The blanket of stars over the open ocean, the soft lap of water on the hull, the freedom to go anywhere. For most, living on a boat is only a dream, but for others, it’s smooth sailing.
Karen Hyska and her dog, Captain Jack Sparrow, live year-round aboard her Viking 60 motor yacht, which she keeps at Shelter Cove Marina. She also owns a home on Hilton Head Island, but she rented it out when she decided to set up house on her boat.
“I’ve always wanted to live on a boat,” Hyska said.
She got lucky during the Lowcountry’s freak snowstorm last month—she was out of town and missed the whole thing. It wouldn’t have been any go about one’s business on a boat covered in ice. But the heat and air-conditioning on her yacht keep it livable during the four seasons.
Originally from Indiana, she spent summers yachting on Lake Michigan with her family. She moved to Hilton Head about 10 years ago and has owned her boat for two. The yacht has everything she needs: three staterooms, three bathrooms with showers, a galley — or kitchen, for the land-lubbers — a dining area, and a living area. There’s an aft deck she uses as a sunroom, an engine room, a platform for swimming, and a fly bridge where she steers the boat when she takes to the open waters. And when she needs something smaller and more maneuverable, the yacht has a 13-foot tender.
“Maintaining a boat in this size range is a full-time job,” Hyska said. She is a licensed captain and does the maintenance work herself. But the freedom the boat offers her makes it all worthwhile.
Her sailing adventures have taken her as far south as the Bahamas and as far north as Bald Head Island off the coast of North Carolina. She loves stopping in different marinas, which offer shopping and restaurants and a taste of the local culture. And with a boat, she’s never stuck in one place for long
“If you don’t like the scenery, you can change it,” she said.
She’s thinking of spending the winter next year in Miami. This year, she’s staying put on Hilton Head Island through the winter to participate in a local tennis league.
Hyska isn’t the only Lowcountry resident who prefers a floating home. Michele Clark and her husband, who grew up in Charleston, moved onto a boat for the first time about 20 years ago. They bought a sailboat and lived on it for two years in Charleston, falling in love with the lifestyle.
“We loved the camaraderie between boaters,” Clark said, adding that living on a boat is like camping on water. “Everyone on the dock takes care of each other, and it’s such a wonderful community.”
After selling their first boat, the Clarks stayed on dry land long enough to have a baby and care for aging family members. But the water wasn’t far from their mind — they wanted to raise their daughter aboard a boat. When their daughter was 4, they moved onto a 37-foot sailboat and relocated from Charleston to Port Royal.
The family lived aboard the boat for the next 10 years. Clark said she enjoyed knowing the direction the wind was blowing and what the tide was doing, as well as watching the wildlife. She could watch dolphins swim past as she cooked dinner. The family didn’t take any extended sailing trips because of work commitments, but they went out on weekends and for day trips. And though the space was tight, boat living was still cozy.
“It makes you very close as a family,” Clark said.
The Clarks moved ashore about two years ago, but still enjoy the Lowcountry’s waters. Clark works as the dock master at Port Royal Landing Marina in Beaufort and is a yacht broker with Fred Mix Yachts of Hilton Head. Her husband cleans boat bottoms and teaches scuba diving.
“Everything we do revolves around boats because we just love it,” Clark said.
Yacht broker Mix has designed his life around his love of being on the water. He doesn’t play golf and he’s not into other sports, he said, but he’s on his boat every day.
“I like the ability to leave here and go out 100 miles and catch a fish,” he said. He has traveled by boat as far south as Cuba and north to New York. In 2015, he and his wife spent several months on their boat, traveling from Hilton Head to Cuba, coming back up through the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.
“My father lived a structured life with family and career responsibilities,” Mix said. “In a way, for me, I’m living his dream.”