Room and Aboard

Room and Aboard

With the advent of spring, life on the Quinnipiac River has improved in some ways. Valerie Richardson no longer has to add two pairs of long underwear and two sweaters to stay warm. And there’s no worry about ice and snow on the dock. Then again, winter had its rewards. Bufflehead, mallard and merganser ducks and even bald eagles were a common sight. And Richardson misses the quiet, calm days with little to no traffic on the river.

One of a handful of renters at the Quinnipiac River Marina who have taken up permanent residence on boats, Richardson says she may never go back to life on land. “I can just imagine living here forever,” she says, standing on her rear deck and looking east across the river toward Fair Haven Heights. The view to the north includes Quinnipiac Meadows and the Eugene B. Fargeorge Preserve, home to many of those birds, and the undeveloped mound of Peter’s Rock in North Haven. Even traffic on I-91, which cuts across the northern landscape, goes mostly unnoticed. The whistle of a train occasionally pierces the quiet.

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Richardson’s move to the river was precipitated by a “transition” in her life. She bought her 33-foot Egg Harbor fishing yacht for $5,000 from a pair of brothers in Branford and moved in last September. Inside, the cozy, teak-trimmed cabin includes a makeshift galley with a mini fridge and a hot plate. Canned items are stored under the dinette sofa. Down below, there’s a small head (bathroom) opposite two bunks. In the hull, Richardson’s cabin holds a roomier bunk and storage. The boat doesn’t rock much at all when docked, she says, but “you do hear the sound of the waves lapping on the hull, and that was a little disconcerting at first. It took some getting used to.” Her cat, Pheral, seems perfectly at home.

The cost of living on the boat can’t be beat. Marina owner Lisa Fitch, who purchased the property in 2007 and undertook a full-scale renovation, charges $80 per lineal foot for the summer season and $50 for the winter. That means that even after paying for plenty of electricity to keep warm, Richardson is ahead of the cost of owning or renting in the city. “It’s camping on the water,” Fitch says. “It’s not luxurious. You know, you have to accommodations… Yet, it is beautiful.”

In addition to housing a handful of “live-aboard” full-timers and weekenders, the marina serves day-trippers and some commercial fishermen. There’s a boat launch, a sewage pump-out station, a small shop of boating necessities and a pull-up bait and tackle shop on a floating dock so “you don’t even have to get off your boat,” Fitch says. Residents take advantage of a shower and laundry in one building. Another houses Anastasio’s Boathouse Café (open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Fitch also rents kayaks for $25 “for as long as you desire , as long as you go by the rules,” with storage space for personal canoes or kayaks waterside ($125 for the season). Individual floating docks for Sea-Doos are also available ($450 for the season). Fitch is open to offering what boaters need. “We’re flexible, we’re smalltime, we’re a mom-and-pop shop,” she says.

Four long docks stretching north from the current configuration are new this year, designed for boats 20 feet or smaller. The marina can now accommodate up to 85 boats in all, with a maximum size of 40 feet and a four-foot draft. Located well up the river past the harbor, Fitch says the marina is safe from major weather events. The past decade’s two big hurricanes, Sandy and Irene, raised the water level “really high, but we didn’t lose anything,” she says. Also a plus: the brackish, fast-moving water doesn’t freeze easily. “You’re gonna get icebergs,” Fitch says. “You hear clink, clink .” That’s when she goes out and breaks up the ice by hand, sending it downriver. “You just have to be on top of it.”

Some of the marina’s live-aboards, like Richardson, could pull up anchor and move from marina to marina if they wanted to. But others live on retired boats no longer meant for traveling, Fitch says. Richardson’s boat still has a working motor, but for now she’s content to stay put. For the first time in her life, she’s paying attention to the tide chart—the water level varies by six to seven feet each day—and learning the correct names for things.

Fitch isn’t much of a boater herself. “I’m here to help people with boats,” she clarifies, laughing. “I like to be on the water, next to the water. I like my little boat, my Honeybun”—an 18-footer. “We just go out a little bit, and it’s great.” She enjoys drawing others down to the water as well. This Saturday, May 18, the marina will host this year’s Riverfest, with live music, food and beer, canoeing, arts and crafts, games and an art sale.

As spring approaches summer, it’s easy to see why Richardson, Fitch and others want to live here. “You can’t beat this view,” Fitch says, soaking in the sunshine. “It’s just a beautiful place to be.”

Quinnipiac River Marina
309 Front St, New Haven (map)
(203) 777-3625 |

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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