The Galveston Yacht Basin, 715 N. Holiday Drive, is more than a marina for luxury yachts and sailboats. It’s also the island’s secret neighborhood, home to an eclectic group of people who live aboard their boat. They call themselves “live-aboards.” And they’re a cordial group of people who are proud of their lifestyle and the advantages it offers.
One-quarter mile down to the dead end of D Dock, in slip D-92, you’ll find a 40-foot Sea Ray that’s home to Capt. Lonnie Tennant and Debby Kelley Fields. They’re recently engaged and their fresh romance is reinforced by their devotion to each other and by the support from their new neighborhood family.
Fields gave up her job as a schoolteacher in Fort Worth to teach on the island and to begin a new life with Tennant on their boat Aquadisiac. Tennant recently earned his 100 Ton Master license and makes a living piloting crewboats to ocean vessels anchored two hours offshore.
In the slip next door — D-90 — lives fellow live-aboard C. J. Oskowski, who calls his 45-foot Silverton Mainship his home when he’s away from his Houston retail business.
Oskowski, who came to Galveston by way of South Africa, is of Polish descent.
The basin buddies often meet at Jack’s Pub, 2406 Postoffice St. in the island’s downtown, for fried catfish and a few games of 8-Ball on the vintage pool table. Not long ago, Oskowski casually bought the house a round of drinks. When that happens, barkeeper Jack Haire rings his brass ship bell, continuing one of those idiosyncratic traditions that’s part of island living.
Another boat moored at the end of D Dock is a refurbished 1973, 58-foot, teak-paneled Hatteras yacht with a flying bridge. Owner John Archer said the yacht needed some work when he found it for sale in Florida. That wasn’t a problem for Archer, a skilled auto mechanic who was able to salvage and retrofit his classic boat. Since then, he has had heart surgery and lost 100 pounds in the ordeal. Archer now is officially retired and taking it easy with his significant other, Shirley James, known by basin buddies as “Miss Poo.”
Miss Poo is a bit of a celebrity on D Dock. She’s the life of the party. But D Dock isn’t the biggest party dock. That distinction is reserved for B Dock. Just as A Dock is known for its bigger, newer boats. In fact, each of the five parallel boat docks seem to take on their own personality, depending upon the class of boats moored there. For example, luxury sailboats can be found at E Dock, which attracts a different type of boater altogether.
There are advantages of living at the dead end of the dock, Fields said. There’s extra space they use to store their bicycles, kayak and barbecue grill. Because the last slip has no roof overhead, their satellite dish reception is unobstructed, Tennant said. Today’s boaters, after all, enjoy creature comforts such as satellite TV reception, shore electricity, fresh water and golf carts for easy transporting of beer and groceries down the long dock.
Another convenience at the Basin is R&S Yacht Service, a specialized service company that provides professional boat detailing and preventive maintenance.
Capt. Russell Potter and his wife, Sherry, operate their company from their 50-foot Hatteras Sportfisher named Hattitude. The name fits this couple. They began their marriage living aboard a bargain-priced fixer-upper. In fact, it was Sherry’s idea to buy the boat.
Unlike residents of suburban America, live-aboards have no lawn to mow or gutters to clean. True, living on the water isn’t for everyone; it gets cramped and closet space is a precious commodity. But it’s a lifestyle worth a try for the adventurous soul. It’s an acquired taste for sure.
The full-service Galveston Yacht Basin has seen a rebirth since 2011, when The Sealy & Smith Foundation sold it to local investors John “Rocky” Sullivan, Greg Pappas and Stephen Swan of Black Swan Real Estate Partners.
The marina, managed by Lance Parks, offers 500 wet slips, many of which have optional 10,000-pound or 20,000-pound sling lifts. Galveston Yacht Basin is the second largest marina in the bay area. In addition to traditional wet slips, the Yacht Basin’s new drystack storage facility can store 300 boats, up to 42 feet in length. The original drystack storage building burned down in Hurricane Ike, which struck in September 2008.
Salt air, dolphins
An important amenity at the Galveston Yacht Basin includes The Galveston Yacht Club, formerly known as the Bob Smith Yacht Club. The renovated pool, hot tub and banquet facilities are available to all basin tenants, who also have access to the 24-hour fuel dock.
Vessel traffic here is like no other marina in Texas. On any given day, you can watch an oddball parade of gigantic cruise ships, jack-up rigs, shrimp trawlers, car carriers, research vessels and oil tankers. In fact, this strategic location on the island’s East End is an ideal spot for the kicked-back, live-aboard lifestyle of this secret neighborhood.
Miss Poo is right. The salt air and watching the dolphins at play are what make her lifestyle so special.