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Living on 48-foot boat `peaceful'

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Mizener

Gary Hill of Rock Island has lived on his 48-foot boat, docked in Rock Island's Sunset Marina, for about two years. He is remodelling the galley area of another stateroom.

ROCK ISLAND -- Surrounded by ice, the Sunshine Lady bobbed slightly in the freezing river water at Sunset Marina.

It doesn't have to be blue skies and 80 degrees to find Gary Hill at the docks. He needs no reason. He'll be there because he lives there.

``It has all the conveniences and more,'' Mr. Hill said. ``Some people might think it's a little weird, but it's peaceful. There's something about the tranquility, waking up in the morning, walking out on the deck and seeing the eagles. I love the outdoors, and I'm a romantic. There's a romance to the river. It is the logical place for me to be.''

Mr. Hill could find reasons for not living on the boat yearround, but he also could give reasons for not living in a house.

Once, when the dock broke away, he had to secure the boat to a light pole. Then there was the time he had to use the dinghy to get to his car because of high water. Yet, those are minor inconveniences to life on a boat.

Cold isn't any more a problem than it is for many houses, he said. He built a cover for the boat, creating an envelope-like environment. He's also covered the windows with plastic, like many homeowners do.

``Just think about your home,'' he said. ``You have problems there just like on a boat. Sometimes, we put too much emphasis on something that happens only once or twice.''

Limited space is another reason many choose not to live on a boat. However, Mr. Hill said there are few things people must have. Collecting things is fun. He's done it. When his first wife died of leukemia several years ago, all the collections meant very little.

The happiness her figurines brought her was what made the pieces of porcelain mean something.

That isn't to say Mr. Hill doesn't appreciate the finer things. He enjoys art and has several original oil paintings in storage for the time he has a wall to hang them on. Right now, he'll settle for shiny red mahogany paneling in his boat.

Admittedly, there are few who think like him. That's evident by the number of boats still docked in the winter, with a scattering of people living aboard. It could get a little lonely this time of year, but he has little time for that to happen.

Mr. Hill is restoring the planked hull 48-foot 1966 Chris Craft Constellation he bought two years ago. This is the second winter he's lived on the boat. The stateroom was completed last year. This year, he's working on the rest of the boat, including the second stateroom and galley.

It's a consuming project. The interior walls will be taken down to the ribs. He will redesign some things, but the basic plan will remain. The people who built the boat knew ``what they were about,'' he said.

``The workmanship in wooden boats is unbelievable,'' Mr. Hill said. ``They were good carpenters. It makes you have an appreciation for their craftsmanship.''

A carpenter himself, Mr. Hill has rebuilt and refurbished several boats. The first was an 18-foot wooden craft he said needed a ``ton of work.

``Most of the boats I've bought have been fixer-uppers,'' he said. ``I like to water ski and worked my way up. But I've always liked wood. So has my brother.''

Mr. Hill and his brother, Roger, always have had boat fever, according to Mr. Hill. The pair grew up in rural southern Iowa and spent a lot of time in the water.

``There's something challenging about building something that will fly or float,'' he said. ``We grew up around water, farm ponds, reservoirs...we were always building something to float on.''

-- By Pam Berenger (January 26, 1998)

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