Hamilton firefighter survives winter on icy lake home

Hamilton firefighter, Cameron Ritchie, lives on a sailboat at the docks of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. The beautiful waterfront is his backyard and a pair of nesting Canada geese his neighbours.

Firefighter, Cameron Ritchie, lives on a sailboat at the docks of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club

Cameron Ritchie is a Hamilton firefighter who lives on a sailboat - even in the winter. 3:16

The ice on the lake and piling snow make for a picturesque white waterfront, but living on a boat in the winter is not easy. Cameron Ritchie, a firefighter, who has made the Hamilton harbour home for the last two years, calls it an adventure.

The key, Ritchie says, is beating the cold. The inside of his 35-footer is warm and cozy; an electric-powered furnace heats it. Underneath the boat is an “ice eater” or water agitator that maintains clear water around the boat to keep the thick ice from freezing against the hull.

Ritchie’s sailboat is now locked in by ice at the docks of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. The white plastic shrink-wrap stretching over top protects the sailboat from rain and snow damage.

The 52-year-old says despite the perils of winter, which on a boat can be even more dangerous, his life is quiet. And it is the serenity and closeness to nature that brings him to the water.

“It’s a peaceful existence. For me, I escape here,” Ritchie said. “Most people want a house, a yard and a three-car-garage. Obviously, you don’t have the space to accumulate. It simplifies things quite a lot.”

Before living on a boat, Ritchie had been sailing for 10 years and prior to packing up and setting up at the docks, he did a lot of research. The father of three is now wrapping up his 30-year career as a firefighter and his retirement plan is his boat.

Sail to Europe

In five years, he plans to sail to Europe in his “go-round-the-world-boat.” He hopes his teenage soon will make the trip with him.

The trip he says will take about three months beginning in St. John’s, N.L. But he emphasizes he is in no hurry. His destination? Somewhere in Europe, perhaps England.

Ritchie estimates the trip to be 4,000 nautical miles, which translates to about 7,500 kilometres.

It is easy to imagine a perfect summer evening watching the sunset while sailing. Or power boating depending on preference. But the winter presents special challenges: snow, ice, freezing rain and cold. This is why the companionship and help of other boaters is indispensable.

“Well, we have to be [a community]. It’s really different than a house. Things can be really catastrophic if things start to go bad, like if a boat gets loose or goes on fire,” he said.

It’s a beautiful lifestyle. It keeps you close to nature and the environment.- Steve Micallef, Harbour master, Royal Hamilton Yacht Club

Steve Micallef is the harbour master of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. He has been part of the boating lifestyle since he was six-weeks-old when his parents took him on his first boat ride.

Micallef and Ritchie share a bond unique to live-aboards; they love the “lifestyle of the boat.”

“It’s a beautiful lifestyle. It keeps you close to nature and the environment,” Micallef said.

“You are with people who share the same boat troubles. If it’s a good day for sailing, you go with a friend with a sailboat. If it’s a good day for power boating, you go with a friend with a powerboat. It’s a nice community.”

'Mom, dad and duck'

Micallef, too, used to live on a sailboat. For eight years he lived as a bachelor in a 40-foot house cruiser. He married and spent the last two years as a live-aboard with two kids and a new born.

“The kids love fishing. After work and school, we’d go for boat rides and fishing,” Micallef said. The first words out of his newborn daughter’s mouth were “mom, dad and duck.” She is 15 years old now.

Ritchie spent a better part of his last day off snapping photos of the ducks drifting on the docks.

The living area of his boat is nicely decorated. Beautiful First Nations arts and crafts are tastefully added to the decor, while the red soft carpet matches the shiny wooden interior.

As cold as it may be outside, Ritchie keeps the inside of his boat warm and cozy. Like everyone, he pays electricity bills. He also has to pay docking fees.

“You’ve got everything you would have in an apartment. I’ve got Internet. I can strum my guitar, read books and watch DVDs,” he said.

Ritchie estimates his sailboat is as a big as a conventional two-bedroom apartment. Except, the beautiful waterfront is his backyard and a pair of nesting Canada geese his neighbours. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.