The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Idyll of boat life a real life for fortunate few

By Dianna Smith

As the sun rises each morning, when the water is calm and other people are still sound asleep, Jim and Sande Strong peer across their deck and are reminded why they are some of the luckiest people in Delray Beach.

Paradise is in their front yard.

Living on a boat is just a vague dream for many, but for couples like the Strongs, it’s the real deal. They start their days reading the newspaper on their deck, which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, and they end their days at the same place, sipping glasses of wine while the sunset paints the sky in pastels.

They’ve lived at the Delray Beach City Marina for 11 years and, before that, they lived in a three-bedroom villa in Boynton Beach. And though the Strongs have always wanted to live on the water, Sande admits she’s terrified of it because she doesn’t know how to swim.

So why live on a boat?

“Look around you,” Sande Strong said while fixing a drink. “We used to come by here all the time and Jim used to say, ‘That’s where we’re going to live someday.’ ”

There are 24 slips at the marina and 14 house live-aboards. It can take months and sometimes years of waiting for one to become available. The Strongs made it to the top of the list twice before accepting the invitation the third time around.

The inside of their boat looks more like an apartment, with three flat-screen televisions, a beautiful living room, lots of storage space and a dog named Emma, who greets everyone who comes aboard.

They’ve made it through four hurricanes (and are normally evacuated before things get too rough) and they’ve traveled in their home to local Florida hot spots like the Florida Keys.

But they’re often tied to the area because they own Sande’s Restaurant on Federal Highway in Delray Beach — a small mom and pop breakfast and lunch joint where the food tastes like home cooking and waitresses remember the customers’ names.

“We work hard at the restaurant,” Sande said. “You deal with people 100 percent of your time. So we come home and sit by the water. It’s very calming and peaceful.”

Jim has retired from the restaurant business and his wife recently cut her hours so they can enjoy more time on their boat at the marina.

The City Marina is just like any other neighborhood. Neighbors look out for each other and they gather for “block parties” — cocktails and food at sunset —every now and then. The average age here is about 50, but there is a family or two in the mix.

Across the Intracoastal are families as well, including the Petersen family — Mike, Kim and Stefan. Right now, their 65-foot boat is anchored nearby at the Yacht Club of Delray Beach, but it hasn’t always been there.

The Petersens have traveled in their boat across the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean, and their stops have included Morocco, Israel and Egypt. When they reached the halfway point across the Atlantic — about 900 miles from land — each family member jumped into the water and swam around the boat to mark the occasion and then celebrated with a cake baked by Kim.

They called themselves the “mid-Atlantic swim team.”

The Petersens lived in Canada before selling their home and most of their belongings to move to Palm Beach County in 2005. Stefan and their daughter Lauren — who is now in college — became home-schooled so the family could take part in building the boat themselves, starting with only a catamaran shell purchased in New Zealand.

“We had done the whole being busy, sports, suburbs thing,” Kim said. “We were pretty well established. But we always had this dream.”

And it became their children’s dreams too.

Stefan, 16, said he got to be Christopher Columbus and discover new worlds and now he would like to one day work for the U.S. Coast Guard because he feels at home on the water. Kim recently wrote a book about their adventure called Charting the Unknown and she’s working on a second book about their journey through the Mediterranean.

But for now, their journey has landed them right here in Delray Beach.

They’ve been in Delray Beach for eight months off and on now and they picked the city after learning they could walk to town from their boat but still be close to the ocean. The family recently bought their first car here in five years and Mike, who hadn’t worn a suit since 2005, finally bought his first tie since moving to Florida.

The Petersens are considering staying in Delray Beach. And sometimes Mike and Kim even think of selling their boat and living on land, though their children beg them not to because this boat is now their home.

So the family plans to keep living the life so many envy.

And when people ask them — as many do — where do you live?

They can continue to answer with a smile, “On the water.”

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