Living Aboard in Paris

Day to Day

Copyright © 1988-1999, 2004,2007 by Martin and Marcia Reff

Living aboard a boat is a unique experience and one of the most continuously fascinating ones that can be imagined. Movement and intimacy combine to offer the liveaboard sailor a life unmatched on land.

The day dawns, the light comes, the clouds move, the color changes, the clouds pass, the wind blows, the rains come, the water flows, a storm rages, the wind whips, the darkness falls, the sun sets, the stars blink, the planets shine, the moon sits, the sky lights, and another dawn breaks.

On a boat the weather is of paramount interest. We want to know what is forecast in terms of rain or storm because what happens just outside the cabin walls of our boat affects us more directly than if we were buried in some deep room of a large stone house. Adjusting for heat and cold in our environment is an ongoing event. Not only is the weather of interest for practical reasons but it attracts us for esthetic reasons. The enfolding of a sky from covers of clouds is exciting, just as the contrast of black and white with storm and sun can be hypnotic. The hues of a dawn differ every day as do the colors of a sunset. And when clouds race across the sky like speeding trains, one marvels.

And weather changes the water. A mirror at times, storm tossed waves, a lake with fish and ducks, a sheet of cold glass powdered with snow, a small ocean with screaming gulls.....and all this in the heart of a city that is the most beautiful in the world. Loaded barges pass, tour boats filled with gawking eyes and camera lenses, dinghies with playing children ply the waters, and long yawls that have come from Suez or Panama pass by. People wave and flags with strange colors fly.

And on our boat we look out, quite comfortable and cozy. Cozy is the key word because it seems to catch the ambiance of our living together. Things are near to the hand: a few steps away is the "front door" and down behind us is our bedroom. Forward, about the distance of a glance is the galley. And around us are the things of our life - flowers, and in the summer and fall basil on the shelf above the helm, a short wave radio on the other side with earphones for early morning use, an easy chair, a stool for guests and for wine before dinner, a writing book, and I could go on. Most of all we are close together, within the length of an arm or the look of an eye. This is our world, small but comfortable and cozy. We try to keep our living easy and uncluttered and are happy for it. We are not self sufficient. We need water and fuel and food. But with just those three items we are and can be quite independent.

Being handy helps a lot. In fact, I'd say that one member of the family must have some talent with things mechanical and electrical. In most boats, that person is the male, but we know of a number of situations where the woman is the "man about the house." Individuals by themselves must be resourceful. The alternative to not being handy is paying for labor. That can be expensive and, what is worse, sometimes unsatisfactory. If the man is the handyman, then his wife or mate, must be able to share what needs to be done, e.g. cooking, repairing (like sewing) or stain removal, painting, etc.

Keeping an uncluttered boat adds to the pleasure of entertaining. Our social life as live-a-boards is significant. We know people on shore - people we've met by chance or by referral and with whom we've become friends or acquaintances. People are always telling others to look us up if they're in Paris. We also have friends among the boat people, those who, like ourselves, liveaboard. And, finally, we meet visitors from all over the world because Paris attracts people. We meet tourists who need help on street corners, in restaurants, and in department stores and it's our habit to help whenever we can. When we first came to Paris we invited couples to our boat for an afternoon glass of wine. Now that the novelty has worn somewhat, we're more discriminating. Most of all, however, the visitors that we enjoy most are the boaters who come into the marina with sail or powerboats from far away places. We meet many Americans who cross the Atlantic, not once, but two and three times....and some of these people are the least likely types to have accomplished that feat of daring. And we talk to a few of our countrymen who are on their way to finish a circumnavigation. One day we see a 24' 8" Ericson and say hello to the sailor and discover that the young man had come across by himself from Canada during the summer.

We talk to everyone who will listen and we listen to everyone who talks. On a few occasions we meet people who talk in a dream world of things they would like to do as if the things were done -- owning a large multinational corporation, for example, or a huge yacht. One man tells us that he had purchased a large tract of land in South America that was being sold by the CIA. He returns our second year with a women, showing off his wide range of acquaintances. Most of our guests, however, are ordinary sociable people who live interesting lives.

Living aboard is not all parties and people. It's being by yourself, too. Naturally, if you have a mate, you're together and doing things together:

First of all we walk. We walk during the day and into the night. Indeed, we like to begin an evening walk at about 9 PM. We may just supervise the Place de la Bastille or walk over to the left bank. The streets are safe at any hour. We explore every nook and cranny. We manage to learn about every section of the city and practically all of the parks. We know the streets like our palms. We also ride buses. They are cheap and we use them as tour busses. And, for a period of time, we bike. French traffic isn't the kindest for a biker and the city can be hilly, but you can get around. I often use the bike to go to our large hardware store.

We visit museums - a room or floor at a time, returning a few days or a week later to re-examine what we had seen or to open the door to another room. The Louvre sees us most but so does the Picasso, Marine, Japanese, Crafts, Arsenal, Carnavalet, and at least a dozen others. When we visit a museum in the morning, we might lunch out. Since lunch in a French restaurant usually means a large meal, we cut back on the evening meal.

We read and visit the American Library in Paris almost weekly. Later we use the British Library but it doesn't offer as broad a selection as the American. We like music and spend hours at free concerts. We are in Paris for the opening of the new Opera house at Place de la Bastille which is a stone's throw from our boat. We are at its opening concert and later at its first opera. Occasionally we even go to a movie with English subtitles. Our French is not the best.

Since we live off the Place de la Bastille where everything happens, we witness on our door step as it were, all the French and Parisian festivals, parades, and holidays which are many, as well as major demonstrations like student marches and farmers strikes where tens of thousands of people march "in our yard." And we are part of the 1989 festivities celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

We take short trips by railroad outside of Paris to visit historical places, recreation spots, and just local towns. In addition we take trips by rental car to Normandy and southern France. We also take our own boat and cruise out of Paris for the summer, visiting places along the Canal du Centre. Once we accompanied a couple on their way south to the River Saône and then to Dijon. They thought they needed help navigating the locks because their lowered long mast extended about eight feet beyond the bow of their large sailboat.

When we bring back a Macintosh computer from the States after a short visit, I get involved in programming and Marcia begins to fine tune her bridge game.

Finally, we spend time doing household chores: laundry, repair, cleaning, painting, maintenance. etc.

We live our dream in the world of Paris and after working all our lives and doing without for many years, we celebrate our good fortune every evening with a glass of vin ordinaire and a toast to health.


We lived in France until the spring of 1992 when, for family reasons, we sold our boat and, after a six week auto trip to southern France, Italy, and Switzerland, we returned to the States and settled in Naples, Florida. Our boat, Opperdan, was sold again and is now on the Canal de Midi in southern France.

Our letters home which describe our adventures and experiences during those years in Paris can be found at Letters Home

We returned to Paris for a three month stay in 2001. See Ninety Days in Paris for a full length book.

This page was originally erected on November 29, 1997 and last updated on April 27, 2007.