This is the full version of an email interview part of which was used in the article Unusual Homes.
Can you describe how you ended up living on a houseboat?
Pardon me, a houseboat? Do you mean my sailboat?
It all started two years ago. I was unhappy about my PhD studies as I still did not feel excited about any of the topics in Economics. Then, I went for a weekend meditation retreat and during one meditation I suddenly got the idea that I need to have one year break to travel, and let the world, not the academia, inspire me into my research topic. Traveling was not what my school wanted me to do, the only reason I could excuse a whole year of absence for would be family reasons or some form of depression. Excusing myself for the poor health of my parents and then traveling instead of helping them would be too much even for the little morale I had; and convincing the faculty about having some kind of mental problem would not be a hard task for me, yet it won’t be the most appealing thing to have on my resume.
Taking a one year break was not an option for me. So, I come up with a plan B: Travel over the summer and continue my PhD in NYC as if I was traveling. I hitch-hiked through Mexico and Central America, and after I came back to NYC I did not rent any place. I knew how to sleep just anywhere while traveling, so what should prevent me to do the same thing when living in the city? Besides, I lived in a jungle for three month when studying my Master Degree in Mathematics in Taiwan before, so all I needed to do was to adopt that way of life from the animal-jungle of Kaohsiung into the human-jungle of NYC. The beginning was not easy, I got some sleepless nights before I learned how to avoid poison ivy, mosquitoes, cops, and other pests.
Over time, I got the knowhow for camping in the city and I became very comfortable doing that. I found all the beautiful parks, beaches, and rooftops that I had no idea about before. Only I missed about having an apartment was hosting travelers from the CouchSurfing project. But then, why not to break even that concept? I did not have a couch, but I had an extra sleeping bag, bivy sack and a camping mattress to offer. What is more, I knew how to hide! I did not get any “couch” requests for a while, some guys considered it as a plan B (or, a plan Z, to be more precise) on their trip, but then they got scared and never showed up. Ironically, as it was getting cold, I suddenly started receiving “couch” requests from young adventurous ladies.
Having a question mark about waking up the next day, night by night, made me live wild even in respects that I am not so proud of. I was yet recovering a wound in my heart from losing two of my lovers when I met this beautiful spontaneous Colombian girl with a big heart and a great passion for life. The romantic natural scenery of the Prospect Park made us turn camping into camp-in. As we started dating, the winter arrived. The down sleeping bag I had was good in providing heat for both of us. However, in terms of room, it was not really enough for our extracurricular activities.
Even reading the book “Kamasutra in a bag” did not help. And after all the unsuccessful attempts, I remembered that a new friend of mine, Tom, was offering his boat to me. I knew nothing about his boat besides that one-plus-one can sleep on it. Tom was too busy to show me his boat those days. Not realizing how much I was saving each month by not renting an apartment, he simply did not believe that a grad student could have enough money to buy a boat. Eventually, I lost my patience and I told him: “Come in front of my university, I’ll give a you a suitcase with $3,000 cash in exchange for your boat.” And that is how I came to my blue sailboat, Amarena.
How would you describe it briefly?
When buying it, I knew nothing about boats and I did not really like water. Soon, I learned that the blue boat with elegant rounded curves was a sailboat. It is not too spacious, but the way it is cozy matters more to me. When I visited my parents for Christmas after I bought the boat, I had no idea how to answer their question about the material it was made of. Later I learned that almost all recreational boats, including mine, are made of fiberglass.
It is a 28-feet-long Ranger built in 1978. People say that a boat like that should be enough for crossing an ocean, although it was not exactly designed for it. As a backup for the sails, it has a diesel inboard engine: Inboard means that the engine is more reliable in a storm; and diesel means that the boat is less likely to explode.
What are some unique challenges you encounter in your living situation?
There are many things we take absolutely for granted when living in an apartment. You have electricity, toilet, running water, stove, heat, and you can walk out of your doors and you are on land. The situation on an old sailboat is quite different, especially if it is docked or moored at a low-cost marina. After I got the boat, I spent most of the winter in my home country, Czech republic, and in Colombia. Yet, the few days of living on the freezing and partly leaking boat was something memorable. A special moment was when I tried to heat up the boat a bit using a cheap portable stove and the butane was first frozen and then it exploded. The traveler I was hosting will surely never forget that night.
If you had to give a tip to someone who wants to do the same, what advice would you impart?
Follow your heart, the rest will come!
What's the most surprising thing that happened?
There is always something surprising on a boat. I come back from holidays and the boat is half sunk, or I find an ice arena inside. When a storm comes, I am in the middle of all the noise and I don’t know if I wake up on the bottom of the sea or half way to the ocean. Except for the winter, my boat is moored about 5-10 mins rowing away from my marina. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there are big waves, strong current, and I need to go to school to teach. You never know what can happen - exactly as it is in life - but the water force makes the unexpected things happen unexpectedly often. It is as if you lived thousand lives in one lifetime.