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PHOTOS: Island couple converting BC Ferries lifeboat into luxury liveaboard

Lifeboat was originally designed for 60 people and three days of emergency rations

When a Greater Victoria couple saw the hollow husk of an old lifeboat several years ago they were struck by inspiration.

A machinist and a graphic designer, Toryn Sundstrom and Dani Tate-Stratton didn’t simply see a fibreglass seat and ration-filled emergency vessel, they saw the potential for a custom-built home and a life on the water.

It took them three years of scouring North America and Europe for just such a boat, but finally in spring 2020 luck struck close to home – BC Ferries was retiring its fleet of 60-seater 2004 lifeboats from its northern Vancouver Island routes. For $5,000, Boat Number One became the couple’s property.

Then the real work began. Sundstrom and Tate-Stratton gutted, repainted and reinforced Boat Number One, outfitted it with windows and a solar-powered electrical system and, most importantly, renamed it to something fitting of its nearly two decades at sea – Luja. A Finnish word, Luja means sturdy and steadfast.

“We wanted a name that would hearken back to her lifeboat history,” Tate-Stratton said.

The interior is a work-in-progress Sundstrom and Tate-Stratton suspect will take until fall 2022 to complete, but once done, the approximately 250-square foot space will feature a queen-sized bed, seating area convertible into a single bed, a kitchen, wood stove and a washroom with shower. On sunny days it should run entirely off solar energy with ease.

The space may sound small, but in their 11 years together the couple said they have yet to have a real fight.

“We tend to mesh very well together,” Sundstrom said, smiling. And with no kids and no plans to have any, the two simply don’t see the need for a larger space.

“For us, it’s the home base from which to explore,” Tate-Stratton said. The boat is their bedroom and the world is their yard, Sundstrom added.

“If you want some alone time there’s an infinite amount of places you can go,” he said.

The two have long shared this compact, mobile dream, but Tate-Stratton said it took her a long time to shake off the big house, kids and dog ideal that dominates the successful North American narrative.

“The power of expectation is a lot,” she said. “It took me years to redefine that definition of success.”

Sundstrom and Tate-Stratton said they realize living on a boat isn’t for everyone, but they hope people will take some time to think about what’s possible if they want it.

“I do encourage people to live their dream and think about what they want to be doing,” Tate-Stratton said.

All in, the couple estimates they’ll spend $105,000 to complete their custom, island-hopping home. People can follow along with the project at Sundstrom and Tate-Stratton’s YouTube channel, Living on a Lifeboat.

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