Cowichan Valley

Newcomer stories: Boat life, ‘for the fun of it’

new in town rick schnurr cowichan bay
Living in Cowichan Bay on a converted fishing boat is going swimmingly for Rick Schnurr and Judy Brooks.

In early June, Julie May arrived in Cowichan Bay — all 42 feet of her. Aboard the converted wooden trawler were Rick Schnurr and Judy Brooks, who had decided to put down anchor in the Cowichan Bay Marina, their new home. 

The retired couple, who had previously moored their boat in North Saanich, are one of about 100 people residing on float homes and live-aboard vessels in Cowichan Bay. This population is limited by a 2016 CVRD bylaw amendment that proscribes the numbers of residences permitted at each of seven marinas.

Schnurr, who is on the board of directors of the B.C. Nautical Residents Association, shares how their life in Cowichan waters is going so far, in our latest profile of newcomers to the region.

Why did you move to Cowichan Bay?

For the fun of it. … By “the fun of it” I’m referring to the much more relaxed and funky marina where we now live. Also, Cow Bay is a community with a variety of characters, businesses and activities. This sense of community is really important, giving its members a feeling of belonging. Being live-aboard boaters, there is also our unique community within the greater one. The physical beauty of the bay is a great attraction, too. As well, moorage, therefore living, is much more affordable in Cow Bay.    

So, what do you think so far? How does living here compare to your expectations? 

We had been frequent visitors to Cow Bay prior to our friends’ continuous encouragement to move here permanently. So yes, our expectations have been met exceedingly… After living in Victoria’s Inner Harbour and then in a 500-boat marina in North Saanich, the small community that is Cowichan Bay just is more relaxed and inviting. The diversity of those who live here and the diverse-living lifestyles, like the house boats, the stilt houses, the First Nations community, the commercial marine fleet, the agricultural setting, and the proximity of wild lands all lends to the feel of Cowichan Bay.

The MV Julie May during an excursion to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island. Photo credit: Tad Roberts
The MV Julie May during an excursion to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island. Photo credit: Tad Roberts

Why and when did you decide to become a marine resident? 

We have been “marine residents” on and off for 20-plus years. We had a float home in the Discovery Islands 20 years ago. Eleven years ago, we purchased a converted fishing troll and moved aboard, living in downtown Victoria and then North Saanich before moving to Cow Bay last June. We choose to live on the water because we love being in and close to the marine environment. We also prefer it because it allows a more sustainable living abode with a smaller footprint and lower energy consumption.

Are there common misconceptions held by those who do not live on the water?  

Short answer is, yes, many. Most of them can be summed up in that people are unaware that boat dwellers are responsible contributing members of the larger community. We do pay property taxes, just like any other renter; it forms a part of our moorage costs. We do all we can to live in an environmentally conscious manner. We often are contributing members of the larger community, volunteering or working, voting, purchasing, supporting arts and entertainment, etc. 

What about privacy? Do people regularly ask to check out your place?

All of the marinas are pretty open to the public. Even though there are signs restricting access to “moorage customers only,” the signs do not really deter anyone. So, we have to be a little thick-skinned. But it’s good to keep in mind that it was our own choice to live like this. And we understand that we are a novelty and a curiosity to anyone not familiar with this lifestyle. Most visitors to the marina are courteous and just look at the boats and float homes. Sometimes I will engage in conversation and occasionally invite someone in for a closer look. 

new in town rick schnurr cowichan bay
Rick Schnurr and Judy Brooks say the best part about boat life is the mobility. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse Cowichan

Does it take a certain type of person or personality to live on a boat in a popular marina? 

I think anyone who chooses this lifestyle needs to be pretty flexible and understanding of others and their interests. If one really does not wish to be on display, then they need to choose a different option, like living on a mooring or at anchor.

Understand that we are not primarily here to put on a show. We are just living our life and choosing to be tied up at a marina is just easier when it comes to connecting with the shore for shopping, travel, appointments and a host of other reasons rather than having to boat-in from an anchored-out mooring. 

What is it like to be on the water in a big storm?

Storms are interesting. We have always chosen to moor in a safe location, but nevertheless, when the winds and waves are up we do feel the motion and hear the noise on the boat. Julie May displaces 14.5 tons, so it is relatively stable for her size. 

Finally, what are some things that you think newcomers to Cowichan Bay need to know before they move?

We are a very diverse community and that is our strength and appeal. Be prepared to be accepting, non-judgmental and open to all others. This likely applies to any community.