House for Sale: On Boston Harbor
It’s not a houseboat. Rather, it’s a two-story house built on a good-size barge filled with foam, making it unsinkable. As far as we can determine, it’s the only house of its kind in New England. Tied up at the Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina off Marginal Street in the fun, village-like community of East Boston, it’s directly across the harbor from the Boston Harbor Hotel. As you might imagine, the view cannot be beat. It includes not only the city skyline but also, for instance, the Old North Church, the masts of the USS Constitution across the river in Charlestown, and the Bunker Hill Monument in the distance. The day we visited owners Paul and Anne Sweetnam, we could have sat out there on their second-floor deck forever.
Tugboats were chugging by, about a dozen little sailboats (you can rent one of these yourself next door at Piers Park) were having a race in front of us, and we could see men out on the end of a long concrete pier to our left working on a new cradle being built for the Staten Island Ferry in New York. (By now, it has no doubt already been floated down there.) We also noted airplanes landing at nearby Logan International Airport, but because they were far enough to the east, we couldn’t hear them. Once in a while a small launch scooted by, heading to the city or the airport or, at times, over toward the Constitution.
“That’s our friend Rob McPherson,” explained Paul. “He operates a water taxi. Call him on the phone and he’s at our dock within minutes. For $5 a person, he’ll take you to the city or wherever.” That, we decided, was the fastest, cheapest — and nicest — way to get to Boston’s downtown we’d ever heard about … ever.
Paul, retired from the paper industry and now a publisher of local tide charts, and Anne, formerly a director of Massachusetts’ Legislative Engrossing Division (i.e., putting laws into their final printed forms), have been living here in their floating house for the past 12 years. For the first year, the house was tied up at the end of the marina’s long concrete pier. “But the winter winds could be fierce out there,” Paul recalled, “and it was a long walk, too.” So they moved the house to its current, more protected location nearer the marina facilities and parking area, but without any loss of view.
As we continued to sit out on the deck, drinking in the sights (and a cup of Anne’s special coffee), Paul provided us with a little history of the place. It was built in Rhode Island about 1983 by a marina owner who used it as an office and apartment. He sold it to a pharmacist who had it towed by two tugs to Boston. The next owner was a marine contractor who moored it in Chelsea, where he allowed local tugboat captains to, as Paul put it with a chuckle and a wink, use it “as a sort of clubhouse.” (We decided not to press him on that one.) It was at that time that it appeared in a scene in the movie Blown Away. From there, the Sweetnams moved it to its present fabulous location and commenced to repair, redo, and generally upgrade everything.
They put in all-new carpeting, new curtains, new ceilings, a new Incinolet toilet in the bathroom downstairs, a new shower, washer, and dryer, and, of course, painted everything inside and out. Because the stairs between the first and second floors are too narrow for hauling up furniture, they hired a crane to swing stuff in through the upper-deck door, including their lovely antique organ, the living room furniture, a new dishwasher, new stove, new refrigerator, and an electric fireplace. (Everything in the house is electric, including the heating.)
Today, it’s a small but truly comfortable home. The one bathroom and three bedrooms — including the large master bedroom, which opens to the lower of the two outside decks — are on the first floor. The second floor has a good-size, comfortable living room with lots of windows overlooking the marina boats and harbor. It opens to the upper deck, where we enjoyed the view for a while and where Paul has his electric grill and Anne her veritable greenhouse of flowers. Also on the second floor are the dining area — large enough to seat 13 for Thanksgiving dinner last year — and the well-equipped but smallish kitchen (reminded us of a ship’s galley).
Eventually, our conversation with Paul and Anne had to get around to why they were selling. (They’re asking $190,000, furnished, less a few family antiques.) “We love the place and will surely miss it,” Paul said, but then indicated that because he’s now in his seventies and is occasionally a little unsteady on his feet due to his medication, he feels maybe they should move onto solid ground. Anne agrees. And, yes, you can feel this house move. We loved feeling the gentle motion of the water beneath us. For us, it was soothing, relaxing … but, of course, it would not be for everyone.
We should add that the marina is actually a gated community with a guardhouse you pass before parking your car near the docks. (Each dock is gated as well.) The Sweetnams pay semiannual fees to the marina for docking rights, electricity, town water, and so on. For new owners (not grandfathered) it might be around $9,000 a year. But you have to realize that’s for everything. (No real estate taxes, for instance.)