Tom Buchanan’s address can’t be found on a GPS. He’s rocked to sleep each night by the roll of Boone Lake beneath him and the winter months are his favorite time to be the live-in resident of a 42-foot Chris-Craft Conqueror.
“It’s actually a great life,” said Buchanan, an artist and lover of the outdoors. “Wherever I go, I have everything with me.”
For the last decade, Buchanan has been landlocked, making his headquarters at a boat slip on Rockingham Marina, where he has high-speed Internet, thousands of movies and a cat named Fifer. Making the switch from landowner to fulltime boater wasn’t a tough decision, as Buchanan said he’s always had a love of water and a hatred for apartments and subdivisions.
“I guess you just stare at that water and you want to get out on it,” said Buchanan, a former employee of Bays Mountain State Park and member of the Air Force. “Ask any boat person and they can’t tell you why. I guess part of it is the freedom. This is my home. I can be at home right here or I can climb up there and start the engine and go 10 miles away and I’m still at home.”
That includes getting away from annoying neighbors at a moment’s notice and being able to leave a six-foot wake that makes everyone get out of the way.
Though he isn’t doing a lot of fishing when propelled away from his boat slip, Buchanan is a friend to all the local wildlife, including the river otters that climb up on the deck and look at him through the windows of his 35,000-pound mahogany boat. He also feeds Hershey and Aflac, two ducks that cannot fly.
Buchanan says he would rather hold a paint brush than a fishing rod, which puzzles those who question his current living arrangements. He paints portraits and historical documentations, many of them created on an aisle set up on the dock beside his boat. Curious glances and a number of new customers have resulted from these very public painting sessions.
“People were coming around here and some were pulling in for gas just to see how my portrait was coming,” Buchanan said.
Since painting becomes more challenging between gusts of wind and traffic on the dock, future plans include reconverting a bedroom turned bar into a studio aboard the front of the Chris-Craft, named Finisterre, meaning “land’s end.”
The double-planked boat with a pair of Chrysler 383 engines is a recent purchase and a work in progress for Buchanan, who’s been after the 1960 model for several years.
“I’m both restoring it and living on it,” he said.
A white tarp is draped over the back of the boat to help divert water off the bridge, which currently leaks into the ceiling of the bedroom below. One of Buchanan’s current projects is to inject penetrating epoxy into the wood to strengthen the leaky spots.
He also wants to strip the white paint off the outside of the boat and restore the mahogany finish. One of his final goals is to become self-sustaining by installing solar panels and a wind generator that will store energy in a number of batteries that will supply power to the boat.
Buchanan says he’s not afraid of the water below because he spent many summers as a child swimming across the lake and holding on to rocks and jumping in to see how deep he could go. He’s not scared of being alone, either.
“As far as communication goes, I have a cell phone and email,” Buchanan said. “I’m not out of it, I’m connected with the rest of the world completely.”
The “bachelor on a boat” recommends his lifestyle to any individual seeking to save money and enjoy a unique environment.
“You can’t beat it,” he said. “I tell other guys who are single, living in places they can’t afford and paying for cars they can’t afford. They say they would love to do that, but they just can’t.”
Even though he has a hard time convincing others that his way of living has its perks, Buchanan does seem to have it all figured out. He cooks a variety of foods on a grill on the dock beside his boat and perfects German dishes on his electric tabletop stove. And when he learns of winter storms heading his way, Buchanan stocks up on food, turns on his portable heater and depends on his generator during any power outages.
“The winter is the fun part,” he said. “You don’t realize how beautiful it is in the winter time on the lake. I look forward to winter months. I can sit down here and do the things I want to do.”
Buchanan will work on some portrait projects and play back a number of his favorite films during those cold, bitter days while continuing to renovate his treasured Chris-Craft.
“I’ll pop in a movie and wake up and it will be playing for like the 12th time,” he said. “You’ve never slept better than you do on a boat. It rocks you to sleep and then it wakes you up rocking you.”