LIFE ON A FLOAT HOUSE
I’m not sure if I can convey how surreal our life is right now when compared to the life we have been used to living in the UK.
We are staying in a small green wooden house that is mounted on a raft made from logs, which in turn is lashed to other rafts by ropes and then the whole collection of rafts are anchored to surrounding rocks by steel cables in order to maintain their position in a cove close to the edge of the Prince of Wales Island in SE Alaska.
We are five miles from the nearest community, which by boat takes approximately 20 minutes, and this is followed by a two hour drive by car if you need to go to the nearest town, a place called Craig.
We travel everywhere by boat and wet weather gear is the order of the day no matter what the occasion. Wellington boots are worn no matter what the weather or what you may be doing.
All provisions, including firewood and gasoline, have to be collected and brought in by boat (this generally involves towing a work boat behind another boat with the work boat laden with firewood, fuel etc.) Due to it’s weight firewood is stored in the cove on land and transferred to the float houses as and when needed.
While we are off grid we are fortunate enough to have a slow internet connection (assuming the generator is running or the batteries are charged).
The other rafts adjoining ours carry Jerry’s house, his brothers house, the generator hut and the toilet. There is also an old disused fish and shellfish processing building which is on a raft that is slowly sinking (over time the raft logs become water logged and lose buoyancy and when this happens these need to be replaced, a process which is carried out on land – rafts are towed on a high tide into the cove and then worked on during low tide).
None of the houses on the rafts have a direct water supply. There is a nearby creek which discharges into the cove and a long hose has been routed from the creek to discharge just outside our house. Water runs continuously through the hose, with good flows at low tide when the rafts are much lower than the creek extraction point. Water is collected in buckets from this common location and taken to the various float houses.
If hot water is required then this comes from heating creek water in large pans on the wood burning stove
Taking a shower involves a fair amount of work and planning ahead. Having collected a bucket of creek water and transferred this to the large pans on the wood stove you should have water that is hot enough for a shower in a couple of hours. The hot water is then transferred from the large pans to an empty bucket which is carried to the small shower room and sat on a stool.
There is a pump in the shower room that is fixed to the boarded back wall above the stool and a hose from this pump is dropped into the bucket of hot water. The discharge side of the pump is connected directly to the shower head and a switch on the shower head controls the on/off of the pump. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, for the shower pump to run the generator has to be turned on.
A bucket of hot water does not last long so I have found giving everything a fast vigorous rub really helps!
The shower head holder is made from deer antlers and this, make do with what you have approach, is understandable when living in such a remote location. We even have a coat hanger rack made from deer hooves!
Our upstairs and downstairs rooms are sparsely decorated with that lived in feel, what an estate agent would call desirably rustic . We have a sink with taps but no connected water supply and the drain from the sink runs directly into the sea, so we have to take care with what is poured down the plug hole (this also applies to the outside toilet).
Our propane gas cooker has four rings on top which work, but an oven below which doesn’t, so generally everything is either boiled or fried.
We have a fridge, which is plugged in when the generator is running, and Jerry has a freezer, which also only operates when the generator is running so keeping foods frozen and fresh can be a bit challenging.
A shopping trip to town takes place roughly once every two weeks and the type of food bought is generally canned, dried or bottled. Anything that is bought fresh, such as vegetables, tends to get eaten quickly before it goes off.
It’s not surprising, given our current location, that our diet consists mainly of fish and seafood and in this respect we are blessed with such an abundant supply right on our doorstep.
With Jerry’s oyster farm located only a two minute boat ride away we are eating raw and cooked oysters nearly every day.
In addition Paul & Jerry go fishing early every morning and return most days with sufficient bass, cod and rockfish for both breakfast and dinner.
A recent fishing trip saw them return with Paul’s biggest catch to date – a 70lb halibut which yielded 50lb of fillets. The freezer is now working hard and we are wracking our brains daily for new halibut recipes that don’t involve the use of an oven.
Clams can be dug from nearby beaches and mussels can be readily collected, however, we have just started to successfully drop shrimp pots (at a depth of 100m/300 feet) and are now enjoying shrimp with nearly every meal.
It is a rare occasion that we eat meat and this is mainly when we have been invited to some of Jerry’s friends for a BBQ. In return we are able to supply them with fish, shrimp and of course, oysters.
Oysters are supposed to have an aphrodisiacal effect and to this end Paul has been encouraging Chrissie to ‘have another one’ but he is disappointed that it doesn’t seem to be having the effect he was hoping for. He keeps looking for her in the bedroom but she most often seems to be found elsewhere.
As the oysters weren’t working then Paul hoped the romantic sunrises and sunsets, that can be viewed from the float house, would do the trick.
Paul forgot, however, that Chrissie is generally in the land of nod when both of these natural events occur so he pulled out of the bag what he knew she couldn’t resist. He grew an Alaskan beard (his first ever beard!)
She hates it!
Whilst living in a basic and remote float house can be challenging and dangerous, with the ever present risk of slipping into the sea, we are loving the experience and the spirit of adventure.
From the deck outside the door of our house we are seeing river otters, sea otters, seals, porpoises, mink bald eagles and humming birds on a near daily basis.
We have seen a deer on land in the cove and on one particularly special occasion we watched a humpback whale cruise slowly past the float house, no more than fifty metres away, before returning back the way he came a few minutes later.
This area of Alaska is rich with marine life and wildlife and we have been told that things will step up another gear or two when the salmon run starts in the next few weeks. We have been advised that we can expect to see an increase in the number of humpback and killer whales and a significant increase in the number of bears and bald eagles that we are seeing, both of which enjoy the odd salmon or two.
Life on a float house is not that bad it seems!