ONE night in May this year, when she was alone on her boat in Deep Cove, Jane Victoria King heard something terrifying.
Someone was trying to climb on board. The man was dressed in a hoodie, but King recognized him. He also lived on a boat in the cove, but he wasn't someone she knew. He had rowed up next to her boat in the dark without explanation.
King, by herself and anchored a five-minute row from shore, had little choice but to yell at the intruder in the hope he would go away. Fortunately he did, but later, as a precaution, she put out another chair on the deck of her vessel to make it look like she had someone else staying with her.
The harrowing encounter was just one low point of many during the 10 months King has spent shuttling between False Creek and Deep Cove. Her choice to live aboard her restored 1967 wooden sailboat, the King Cyrus, has become stressful and exhausting ever since she relocated from Victoria in September to go back to school, she says. She hasn't been able to find permanent moorage at a dock, leaving her anchored in one inlet or the other.
Like Vancouver's sky-high real estate market, affordable marina space is tough to come by, especially in sought-after False Creek, and it's almost impossible for those like King, who have chosen to ditch their land addresses in favour of life aboard a boat.
The scarcity of marina space, and a change to City of Vancouver rules that came into effect in 2006, are threatening not only King's living arrangements, but a longtime Lower Mainland lifestyle.
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King, 48, was forced to choose between having an apartment and owning a boat in 2004 after she was laid off from a job as a TV news producer in Victoria.
Using the skills she picked up at a job with a boat building company - and with a little help from her "87-year-old retired boat builder uncle," she restored the 40-foot King Cyrus and moved on board with her son, dog and cat.
"I just thought, I don't need material things," said King. "You live like you're camping, on a boat. You have to boil your water to wash dishes. I have a two-burner propane camp stove."
Today, eight years later, she's the only one left.
"My son is now 20 - he knew port and starboard before he knew left and right - and the dog passed away last August," said King. "The cat didn't like the boat, so I had to find her a new home."
While the boat was in Victoria, life was relatively cushy. King lived at a marina with access to electricity, water, showers, laundry and a hookup to pump sewage out of the craft's holding tank.
But since moving to this side of the Georgia Strait in September to go back to school, things have become significantly more difficult. King hasn't been able to find a place at a marina, despite being on waitlists in Vancouver, Richmond and North Vancouver.
Part of the problem is that she lives on board - a fact that some marinas don't take kindly to.
King said she paid for a temporary slip at Fisherman's Wharf, near Granville Island, for a few weeks in the winter, but when she asked about renting a long-term space, the marina manager told her there was one available, but not for liveaboards.
Once upon a time, the marina would have allowed her, but it doesn't take liveaboards anymore because of city bylaws and historic problems with boaters not keeping their vessels in good repair, said Art Childs, the harbour manager for Fisherman's Wharf.
"The bylaws state that we need to have washroom facilities and sewage pump-out to the vessel for them to pump out their sewage directly, and we don't have that," said Childs. "We have a sewage pump-out on site, but they would have to move their boat to do that and bylaws say that you're supposed to have direct connections to any liveaboard vessel."
In 2002, the marina's board of directors voted to stop accepting liveaboards.
"A lot of the vessels that people were living aboard at that time would have been considered in need of maintenance and care and had become derelict," said Childs. There are now only about 12 people at Fisherman's Wharf who live aboard their boat.
The cost to rent a permanent slip is also an issue for King. She's on the waitlist at Heather Marina, another False Creek dock that is managed by the city, but she would pay more than $2,000 a month in fees and surcharges. She paid $150 to get on the list for Spruce Harbour Co-op, but if she ever got a spot, she would have to pay a $50,000 share price (a one-time fee members pay to join the co-op). King finds the amount overwhelming.
So for the foreseeable future, King has to live at anchor, well removed from the basic services of dock life. But nowadays, Vancouver doesn't even make that easy.
King would like to be able to stay in False Creek. It's a much shorter commute to Langara College, where she studies electronic media design, and to her job at an events planning company. But when her False Creek permit expired this May, the
Vancouver Police Department's marine unit called her to tell her she had to go. Since 2006, stays in False Creek have been limited to 21 days out of 40 in the winter and 14 days out of 30 days in the summer. Several long-term liveaboards have been seeking shelter at Deep Cove when their False Creek permit runs out, waiting to be able to return to the urban waterway.
Life on this side of the Burrard Inlet is even more of a challenge, however. Not only is King much farther from her job as an event planner and from Langara College but the environment can be an issue as well. In addition to the man trying to board her vessel, King had trouble pulling her anchor up from the very deep cove. She ended up having to ask for help from another ship that had a hydraulic winch.
The dock was also farther away from her sailboat, and during one bad storm she was too afraid to row to shore.
She was relieved when she could return to False Creek, which is shallower and has a muddy bottom, better for securing her boat's anchor.
In both locations, however, King is followed by a stigma that goes along with the liveaboard lifestyle. She's been called homeless by city staff, and wasn't able to vote in Vancouver's municipal election because she doesn't have a permanent address.
"They couldn't figure out which electoral district I was in," said King. "I was like, 'I'm in False Creek right now!'"
In May, the North Shore News reported on a sharp increase in boats anchored in Deep Cove. Residents had noticed there were now 11 vessels in the cove, compared to previous years, when there had been three to five boats there. Some were in disrepair and one was piled high with old furniture. Community members were concerned about access for other boats and possible pollution from raw sewage.
But King said she and others who use their vessels as their primary residence are just as concerned about the environment as others.
"We're not bad people," said King. "We're probably more environmentally conscious than others because we're around the sea."
To King, her sailboat isn't a luxury - it's home.
"I treat my boat like a house, with respect, care and love because every month I pay a big mortgage on her," said King. "I also have insurance on her, and I maintain her and take care of her."
She's frustrated by the reaction to boats that are in bad repair.
"It's like looking at a house that they don't take out their garbage and they pile all their junk in the front of it. Land or sea, they're everywhere," said King. "If you have a problem with something, why don't you go and talk to the person about it?"
As for the concerns about sewage, King said most liveaboards either move their boats to public pump-out stations, or use facilities on shore.
"(On) False Creek, sure, lots of people abandoned their boats 20 years ago and left garbage everywhere," said King.
"But that's the same for cars, that's the same for bikes, it's the same for everything. If it's on the waterway and these expensive penthouses are looking at it, then their voices are going to be heard."
King would like to see more spaces for liveaboards at Heather Marina and Spruce Harbour.
In the meantime, she's tired of the stress of anchoring in the middle of a waterway. Her sailboat is now for sale, and a buyer from Alberta has made an offer on the vessel. Soon to be land-based, King hopes to once again own a boat in the future.