Oh, for the life on the rolling sea

After a rough introduction to Great Lakes boating, Texan Stan Smith finds life good on the water on his floating home in the Port marina

Stan Smith is living on his boat, Distraction, in the Port marina this summer and is loving every minute of it. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

There’s nothing quite like spending time on a boat during summer, especially for Stan Smith.

He’s living on one.

“I would be here permanently if I could,” Smith said from his 42-foot, 1967 Chris-Craft in a slip in the Port Washington marina.

Smith, who is from Texas, traveled during his career and always wanted to live on a boat. Now retired, he has the chance.

Smith bought his boat, which he named Distraction,  in Grand Haven, Mich., and voyaged across the lake to Port Washington last March. He was ready to begin his new life on the water.

“What I wasn’t ready for was Lake Michigan,” he said.

Smith heard stories about the lake and hired a veteran captain to guide him in the crossing. He called it one of the best decisions he ever made.

The nearly five-hour trip presented 45-knot winds and large waves. “The bow of this boat went under water eight to 12 times on the way over,” he said.

If Smith was alone, he said, he probably would have radioed for help. The hired captain, with 40 years in boating, including experience racing cigarette boats in Miami, didn’t feel the need.

Smith’s cruiser was built in the first year Christ-Craft made fiberglass boats. The boatbuilders, uncertain about the strength of boats that are essentially made of plastic, molded the hull in extra thick fiberglass, he said. The boat proved itself sturdy in Smith’s inaugural voyage.

As they approached Port Washington, a snowstorm caused six to eight-foot waves and white-out conditions. They couldn’t even see the harbor entrance markers.

“Anything you survive like that is a learning experience,” Smith said.

Smith is now experiencing life on the water, and he loves nearly every minute of it, especially being in Port Washington.

“Everybody on this pier is so friendly. They’ll help you any way possible,” he said.

He remembers when his port engine failed when he was returning to the harbor. His daughter asked for help, and 20 people were waiting on the pier to help guide him in. Someone used a dinghy to help push the boat into its slip.

Smith chose Port for his aquatic home because his daughter, son-in-law and three of his grandchildren live five minutes from the marina.

Smith’s boat has most of the amenities of home. The marina provides water and electrical service, and the boat has a galley, the nautical equivalent of a kitchen, a main cabin that serves as living room, staterooms for sleeping and bathroom facilities. There are three TVs, a sound system and an old-school record player because Smith likes to listen to vinyl records. He also has a generator and solar panels on board.

“To me, this is not confined,” he said while sitting in his dining area.

The lure of the water drew him to the lifestyle. “It’s peaceful. It’s tranquil. It rocks you to sleep every night,” he said. “If I want to get away, I can start the motor up and go out anywhere on the lake.”

One of Smith’s former employees sold his home in Dallas and moved onto a 45-foot sailboat in New Orleans, but Smith wanted a motor yacht. His two-engine boat has 600 horsepower and can travel as fast as 25 knots.

“I like to know if the wind isn’t blowing I can get somewhere,” he said.

Smith wishes he could keep himself in his boat year round, but the marina requires boats be removed from the water by Nov. 1.

Port Harbormaster Dennis Cherny said a handful of people live like Smith does each year. The city doesn’t require people to tell them they’re living on their boat and doesn’t charge them higher rates. Electricity and water are all included in the slip fees.

“We call it cheap waterfront property,” Cherny said.

Smith lives with his daughter during winter, aside from one week in January when he goes to Texas to check on his 2,000-acre ranch in Sierra Blanca, 200 miles south of El Paso, where he still has a house.

Living on a boat is one of many adventures for Smith, who has gone paragliding, is a pilot, does photography and is a licensed plumber and electrician.

“I’m someone who likes to do everything at least once,” he said.

He recently gave his Harley-Davidson to his son-in-law, but said he wishes he would have kept it to travel through Wisconsin’s scenic hills.

“When I get on it, I go from being 69 to 18, and that’s not good,” he said.

Smith was born in Germany. His family history includes a story of his father rescuing his eventual mother from a bombed-out building after World War II.

Smith grew up going back and forth between the U.S. and Germany. When his grandchildren are on his boat he requires them to speak in German to be fluent in a second language and refresh his command of the language.

Smith earned an engineering degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and fell into a job designing hotels and banks across the world for a company called Hospitality Focused Solutions.

After retiring, Smith cared for his ailing mother in Texas for 12 years. She died two years ago, and Smith then decided to live on the water.

“I see no downside to living out here. You need to live life to the fullest,” he said.

The toughest part, he said, is getting on and off the boat with a bad knee and making the 100-yard walk to shore at 2 a.m. to take his two long-haired Chihuahuas out. The pair, each 15 years old, have been with him their entire lives. One fell into the water twice. Now Smith puts canine life jackets on them.

Smith hopes to take longer trips next summer after the pandemic subsides and more places reopen. He wants to try a monthslong voyage down the Mississippi River, up along the East Coast and through the St. Lawrence Seaway back to Port.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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