything extra, like family treasures. Nailed to the side of his boat are dozens of framed photos of his children and their families. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it won’t be found on Messer’s boat.

“If I buy a pair of socks, I have to throw one away,” he says. “I’m not a collector. Literally, there’s a place for everything.”

Other boat owners agree, but there’s even a place on some vessels for a family pet.

“A lot of our live aboards have pets,” Garcia said. She and other staff members keep special treats in the marina offices for the fur babies, she said. Several treats are available because not all pets have the same diets.

Steve Abbott, a professional painter, has lived on the water for the last five years with his wife, Wyn. The Abbotts also have a pug named Tuggy who goes wherever Mr. Abbott goes.

“He adjusted really well,” Abbott says of his dog. “He stays by my side.” With plenty of space to roam, Tuggy has options when it comes to where he will sleep. On one particularly bright afternoon, he found a splash of sunlight streaming through the boat’s window and placed himself in the center of the golden stream. The slight lull of the boat is noticeable, but is never too much for the dog or his owners.

“We rock all the time,” Abbott says, but notes that it isn’t usually violent. “We’ve never rocked to where we can’t sleep or walk,” hesays.

The couple paired down from a 3,500 square-foot house to fit their entire lives into their boat, outside white storage container and two five-by-five storage units. The units hold things that Abbott just couldn’t let go of, like his guitars and remote-controlled helicopters. Abbott purchased his 40-ton boat from a man who had taken it around Alaska for two years, leaving it in a bit of a mess, he says.

“It was dirty,” Abbott says of his now-home. He and his wife remodeled it, adding a semi-large kitchen with a breakfast bar and a full-size refrigerator. One thing that Abbott has learned to do is ensure his fridge is tightly secured when large waves hit the boat. One time, after an event, he had a large group of friends in the boat’s cabin. A large swell hit the boat, and all of the food came flying out of the fridge and onto the floor, he recalls. Now he always makes sure it is properly secured.

Normally, however, the boat doesn’t take on huge waves. The couple frequently travels to Blake Island, Bainbridge and, his favorite, Port Townsend. Aside from not having a lawn to mow, the Abbotts enjoy their space because it is secure, beautiful and relaxing.

“It’s like a private, locked community here,” he says. “We have a heck of a view. We don’t plan on changing anything.”

Renter Bob Kuha doesn’t plan on changing his lifestyle, either, except that he will be making it a little more permanent. The real estate investor lives in the Bremerton marina on a boat he’s rented for two years. By February, he hopes to have his own boat, a birthday present to himself.

“I tell ya, everything I ever dreamt of came true,” Kuha says of living aboard. “I can walk to Seattle; I can walk to the airport.”

And by walk, Kuha means he can hop aboard another ferry and easily access another mode of transportation without ever having to get into his car. He estimates that he travels in his car 25 miles each week for work, if that. His girlfriend lives just up the dock in the Bremerton condos that overlook the marina.

Kuha speaks with passion and a big smile when he considers his surroundings in the marina.

“This is beautiful,” he gestures with his hands, pointing to the Manette bridge that is just partially blocked by the retired naval ship, USS Turner Joy.

“It’s like Hollywood at night,” he says of the lights that illuminate the marina.

The scenery isn’t the only thing he loves about his slip spot. In the winter time, Kuha watches otters climb onto the marina walkways to take off running for a big slide into the water. More recently he watched two of his frequent seagull visitors — he named them Billy Bob and Jim Bob — perform a tricky move. One stepped right up onto the other’s back. He told the pair to stay on the dock like that while he grabbed his camera. Kuha motions to his cell phone to show proof of the incident.

Although the marina wildlife keeps Kuha entertained, he said the calm of the water is what keeps him right where he is.

“It’s peaceful,” says Kuha. “I’m gonna live on the marina the rest of my life. Life is good on the marina.”


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