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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson at his home away from home at Stutts Marina.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson relaxes in the cabin of his boat.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson boarding his boat.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    It isn't the biggest boat in the slips at Stutts Marina, but it's home.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson's bedroom on his boat on Lake Norman.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson lives on his boat for part of the year because he commutes from Monroe to work at Stutts Marina.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Ashley Johnson washes dishes in the galley of his boat on Lake Norman.

Home away from home

By Elisabeth Arriero | Photography by Jeff Willhelm

Posted: Friday, Apr. 29, 2011

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While many people can empathize with the feeling that they spend more time at work than home, few can say that the two places are the same like Ashley Johnson can.

Johnson, who is the general manager at Stutts Marina in Mooresville, lives on his houseboat at the marina during peak boating season.

The arrangement saves Johnson both time and money. A resident of Monroe, Johnson says he was spending at least two hours on the road each day commuting between his home and job.

It’s also helped him better relate to his clientele.

“As a marina manager, you help a lot of people with their boats. I wanted to be a part of the boating lifestyle. I wanted to be more involved with the people there at the marina. It’s a lot easier to tell people how to get out and navigate the lake if I’ve experienced it myself,” says Johnson.

Still, adjusting from land to sea life wasn’t exactly easy, he says.

“Get used to being rocked to sleep at night. No matter how big your boat is, you can feel the motion of the water. And everything’s very compact. There’s little cubby holes all over the boat. I suggest that you pack lightly. You really don’t want to stock up more than two or three days’ worth of food,” says Johnson.

As staycations have become increasingly common – spending leisure time close to home to save on travel and fuel costs – Johnson says he’s noticed more people going boating and staying on their boats for extended periods.

Pat Ferrucci, the assistant manager at Holiday Marina in Cornelius, says a lot of people will personalize their boats. From marine decorations all throughout the cabin to a full dining table on their boat, Ferrucci said the goal is to make the boat feel as much like home as possible.

Some will even install a full bar on their boat for entertaining company. “Most people do it for a getaway, to get away on the weekends,” he said.

Ferrucci added that the majority of the liveaboards he sees on the water are between 30 and 42 feet. The most common brands are Carver, Sea Ray, Cruisers and Silverton – partly because they’re known for having well-designed cabins.

But while staying on houseboats for a weekend or week at a time has become more common, don’t start making plans to live on one year-round, unless it’s at a private dock.

David Turner, who works for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s lake enforcement unit, says liveaboards that aren’t at a private dock will be asked to move along if officers see someone staying on their boat for more then a week, due to lake regulations.

Some marinas don’t want their clientele living on their boats, says Ed Pyle, general manager at Long Island Marina. (And please don’t contemplate it before researching logistical issues such as proper septic disposal, notes Bob Elliott of the Lake Norman Marine Commission).

But there can be high demand for people wanting to stay on their boats for the weekend or week during the summer months. And it’s easy to see why, says Johnson.

Likening the experience to camping in a Winnebago or riding a motorcycle, Johnson says there will always be the allure of freedom attached to living on a boat.

“It’s relaxing. And there are so many different things you can do on the lake: tubing , fishing - it’s just fun,” says Johnson. “That freedom of being out on the water and enjoying the wind in your face - I think there are some similarities.”

Living on a houseboat celebrates independence and community equally, Johnson adds.

“It’s a community in itself. Everyone gets to know each other pretty quick,” he says. “You can go to sandbar or cocktail cove together. It’s not a lonely summer at the dock, I’ll tell you that.”

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