Kristyn Christiansen paddles with his son Boden on a rowboat at a marina in Vancouver, British Columbia. Boden waves to his mother, Sophena Kwon.
Nestled in a marina in Vancouver, British Columbia, among charter boats and commercial vessels, a couple is raising their two young children.
This 60-meter sailboat has been home to Kristyn Christiansen and Sophena Kwon for almost ten years. And they love it.
“It’s our place in the city,” Christiansen said.
Inside, the boat is about the size of a small apartment. Not much space but they make the most of what they have.
“They live such a creative lifestyle,” said photographer Tanin Kayvan, a Vancouver native who has captured the family’s life on the boat and on a nearby island where they are building their next home. “There really is a lot of thought and intention behind everything they’ve created for themselves.”
Vancouver’s housing market was recently ranked as the most expensive in North America, and living on a boat has saved Christiansen and Kwon quite a bit of money. But this couple’s lifestyle is not about necessity. It has always been a choice.
“They’re actually two very successful entrepreneurs,” Kayvan said. “Kristyn, he’s an artist and he builds signs for several companies in the city. And then Sophena (helps run) a family business where they sell clothes made from natural fibers and natural dyes. They do very well on that.”
Growing up in Saskatchewan and living on the Canadian prairies until his thirties, Christiansen had always dreamed of living on a boat. It was one of the reasons he moved to Vancouver.
He got his first boat by trading in a motorcycle he had restored. He later traded it in for a bigger ship, and in early 2010—right around the time he met his future wife—he sold that boat and got the boat they now live in.
“With a boat like this I can take it anywhere in the world and have my home wherever I want,” he said. “It’s just nice to have that option to move it.”
Born in Vancouver, Kwon sailed as a child and has always lived around the water. It didn’t take her long to adjust to harbor life.
“This boat is a pretty special boat,” she said. “I had a really nice apartment in the West End of Vancouver, and the boat definitely surpassed that. It immediately felt like home.”
Boden hangs from a shelf in the boat. “The good thing about life on a boat, especially for kids, is that everything has rounded corners so you don’t hurt yourself if you fall out at sea,” says photographer Tanin Kayvan. “And there’s a lot for (kids) to hold on to, because that’s how boats are built.”
Christiansen stands on a rocky area on Bowen Island, a short ferry ride from Vancouver, where the family owns a property they use for weekend getaways. Bowen Island is also where they plan to build another house in the coming years.
Early on in their relationship, Christiansen and Kwon spent time working on the boat.
“I’m also quite a hands-on person and I like working with my hands, and it was a fun process to do together,” she said. Then they went diving and swimming. “There’s so much to explore near Vancouver,” she said. “We go to Hornby Island and Salt Spring Island regularly and do a bit of island hopping along the way. It’s such an amazing part of the world to sail in.”
She moved in and the two got married. They now have two young children. Their son, Boden, is almost 3 years old. Their daughter, Calico, just turned 1.
Kwon gave birth to both of her children on the boat, with the help of midwives.
“One night I was like, ‘I want to give birth somewhere I’m most comfortable,'” she recalls. “And that place is my home, and the energy on the boat is where I feel most comfortable. And when you go into labor, you want to feel most comfortable.”
There are other families in Vancouver who also live on boats, but Kwon and Christiansen say they are the only ones in their marina. For a monthly fee, the marina provides them with electricity and access to fresh water that they can use to fill the tanks in their boat.
“Most marinas have electricity included,” Christiansen said. “You pay the port dues. It’s probably somewhere between CA$1,000 and $1,500 per month, depending on where you are. But you can’t get an apartment in Vancouver for $1500 that, to me, comes close to being as beautiful as living on a boat in a harbor.
Other living expenses on a boat include boat insurance, which Christiansen says costs about $800-$1,000 a year, and fuel, which he says is relatively small for a sailboat. They also bought an antenna that would allow them to connect to a high-speed Internet service.
Perhaps the most important thing about life on a boat is taking good care of it.
“There is a lot to know about maintaining your boat and getting to know your boat,” Christiansen said. “It’s no different than owning a house. You may need to renew your roof. Or you may have a leak or rot.”
The family lives a happy, comfortable life on the boat, but they have had to make a few adjustments over the years.
The boat’s electric heaters can only handle so much on the coldest winter nights, which is why they have a wood burning stove on board. On those nights, Christiansen has to wake up every three or four hours at night to keep the fire going.
And their hot water only lasts so long.
“You can take a hot shower for exactly seven and a half minutes,” Kwon said with a laugh. “So I wash and condition my hair, or I do other things. It’s one or the other. There is not enough hot water to do everything.”
But those are minor inconveniences for them.
“You should do it,” Kwon said. “It’s not really an adjustment. I feel like we haven’t given up anything for this.”
At the moment the family is all sleeping together in the same big bed. Christiansen and Kwon say they appreciate this stage of their lives, but they know that as the kids get older, they need more space.
“Four years ago we looked a little bit at real estate, what would be the next step, what would it look like if we wanted to have kids?” said Kwon. “I like the idea of living on a boat, but I thought, ‘Is it a boat? Or should we find a place with maybe a backyard? Where do the children go to school?’ Certain questions arose.”
So this year they are starting to build a new home on Bowen Island, a rural community about 20 minutes by ferry from Vancouver. They already have an off-grid spot on the island, a property they call Moonshine Kingdom, that they use for weekend getaways.
“The proximity (to Vancouver) is nice. On the other hand, it also feels removed from the city,” Christiansen said. “Apart from when you enter the ferry and a small town, there is no street lighting. No traffic lights. It’s a beautiful island.”
Christiansen clears debris as he prepares land for construction on Bowen Island.
Christiansen reaches for a dock from the rowboat they use to paddle around the marina.
Moonshine Kingdom is located right on the ocean and can only be accessed by boat. It gets its name from how brightly the setting moon will shine on the water, filling the entire property with light. There is a glass yurt, kitchen, sun deck and even a hot tub.
It gets its water from an underground aquifer that flows close to the property, Kwon said. Power comes from the sun or a generator when needed. Just like on the boat, the family uses a wood stove for heating. Fire also heats their hot tub.
It is a special place where the family gets the chance to get away from it all.
“We love Bowen and always have,” said Kwon.
The family’s new home on Bowen Island is still two or three years away. Christiansen will do much of the building himself, hiring a few trade workers along the way.
“We don’t build a big house either,” he said. “It looks a lot like a boat, it’s quite compact. We’ll try to make it as thoughtful as possible when we build it.”
The plan is to keep their boat afterward so that they always have a place to stay in the city. And they want to go sailing on it again; the boat hasn’t been out to sea since the babies were born.
“I think it would be nice if municipalities put more effort into making it easier for people to live on boats,” Christiansen says. “Because it’s a lighter footprint, I think, on the planet to live on a boat. You’re a little more self-sufficient. You use electricity, but in general boats are more compact and efficient than a country house would be. There are many environmental benefits.
“I think it’s a great way to live.”